A common superstition among anglers is that it might be a long, long day if a fish is caught on the first cast.
Ron Learn dashed that myth last Sunday within moments of reeling in a two-pound smallmouth bass that ate the tube jig on the business end of the morning's first cast.
Good luck charm: The first-cast-strike, in fact, may have been a good luck charm, but not before a trio of silvery drum produced the next three bites.
Learn, of Hubbard, and I visited Lake Erie, selecting the Presque Isle area to check the big lake for smallies. We spent six hours out in two- to three-foot swells and boated between 40 and 50 bass.
The first fish bit Learn's tube in seven feet of water, off the end of a sunken wreck near the harbor. Moments later, a three-pound bronzeback chomped down on the Zara Spook I was working and before we left the spot, a half dozen bass, including an 18-inch largemouth, played our game.
Our plan was working. On the drive up Ohio 11, we figured we'd try shallow water early, then move out to 25 feet and see what was happening.
With a west-northwest wind in our face, we set up drift after drift, maneuvering to stay over the sandy undulations on Erie's bottom.
Each pass produced bass, and we hooked doubles often enough to prove the fish were not randomly scattered.
We also learned that while doubles are great fun, they also deliver moments when an angler must make moves that are seldom seen anywhere but the ballet.
"Got one," Learn would say from the bow.
"Me too," I'd respond after jerking the hook into another solid fish.
Fun begins: Then the fun began. As the boat wallowed in the cresting waves, Learn danced on the pitching deck with his spinning rod held high, then pirouetted toward the transom to maintain control over the direction his fish was fighting to achieve. Inevitably, our fish would decide they preferred to run toward each other, then jump liked trained porpoises doing tail flips.
Lines tangled, and it was a miracle that all the twisting didn't result in break-offs.
Our presentations last Sunday reflected what has become the classic Lake Erie smallmouth tactic. We rigged quarter-ounce jig heads in green tubes, cast them and then let out enough line so the baits ticked the bottom as the boat drifted with the freshening breeze.
After 10 minutes or so, we either had a fish or we reeled in to clean the scummy moss from the lure and then repeated the presentation.
We noticed little difference in whether the fish would hit better on baits tied to six-, eight- or 10-pound-test line. The determining factor was getting the proper color tube deep enough to touch bottom from time to time.
How they hit: While not reckless in their attacks, the smallies left little doubt when they wanted the lure. The line jumped, then tightened and a quick snap of the rod tip ignited a bolt of bronze lightning way down on the lake bottom.
As 2 p.m. approached, Learn examined his left thumb. The skin on the pad was scuffed from the raspy jaws of so many smallies.
"That's when you know you've had a good day," he said, offering no hint of the superstition he harbored early that morning.