Fishing can present one with many types of emotions: excitement; happiness; frustration and anger. It can give you plenty to brag and lie about, or an opportunity to throw things in the water along with a roll of expletives. Fishing can provide a release where no matter what happens, “It was a great day!” But just as easily it can give you a reason to call BS on that old saying, “A bad day of fishing is better than a good day of work.” But never have I had a day where the fishing sent me on such a roller coaster ride of emotions as it did one day back in October of 2009.
My fishing buddy John ran his boat into a shallow back lake around the North side of Lavaca Bay. The wind was slight that day, putting just a little bit of a ripple on the lake, but not enough of one where we wouldn’t be able to spot our targets: redfish. We would be able to see their backs out of the water if they were crawling real shallow, their tails if they were rooting up the bottom, or the heavy wake they tend to create when cruising near the surface. When we finally settled in on the spot we didn’t see anything going on, but decided to give it a go as it had produced in the past.
John and I both put out a line of cracked crab (okay, John about three lines of crab and me one), and I grabbed my other setup rigged with a topwater lure to see if I could draw up some interest. The lure was a Super Spook Jr. (made by Heddon). It was black with a gold design down the sides, and I jokingly referred to it as “The Ninja” (because everyone knows Ninjas wear black outfits with gold designs down the sides). After about five or so minutes of casting The Ninja there still wasn’t any sign of redfish… at least that’s what I thought.
The only thing that I actually saw were these very small ripples methodically cutting through the water, as if they were schools of small finger mullet (a baitfish that is about the size of a human finger at that stage of its life). There were about five of these groups of ripples that I could see at any time spread out across this lake. But when I drug my lure about two feet behind one of these groups I discovered they were no finger mullet at all. This group of “finger mullet” turned into a spooked redfish, and that’s when this day started heating up. I saw a ripple about ten yards out from the boat and made a cast that put me in a position to run my lure in front of the fish as it swam. I ran my lure in front of the fish as planned and the water exploded. Fish on!
There really is nothing –to me- like catching a redfish on a topwater lure. They’re fun on soft plastic lures worked below the surface, and even live or dead bait, but that explosion from when the fish strikes the top is where it’s at for me. It’s so violent to see, hear and feel that moment when the fish decides “HEY! I’m gunna eat this fake, hook-wearing plastic tube that is swimming in front of my face!” It’s such a beautiful violence, and I experienced the carnage a number of times that morning. That’s until one redfish decided to crash the party.
The fish ambushed my topwater, another fight went down and it was time to land it. Just as I put the net in the water the fish made one last run, right under the boat. With only about three inches of water between the boat’s bottom and the muddy, soft floor of the lake, the redfish had gotten stuck. We tried rocking the boat in every way possible, but nothing would give, and the fish would not move. I finally did what I didn’t want to do and grabbed the line as close to the fish as I could get. I gave the line a slight tug and that was it. “Pop!” With no drag from the reel and/or bend from the rod to ease tension the line snapped (as I knew it probably would). I looked around to see if the fish had gotten free, and if my lure had floated back up to the surface, but saw nothing. But maybe 10 seconds later there was a knocking on the bottom of the boat, and I saw a trail of mud boils from the fish’s tail thrusts shoot out about 20 or more feet from the boat. The fish was free, and it appeared he had taken The Ninja with him.
Losing The Ninja was no big deal at the time, as I had more topwater lures with me, and I had even let John borrow one as my earlier success had peaked his interest. But the fishing seemed to die down for me after I lost The Ninja. I tried topwater after topwater, and the only result was one fish that ran at it but turned away at the last second. “That fish wouldn’t have turned away from The Ninja”, I’m sure I told myself. That’s when I ran into one of the biggest problems you can have as a fisherman: I lost my confidence.
The depression set in, and I quit the lure fishing and switched over to cracked crab on the bottom. I sat in the front boat seat sulking. Now and again John would spot a fish moving and grab his lure pole and throw the topwater I had let him use. Truth is I had probably seen the fish as well, but never thought once about casting to it because that one redfish had left town with my lure, my confidence and my luck. Or maybe somewhere someone had a voodoo doll of me, and had arranged it in whatever way it takes to keep someone from busting fish with a topwater. Those were the only logical conclusions.
When John would catch a redfish with the topwater I’d mumble a hollow “nice one”, never meaning it. He could have fallen out of the boat and crotch first onto a stingray’s barb for all I cared, because he’d have deserved it! It was as if I were still in love with my first love from long ago, and he was making out with her right in front of my sad, mopey face. (An aside: I’m actually getting re-upset about this. Just text’d John and told him to “Go to Hell!” Read on).
John continued to fish with his crab, and I had given up completely. It was almost time to head back in when John's line went slack. He started to slowly reel his line in as the slack stayed, meaning a fish or crab had picked up his line and was coming toward us. John reeled in faster and set the hook, and another redfish was on its way into the boat. It seemed like a good fight, and as the redfish neared the boat I grabbed the landing net for John.
I can’t remember if I had netted the fish or had just disgustingly handed the net to John so he could handle it himself, but I do remember returning to my seat of misery to pout some more. I wouldn’t even look at the fish. I didn’t want to see it, smell it or hear the deep cracking sound of the hook being removed from its mouth. But life can be so sweet sometimes. So awesomely sweet. “Hey, look at this!” John said. As I turned my head with a “Hey, screw you, Pal” look on my face, I heard a clicking, rattling sound end in a thud on the floor of the boat. “What the (expletive)!” I shouted. There lying on the floor of the boat was The Ninja, and in John’s grip the culprit: a beautiful 26” redfish. John had actually caught the fish that had stolen my lure.
Like the other fish we had caught that day we let The Culprit go. Even if we had been keeping the fish that day I would have demanded the fish be set free. This fish had given me a lot that day: A rush; a reason to be mad; a lesson, and most importantly one hell of a story to tell. Oh, and it gave me my lure back.
The Ninja has never been used again, it just hangs from my rearview mirror as a reminder of that day, and maybe even as a good luck charm (though it has a funny way of showing it). I just hope The Culprit is still out there somewhere, giving other fishermen and fisherwomen stories to tell.
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