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A cast away

There was nothing subtle about the take that came along the stand of watershield leaves which partially covered the surface of the clear shallows. A solid bump elicited the hyperspastic reel-down on my baitcaster and the sweeping hookset which followed. Where most of the one- to two-pound fish had been rocketed out of the reeds, lilies and other aquatic vegetation by my powerful sweep, this one barely budged and instead plowed along the bottom of the area in between the two prime stretches where we offered up our plastics. I advised the boys — my wife’s cousin’s twins Billy and Cullen, who were together fishing with me as they had been on nearly every mid-summer holiday stretch for the past 15 years or so — that it was a good fish, right after the hookset.

It came on a cast to nothing in particular; a throwaway toss to the edge of some slop to fill the void as the trolling motor hummed from one prime reed bed to another. As the bass broke free of the bottom vegetation and turned in a sideways streak toward the boat, reflecting the overhead sun on its glinting emerald sides, I cranked down on the reel to gain line. After a few acrobatic flips and a couple more charging runs around the bow, the largemouth made its way into the rubberized net, and at 18 inches was the outlier of the morning fishing adventure. Following a couple of quick photos, the bass zipped back to where it had come from — tucked in the thick edge of the otherwise unremarkable stand of weeds.

As we continued along after the release, I thought aloud with my fishing companions as to how many times that has happened before, and how often we overlook — and better yet, eventually discover — those areas that hold memorable fish or game, some of which become places we can go back to again and again for success, despite their late detection. It’s the stretch of river that gets buzzed over when headed upstream to known haunts that hold good walleye fishing. It’s that tiny pocket slough on the far end of a WMA tucked into the grass at the terminus of an old tree line which harbors a wing storm of pheasants that flush unexpectedly. It’s the old farmstead that serves as a makeshift shelter for a wily old whitetail buck. Sometimes these spots are too far away to justify a hike or a trip, sometimes they’re right under our noses, and sometimes they’re just a cast away between two other prime areas. There’s a certain sense of kicking one’s self that comes with these late discoveries, but it beats never knowing that they were there all along; taking heart in the adage of “better late than never.”

What’s more, these places provide a new look into the why of angling and hunting and how to pattern the fish and game we pursue. What is it about the habitat, the channel edge, the current flow, or the cover type that makes the spot between spots, or the far-flung destination so good? Is it simply its distance from the public access point, or is it that coupled with other factors — a subtle change in vegetation, depth or elevation, or the fact it doesn’t receive pressure between two prime areas? Targeting bass as we were on the established summer reeds, the stand of oval-leaved surface plants provided a new clue as to where to look for fish — perhaps bigger ones — as summer settles in, and served as a reminder to not get stuck in a rut or stay focused on just one tree in the forest.

The big bass in the skinny stretch of water went into my journal as another one of the dozens of little hints picked up along the learning curve and provided the added encouragement to continue exploring, and a continued reminder that exploration doesn’t always have to be half a world away. Oftentimes, new areas of interest and successful trips outdoors can be closer than we think. In fact, finding those places close to home can often be the most rewarding, especially when they are just a cast away from where we normally find ourselves … in our outdoors.

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