I’ve never been a morning person.
There are only two things that get me up & at ’em before sunshine pokes over the dark horizon outside our bedroom window.
One is fishing… the other is… well… that is not your business…
On this day, it was option #1.
I forced myself to roll out of bed and stumble downstairs when the alarm went off…
The carpet was dry and scratchy under my bare feet during the descent to the main floor; the air was noticeably colder.
Groggy, mental gymnastics began as I slowly staggered along, intent on pouring my first cup of coffee. Bed was especially tempting this morning, because strange weather had made it difficult to put fish in the boat with any consistency since returning from our annual fishing trip to Minocqua, Wisconsin.
The bite was just off.
“… you have to go, you have to go… the kids start school again soon, Old Man Winter is headed this way… make the time to fish before you don’t have it…”
Upon entering the kitchen, the inviting smell of freshly brewed java was… oh no… dear God no…
Last night before bed, the delayed-start was never turned on.
The coffee pot was cold & empty.
*drip… drip… drip…*
I stumbled over to my desk to sit and wait. Angrily. Eyes began to droop.
“… frickin’ idiot… this is gonna take forever…”
Finally poured the first cup after a brief shuffle back to the kitchen. The piping hot liquid smelled delicious, and the sun was just now starting to peek over the trees.
You could see the orange and red and yellow as it lit up the sky, spreading out with surprising speed. I thought about my fishing plan for the day.
“Gotta go with a creek man, the bite is always pretty reliable. Should be able to move at a good steady pace, covering water and locating fish.”
The truth was I hadn’t slept well, and the previous evening had been spent frantically setting up jigs & micro-swimbaits, loading a single Plano container with a handful of downsized presentations aimed at getting the attention of smallmouth bass.
A clever new combination would be my workhorse: 1/8 ounce bass jig with a green pumpkin living rubber skirt – plus the secret sauce – a single strand of blue and a single strand of orange, tipped with a Z-Man Trick Shot to match the small local forage.
Smallmouth bass – my favorite fish – would surely destroy it. Even though said smallmouth had been throwing curveballs lately… and that off-speed pitch will getcha.
Time to throw one right back.
I took a big noisy slurp of coffee and decided to get moving.
“Today will be a good day… it’s time to go… but now I need to load the truck. The truck is empty. Why is the truck EMPTY. I should have loaded the truck last night. I didn’t load the truck. I don’t want to load the truck now. What do I need to put in the truck? WHY DIDN’T I LOAD THE DANG TRUCK?!”
I had to load the truck.
I angrily hurled the small kayak into the bed, grabbed the paddle and a few bottles of water plus my fishing backpack, pole, camera, fired up the engine and pulled out of the driveway.
By 7:30 the sun had come up completely as the creek rolled into view.
With the window down the sound of water slowly gurgling past the large piles of tree trunks and branches stuck on the bridge pilings made their way into the cab. The gravel began to crunch beneath the tires as the truck pulled off the road and slowed to a crawl, approaching my favorite parking spot just off the highway…
… but it was occupied.
I would not be fishing alone this morning.
There are two reasons I prefer to fish by myself.
One? The silence – I like to speak to God without interruption – unless that interruption is a fish.
Two? I look ridiculous with a camera attached to my head…
I grabbed my gear and dropped in.
The paddle started to swish and swash, left and right, methodically, as I made my way upstream.
Suddenly, there he was…
Up ahead… the filthy parking spot thief.
The better fisherman. The one who got the jump on me. Probably hit all of my favorite spots. Displaced my fish. Ruined my morning.
As we paddled closer to one another, a chipper, feminine voice rang out –
“Oh… hey, good morning ma’am.”
“It’s beautiful out today – make sure you check out that rock structure up ahead. It’s really neat and I got some great pictures. Have a good day!”
“Thanks, you too.”
We softly paddled past one another.
Upon realizing that she was simply sight-seeing, it seemed safe to start working the area. The fish were probably not bothered, and surely they would be ready to devour my fancy custom jig – you know – the one with a single strand of orange and a single strand of blue in the skirt.
I made casts for an hour without a bite.
Decided to stick with the jig, but make my way further upstream.
However, there was one big problem with that plan.
Well… several big woody problems.
Mother nature had decided to knock a few trees down. They sat directly on top of the riffles completely blocking certain narrow sections within the creek, and while I had been prepared to carry my kayak over the shallow, rocky areas – I was not prepared to lift the kayak over my head and climb trees.
But we don’t quit.
The climbing began.
Over… and over… and over…
I must have stopped and lifted the kayak 30 times or more.
Even with all of the grunting and the sweating and the swearing and the cuts and the scrapes and the blood splats peppering my arms and hands there was an attempt to move quietly.
Mustn’t scare the fish, after all.
BOOM BOOM SNAP CRASH BOOM BOOM CRASH SNAP SNAP THWICK!!!
“GAH! Is that a freaking MOOSE!? A MOUNTAIN LION??”
No… it was… a buck.
I scared a buck that was taking a drink in the creek ahead of me. Didn’t even see it.
Have you ever been isolated, surrounded by complete silence, and startled a deer? It is incredible how ungraceful these animals really are when they are trying to escape from you.
Sounded like Sasquatch ripping through the trees.
ROOOOOAAARRRRRRR SNARL ROOOOOAR!!!
“CRIPES! Is that a freaking GRIZZLY BEAR!?”
No… it’s… two racoons fighting over a crayfish.
They looked up at me for a split second, puzzled, cocked their heads to the side and bolted, plodding their fat ‘coon butts noisily through the underbrush.
“Good Lord why are all these animals so uncoordinated and loud – and why am I so paranoid?? Better slow down and pay attention so I don’t have a heart attack…”
Decided to slow down.
I couldn’t cover as much ground, and as a result, it took me way longer to get to the deeper water way up ahead.
The slow plod continued…
“Lord I hope I can paddle soon… I guess on the bright side if I’m careful I won’t break my ankles on these slippery, slimy rocks…”
That’s when I noticed something in the shallow water…
“Ok great so no fish but I got a cool rock. Yippee.”
I knelt down and retrieved the treasure, rolling it back and forth, over and over in my hands. Father Time and a slow trickle had punched a hole right through the center of the stone.
“Guess the kids have wanted to see one of these since we learned they existed… super, MORE crap to carry.”
I tossed the stone in the back compartment of the all-plastic ‘yak, and the noise it made was so LOUD it made me think of the animals who had startled me earlier. Sounds surrounded me. Sounds of nature. Water. Wind. Leaves rustling high above. The area was so isolated that they all seemed so LOUD.
Why was it so quiet… wait… my phone hadn’t rang or dinged or beckoned me for hours now…
I was missing important phone calls for work.
Surely everything was on fire at the office.
Surely all of the websites I’d ever created were broken.
Surely someone had an emergency and was trying to get ahold of me.
I wandered into a wider section of the creek with a nice outside bend while thinking about all the problems piling up back home. The kayak was placed carefully on the bank, and the jig was unhooked from the keeper on the rod.
In one extremely coordinated, professional movement, I flicked the lure into the fishy looking area – and promptly watched it land right in the “Y” of a massive branch poking above the water. With a skillful snap of the wrist, I proceeded to bury the hook deep in the wood. Finally, with one amazingly adept tug on the rod I was rewarded as my line freed itself from the log!
It also freed itself from the jig.
My line broke.
I stood there, knee deep in the water with the jig I had carefully, meticulously crafted the night before – remember, the one with a single strand of orange and a single strand of blue in the skirt – permanently planted in a branch 30 feet away over deep water, surrounded by entire trees that prevented me from kayaking over… and I wasn’t about to go swimming.
With the rod held between my knees, I awkwardly pulled the Plano container out and selected a simple jigworm, then tried to balance while tying a new loop knot I’d been working on learning.
Wrong. Snip. Start over.
Wrong again. Snip. Start over.
WRONG. AGAIN. Snip. Start over.
Finally, my bloody fingers managed to tie the perfect non-slip loop knot, which would give my jig just a bit more action.
Over the next hour I saw fish. Heard them splash as they jumped for bugs, saw their bellies reflect sunlight as they turned slightly sideways in the shallow water, noticed small groups of them swimming with one another, darting this way and that – but they weren’t interested in my offering…
Except for one.
*tick… tick tick*
5 hours in, exhausted from lugging the kayak through the trees, with bloodied hands and ripped up pants, I finally felt the tiniest of strikes, and set the hook.
The fight was anticlimactic.
3 seconds later I had him out of the water.
I caught one bass, and it was time to go.
I took a long look at the miniature bronzeback before releasing him back into the shallow water. So much work for ONE fish?
“This is ridiculous. It’s mental.”
The bass zipped off like a laser as soon as my fingers loosened underneath his soft belly.
I wiped my hands – hands that now smelled fishy, like success… but me & God knew the truth…
Today had been an absolute waste, and it was time to lug my kayak all the way back, over the trees and up the hill, back to the truck and eventually home…
The trip back was silent.
Not even the obnoxious deer or snarling racoons wanted to keep a loser like me company.
My head hung in shame.
At dinner that night, my wife asked me…
“How was your day?”
Are you kidding me?! Didn’t she know?? IT SUCKED! The WORST day of creek fishing EVER!!
“Waste of time! Waste of energy! Waste of money! First I got up super early – “
“So you saw the sunrise?”
“Yeah, and then I forgot to set the coffee pot – “
“So you got fresh coffee?”
“Yeah, and then I forgot to load the truck – “
“So you got to make a few last minute adjustments?”
“Yeah, and then someone was in my parking spot – “
“So you found a new place you could park?”
“Yeah, and then I ran into some lady sight-seeing – “
“So you were the only fisherman in the creek?”
“Yeah, and then I made casts for an HOUR with no bites – “
“So you got to practice your casting?”
“Yeah, and then I had to keep moving upstream and there were trees down everywhere – “
“So you got a bunch of exercise carrying the kayak into areas other fishermen won’t go?”
“Yeah, and then there was this deer crashing through the trees and a couple of racoons literally roaring at each other – “
“So you got to hear sounds most people will never hear in person?”
“Yeah, and then I had to slow down and couldn’t cover as much ground – “
“So that’s when you found that hagstone for the boys and made their day?”
“Yeah, and then I realized my phone had no signal – “
“So you got to explore the area uninterrupted?”
“Yeah, and then I broke off on a log – “
“So you got to practice that new loop knot you’ve been learning?”
“Yeah, and then I ONLY CAUGHT ONE FREAKING FISH – “
“So you didn’t get skunked?”
“Yeah! Yeah I… yeah…”
We stopped talking.
The only noise at that moment was the clicking and clanking of silverware on our finest Corelle plates as the boys devoured their food.
She looked at me and smiled, then set her fork down and folded her hands underneath her chin, well aware that the point she’d made was slowly beginning to sink in.
“Well… that sounds like it was just the WORST, huh?”
“… uh… no… maybe not…”
She picked her fork back up and began poking the food on her plate.
“… so… you going to try again tomorrow?”
“… yeah… yeah I think I will. Hey… thanks.”
One of my boys who’d hardly been listening looked up from his macaroni and blurted:
“DADDY! How was your day?!”
My wife smiled and took the tiniest sip of milk.
“You know what buddy… it was actually pretty dang great. In fact, it was awesome. Let me tell you why it was one of the best days of creek fishing I’ve ever had…”
Tight Lines & Godspeed, Patriots.
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Crawling Under the Interstate to Fish
Last year I found a gorgeous fishing area after crawling under the interstate – these 4 baits slayed ’em! Watch the Video>
Stars & Bars Fishing is a video blog (vlog) dedicated to putting the techniques we write about to work. All Episodes>
AJ. Without a doubt one of your finest writings! Well done sir!!
Hey good morning Brother Ron – thank you so much for the kind words and for the donations to the site – they are both very appreciated!! Talk to you soon my friend. Best, -AJ
Hey – that’s exactly what she says!
😉 I kid, she’s awesome. Best thing that ever happened to me. Have a good week, Mitch!