Blake Warren – ON THE HOOK

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Tuesday, February 06, 2018
Time to reassess things? You ain’t lion
Friday, September 21, 2018
Irvine Fake

No you're not
It had been at least 10 minutes or so since we'd last seen any other car when we pulled over on the side of the road to the dirt shoulder of this rural Indiana highway. And by highway, I mean a two-lane road through the middle of the countryside with nothing but an occasional farm here and there in sight. Beautiful country though. Nobody should be complaining in this type of setting.

We got out of the old Chevy and got all of the gear and rods out of the truck, and I began following my uncle into the tall grass down the slope and toward the river that the topographical map my uncle had been browsing for the couple weeks preceding my summer arrival to the Midwest farmland. Coming down the 45-degree angle hillside, Uncle Bill pointed up into a tree just 20, 25 feet ahead of us. The giant feline lurked on a long, bending branch, looking both fully relaxed yet poised to pounce at a moment's notice at the same time. I don't quite remember what type of apex predator cat it was, but the memory of its presence still lingers clearly nonetheless.

After taking the long route around the big cat down the slope, we arrived at the river. It was slow and meandering – not quite the typical bass waters my young self was familiar with, but it did look pretty fishy, and Uncle Bill did say he'd been asking around and pondering the spot we'd first be fishing once I got out there.

He set up shop a little ways upriver from me, and we both got to fishing. My uncle, with his old-school Texas rig tied on, got into a decent smallmouth right away. Then another. Then a 2½-pound largemouth.

“I thought you were a fisherman,” he jabbed at me 20 yards upriver with a giant $#*!-eating grin and a clear snicker implying he was thoroughly enjoying peeling bass off his hook and tossing 'em back right in front of me while I had yet to find a decent rhythm or settle in. “Do you want me to put one of my worms on yours?” He sarcastically asked that question with a clear intention of getting under my skin a bit, and I – being the stubborn, know-it-all kid I was at the time – chuckled on the surface, but internally just forged more steely focus into getting on the board with a fish.

I was throwing an inline spinner around – a Rooster Tail, if I remember right – parallel to a big, fallen tree jutting right across the moving water. There were a couple eddies that looked decent right along that tree, and I kept tossing it. Fish number four, five and six were lipped and thrown back just 20 yards upriver from me right in front of a mocking smile I knew well, and it was getting a little frustrating right about then.

On cast number 30 or so, it happened. Two of the Rooster Tail's trebles got into a lip of serious substance and I felt some trepidacious excitement set in as my rod doubled over with the fish hitting the momentum of the current. At 14, there certainly was a little panic involved. It was definitely there after finally hooking a good one, and those six straight smirking smiles I'd just gotten flashed by Uncle Bill weren't lost in my mind's eye – still aren't. I absolutely had to get this sucker to the bank.

Line started peeling off as the fish jetted downstream toward a deeper pool and larger rocks. After a few moments – minutes, or seconds... I don't really remember exactly – there was a big bass nearing my feet in the moving water below.

I was ecstatic when I got the big bass to the bank where I could lip her and make the day complete. We had no scale on hand. She was only weighed in the memory of a 14-year-old boy who thought catching that fish was some kind of monumental occasion to be reported to the Associated Press. It was probably a 5 or 6 pounder in hindsight, but grabbing it and holding it up for the first time, it sure felt – and looked (to me at least) – like some kind of world record of sorts. I had focused most of my freshwater efforts on the species of trout in my young angling journey at that point, so a fat-gutted Indiana bass like this one was something else to me at the time, especially after all of those sarcastic smirks coming coming my way from just upriver.

“Hell yeah!,” I said in Uncle Bill's direction as I held my trophy up high. “I'm gonna mount this thing!”

A relatively long and subdued laugh followed my exclamation. “No you're not,” Uncle Bill said to me from upriver, “You're gonna put it right back where it came from.”

Totally deflated at first, I pondered for a moment what he had just said to me and tried to see some kind of logic in it. “Put it back?” I questioned to myself.

Uncle Bill wandered back downriver to acknowledge my catch and, undoubtedly, make sure the largemouth made it back into the water unscathed. “It's the biggest bass I've ever caught, why can't I keep it?” I asked him in somewhat of a state of shock.

“Are you going to eat it?” he asked me.

“No, I want to get it mounted,” I said.

“Well then, that's why you're going to let it go right now,” Uncle Bill told me. “You can mount one when you get a 10 pounder, but you're going to let that fish swim away.”

There was no flip phone or digital camera on hand that day to document things, and I'll never really know just how big that Indiana river bass ever truly was. But to this day, just about exactly 23 years after that largemouth was banked and 14 years after Uncle Bill passed away, that fish is still my favorite bass I've ever caught – and also my favorite bass I've ever released, right in that random Indiana river, and thanks to Uncle Bill, of course. Without even truly understanding the full grasp of everything, I somehow still understood.

And until it happens, “No you're not,” will forever remain at the forefront of my bass fishing mind. At least until that 10 pounder finally comes along – and that fish most certainly will be released too... “No you're not.” Thanks Uncle Bill.

* * *

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