Enchantment Slapstick

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Published on: Sep. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 25, 2010

up the hill to the edge of the pasture.

They raced along the treeline with the panicky gallop of turkeys on the verge of flight. They didn't know what I was, but a turkey is not long on inductive reasoning. Anything it doesn't immediately recognize triggers fright and flight. Turkeys instinctively know they have few friends in the outdoors and many enemies.

Pretty good day - I'd gone a quarter of a mile, caught three bass, seen butterflies, songbirds and turkeys.

Four casts into a deep pool, the lure stopped with the heavy feeling that usually signals you've hooked a log. I'd already caught a half-dozen branches and a fist-sized rock, so it was time for a full grown log.

I started reeling my way toward the log when I noticed the log was moving. It then moved rather rapidly away from me, down the pool, and the drag sang like the bankside cicadas.

I gulped because I go years between catching large fish. And I remembered the dull hooks that I hadn't sharpened because my hone was where it always is - at home on a shelf, instead of in my wader pocket where it belongs.

The fish bulled around in the deep water like a big channel catfish, and I figured that's what it was. An eminently edible catfish. No catch and release on catfish. They were born to be eaten. They are chickens of the stream.

Then the fish rolled at the surface and I saw the dark lateral line of a largemouth bass. A LARGE largemouth bass. That lateral line seemed to go on forever, like the center line on a Kansas highway.

I put more pressure on, praying that the line wouldn't break. I couldn't risk the big bass gaining slack and spitting the hook, the way the first two had.

It charged me, just like a wounded grizzly. It raced the dozen feet between us and shot between my legs, just as I frantically lifted one foot to avoid it.

Buster Keaton never did slapstick any better. My wading boot caught the line, and the fish swam a loop around it like a rodeo cowboy. The weight of the fish threw me off balance and I went over backward, a torrent of water spilling into my chest waders.

There I was, sitting in two feet of water with a five-pound bass attached to my leg by about 18 inches of monofilament. I scooted backward on my rear end, dragging the bass with me.

Thanks to the miracle of modern fishing line, which has the tensile strength of steel and the diameter of spider web, I didn't lose that bass. I dragged it into a couple of inches of water and managed to lip it. The spinner fell out of its mouth.

It was that close to being free.

My first thought was there's no one here to see it. The big bass glared at me. It was heavy, had to go five pounds. I briefly entertained the uncharitable thought that I would keep the bass just so I could brag it up in front of witnesses.

But then it would be merely a big dead bass, never to be caught again.

I sighed and eased the fish into the water and let go of its lip. It vanished in the murky water. "I know where you live!" I shouted after it.

My fishing fever had cooled. But I thought I'd make another cast and, once again, there was a heavy stop and the weight of something big and nearly immovable. It didn't feel quite like a bass. Maybe a big flathead catfish or a turtle, I thought. I waded it back to a gravel bar, struggling to lift it.

It would slip one way, then the other, tugging and throbbing against the line. Felt even bigger than the bass. I got to shallow water.

A two-pound flat rock slid into the shallows and came to rest on the bottom. I backed the hook out of a hole in the rock and reeled the lure to the rod tip.

I considered keeping the rock because it was the biggest one I'd ever landed, but decided that one large bass, one large rock ought to be enough for any high drama, low comedy angler like me.

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