The 2-pound smallmouth hit on the eighth cast — a walleye-like “tap” that turned into a jerk, a pull and a surprising surge of power in the shallows of a frequently fished stretch of Angostura Reservoir shoreline.
A fish in the first 10 casts is what you hope for in an early spring fishing outing, even if the fish happens to be a much-appreciated bass instead of a sought-after walleye.
And midway through Good Friday in Lent, the smallmouth obliged me with much more urgency than the staff at the fast-food shop where I ordered drive-through lunch on the way out of town. Turned out it was drive through, park and wait.
Getting the fish sandwich took 20 minutes. Getting the smallmouth took a tenth of that. I ate one, released the other, then said a prayer of gratitude.
There were two other nice smallies to follow in the first 15 minutes, including an aerially-inclined 2 1/2 pounder. It had me believing, as it tested the character of last year’s 6-pound-test line, that the bass fishing would be hotter than the 66-degree high forecast.
I hoped to take advantage, because it was to be a one-day indulgence before the bone-chilling — for mid-April — drop in temps and wet snow to come the day after.
But it turned out that the fishing cooled faster than the temperature. And in three more hours of pretty persistent casting at six or seven locations, I couldn’t tease another smallmouth enough to strike.
You know what they say: That’s why it’s called fishing, not catching.
That was five days ago. The snow and cold arrived on time, and outstayed any welcome. Lows in the teens and single digits, and highs struggling to reach 30. And all of it surrounded by the capsule of relentless bad news, daily body counts and fearful projections tied to the coronavirus.
My days in semi-quarantine involve sheltering-in-place at the computer, catching radio, newspaper and TV stories and strolling with my wife and our dog along the busier-than-normal trails in the forest above our house.
Mary’s working at home these days, thanks to the wise decision by her bosses at the Catholic Social Services and the Diocese of Rapid City. Without her regular work schedule and our mass schedule and YMCA schedule and library and coffee-with-pals schedules, our existence tends to merge into a gray sameness. It makes days hard to define — is it Thursday? — and spirits hard to elevate.
Books help. Hikes help. Prayer helps. Netflix helps. Mary’s Irish soda bread helps. And so, too, does the sharpening edge of anticipation of a warming trend this weekend and a trip back to the big lake, rod in hand and expectations rising, degree by degree.
There are few fishing options I love more than wading the shallows of spring and casting jigs for walleyes. This is not boat business. I have a boat, now. I bought one last year, you might recall. And I discovered on my first launch the value of proper drain-plug placement.
That was not quite as entertaining as the time I shot out my pickup window. But it was still pretty good. And the boat will come, in time. First, I want to wade and cast when the walleyes are shallow and predictable, before they scatter to haunts and holes throughout the lake.
They hadn’t yet moved shallow prior to the recent big chill. I knew that from my own casting, from observing the searching patterns of boats and from friendly inquiries at the ramps.
“I could see them on the graph,” one fellow said, referring to his sonar screen. “They’re out in 35 or 40 feet of water, just sitting there. They won’t bite and they won’t go up shallow.”
He said the water temperature was running 44 to 45 degrees, which is four or five degrees below the typical ignition point for a good spring walleye bite. The recent freeze didn’t help. And it’s hard to say where the water temp and the walleye mood will be come Sunday or Monday.
But I know where I’ll be, and what I’ll be doing. And this time when I stop for my drive-through lunch on the way out of town, I’ll get the roast beef.
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