Then I Found the Hawgs
I shake off the last few dribbles and look up into the fuzzy star lit night. I climb in the back of the van. At 1:35 am I set the clock for 6:05 am. ‘Wow, going to be a short night.’ With a couple of mixed drinks of Capt’n Morgan Tattoo in coke, a shot of Goldshlager and a few beers at Ray’s earlier, I’m sure I’d fall fast asleep and sleep soundly.
I awake to daylight. I remember shutting the alarm off some time earlier. I step out of the van and look towards the sky for signs of rain. A blanket of grayish fog is layered above the treetops hiding the sky above. After getting dressed and a cup of hot tea, I finish packing my gear into my ProGuide 3 in 1 chest vest. I’ll have to remember to thank Fishenfool again. The float tube fits in the backpack vest with pump, flippers and wading shoes attached. The chest pack fits enough fly gear, including reel, to make it easier packing into the remote places.
Jeff wasn’t able to come along this time so the 45-minute ‘walk in’ hopefully won’t seem that long. I have all day so time is of no concern.
As I step onto the gated lane, from the parking area, a proud grouse sees me and high steps it into the woods. The first field I come to I catch 4 deer off guard. They finally perk their ears up as they hear my footsteps upon the lane and three of the deer leap their way into the forest. The last one stands tall next to the trail, alert. He must have noticed I’m carrying a rod tube and not a rifle. The deer casually turns and heads towards the others showing his white tail. Just beyond that I come across 2 piles of berry eating bear dung. A little further on two bunnies, eating the tops of the grass between the tire tracked trail, see me and hop into the nearby thick undergrowth. Closer to the pond I catch a glimpse of a turkey running through the tall ferns. At the bend he and another take flight. Pretty cool, I haven’t seen this much game in one day in the ANF since, well I just never have in one day.
I lift off the pack and look across the pond, they call a swamp, from above the bank. The blanket of fog keeps the light to a minimum. The water is still and the area around the pond is lifeless. A few crows caw in the distance and the constant sound of tree frogs is heard in the background. The weathered gray tree trunks are no better off than they were last month strewn out across the middle and far side of the pond. There’s no chill in the air, on this August morn., so the T-shirt I’m wearing will be sufficient throughout the day. Looks like a great day to fish, alone, in the peace and quiet.
After pumping up my ‘new’ u-tube I put together my steelhead converted to largemouth bass rod. This time I’m prepared. I loop on a 6’ 8lb. Bass tapered leader. To this I surgeon-knot about 16” of frog hair 6lb. tippet and connect a fast snap. I have a theory about fishing big waters, I use big flies and even the fast snaps don’t sink the big Humpy’s, Trudes and cork poppers I use. The fast snaps make for quick changes of flies and streamers without all the snipping and retying.
By the time I get everything together and start to embark on my quiet venture the slightest of a breeze turns the smooth surface water into a calm riffle.
Finning towards the left bank I toss my homemade cork popper out into the quiet riffled water. On my third cast I connect with an 8” blue gill. That’s nothing, I proceed to cast along the shoreline and start hooking up with 10” blue gill. What a surprise!
I watch an osprey fly above and perch itself, on a jutting out, old limb from one of the weathered tree trunks within the pond. Continuing casting I hear a big splash and turn just in time to see the osprey rise from the splash. Talons empty, the osprey takes to another tree limb. Again casting the popper I catch another 10” ‘gill and upon reeling it in another splash from beyond. The osprey again ascends from the broken water empty. ‘That osprey sure knows where the fish are’, I think, hopefully I’ll be more successful than it was! After releasing the ‘gill I cast again and turn my head to look for the unsuccessful osprey. Just wanting to see it dive towards the water would be neat. A splash, this time close by, I quickly turn and see my popper waving upon a rippled spiral of water. That was no blue gill! I retrieve my small popper and tie on a bigger home made popper Jeff made. This time concentrating on my own fishing abilities and not the osprey’s.
Slowly casting into a small deep inlet the cork popper drops with a small plop. Two gurgles of the retrieving popper attracts a mouthed swirl and my popper’s gone. Jerk and set I hook into a ‘nice one’. (It sure is relieving when you know you are using the correct set up.) The bass tussles beneath the surface but my rod and line are too much for him to handle. Fighting the fish it surfaces near the float tube. “Ya, that’s what I’m looking for” I say aloud. A nice 14” largemouth lies upon the apron. Not belly fat but a good heavy one otherwise. I let the fish go and look out into the clearing sky. “That’s how it’s done” I comment to the unseen osprey. I snicker to myself.
I fin and drift for the next couple of hours or so casting to shoreline shallows and towards the submerged tree trunks. I pick up a couple more of the big blue gills on the popper. My brown woolly buggers and humpy’s didn’t do their magic this time out but I did manage to catch a couple blue gills on a lime Trude. I returned to where I put in to relieve myself and to give my shoulder a rest from the constant cast and retrieval of my flies. Upon shore I look out over the pond and I contemplate my next float.
The sun now peeks out from behind the big cumulus clouds floating in the dreamy light blue sky. The warm air has settled and the crickets now click in unison around the grassy areas. The water surface is a wisp of wrinkles from the slight breeze. An island stands alone on the right from the shoreline. There’s enough of a channel that an outcropping of small lily pads string out hugging the island towards the right bank. I notice activity in the back channel and around the lily pads. To get there I’ll have to cross the deeper part of the pond above the overflow dam. ‘Heck, might as well give it a try’.
I float out and snap on a white woolly bugger, clamp on a split shot for the deeper water and begin casting. I pick up a blue gill and seem to be getting hits through the deep water so I fin and drift my way through a couple of times. I latch on to something that doesn’t feel like a blue gill or a bass. It gets off before I’m able to bring it to the surface. Hmm.
Closer to the island the breeze starts to pick up. With precise judgment I backcast high and shoot the bugger down forward into the wind. It lands just before the string of lily pads. The bugger sinks and within a ½ of a strip my line tightens and I set the hook. The fish fights its way trying to release the hook. Not a bass but bigger than a blue gill for sure. The white lips and body of a crappie comes into view. I rest the 13” crappie on my stripping apron. What a surprise and what a fight! I release the fish and have to fin my way back within casting distance as the wind drifted me away. ‘Where there’s one there’s usually more.’ I thought.
I cast again towards the lily pads, feel the bump, set the hook and this time a 14” wide crappie comes to the surface. Releasing the fish I once again cast and sure enough another 14” crappie surrenders to me.
I think ‘I should have brought a stringer.’ I guess the crappies might puncture the underside of the tube or carrying them back would be awkward with the other gear I have to handle. They are some nice looking slabs that’s for sure.
As much as I like the feeling of catching fish on buggers there’s nothing better than watching and catching them on the surface. I tie on the cork popper and wing it over into the lily pad edges. It’s harder to cast the light cork directly into the wind. After a few casts and no results I notice a dark thin branch sticking out of the water surface out from the shoreline. The wind has drifted me within casting distance so I didn’t disturb the water by finning my way. With the wind now blowing slightly across I pitch the popper and it falls just below the bent limb. I strip it as soon as it lands when a swirl, with a glance of a BIG white belly, catches my attention. Another quick strip and pop and a whirlpool sucks in my popper. I heave back and set the hook. The fish tugs and pulls hard away from me.
‘This is the one!’
Knowing I have the right line and tight knots I give him as little leeway as possible. The heavy fish won’t come to surface but I guide him in the opposite direction he wants to escape to. With each direction change of the fish the rod tip flexes and follows in the new direction. Palming my reel with good tension the bent rod starts to straighten as the fish finally turns toward me. While reeling in the bass, it surfaces in front of me and dives deep again. With the butt of the rod in my gut I follow the fish with the tip of my rod not giving him much line. The big bass comes to the surface again and I thumb him onto the apron. ‘Oh ya!’ the 16” full belly hawg lies before me. I feel my fishing blood run through my veins with warm excitement, my heart pounding a mile a minute. ‘That’s what I’m talking about in this pond they call a swamp.’ I angle my hemostats into the fish’s mouth and unhook the penetrated barb from the roof of its mouth. I put the big bass into the water. With a whip of it’s tail I release the fish to fight another day. I fin around back up towards the exposed branch and cast for another. Ready, but nothing comes up for it.
The wind again drifts me closer to the shore but down some. A lighter color limb is exposed from the depth. I strip line out and cast the popper within an imaginary point I set my eyes on within reaches of the stick. I hesitate a split second before stripping. A BIG BASS explodes out of the water. I swear I set the hook while the bass is in mid air. It smacks onto and then submerges under the water. It takes off across in front of me, subsurface, from left to right as I follow it with my fly rod tip high in the air. The dark object races just below the surface leaving a riffled wake behind. The bass then submerges hard, my rod tip bends, I must let line out. In an instant I feel the rod tip relax and than the bass explodes upwards fully out of the water. It’s gills flared and tail erratic. It belly flops back into the water as water sprays outward from the turbulence. My tight grip holds steady as it dives than once more it surfaces only exposing its head trying to spit out the popper. He disappears in the broken water. I watch my fly line start to slacken as he drives around me. My tube, rod and I follow in a semicircle with its force. Hurriedly taking in slack the lunker surfaces near my tube and upon seeing trouble it tries to dive deep once again. Pinching the fly line I wait to see if the fish has enough strength for another strong escape. The bent rod tension is now too much for the tired fish. At the surface to my left he rises. Reaching down in the water I thumb the bass by the side of its big mouth. The 16” fat hawg lies upon the apron with the sun reflecting off its oversized belly. I dislodge the hook pierced through its lower jaw. ‘Two in a row, back to back!’ I released the lunker. Taking a deep sigh of relief of my success I feel my shoulder start to come into question as I now take notice to the slight joint soreness.
The wind picks up and casting the popper into or across the wind takes more effort and less accuracy. Looking at the far side of the lily pads I decide to fin around the island and come in from the backside channel. As I fin around, the tall grassed island breaks the wind. I tie on the white bugger, without extra weight, and cast off near the island bank. I pick off an 8” largemouth on the lee side. On the backside of the island I find it shallow and my guess is right that there is a slightly deeper channel of water closer to the mainland. I cast into the channel before proceeding. Without any takers I slowly push my way, with the tip of my fin, through the channel. Stopping every once in a while to cast my bugger close to the lily pads. I’m not sure if my movement or closeness gives me away but no fish takes my fly. I see and cast to still water in a slight arc within the lily pads. My white woolly bugger sinks and my fly line jerks. Setting the hook I force in another 13”-14” crappie. I return to the point of the island and cast a few times around the lily pads without success.
With my shoulder feeling sore I fin myself in the wind so it can drifts me back to my exiting point. I relax in my float tube with my fly rod out and my woolly bugger trolling behind me.
After packing my gear in my 3-1 chest vest I take a last swallow of water I brought along. I remember and look at the old pocket watch I had stuffed in one of the vest pockets, 2:00. Standing on the small breast of the earth work dam I look out over the pond. A sun warmed breeze blows across my body. The smell of wild flowers of some sort passes my nostrils and I inhale the clean fresh air. I watch the surface of the pond water riffle with the force of a gust of wind. The white puffy clouds above me almost glow in the blue sky reflecting the bright sun rays. The pond is quiet, peaceful, and appears lifeless. The old weathered tree trunks stand like guardians in the water as if protecting the hidden life below. Looking around one last time for any forgotten gear, I leave the pond area as I found it. With maybe a little more sun shine.
A quarter of the way back I stop for a breather, along the lane, in the shadows of a maple and forest tree. I take out a zip lock bag and pull from it a Cohiba. I blow into the cellophane and slide out the cigar. I wet the natural outer-leaf and nip off a bit of the rolled end. Holding the flame near the end of the barrel I puff slowly till it lights.
Proceeding on, I think about the day’s outcome:
‘The wild life I seen this morning,
10” blue gills, 14” crappies
Largemouth ranging from 8” to 16” with two being real hawgs!
Fishing alone in the peaceful and quietness of the scenic pond
and a fine cigar!
It can’t get much better than this on an August day’
(A few bottles of genuine Coors await me back in the van,
...in a cooler,
.........packed in ice.)