I’ve picked up on a fall fishing pattern. The pattern is a tendency to get hypnotized by football even as conditions warrant soaking a line — or just getting out and enjoying the beauty of fall.
Occasionally, I break the pattern.
With weekend temps approaching 70 degrees, I thought it would be nice to get out of the house and partake in a little fishing and fresh air.
Besides, my wife has had this ongoing project to redecorate our living room and my presence at the house was only leading to incidental chore assignment. Such was my impetus.
Remembering past success on warm fall days on the Wisconsin River, I set up on its bank. Really, though, I was there for the fall scenery and fresh air. The fish were secondary. Honest.
I know what you’re thinking. Saying, “I was there for the fall scenery and fresh air,” actually means, “I didn’t get any fish.”
But that’s not entirely true. It can also mean: “I didn’t get anything hunting.”
In fact, many variations are offered by those afield or on the water enjoying the consumptive outdoor pursuits.
“I just enjoy nature.”
“It’s good exercise.”
“I like to get away from it all” (even the fish and game!).
“It was a good time with friends.”
“It’s invigorating having a 40-mile-an-hour wind drive rain and sleet into my face.”
But please don’t consider these claims to be completely disingenuous. Those saying such things are probably speaking the truth to a large degree. Even if their words are sometimes uttered through clenched teeth.
Often, just getting out there soothes the soul.
My own recent mini-adventure offered a drive down beautiful back roads, a doe with fawns sighting and even a chance to catch up with an old friend.
The low angle of the evening sun back-lit some of the multi-colored hardwoods, while highlighting others. Every bend in the road offered a new spectacular view. A doe and two fawns retreated into yellow-green maples that glowed chartreuse with the light of the sinking sun.
Well, I could wax poetic about it until the cows come home — home to the barn backgrounded by rolling hills crowned with a cornucopia of brilliant reds, oranges, yellow-golds and greens — but I won’t.
I arrived at my fishing destination and had the spot to myself. With numerous hunting seasons in full swing, most fishing haunts become less-populated. I myself usually only use my fall free time to fish if I feel conditions are a bit warm for hunting.
The fishing wasn’t half-bad either — the fish were just half-sized, mostly.
My simple sixteenth-ounce jig and minnow provided plenty of action. I’ll admit none of the fish that I hauled ashore were wall-hangers.
My very first cast yielded a smallmouth of perhaps 10 inches and the succeeding cast resulted in a bite, but a missed fish. I purposely bent the hook on my jig.
I’ll digress a bit here and offer a little tip about jigs. Basic, round-headed jigs.
I’ve found that many jigs have a hook gap that’s too narrow. If the hook’s point isn’t at least as far out as its eye, I’ll bend it so it is. I think I learned this years ago when I noticed my hook-ups were more successful after a snag had opened the hook slightly.
Anyway, I had a mini-run of mini-smallmouths — about a half-dozen fish, the biggest of which was perhaps 12 inches. As it grew later, the walleyes provided a bit of action.
About a half-dozen walleyes of very modest size had me hopeful that some larger ones would soon be active. Such was not the case, as it turns out.
A crappie approaching the 12-inch mark had me wondering if I should be thinking about getting a meal out of my efforts. I pondered a bit, then released the fish. I have some crappie fillets in the freezer anyway.
As it turns out, it was the only crappie I caught, though I did catch several rock bass that could have complemented it.
I also caught a bullhead and a few crayfish, of course.
As it neared dark, and I hoped for that bigger-walleye bite, I saw a familiar face approaching with bucket and fishing poles in hand. Aged, but familiar. Bruce, a friend since junior high school, but one I’d not seen in years, was wandering down the bank.
“Gonna fish?” I called out.
“I was going to, but some [jerk] is in my spot,” he called back.
I looked around for the [jerk], but I was the only other person there as far as I could see.
Bruce set up just downstream of me and fished anyway. His wife Cindy joined him shortly. She was there for the fresh air and scenery. It happens.
Bruce and I flailed the water with similar success — catching the occasional rock bass — as we reminisced and updated each other. Some good, some bad, some ugly.
We’d spent some time together in the woods and on the water when we were younger.
I’m sure Bruce remembers, for instance, the camping trip when a group of us brought only butter, flour, seasonings and beer for sustenance because we were going to eat the trout we caught.
On the way to our destination, we purchased corn on the cob from a roadside stand on a whim and later enjoyed a meal of corn and beer. The good ‘ol days.
Back in the present, it felt a little like those good ‘ol days.
We fished past the time that the moon takes over as the primary light source. The walleyes remained stubborn, but Bruce eventually pulled one to shore.
“Well, I caught one,” he said as he released the fish. “About 12 inches.”
“Bigger than the ones I caught earlier,” I said, offering small kudos to his sub-legal trophy.
Shortly, Bruce offered that it was past his bedtime and he must depart. This stood in stark contrast to our earlier years, when someone might say something like, “I gotta get some sleep” as the sun began to show in the east and the first of the morning’s birds were singing.
Actually, my back had long been protesting my foothold on the rocks of the river bank. It was time for me to leave, too.
I took one more cast after Bruce left. I lost my minnow in a snag and gave up on fishing for the night. By the next time I run into Bruce, the snag will have morphed onto a 30-inch walleye. That’ll make for a good story.
Before leaving, I paused for a moment to drink in the scenery. Moonlight shimmered on the river. The now colorless trees were still spectacular — both where they were backlit by the moonlight and where they were highlighted by it.
It felt like it was growing late, though, standing there in the dark. I gathered up my gear and headed out.
There was still time to catch the fourth quarter of the Badgers game.
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.