One of my very first fishing memories happened when I was around 5 or 6 years old. There was a freshwater pond not far from my house where my dad got me started on fishing. It was at this pond that my life as a fisherman was sealed.
I think it was a weekend and I decided to go exploring around the pond, looking for frogs and other creatures. I had walked about halfway around the pond when I saw it: Lying in a shallow sandy spot in the shape of a circle was the biggest largemouth bass I had ever seen.
I hid behind a tree and watched that fish for a long time and it never left that spot. At that time in my life, I had no idea that the bass was actually a female on her nest but, nest or no nest, I was going to catch that fish. All I could think was how excited my dad would be if I came home carrying that big old bass and, with that, I hatched my plan of attack.
Running home as fast as I could, I went into the garage and grabbed my cheapo fishing rod. Back then, lures were pretty primitive and like most everyone else, all I had was one of those red rubber worms that came rigged with two gold hooks and a little silver propeller in the front.
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I bolted back down to the pond praying that the fish would still be there and, sure enough, she hadn’t moved an inch from that white sandy circle. I had a problem, though. She was only about five feet away from the bank and, if I tried casting to her, she would surely see me and swim away.
My heart was pounding like crazy as I leaned around the tree I was hiding behind and flipped the worm past her. Slowly, I reeled that worm toward her and, just as it entered that white circle, she opened that huge mouth of hers and inhaled my fake worm. But, before I could do anything, she spit it right out.
Over and over, I got her to grab the worm, but every single time she would spit it out before I could hook her. This went on for nearly the entire afternoon until she finally decided to ignore that worm completely. I was devastated and went home like a fallen warrior.
I could barely sleep that night thinking about that bass. What could I do differently?
As the sun started coming up the next morning, I was already heading toward the pond and, when I arrived, I crawled up toward the spot where the fish had been and there she was just like I had left her the day before.
Nervously, I pitched the worm over a bush and, on that very first cast, I snagged a branch. Pulling as hard as I could, the back hook broke off and the worm came flying back toward me. I had ruined my worm!
With only that one worm to my name, I had no choice but to go with what I had and cast out again past the monster fish. As I twitched the worm along, I noticed it had more action — and this time that bass grabbed the worm and held on.
Hauling back, I hooked her and immediately she came flying out of the water with that huge bucket mouth wide open. It was a tug of war between little ol’ me and my very own Moby Dick.
I can still remember how hard she tried to beat me as she headed for branches and other obstructions that would snap my line. I finally got her, though, and she was right at seven pounds. Boy, was my dad proud of me as I walked up to him dragging that slob. I swear it was that experience that made fishing my passion in life.
So why did I recount one of my childhood experiences? Because now, 50-something years later, I had a similar experience in Wexford Plantation recently. I had told a friend of mine that lives there about the great fishing right there in the canals and he asked me to come over and show him how to fish there so he could take his kids at a later date.
Meeting up with him, I took him to a spot that I hadn’t fished in five or six years. But back then, I caught some pretty decent sized redfish. This time, we hooked nine redfish and we couldn’t stop any one of them. Even using braided line and a very, very tight drag, it was like I had hooked a Volkswagen bus and there was no stopping it.
Time after time, they took me to the house and, like that time when I was six years old, I became obsessed. These were no average redfish and all I could think was these bad boys had done some serious growing in the six years since I had last fished for them in Wexford.
So this past Friday I went back with the sole purpose of conquering one of these beasts. If I would have had a pair of old-school Converse sneakers and maybe a bit more hair on my head, I could have been a kid again.
After fishing for about 30 minutes, I saw my line jump. It jumped again and then started peeling out in a blur since I had left the reel in free spool. Finally setting the hook, there was no doubt in my mind as to what it was. It had to be one of those monster redfish.
Back and forth it went, heading for anything and everything that would chaff my line. After 15 minutes or so, he was in my hands. If only my dad was still alive to see that fish.
For just a moment, life had come full circle for me and, with that, I gently eased the big redfish back in the water and watched it swim away. It was a good day in a darn good life.