A green up

The sun broke free of the high, hazy clouds that held the forecasted temperatures in check and the world around our boat in the shallows of Little Detroit Lake lit up in a verdant show of the first emergent weeds of the season. Having worked hard in the chilly midday gray, flipping watermelon tubes, working dark crankbaits and slow-stripping my own gaudy handcrafted flies along the breaklines throughout the waters of the system, my brother and I had but a handful of small male bass and the odd bowfin to show for our efforts at the start of Minnesota’s catch-and-release bass season. With the seasonal calendar akilter, we explored other options in familiar places, but without a clear morning to pull the bass up into warming shallows, we found our favorite spots to be mostly empty throughout the day.

Hoping to at least discover a stack of smaller fish moving in to claim their territory in the suddenly warming end-of-day and with time winding down toward dinner back at the cabin, we rolled up to our last-ditch spot. It was a series of docks freshly placed into the lake that had paid off with fast action, if not big fish, on the previous season’s C&R opener. All along the shore behind them, the oak tree canopy was beginning to open and the light green leaves unfurled in the breeze, drinking in their first rays of sun over the dark green lawns. Our first offerings of tubes and plastic sticks skipped awkwardly at structures, showing the wear of winter on our hand-eye coordination needed to skip the lures under the metal frames of the docks and boatlifts. After a couple more practice casts, the baits found their mark, and I pulled back at a slight bow in the line.

A solid two-pound bass rolled out from under the dock and angled toward the boat, and in a moment was within my grasp. As it cut back and forth, its green sides beamed above and below its black stripe and matched the world around it that had suddenly come to life in the late afternoon sun. Reaching down, I lipped the respectable male and prepared to unhook it. I lifted the fish up as my brother set the hook in the front of the boat and grunted that first power hookset groan of the year as a massive bass rocketed up out of the water and splashed down, setting his Senko loose and flying back at us. Our jaws dropped before we quickly reset and fired casts back in the big bass’ direction, to no avail. I managed one more hook-up before breaking off on the dock crossbar which my lure went over before entering the water and being inhaled by a swirling bass. My brother landed two fish in the time it took me to retie.

We finished off the series of docks with as many bucketmouths as we had caught in the four hours prior, and we turned in hopes of adding some color to the brown reeds behind us. Cruising into the thicker side with the trolling motor, we cut the power and drifted in, firing the first long casts at last season’s stand of vegetation. After a couple twitches of my rod tip which moved the tube just off the edge of the reedbed, there was no doubt on a solid take and I leaned into the hookset. Upon the connection, the fish ran hard and the wake from its tail appeared about three feet behind where my line entered the water.

“This is a BIG fish,” I exclaimed on seeing the water boil and swirl, “maybe a pike or a muskie; I can feel teeth scraping on the line,” as the fish charged with lightning speed to the right of the boat and out into open water.

It was indeed a big fish, but not what I was expecting from the unorthodox sprinting and cutting it exhibited in the first 20 seconds of the battle. With a ferocious leap, a sledgehammer of a largemouth smashed the surface and sent my heart into my throat. I bowed my rod tip to its second mighty jump and loosened the drag to match another run. For a minute or two, I couldn’t gain line until finally the fish doubled back toward the boat until it was all I could do to crank on the reel to keep up with it. Charging, whirling, and running under the boat, I chased its movements with the tip of my arched fishing rod and listened to the drag pay out its whiny respects even as the end of the battle approached. After a few teases, the bass rolled up along the boat in the cold water and into the net which my brother hoisted over the gunwale. Despite being connected in the side of her mouth and the frayed line showing the wear from her sandpaper jaw, the hook popped loose for an easy release. After a quick picture, she sprinted back to the stand of reeds.

My brother and I traded bass around the area. Some were deep in the cover, some were on the edge, but all went three to five pounds, and we discovered just where the pre-spawn females were staging in relation to the males some 50 yards off near shore. Each mother-to-be bore the chunky belly full of eggs to add to the lake’s population of largemouths, and their gleaming green backs made the location almost seem in a state of mid-summer as we brought in the next seven fish we hooked. In a season that has been late in coming, with all its struggles and false starts, it was the sunny end of this adventure that signified the beginning of a new stretch of days filled once again with green leaves, green shallows and green bass…in our outdoors.

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