- Don Wirth
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Ever notice how non-fishermen always say autumn is their most favorite time of year? They like to wax poetic about the cold nights and frosty mornings, the brilliant leaves of red and gold, blah blah blah. But to redneck bassers like me 'n' Harry, fall is the absolute WORST season of the year to fish! You see, summer's demise means the lake starts to chill down. This causes basses what had been lurkin' in the shallows to either scurry for the depths or scatter out willy-nilly around the lake, where they're dang near impossible to locate! Of course, me 'n' Harry view this setback as a challenge, which is why we decided to sign up for the annual Lake Flatus Fall Fishin' Rodeo!
The annual team tournyment was slated for this comin' Saturday on the deep, clear reservoir, so after work on Friday, me 'n' Harry high-tailed it up to Onion City to register. Bass fishermen from across the state had lined up at the National Guard Armory to plunk down their $100 entry fee for a shot at winnin' the $10,000 first prize. "Charlie, I got a game plan for this here tournyment what can't fail!" Harry said confidently after we'd registered.
"Hmmm, where has I heard that one before?" I wondered. "Wait, I remember that's what you said at last year's Fall Fishin' Rodeo the one where we came in 238th place! Remember?"
"Yeah, yeah, don't remind me," Harry grumbled, spittin' a stem outa his Day's Work cud. "But this year's gonna be different! I can feel it in my bones!"
"The only thing you'll feel after me 'n' Crusty win that 10 grand is the agony of defeat!" Wilbur Wangle, Harry's archrival in the Swamp Gas Corners Bass Club, remarked.
"Oh yeah?" Harry sneered.
"Yeah!" Wilbur sneered back.
"Gentlemen, please!" Crusty Popodopolous, the bass club's president and Wilbur's longtime tournyment partner, insisted. "Whatever became of fellowship and camaraderie, those old-fashioned virtues upon which our beloved Club was founded?"
"Somebody get me a ladder; it's gettin' deep in here!" I laughed.
"Seriously, you two need to go back to that registration desk right now and see if they'll refund your entry fee," Wilbur said gravely. "I'd hate to see two fellow bass clubbers throw their money away on a silly pipe dream!"
"That @#%* Wilbur ticks me off!" Harry seethed as we headed back home to get our tackle ready.
"Aww, he's just messin' with your head," I chuckled. "So tell me, exactly what kinda game plan has you hatched in that little pea brain of yours?"
We'll start out fishin' real deep, then once sun gets high and the minners come to the surface, we'll go after schoolin' bass that was Harry's grand scheme, and it actually sounded like a decent plan to me. The following morning found us and 498 other bass nuts on Lake Flatus, waiting for the starting gun. "When we win that 10 grand, I say we take our old ladies out to a semi-fancy dinner at the Dew Drop Inn to celebrate, then put down the remaining $9,950 on a go-fast bass rig like Crusty's!" Harry suggested as we waited for blastoff.
"An excellent idea!" I agreed. "And if we get there by 4:30, we'll get the Early Bird discount!"
KA-BLOOEY! The starting gun sounded and hundreds of bass boats took off in every direction, leavin' me 'n' Harry bobbin' in their wakes. I gunned our ancient Wheezer outboard and we putted across Lake Flatus at an exhilarating 10 mph toward a deep, rocky point. "What lure you gonna try first?" I wondered.
"It's called a blade bait," he explained, holdin' up a little fish-shaped chunk of metal with two treble hooks. "I read about 'em in Bassmaster! Supposedly they sink real fast, then vibrate like crazy when you jig 'em!"
Harry hauled off 'n' flung the metal lure toward the point. Zzzzzingggg! It sailed about a hundred yards, and when it hit the water, Harry engaged his reel's spool so the bait sank on a tight line. "Heh-heh, this baby'll catch 'em no matter how deep they is lurkin'!" he winked.
Harry's line went slack, so he lifted his rod high the way the Bassmaster article told him to. The lure hopped off the bottom, vibrated frantically, then THUD! Somethin' huge loaded on! He set the hook, and his hawg stick bent double as the monster swam for deep water! "I got him, Charlie!" Harry cried as he reeled like crazy. "And it's a giant!"
Rttt--rtt--rtt!! The drag on Harry's vintage red baitcastin' reel squealed as the enormous fish ripped line from the spool in its efforts to escape to the depths of Lake Flatus! But Harry wasn't about to let this behemoth strip off all his line. He cranked like a madman and gradually gained on his prize! "Get the net, Charlie!" he choked.
By now several other teams of tournament competitors, including Wilbur 'n' Crusty, had idled in close to our boat to watch Harry battle the enormous lunker! Finally the moment of truth was at hand. "OK, Charlie, I's fixin' to bring this behemoth to the boat!" Harry gasped. He leaned back on the rod and I slid the landin' net under an enormous rock???
"What the " Harry sputtered. The blade bait's front treble had stuck in the oversized pebble! Settin' the hook had evidently caused it to tumble off the end of the point toward the old river channel.
"Check it out, boys!" Wilbur guffawed as Harry sat there dumbfounded. "Roland Martin here just landed a hundred-pound chunk o' limestone!"
"Lighten up, Harry!" I insisted to my embarrassed pal. "You gotta admit that was pretty funny!"
Eventually the chortling crowd dispersed. Six more hours of fishing deep structure and catching nothing followed. When Harry checked his watch, we only had 30 minutes left to fish, so we decided it was time to go to Plan B. "I heard they've been catchin' some good 'uns in the creek we launched out of, so let's run back there and hope we see some schoolin' bass," he said.
As we approached the mouth of the creek, we spied birds circlin' overhead a sure sign there was fixin' to be a feedin' frenzy! Then the surface erupted as a giant school of bass chased a zillion shad minners to the surface! "Get set to load the boat!" Harry said breathlessly as we pulled within casting range.
I chunked a surface popper into the melee and instantly a 3-pound bass plastered it! As I was reelin' it in, Harry flung his stickbait into the school and hooked not one, but two 4-pounders! As he was depositin' the pair into the livewell, I hooked a solid 5-pounder! "That makes 16 pounds in less than a minute!" Harry said excitedly. "One more good 'un and we just might win this tournyment!"
Harry's stickbait hit the water again and he began dog-walkin' it enticingly across the surface. "C'mon, big bass!" he pleaded under his breath. "Bite me!"
Suddenly there was a humongous swirl followed by a splash so big, it looked like a Buick had fallen off a bridge! "Good grief, it's a giant rockfish!" I hollered.
"That ain't no rock; I guarantee it's a real live fish!" Harry insisted as his rod doubled.
"'Rockfish' is what some folks calls stripers," I explained. "And from the looks of things, the one you just hooked weighs over 50 pounds! We only got 10 minutes till weigh-in, so you better bust it off quick if you want to fill out our limit on bass!"
The monster linesides was so powerful, it had actually towed our boat outa the creek to the middle of the lake! Even though Harry had tightened his drag all the way down, his kinky old line refused to bust. Boats was streamin' past us headin' for the weigh-in, including Crusty 'n' Wilbur's. "Looks like Harry's done hooked him another big rock!" Wilbur joked.
"For once you ain't lyin'!" Harry gasped, about spent from fightin' the refrigerator-sized striper. "When you get to the weigh-in, tell the newspaper photographer that if he wants to see a really big fish, he needs to ride out here and snap some shots of this bad boy!"
Well sir, it took another hour for Harry to land that monster, so we didn't get to weigh in our 16 pounds of bass, which would have netted us $100 for 10th place. I was ticked, but Harry didn't mind he got his picture on the front page of the afternoon paper holdin' up the new Lake Flatus record striper!
"Here's to you and your record rockfish!" I grumbled as Harry was celebratin' his catch later at Zonker's Tavern. "Now, you owe me 50 bucks! That's my share of the prize money we would have won if you hadn't made us miss the weigh-in!"
"Gosh, I had fifty bucks, but I spent it buyin' up every copy of the newspaper I could find!" Harry grinned, displayin' a mouthful of snaggly brown choppers. "Reckon you'll just have to put it on my tab!"