When you know, you know
t was my first trip around the 50-acre impoundment southeast of town, a traditional decades-ago dam that shunted the water up rills and creekbottoms and turned an old meandering valley into a stockable small reservoir, which absorbed some of the local fishing pressure. Under the rippled gray skies of Sunday morning, my cousin and I set out searching for the abundant largemouth bass and sunnies that had shown up in the recent surveys of the water. Making the turn out of the small arm that was home to the boat launch, the swimming beach and the paddle boat docks, we cast our bass tubes and worms along the relatively steep breaks and the well-established weed edge and dragged them slowly back to the boat.
Then came that telling moment, the one that leaves no doubt. A trio of tugs on the line caused me to drop my rod tip to the fish on the other end. It was obviously a bass, as the pep-pep-pep of the bluegills early on in the outing were easy to distinguish and ignore. Sweeping the rod back, it felt as if I had hammered the hook home into a cinderblock in the brown-stained depths under the boat along the west corner of the rip rap on the dam. The rod pounded out the protest from the fish below and I just knew it was a big one. I had been there before with a number of species, and had seen the realization in other anglers’ eyes that I had fished with when they set the hook, which conveyed without words that a quality fish was on the line. When you know, you just know.
While fishing in a canoe on a skinny stretch of my home flow, my buddy had popped his jig loose from a snag and square into the mouth of a monster walleye. Though I could only see his back, the bend in the rod and the urgency with he handled the fish led me to reel up at lightning speed and deploy the short-handled net we had converted for our river adventures in the old Dolphin Princess.
“How big is it,” I inquired.
“Big…I mean BIG, big,” his voice confirmed as the nearly 29-inch fish came to the surface and into the net.
While sturgeon fishing in the cold of late April on the Rainy River, all it took was seeing the dinner-plate-sized eyes of another buddy to know that the fish on the end of the line was a prehistoric leviathan which coursed with the current and arched the rod in what at times appeared to be a 200-degree angle. He needed to say nothing about the fish, we both knew how huge it was, despite the fact we wouldn’t see its form for another 20 minutes or so. The 64-incher was his then personal best and provided an epic battle in front of the dining area at Sportsman’s Lodge, which a number of patrons who watched from the glass windows would congratulate him on later.
Sunday’s largemouth ran and thundered around below the boat, pulling a few feet of gray Fireline from the spool of my reel before reversing course and sending an s-curve of slack across the surface. The pot-bellied beast burst from the surface of the small lake like an ICBM launched from a submarine and cartwheeled through the air and came back down with a splash that would win a spring break cannonball contest. With visual confirmation, the known unknown was made clear, and I reeled down to catch up with the resurgent bass.
The fish ran back and forth along the side of the boat before a feigned submission and one final charge under the aluminum puddle jumper perfectly suited to the trolling-motor-only lake. As I reached for its lower lip, it gave a series of headshakes and the red wide-gap hook stuck firmly in its top lip sparkled in a passing ray of sunlight that peaked out from behind the cloudy ceiling which would dominate the morning.
Coming to hand, I hoisted the fish up for a quick photo, popped the hook loose, and taped the bass out on the plastic measuring stick. At just about 19 inches, it was one of the biggest largemouths I had landed in the upper Midwest. With a flip as I loosened my grip, the fish wasted no time on the release to get as far away from us as possible, back into the weedy depths of the small reservoir, and with it went our knowledge that some big ones did reside in the little flow…in our outdoors.