Thursday, May 08, 2008

Chasing Bass back East

T.A. Phillips and one fat bass.
The day I headed back east to visit friends and family it was still snowing in Santa Fe.

The rivers and steams here were running high and muddy from a bountiful winter and the frozen lakes were just starting to melt.

The raging spring winds would soon follow.

But down in Virginia where an old college buddy of mine,T. A. Phillips, was working the weather was nice and warm.

And the fish there were just starting to bite.

And it was so good I just had to check it out.

So off I went.

We’d be looking for bass in some choice ponds out on the Virginia Peninsula along which the James and York rivers flow into the Chesapeake Bay.

We fished from a 14-foot, aluminum, johnboat propelled by an electric trolling motor.

A flat bottomed Johnboat makes for a great fishing platform.
It was a quiet way to slowly tool around the warm, dark waters of these shallow ponds. Towering Loblolly pines, heavy limbed oak trees and flowering Dogwood tees created a lush green, canopy around the ponds.

The surrounding woods resonated with a symphony of bird’s calls, their chirps and screeches seeming to echo in the jungle.

The crack of a twig revealed deer grazing in the dense underbrush, they stopped and stared at us for a moment before bounding off to safety.

A pair of frolicking muskrats splashed about and then stopped to peer at us before slipping under the water and out of sight.

The woods were teeming with wildlife but it was the turtles that dominated the pond, some as big as a sack of pinto beans.

We were under constant surveillance by these curious creatures that would pop their heads up out of the water to watch us float by and then swim off in a muddy swirl, a trail of air bubbles marking their escape.

When fishing we cast gray, two inch, imitation minnows formed of soft plastic surrounding an iridescent weighted hook.

These “swimming shad” wiggled and flashed as we reeled them in and proved to be irresistible to dozens of crappie.

 A nice sized Crappie.
We used medium weight rods with open face spinning reels and braided line for strength and sensitivity. I expected nothing less from a man like Phillips.

During our first few days on the water it seemed we caught Crappie on every other cast but we didn’t see any of the largemouth bass Phillips knew inhabited these waters.

That was until Phillips spotted an Osprey over the water.

“There’s your bass now,” he yelled.

I looked up to see perfectly outlined against the hazy, blue sky, the dark outline of a bass clutched in the talons of this great bird, her outstretched wings slowly undulating in an effort to gain altitude.

I fumbled for my camera tucked deep in my daypack as the bird circled back at the end of the pond and headed right back over us again, straining to gain altitude as she went.

As I tried to focus in on the bird with my camera, she alighted high up on the limb of a tree protruding out over the narrow, far end of the pond.

We watched as she pecked away at her catch and then groaned in disappointment as she lost her grip and the fish fell below with a loud splash.

Undeterred the Osprey dived down to the pond and scooped up the fish and once again made a run over our heads.

I never did manage to get a picture of the bird in flight, even when given a second chance.

As we trolled about the pond we could see the beds where bass had spawned along the shoreline.

They used their tails to swish off a clean spot on the sandy bottom where they could lay their eggs. The beds were easy to see in the shallower waters but so far we hadn’t seen any fish near them.

So we kept catching Crappie, rode out a couple of rain showers and then as dusk enveloped the pond, T.A. made a cast into some brush in the dark corner of a cove.

As he was slowly reeling it in, Phillips felt a heavy tug and set the hook.

He howled with glee as he realized from the violent shaking on the end of the line that he had finally found his quarry.

Reeling furiously, Phillips brought the line closer to the boat and then suddenly a gaping, white mouth emerged from the muddy waters.

It was a bigmouth and a good one too!

The big fish jumped and thrashed violently in an attempt to spit the hook, knocking itself against the boat with a thud.

Phillips, fearing the hook wouldn’t hold because we'd smashed the barbs down to make releasing the Crappie easier, made a desperate grab for the fish.

He grasped the struggling bass by its chin to still her, slid a wet hand under its belly and held her up for a photo.

And this time, I had the camera ready.

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