Location: “Somewhere” on the Mississippi River
It is Monday. Those less fortunate are at work, but for 3 people Monday is a blessing. It means an uncrowded boat ramp, no tuna boats or jet skiers and – most importantly – little competition on one of the best bass fisheries in the country.
At the recent Sportsmen’s Expo in Sparta, WI, the Black River Bass Masters conducted another FLW/TBF Reel Kids casting competition and, in a random drawing, 11 year old Elizabeth Puck of Sparta won “A Day on the Water” with one of the club members. Elizabeth was paired with Kevin Johnson, also of Sparta, and a mutually agreed upon date was chosen.
A late-morning storm threatens but the first part of the day is full of promise. Elizabeth’s Grampa, also a BRBM member, is along for the ride, mostly to take pictures and insure that Elizabeth remembers her sun block.
Johnson’s Basscat has plenty of casting room and he quickly has young Elizabeth up in the bow by the trolling motor, looking for likely spots, pointing out places where fish might be, and why they might be there. He expertly flips a bait into an area shaded by branches.
“Let’s just see first if anybody’s home.”
WHAM! The strike (and hookset) are swift, as he hands the rod to Elizabeth who is now feeling the biggest fish she’s ever had on the end of a line. This is not a sunfish.
Kevin Johnson is secure and confident enough in his craft and, like most good teachers, can get the point across by letting the student “DO” rather than watch. In fact, the times he will actually have a rod in his fingers this day can be counted on one hand.
Elizabeth is a quick study. She listens and learns. She casts a little better each time. She learns to feel the strike, to keep her rod tip up, and “reel, reel, reel!” She learns how to tie a Palomar knot.
She also learns that everyone gets snagged on a branch eventually if they’re really fishing. It’s not a mistake, there are no tears allowed. She learns to just deal with the snag, they happen, and keep fishing.
“If you don’t get snagged once in awhile you’re not fishing where the fish are,” says Johnson.
With the storm coming from the west the largemouth have gone into hyper-drive. Grampa takes the rod once to show Elizabeth how to flip under a tree not available from where she was standing. The bait is there less than 3 seconds, almost enough time to hand the rod back to Elizabeth. But the feel of the pickup causes Grampa’s wrist to reflexively set the hook as Elizabeth gets the rod back. It is about a 2-1/2 lb. fish, “average” for this particular morning.
Not counting one particularly aggressive smallie who was shorter than the bait he was trying to eat, and a really stoked-up rock bass (thanks for playing, you were alot of fun), Elizabeth catches and releases more than 3 limits of bass – in a bit over an hour. Most are in the 2 to 2-1/2 lb. range, several at 3, and a dandy at 3-1/2. It is, as the kids say, “sick.”
The mid-morning storm actually goes completely around this bass-catching fiesta but hammers Sparta. In fact, Grandma calls from work (work?) to inquire where they’ve sheltered up.
“Shelter? We’re fishing.”
Still, with the storm’s passage – and an almost immediate 10-12° temp increase – the bass have left and gone in search of deeper & cooler climes.
As the group searches for other likely spots, another thing Elizabeth discovers is that it’s perfectly OK to scream at the top of your lungs in joy, “styling” in your polarized, wrap-arounds, while going 60mph in an eye-popping purple bass boat.
While there are no more bass caught that day, the morning’s lessons will last a lifetime. Johnson gives one of the baits that did the trick for her use as part of a fishing-related 4H project she’ll be working on. The smiles and the hugs at day’s end tell Grampa that this was a pretty good idea.
Oh. And yes Dad, she did get to drive the boat.
As to that location on the river? Let’s just say it’s somewhere between Prairie du Chien and Alma. Really. Honest, no kiddin’.