Magnum and his 'prize' fish!While I was up in Cleveland about a month and a half ago, Pam’s uncle and dad took me fishing for my first time in 15 years. They grabbed Brad (my brother-in-law) and my buddy Magnum (who was in town) as well, and we hit Lake Erie to go after some yellow perch and walleye. Between the five of us, we ended up catching about 15 fish: an even smattering of perch and freshwater drum (“sheephead”) with 1 white bass. I had a blast and left wondering why I had quit fishing at age 15. Unfortunately, I was having a little too much fun and forgot to take a bunch of pictures. Lucky for Magnum, the only shot I managed to get is of his catch: the largest fish caught on that trip… a sheephead.

A week later, my Dad took John (my other brother-in-law) and me out fishing in a Texas lake.  We more or less got skunked; my Dad was the lucky one that pulled in a decent-sized crappie.  Between John and me, we each reeled in a bass (probably 1 to 1½ lbs) which decided to spit the hook back in our face as it got to the surface.

After fishing in Ohio and Texas, I was hooked (I guess there’s a pun intended there…).  Pam and I arrived back in Savannah and I promptly went to the local Bass Pro shop and bought myself a rod and reel.  My rat's nestIf you know me, I tend to try to jump into more advanced stuff right away (hell, I learned how to drive stick before automatic)… so my obvious choice for a rig was a baitcasting setup: probably one of the harder-to-master fishing setups.  The downside of my ambition (this time) is that I’ve spent more time learning to untangle or re-line than I do learning to fish.  In fact, the picture at left happened on my first cast with the damn reel.  It’s a little frustrating, but as long as I catch a fish every once in a while it usually keeps the frustration in check.

For the past two weeks (to include the weekends), I’ve been in the field on an Army exercise.  Inherent in every Army event are piss-poor living conditions and a lot of idle time (I’ve learned to numb my brain; it usually makes it more bearable).  A little research before we left for the exercise revealed a pond less than a mile away from the “prisoner camp” that we called home (if you’ve seen the first episode of Band of Brothers, the facilities are much like that with your typical 100°F and 100% humidity common of the Southeast).  Anyhow, being smarter than your average bear, I decided to bring my fishing rod and some lures.  I was able sneak off for an hour here and there to fish.

The first few days of fishing brought nothing… maybe a few tangles but absolutely no bites!  Just as the frustration was starting to build, one of the Sergeant-Majors drove by (initially I thought I was busted)… apparently there’s more than one smart bear in the prisoner camp!  He was going fishing too!  The only difference is that he caught about 10 fish in an hour while I caught nothing.  He looked over and laughed as he saw me struggling.

That night, he took me under his wing and showed me a few knots (unbeknownst to me), how to rig a weedless frog (which I’ve never fished with anything “frog”), and most importantly, how to use the damn baitcast reel I bought (both how to dial in the settings properly and how to cast flawlessly).  Luckily I didn’t have to “sand the floor” or “paint the fence” in return for the lessons.

The next day I was able to sneak out toward dusk and get a few hours in, applying my newly-found knowledge.  Right away, I managed to get one bite… but fell into the newbie trap face-first: when bass fishing, the bass will usually suck in the lure initially and make a lot of splashing.  Of course, the natural reaction when you see the splashing is to yank as hard as you can to set the hook.  The problem is he didn’t grab it yet, he just sucked it in.  Apparently you need to wait for the pull on your rod.  The next hour didn’t bring a thing.

I moved spots and threw out a few lines… My bait only seemed to interest a small gator that would casually follow it around, so I’d cast in different spots to keep him off-guard.  You can see him below scoping out my bait.

At one point he made a sprint for it though, and I couldn’t reel the damn thing in fast enough.  I had my first catch of the day: a 4-foot gator.  As I tried to pull it out of his mouth, he went into his instinctive death roll and hauled my line all over the place for about 5 minutes.  Just as I was contemplating getting a knife and cutting the line, he let go of it (only after he swallowed the bait, leaving the bare hook).

It was starting to get dark and not too much longer I’m sure people were going to start wondering where I went off to (even though after I returned I just sat around for a few hours).  I moved spots to avoid losing any more bait to the big guy and decided to throw in a few more casts before calling it a day.  I threw in one of my last casts and as it got close to shore, it took a big hit. When I finally pulled it up, I was pleasantly surprised… not only did I finally catch a fish, but this was the biggest fish I’ve caught in my life!

At this point, I’ll pause.  I know, I know… you’re thinking: “bullshit” *cough*!  Let’s see, you were fishing by yourself, so of course you had to have caught the biggest thing out there!  But seriously, I’m not claiming it was a trophy or anything, but it was big.

So here I find myself holding the fish by the mouth, freezing for a few seconds as I looked in awe.  Well, shit!  I got a camera in the car… what to do, what to do.  With fish in hand, I ran 200ft down the bank to where my car was parked. With my free hand, I grabbed the camera from the car and started messing with the settings.  In a hurry, I fumbled around with the timer and tried to set it up on the hood of my car (I used my pocket knife to put underneath it and point it). I tested it for the picture… it was too dark!  I couldn’t see to focus the picture… time to fumble with the headlights and try again.  More fumbling and racing around to setup everything.  After what seemed like 5 minutes (and really probably was) with the fish still flopping in my hand, I was finally able to squeeze off 2 hasty pics.  Only one of them came out.  Oh well, one good picture will have to do. I wanted to get the fish back in the water before I killed the thing by suffocation.  I laid him in the shallows and after a few seconds he swam off… and I now have documented proof of my catch.

(I know, I could’ve held him a little more “manly,” but cut me some slack, I was running around for 5+ minutes doing 20 other things as well… I had to change my grip a few times and that’s the way it came out.)

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