It was about 7 at night when I donned a pair of waders and tromped into a central Minnesota lake, fishing rod and reel in hand. My intent was to entice bass — in this case, largemouth — into smashing my floating frog imitation.
The evening was perfect. Not a ripple stirred the lake’s surface. The air was heavy under a mostly cloudy sky, with the temperature in the low 80s.
The shoreline was strewn with bassy-looking cover. Cattails were predominant in the shallows. In deeper water, hard stem bulrushes took over and extended out into the lake farther than my waders would allow me to venture.
A fish blasted my floating lure after just a few minutes of casting. The fish rocketed skyward in typical largemouth fashion when I set the hook. Its head shook. Water flew. It wasn’t a big fish, but my evening started well.
Eventually the bass dived for a clump of bulrushes, wrapped the line around the base, and shook the lure. Their ability to do that amazes me still. When a bass wraps around an underwater obstruction, whether it be a log, lily pad or the base of a bulrush or two, it will in short order somehow dislodge the hook or hooks, and swim free. I estimate that happens eight of 10 times.
Thus, this time, I was armed with stout fishing tackle. I employed an 8-foot, heavy-action rod and a casting reel loaded with 30-pound test braided line. A long rod with a stiff backbone is especially important when you are standing belly-deep in water. An angler needs to hold the rod tip high and crank the reel handle so the bass will have little chance to dive for the lake bottom.
On this outing, I continued on, wading parallel to the shoreline where at times the water was nearly to the top of my waders.
I caught my next bass in a small opening where the cattails met the bulrushes. I’d like to tell you that during hook removal, I needed to wrap my thumb and forefinger around a lower jaw that was thick and wide. That was not the case. The bass was in the 2-pound range. However, the largemouth witching hour was yet to come.
I thought about how sound carried over the calm lake while moving and pushing a wake ahead of me. A loon bellowed from across the water but sounded much closer. Red-winged blackbirds called from their swaying bulrush perches, herons squawked, and a variety of songbirds sang from shoreline trees. A bald eagle flew past, beating its huge wings with nary a glide, evidence the heavy evening air had little lift.
I saw no sign of feeding fish to my discouragement. Usually, as dusk approaches, bass invade these shallows and it shows in the form of wakes, splashes and ripples.
I fished until the sky turned orange and then faded to gray. I caught the occasional bass and a few northern pike, but the hot bass bite wasn’t there.
In the dark, I waded toward the truck, a mob of mosquitoes in tow.
Bill Marchel an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.