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The midnight-tinted sides of the spawning black crappie from the north bay of the power plant lake was a welcome sight. It confirmed that both my timing and my location were on, as my first cast into the area of the sunken rock crib where the fish spawned each spring connected soundly, despite the wind blowing my fly line around on each back cast. With a twist of the pliers and a flip back into the water, the speck was off to defend his territory and court his eventual mate.

My second cast of the gusty morning landed in about the same place, halfway between the boat and shore and right around the mix of rocks, the remnants of a sunken wire fence, and as I’d determine throughout the morning, a solid selection of both black and white crappies staging for the spawn. However, as I tightened up the deep green type-III sinking line to feel for the subtle thump of these fish, I felt a bump more significant than that which any of the day’s crappies would provide.

I slammed the curl of fly line between my index and middle fingers down and jolted the rod upward, but the tip barely moved from its position as the entirety of the shaft bent in a rainbow that went from my right hand to the surface of the water. At first, I thought I had snagged up on the remaining wire of the underwater fence, but two hard headshakes confirmed the connection was with something far more animate. In a lake well known for both its largemouth bass and carp that benefit from warm year-round water temperatures and a long growing season in this spa of the northern plains, I narrowed my opponent down to those two possibilities. As the fish charged the boat and dove under the 25-horse Mercury, I hoped for the former but planned for a drawn-out battle with the latter.

The fish stayed low, going up to the bow of the boat and toward the anchor rope, and I tightened my grip on the click-and-pawl reel trying desperately to turn the freight train thundering below before it reached the point of tangling up and no return. Able to convince my opponent to come back to the stern, the fish broke the surface in an angry splash.

It was a largemouth bass, and it was huge, easily the biggest I had ever connected with on the fly rod. Neurons flashed, nerves flared, my heart rate jumped, and adrenaline coursed through my body from head to toe. The battle took on a serious tone upon seeing the size of the fish and the black stripe running down its side as it charged back to the bottom, peeling the fly line from the reel in a resounding whir. Keeping the rod tip high, I gathered myself and clenched down on the cork handle.

A huge jump and splashdown behind the boat caused me to bow the rod as the fish surfaced again, bringing another rush of endorphins. My tiny crappie-focused Clouser minnow was nowhere to be seen along the fish’s gaping mouth, likely inhaled as the cinderblock with fins came cruising into the area. Another leap brought the bass to the side of the boat and a few more charges tested the spin of the five-weight reel and the flexion of the rod that pulsed with each head shake the fish gave to loosen the silver hook covered in chartreuse and white bucktail. The bass came to the surface and rolled to its side just long enough to suggest I could net it.

Reaching for the rubber-mesh landing net, I slid it into the water as far as my arm could reach and it met the end of the arching green fly rod and the line and leader below it and the fish slid over the metal rim before trying to muster one last charge and go ballistic in the basket. Despite the spray of water, it was stuck, and I had bested the biggest bass of my life on the fly rod. With a pop of the pliers, I freed the fly, which was buried in the top of the lunker’s mouth and measured the bass on the decal tape near the motor. At just a hair over 20 inches, it was in the top five biggest I had ever caught and bested my largest on the long rod by several inches.

With a flick of its tail and a slow fade into the turbid waters below, the fish was off to figure out exactly what happened, and at the very least provide another angler a chance to tussle with it somewhere down the line. For me, it was a welcome return to a favorite spot with a notice that not all the fish that lurk below are an easy crank back to the boat on a small fly reel and a reminder that each trip can provide a shot of adrenaline and a chance to test my skills … in our outdoors.


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