Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Black Bass Spring

Editor's note: I have some talented friends. Chad is one of them. Below is the last of three guest posts for a while from my buddy east of the Big River. His writings last year (herehere and here) were well received and different from what you typically find on this blog. I hope you enjoy Chad’s work and style as much as I do. 

As long as I have fly-fished I’ve been fascinated by bass bugs.  I appreciate the form and function of them, and the artistry of the flies.  Bass bugs are purely American in history as black bass are native only to the Americas.  References to fly fishing for black bass in America dates back as far as the mid 1700s when William Bartram observed Seminole Indians dap them up on a series of hooks wrapped in deer hair and hung off the end of a cut sapling.  By the early 1900s bass bugs were produced and fished widely in the United States.  They still are.

For me, the touchstone of true spring in Northeastern Connecticut is when I can begin fishing for bass in farm ponds.  It is when I know winter is truly over and there will be no more snow.  It is the first warm spell of over a few days, and the evening has stretched out and begun to linger.  It is the sound of peep frogs, untold and unseen thousands of them, singing in the low wet places.  Among those wet places first, a new spring green emerging from the grey bracken and underbrush. 

I love the flies used to fish bass.  The insane intricacies of color that a good fly tier can meld and pack in their making, and clip so perfect to form: frog divers, mice patterns, poppers, birds even.  I love the gear used, I often use a #7 glass rod that is older than I am.  I love it that it is substantial and weighty and off the business end a short and stout leader.  Much like the fish, bass bugging is not delicate.

Farm ponds generally warm quickly.  The best early spring ponds are exposed to full sun, and are shallow.  Any bay available, but a North bay especially.  Walking the bank, amazed at the life teeming in the shallows so soon.  Young of the year fish breaking, frogs, the dark wake of a good fish pushing off in less than a foot of water.  A hunting fish.

I love the strike.  It will surprise me always, the first strike of the year, and I will generally miss the fish.  Even if that mouse looks so damn good skating on the oil slick black water with its rabbit strip tail undulating like a snake, it will take me off guard.  When the violence comes and the fish hits it.  The key is to wait on the set, and not do it like you would any trout.  I love the boiling take, when the fish porpoises onto the fly perpendicular to me, exposing its size and kicking down the back end of its feed.  The deep bend to the glass rod, head shakes and runs.  The quick fight, no quarter given, pressuring on that short stout leader freely.

You can lip a bass, and should do so with authority, especially on a good fish. They’ll shake their heads and fuss, but soon settle.  I love the feel of their course jaw on my thumb and appreciate their dark lateral lines, dual dorsal fins, and broad tails.  Their deep green, the darker their water, the deeper the green, but generally in the early spring lighter as weed growth hasn’t yet shaded their homes.  

In the spring, on those first sweet nights where it is warm until it is full dark.  Fishing through full dark.  The deep flexing glass rod, hucking that bug out and letting it sit to settle as the rings of its landing dissipate out into the evening lake.  Bringing it to life.  Stripping it to be alive on the surface of the pond.  I love when the wake appears and follows.  Quickening the pace, the implied fear in the fly.  Then, the flash of the predatory mouth.

I associate this fishing with the first campfires and sweatshirts.  The static hush of the Fenway crowd and Joe Castiglione calling for the Red Sox on WEEI, “Now here’s the set.  The pitch…….”  Windows down on the ride home, sated.  Sleeping with the windows open for the first time, waking with a rough bass thumb in the cool April morning.

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