Working as a full-time outdoor writer is a special pleasure and a curse. If you're doing it right, the hours are long, the pay is meager and you actually spend more time talking about the outdoors than actually getting your boots muddy.
Then there are the downsides that I won't mention.
However, before our latest bout of continual rain began, I decided to celebrate the completion of a long-overdue magazine article with a fishing trip. The late March day was forecast to hit over 70 degrees and after hitting the 'send' key on my laptop, I immediately jumped up and put on pants in order to head out to the creek.
OK, I'll admit that working in your underwear is one of the pleasures freelance writing.
Grabbing the fly rod from a rack over my cluttered desk, I stood in the driveway briefly wondering about the wisdom of going fly-fishing when winds were periodically gusting to 35 m.p.h. Disregarding the flock of dried cornstalks that stampeded across my yard, I decided that the warm sun and my long-term mental health demanded an attempt.
My plan was to fish a bend in my favorite creek that is sheltered by a high bluff, hoping that I could at least cast without embedding a 1/0 hook in my ear. Having such an ornament hanging from the face might improve my standing with the 20-something crowd but I prefer to remain piercing-neutral.
After slipping into the water and wading upstream I found the wind indeed wasn't all that daunting as I began fishing riffle pockets and slack water along the banks. My choice of weapon was a green Wooly Bugger on a 4X leader with a short 2X shock tippet added for safety because of sharp rocks. As I made a short chip shot into a tiny pool just a few feet ahead, it finally happened.
A sudden quick thumping on the line meant that a fish had inhaled the fly as it drifted along the current seam. Raring back, I set the hook and readied for battle. Straining against the thin leader, the fight raged back and forth for at least 10 seconds.
My first fish of the year was a shiner. It wasn't even a big shiner but the season-opener jinx was gone, more-or-less, and I moved upstream.
The big pool was calm and I shuffled into position just downstream of a large log lying in three feet of still water. Laying my fly alongside the wood, it drifted into position and slowly sank. This time there was no doubt.
The line began moving sideways and I set the hook smartly. After a valiant but short-lived fight, a chunky rock bass was residing on my stringer. Though I rarely keep fish, spring rock bass are an exception because I consider them on par with walleye as table fare and being an abundant panfish, such harvest can be made relatively guilt-free.
I cast again but diverted my attention briefly to watch the captive fish trying to hide among the rock crevices around my feet. I was so engrossed with marveling at the mottled black and green camouflage of the broad-shoulder fish that I nearly missed the second strike.
Another nice thing about rock bass is their habit of schooling like crappie. The wooded hotspot reinforced this idea as six more fish took up residence on the stringer before I moved on. The rest of the pool gave up several more rock bass along with a few tiny smallmouth bass that were immediately released. I went no further because the lowering sun, wind and pending dinner dictated an about-face.
No fisherman can resist revisiting the scene of the crime so I again cast against the sunken log as I passed. You might remember that rock bass are school fish. That's why three more fish joined their friends on the metal chain that trailed like a sea anchor.
I felt pretty good about myself. Things had been perfect and when the last cast of day finally managed to terminally snag the log, I didn't mind. Deciding that such a valiant fly deserved better treatment than a break-off, I waded over to the wood.
The only way the day could have been better was if I had hooked the huge smallmouth that fled in panic and nearly knocked me off balance when I approached the log. The fish was so big that it bulldozed the water into a V-shaped wake as it headed toward deep water in the center of the creek.
An hour later, I had finally stopped dancing a profanity-laced Highland Fling in the middle of the stream. Calming down, I reckoned that too much perfection in one day can make a fisherman complacent, lazy and sloppy. I would never want that to happen
Well, maybe once.
Brent T. Wheat is an award-winning columnist, and publisher of WildIndiana.com. His column appears weekly in The Times.