It’s been a pretty good winter as far as seasons go. But I think most would agree, we’ve had enough and it’s time for our beautiful spring.
It never fails, about this same time every year I have a reoccurring dream. To be honest, it’s become a well-received annual event. Actually, it’s a memory so old it resides in that part of the brain where dreams are stored. It seems to visit only during this time of year when winter hinges on the cusp of spring. The gap when we first begin taking in a rich mix of sights and sounds, even though the calendar may say otherwise.
It’s triggered by lengthening daylight and the first few times the mercury tops the 50 degree mark. It comes in the early morning during that special moment when you’re not totally asleep but not awake either. For me it serves as a gentle reminder. “Wake up and remember what’s important,” it seems to say, “Because you aren’t going to be here as long as you may think.”
I was a young boy when it happened. My driver’s license was fresh, which opened up the whole country side to my fishing exploits. The snow had barely melted when I found myself standing in a long, rocky pool fishing for smallmouth bass. Back then money was tight. And if you had some spare cash, you bought a cheap pair of vulcanized rubber waders which offered little protection from the biting water. The sky was overcast that particular day. I remember the wind slicing through my faded hoodie and the few layers worn underneath. But it felt good to be standing in open water after one of those long 1970’s winters.
The stream was beautiful and could have come from a picture of perfect smallmouth habitat you see in glossy magazines. It was long, narrow and deep at its head, studded with boulders and gravel that gradually tailed out to sand.
I remember dissecting the water with a small spinning rod using my go-to lure, a two inch, chartreuse grub. I swim, bounce and deadstick it through the water. Nothing. Next I try a Wabash Flash in-line spinner made by Pat Floyd, the small twirling blade emitting a pulsating rhythm that was sure to attract something. Nadda. Later, I tie on a Rebel Teenie Craw crankbait. Zip. By this time I had already fished the pool for way too long and any respectable angler would have since moved on.
Becoming transfixed, I believed a bass would strike out of pure determination on my part. Fish have to be there, including a respectable three-pounder. After all, it looks like the Crowne Plaza for brownfish.
Lastly and with a bruise slowly forming on my ego, I tie on a small Bomber crank bait and later a plastic hellgrammite imitation. Everything comes back untouched.
The cold finally became unbearable before I retie that chartreuse curlytail and make a couple desperation casts before leaving. One my third retrieve I feel a subtle hit, then tiny frantic tugging on the other end. “Great,” I thought. “My resolve has been rewarded with the smallest baby bass in the pool!” I can’t help but smile. That little smallmouth had more guts than brains, hitting a lure nearly its own size.
Then it happens. As I slowly reel something dark suddenly appears beneath the water. It’s shaped like a greenish-brown football except longer. The shape rockets towards the small fish still struggling to shake the artificial lure embedded in its lip. My rod doubles over and the drag screams a short, sorrowful tune. In just a few minutes I will have the fish and story of a lifetime, or so I thought.
After a few seconds the line goes slack. I am in fishing shock. All that remained was a naked jighead, stripped clean of baby bass and plastic curlytail. I stare into the empty pool my hands shaking from the cold and sudden turn of events.
It’s been over four decades since that memorable day. Since then I’ve lost too many family, friends and even some great dogs. Children have been raised to adulthood and numerous lessons learned that life is only a limited proposition. But on the occasions that distant memory calls in the twilight of dawn, I will always honor the visit. Hopefully with a little luck, one of these days I will go look for that same rocky pool.