A day to remember...two old fishing pals...two flies and 232 Bass in one day!

This past Saturday a friend and I had a fly fishing day for the ages. Dr Eric Herve has been fishing pal of mine for a number of years now. We have had countless adventures together. From attempting to turn my Chevy Silverado into a drift boat on the Yuba, to random incidents and great fishing memories.

Eric and I set out early that morning for a local winecountry lake in an attempt to see how many fish we could catch in one day. Both of us have spent countless hours over the years (he more recently than I) exploring treacherous canyons and huffing and puffing to 10,000 feet in pursuit of a few small albeit beautiful trout. I'm not sure whose idea it actually was but we decided our goal was to catch 200 fish in a day. Normally it isn’t all about the numbers for us however this particular day we set out with just that in mind.

It was sunny and breathless calm when we slid to a stop at our destination. The green of spring surrounded us. A red tailed hawk circled over endless vineyards and oak covered hillsides admiring his reflection.

We were disappointed to see some of the vineyard workers had beat us to the punch and were already fishing. I looked at Eric honestly feeling a little deflated. In the words of my friend Andy Burk I begrudgingly muttered “well… were here,… lets fish!” We unloaded the pontoon boats, prepared to fish and would soon be gliding along with a renewed sense of purpose. A tidy 100 a piece would do I thought to myself surveying the shore line.

Eric and I had tied some flies a few nights prior in preparation for the trip. My worm of choice was a black rabbit strip around 3 inches ling with dumbbell eyes, a stinger hook hidden in its tail and four pieces of holographic flash tied in. Eric had questioned the stinger hook saying that perhaps it wasn’t necessary because bass inhale the fly. I agreed but something told me to put one anyway. I fastened the fly to 12 lb tippet on my 7 weight, moistened the knot and drew down. I had opted to fish an intermediate line as the lake was down a few feet already this spring apparently due to thirsty vines. Things went well from the get go with a nice fish on the third cast not 10 feet from the launch spot.

The bass in this lake average around 17 to 18 inches and are well fed. Schools of baitfish are often visible along the shore and must be an easy meal for them judging by their girth. These bass, like most are ambush predators. They are experts at lurking in cover, attacking the fly or unsuspecting prey and then diving into the weeds or submerged tree trunks when hooked. Thus it is imperative to set hard and fight them aggressively.

I decided to focus on fishing the post spawn shallows in behind the tules and cat tails and in the pockets of weeds encompassing the lake. I was soon surging ahead in their direction from across the lake. I prefer sight casting to blind casting so the idea of this type of stalking and close quarters combat appealed to me. As I approached the first spot, a slate blue Great Blue Heron squawked at me and took flight. He was obviously annoyed by my approach.

Right away I began hooking fish. And it was exciting to boot! Most takes I could see and were within 10 to 15 feet of my rod tip. Sometimes it was a wink in the depths, a subtle flash, a white mouth or a fin. A couple of times I set for no good reason and found fish tugging back. What a blast! Around 12:30 I was feeling good! I was hooking up regularly and was at 50 fish with plenty more daylight, but that is when things got interesting.

I hadn’t even noticed it with my number blinders on until it was downright ugly. Clouds had come in from the West and a strong wind had begun to blow. The smooth clear surface from earlier was replaced by an awful choppy glare. I hoped the wind would calm down sooner or later however it steadily increased to where white caps were marching across the lake making paddling all but impossible. It was already well after noon and we only had 80 fish between us. Things were not looking good. At 2 I hadn’t caught a fish in around a half an hour of struggling in the wind, so I decided to stop fighting it and try to find some protection. I headed back into one of the coves that branch off like fingers on one side of the lake. I did succeed in getting partial protection from the wind. Right away I picked up where I had left off before Katrina had joined us on the lake. I hurled my chunk of rabbit into the flooded tree stumps and along weed lines on the leeward side of things. I began to take mental note of not only the number of fish, but also how many were caught on the stinger hook. Around one in four were on the second hook.

With renewed vigor I set about lipping Bass. I was at around 70 by 4:00 pm and 82 by 5:00. My hands by this time had line cuts and my thumb was beginning to look more like sand paper than a thumb but I hardly noticed. Finally the wind began to die down a bit making things slightly easier. That is until I hooked “86”. He was minding his own business patrolling the weed line when he spied my offering and rushed to oblige. I set quickly trying to avoid what the fish between “85” and “86” had done to me. That fish had buried himself 15 feet in the weeds burning precious daylight. So I set hard on “86” and in the process knocked my other fly rod into the water. Let's just say we’re talking about a $1000+ outfit. It sank tantalizingly slow yet painfully out of reach. I will spare you the details of retrieving the rod which sat tip up with its top guide 2 feet below the surface. For some reason the idea of using a fly with two hooks to snag it didn’t come to mind. How did I get it you ask? Let’s just say I got a little wet. Stay focused though please. Remember this is a numbers day.

Fish number 92 decided to fight back. He spit the hook and I heard a sickening thud as my fly came back sharply and stuck point first into my pontoon boat. I held my breath and waited to hear gurgling or a rush of air escaping...but thankfully only the breeze and a solitary red wing blackbird mocked my efforts.

I moved and Eric floated over near me and we compared notes. He was at 75 and I was still looking for 92. I tried mental math and came up with “a hundred and something ending in seven” One hundred and sixty-seven. This was doable! Ninety three to 95 were on sequential casts. Ninety six got off three times but finally I was at ninety nine. The wind had indeed subsided an hour or so earlier but the bright cloudy skies left a bit of glare on the water, so sight casting was becoming difficult. I found a large hole downwind of a large clump of tules and that reminded me of Brian Wilson’s beard. There has to be a fish in there I though as I slid over to make my cast. The first cast landed dangerously near the slimy green muck on the far side of the hole and to the right of the pile of tules. I retrieved it with short twitches trying to maximize the movement as I dredged the 8 or 9 foot opening and nothing! That is strange I though, I quickly flipped the fly back in this time more to the right and repeated my retrieve. I sat there tense hoping...another twitch,...waiting,...finally my senses were rewarded and my line came tight! I set quickly and almost instantaneously stripped all my line in to my leader. At the same time I shot the rod tip skyward and got the flopping bass up on the surface giving him water skiing lessons as he slid across water and weeds. When I reached down and grasped his lip firmly I have to admit it was with relief. I had done my part!

My body ached and I began to notice my torn up hands and aching arm as I headed back into the now calm main body of the lake. Leaving my fly to troll behind me I hooked several more. I joined up with Eric now more relaxed and watched him closing the gap on his 100. I looked over at a nice shore line that the wind had precluded us from fishing earlier in the day. It was calm now and I could see small ripples left by unseen bait fish scurrying like mice avoiding a cat. I undid my fly from the keep and made a cast where they had last been seen and was rewarded. Several more fish followed. I was at one sixteen when Eric hollered “ how close are we to 200? He was hooked up to 82. “Two more I think. I have 116.” He caught the last two to make it 200! He let out a hoot and hoisted the fish into the air for me to see. This is one day I won’t soon forget I thought as I had another grab.
What a day! Eric ended with 89. I finished with 143 fish, one line burnt hand, one sore thumb. If only the wind hadn't come up... or maybe if Eric and I had meandered into protected areas sooner... Aw what the heck we caught 232 fish! I guess I shouldn't be greedy. Or perhaps I already had!

After loading up and having a celebratory beverage we hopped in the car and I turned the key in the ignition. The engine roared to life, and I turned to Eric and shook my head “Wow”. He nodded. “ I suppose we can go back to not being all about the numbers again”. He smiled a weary smile and agreed.

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