If it hadn’t been for the western grebe, I wouldn’t have been stung by the bumblebee.
And I wouldn’t have lost the 20-inch walleye.
But, of course, I wouldn’t have hooked the 20-inch walleye, either. So there’s that.
And as a fisherman, you can rarely go wrong by following the lead of a western grebe, which is what I did a few days back on the face of Orman Dam at Belle Fourche Reservoir.
I had been pitching jigs off the riprap of the dam for about 40 minutes without a strike when I decided it wasn’t the day or the time or the place, or something.
Strolling back to the vehicle on the two-track trail that runs across the top of the dam, I noticed that the grebe I had spooked out of an area along the rocks had returned to the spot where it was dive-fishing when I arrived.
Grebes know more about fish than I do. And I figured the bird came back for a reason. So I cat-stepped my way back down the riprap to the water, as the grebe again paddled away at my approach.
Just because the grebe was there didn’t mean the walleyes or smallmouth bass were there, of course. But it likely meant that something was there for a grebe to eat, probably the same baitfish that walleyes and smallmouth bass like to eat.
It was worth a few more casts. So I tossed the eighth-ounce jig as close as I could to the spot the grebe had left about 25 yards from shore. Then I counted to 10 to let the jig and its 3-inch RippleShad smelt-pattern plastic tail — imbued with factory concocted scent — settle somewhere down near the rocks before I started my retrieve.
On the seventh or eighth crank I felt a tap, lifted the rod hard enough — I thought — to set the hook and watched the graphite bend down toward the water with the pulsating weight of a fish.
It felt like a pretty good fish, too.
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“Thanks, grebe!” I called to the departing bird as I cranked the fish toward the riprap.
The rhythmic thump, thump of the rod tip indicated it was a walleye, as opposed to the hard rushes and almost-immediate jumps of the smallmouth. And this fish was staying down and thumping it up enough to make me think it was a nice-sized walleye.
I think it was, too, because I saw two or three flashes of the fish — long and narrow and grayish-silver with a white underbelly — in four of five feet of water as it fought against my retrieve. And I got an even better look a crank or two later when the fish turned sharply and the jig slipped out of its mouth.
I’d guess it was about 20 inches long, which meant it was an “over” fish. State regulations on Belle Fourche Reservoir allow a daily limit of four walleyes. But those from 15- to 18-inches long must be released. And only one over 18 inches may be kept in the four-walleye daily limit.
So what would have been my “over” fish turned into my “see-ya” fish instead. Still, I was feeling hopeful as I retrieved the jig on the next cast, which is when I got stung by the bumblebee.
I didn’t see the bee until I felt it sting me just below my left elbow. It was unpleasant, of course. But I’ve been stung by bees and wasps before so I wasn’t too worried about complicated reactions.
I did soak the arm in the cool reservoir. I also made 20 or 30 more casts without a strike. And the sting spot was getting red and swollen, so I walked back to the pickup and chilled it down with ice from the cooler.
I also decided to move on to the other side of the reservoir, to make some casts near the main boat ramp before storm clouds rolled in. There I caught an 18 1/2-inch walleye on the first cast, followed by a blast of lightning that was way too close for comfort.
It seemed like a good time to put my “over” fish on ice and head into Belle Fourche for a quick lunch at Subway.
In keeping with the spirit of the day, I went with the tuna, which was easy to catch and didn’t sting at all.