Largemouth bass love the edges of this world – where shallow meets deep, where sunny meets shaded and where daylight meets twilight.
All these edges come together during these last, sweet days of summer – and into the warmer days of early fall.
Finding these edges is more fun with a small boat, an oar or two, a Labrador retriever, a handful of popping bugs and one of the last still, warm, quiet evenings of the summer.
This small pond looked like glass Saturday evening as I knelt in the bow and used one paddle to ease the boat – quietly, quietly – toward the swirls of feeding bass.
Heather, my partner, rode in the stern and directed me to paddle toward an edge – a spot where a rocky, willow-shaded bank dropped off to deeper water. Berkeley, the lab, leaned his weight against my feet as I paddled.
The paddle – another edge – sliced into the still water. It looks kind of funny to propel a square-prowed jon boat with a single canoe paddle – instead of using two oars – but the pond is small, and paddling is the quietest way I know of sneaking around spooky bass. These bass don’t get a lot of fishing pressure – they wallop flies and lures – but they spook at a shadow over the slightly murky water.
The setting sun felt hot on my back as Heather made the first cast of the evening.
I stopped the boat about 40 feet from the bank, slid the anchor over the side and picked up my fly rod. The water rippled over Heather’s Hula Popper as she chugged it back to the boat with short, staccato pulls on the rod.
I cast my fly rod popper where a surface weed bed dropped off to deeper water – another edge.
As I watched, the popper vanished under the surface.
Largemouth bass usually whack a surface popper in a storm of spray and boiling water, but the bug just vanished.
My brain was expecting the big show, but all I saw was a vanishing act – the sign of a really big bass.
But I just sat there and did noting for the precious one or two seconds the bass held onto the popper. I set the hook just as the popper bobbed back to the surface – the edge between our world and the watery world of the bass.
My heart stopped – and then started beating again. It felt kind of like falling backward off a playground swing and landing on your back. Everything just stops from the shock.
Moments like this – where a bass appears on the surface – take us to the edge of another world. The metronome-like casting and retrieving of a popper explodes into action.
Or, in this case, inaction.
A few minutes later, a big bass slammed Heather’s Hula Popper, wallowed at the surface in a small explosion of spray – and then slipped the hook. It was the largest bass I’ve seen in this pond.
Heather smiled and kept casting as I raved about the big fish.
Heather judges angling success in a different way than most people – it’s not always about hoisting a big fish and grinning at the camera.
It’s a good evening if her lure or fly lands where it is aimed, whether her popper chugs along with a seductive, bubbly gurgle – and whether one or two bass surge to the surface and startle the daylights out of her.
Most anglers take a lifetime to reach this kind of enlightenment – I’ve fishing for 41 of my 48 years, and I still struggle to reach that kind of subtle satisfaction.
Yet, on this night, the boils of feeding bass – whether they were on my fly or some unfortunate frog or baby bluegill – made me smile. It was good to know that so many good bass live in this pond – and some of them took a swing at my fly.
Heather dared me to cast into a leafy cave underneath an overhanging willow tree – I kept telling her a nice bass had to be there, as it was the meeting of so many fishy edges.
And a bass was there.
After the splashing was over, the bass swam away – and the only light left on this late summer evening was an orange line on the western horizon.
I started paddling us back to another edge – where the dry world was waiting for us, where the end of summer loomed yet closer and there we hoped to avoid stepping into prickly weeds hidden in the darkness.
Then dozens of wings whistled over the boat, and big birds began landing on the surface of the dark pond. Geese wings sounded like muffled applause as the birds – hidden by the edge where twilight fades into night – touched down all around us.
“Beautiful,” Heather said as the geese gabbled and rafted up for the night.
Chester Allen: 360-754-4226