Place your bets

“You should have been here yesterday,” is paradoxically one of my favorite and least favorite sayings about the outdoors.

When I’m issuing it, it recalls a day of excitement, and likely invokes a bit of good-natured envy from a fellow angler, who with me in the newest moment, probably isn’t doing as well as I was the day before, when fish seemed to be swarming a spot and bites were memorable, if not legendary. When I’m on the receiving end of it, well, it doesn’t feel as good as the issuing end; but such is the nature of fishing — a sport of skill, timing and a bit of luck, particularly in spring when the rush of fish into the shallows or upstream can be a here-and-gone proposal. Those “yesterday” bites can be quite memorable.

So fast was a recent yesterday bite I shared with my sons that their hands tired from cranking the reels on their light action spinning rods. My youngest actually took a nap atop the warn blue throwable life preserver in the warm afternoon sun, citing exhaustion from the blur of black and white crappies that came over the silver sides of our little fishing boat. My oldest, after catching several dozen slabs, relegated himself to netting duty and developed a roulette-style game of calling what species would be next to join us in the boat through the courtesy of his management of the rubberized mesh he held at the ready. It truly was a toss-up too with even numbers of both black and white crappies in the water below.

In the shallows of the small bay, fish swarmed unlike any previous day I had recently visited the water this season, and the crappies were thicker than they’d be in the couple days after. It was a yesterday bite if there ever was one. With my duties of unhooking fish alleviated, I stood alone at the bow of the boat, providing shade for my sleeping son while tossing our pill into the proverbial betting wheel, but instead of gambling on black or red, we made our wagers on whether the next fish would be a white crappie or a black one. I’d defer to my oldest son’s call of black or white as the jig hit the surface of the lake and then begin the horizontal drag of the krystal flash jig back to the boat, with a couple of twitches mixed in to liven things up. Typically, it’d take only a few cranks of the reel before a slight bump would signal a bite from the school between us and the shore, and it was a fish on nearly every cast.

While the 10s, 20s and 50s we put up ahead of the hookset were imaginary and would never be paid out between us or to any gambling house, to my son practicing his landing skills, each fish took on an exciting element as he extended the net to haul them in, occasionally adding in a bit of a shake to the handle, exaggerating their fight and size of the crappie in the basket.

While I could have gone on catching these yesterday fish all afternoon and into the evening, dinner awaited us at home. As my younger boy awoke we recounted for him some of the bigger crappies that had come in, and tallied up the amounts his brother and I owed each other after another 40-or-so fish, and determined it came down to about $27.50 in his favor, which I would carry forward on my tab, or alternatively proposed I apply against what he’ll have to pay me retroactively for food he eats as a child. He found no humor in the latter suggestion, but on the drive back recognized how lucky we were as he recounted the fun of the experience … in our outdoors.


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