Fish don't always bite for columnists

Posted: August 9, 2018 at 2:18 a.m.

In the Potemkin universe of a fishing columnist, the fish always bite wherever you go, regardless of weather and season.

Reality is the serpent in that Edenic world.

Unlike Bill Dance, who can film for days in the same clothes until he catches enough fish to make a movie, the outdoors editor for this newspaper sometimes gets one, maybe two shots per week. Good days produce much excitement and opportunities to explain which lures work best in certain situations.

Days like last Thursday result in columns like this one.

Ray Tucker and I jumped at the invitation to fish a private reservoir in southeast Arkansas. The owner said it hasn't been fished much this year, and that the water had been low all summer from drought and irrigation.

Now he was refilling the reservoir with an innovative backflow system he uses to avoid tapping into groundwater. Baitfish thronged around the inflow pipe, he said, and his Florida bass were biting just about anything you threw at them.

Tucker asked when we should arrive.

"The solunar tables show a peak activity period at about 4:30 p.m.," I replied. "The fishing should be primo 90 minutes either side, so if we're on the water by 2, we should be fine."

Also to our advantage was a break in the weather. A cool front, such as it was, dropped the air temperature to about 90 degrees. On an open lake with no wind, however, there was no noticeable difference between 90 and 100. It was very humid, and a high degree of ultraviolet light was positively glaring. Even with dark gray sunglasses, the cumulative effect quickly sapped our energy.

Nevertheless, the cool inflow had the lake's surface temperature very comfortable. Baitfish broke surface all around the pipe, and we expected a shootout.

I dragged a swimbait through every level of the inflow current. I retrieved across and parallel to the column. I retrieved steadily. I twitched and jerked the lure to resemble a wounded baitfish. I hopped it up and down off the bottom. Bass, if they were present, ignored every presentation.

Tucker and I knew we were in trouble, but we tried to remain optimistic.

"It should pick up when we get closer to that 4:30 window," I said.

I switched to a crankbait, and Tucker used a Bomber stickbait, but bass ignored them both. Tucker remarked that the water was heavily stained and wondered aloud whether that might have shut down the bite. Florida-strain largemouths are sensitive to temperature change. Cool inflow and heavy stain might well have shocked them.

We left the pipe and cruised around the lake. The waterline was about 6-8 inches beneath a wall of thick vegetation on the shoreline that was about 3 feet wide.

"If the water were up in that grass, it would be 'plastic frog city,' " I said. "As it stands now, there's no visible cover in the water."

The last time we fished this place, almost a year ago to the day, we caught a lot of bass on both sides of a submerged levee. The levee is entirely exposed and fully vegetated now. The only submerged vegetation was on the far side of the reservoir, where we found a thin line of buckbrush. I caught a small but healthy bass on a Bagley's Killer "B" crankbait, and then another.

We made another pass using soft plastic baits. My selection was a YUM Craw Papi in watermelon/red flake. I got one big strike from an ancient bluegill, one of the biggest I've caught. Its body was almost a perfect circle, and its tail was worn almost to a nub. Its color was dark and mottled. It reminded me of Thing from Marvel Comics' Fantastic Four.

Those three fish hit right about 4:30 p.m., so I guess that was the peak of the peak activity period. You can always rely on the solunar tables!

By then, we were sapped, soaked with sweat and somewhat irritable. That's about the time the landowner joined us, and he was horrified by our lack of success.

We were glad to have his company, and the mood lightened considerably as we bantered and traded jokes.

Bream continued to bite our soft plastics, but we didn't land another. The landowner caught one bass and capped the day with the biggest fish of the day, a crappie.

Mosquitoes swarmed at sundown, but I couldn't resist one last cast at the inflow area before we left. I retrieved a crankbait across the plume and caught another small bass.

Even so, it ain't a bad way to make a living.

Sports on 08/09/2018