Thursday, September 10, 2009

A first...

A first

Firsts… The first time you tasted a wild strawberry, your first tentative teenage kiss, the first wild brook trout on a dry fly..
We often remember these first experiences far better than those that follow. Perhaps we crave the newness. As we accumulate years and experiences, firsts are hard to come by, and like an unexpected patch of wild blackberries, are to be savored and enjoyed.

First times are refreshing and different.

This past year has seen a number of firsts for this angler. I caught my first carp on a fly. Making it even more memorable was the five-weight rod and Hardy gear and pawl reel I used. The carp was a surprise while fishing for panfish in the Kettle Morraine State Forest.

I saw my first bald eagle over my local river, a signal that the watershed is healthy.

I caught my first real wild brook trout in northern Wisconsin, a unique strain bejeweled with color: all five inches of them.

Some firsts are memorable because they are out of the ordinary. Earlier this year I caught a clam while casting for carp. The clam actually ate the fly, and I had a difficult time extracting it. I wonder how it digested marabou and crystal flash?

Then, last evening, came the all-time bizarre first.

I was fishing for smallmouth bass and casting to the occasional carp in a local river. I had some demons to exorcise, and I thought a few bass on poppers and a long walk up the river might just do the trick.

Around dusk, I began casting to a flat shallow area strewn with boulders where hungry smallmouth often ambush their prey. It was a cool evening, but a mixed hatch of black caddis and white mayflies might get the smallmouth to look up, allowing me to use a popper.

I spotted it when its back slightly broke the surface near shore in a slack water pool. I say ‘it’ because it seemed to me that it was either a carp or a large bass nosing for crayfish on the bottom of the river. If it was a smallmouth, it would be huge, and the popper would be just the trick. If it was a carp, then at the first ‘pop’ of the fly, it would spook and swim away. At this point, it was just a dark form.

I lead the fish by about a foot or two, let the popper come down on top of it, and gave it a chug.

It didn’t swim off.

In fact, what it did do was slowly follow the progression of the fly down the river and towards me. As it got closer, I knew it was no smallmouth. Instead, it looked more and more like a huge dark carp or even a catfish. Whatever it was, my popper captivated it. I cast again and began to work the popper like a wounded baitfish, skittering and chugging it seductively. It followed and quickly closed the gap.

The large head that came out of the water and engulfed the fly did not belong to a carp or a catfish. It was altogether a different species. Fifteen pounds of pissed-off snapping turtle was swimming directly towards me, my popper lodged between its lethal jaws.

What to do?

I had one thing going for me; I never set the hook. If possible, I wanted my popper back. I can be a bit sentimental and even more stubborn at times, and the yellow foam popper that I had adorned with a smiley-face was my favorite. I sort of roll-cast the line forward to try to dislodge the popper, and after two or three attempts, the turtle simply opened its mouth and the fly popped out.

The snapper just sat in the water looking at me. If it was eyeing up my gonads for an evening snack, the large rock I threw at it put it off its appetite.

Firsts can indeed be memorable. Turtle soup anyone?


  1. It would be good to preserve that feeling of "first time" for every next time - beginner's mind!



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