Just when you think you've solved most of the puzzles of angling, the fish offer up a curve ball.
Go figure. It's got to be nature's way of keeping anglers humble.
A recent iteration of "Fish Do The Darndest Things" (with apologies to Art Linkletter), happened last Saturday.
I went to the Ohio River's New Cumberland Pool to look for keeper bass. I stress the word "keeper" because this year it's been no problem to find non-keepers. In fact, the first three casts I made with a small topwater plug drew vicious strikes from 10-inch smallmouth bass.
But, like most fishermen, I want substance. I want to set the hook into the jaws of a bass that means business, not a juvenile runt that has yet to gain the knowledge that some of the things that swim past aren't real food.
So I took off in search of adult bass, figuring I'd find a way to pluck a few nice smallies, which have become the dominant bass species on the Ohio's New Cumberland Pool.
After unsuccessfully combing several typically productive points with crankbaits, I decided it was time to experiment. Perhaps, I calculated, I might learn something new about the old Ohio.
Turning my attention to a bank littered with stumps and toppled trees, I quickly boated a pair of 13-inch largemouths. They weren't lunkers, but they were a welcome break from the dinks I'd been catching.
One needn't be a fish scientist to recognize the healthy condition of those two largemouths. Their green coloration was vivid, they had broad shoulders and were meaty down to their tails. Their stomachs also bulged, a sign that they were feasting on the zillions of small shad I saw everywhere I looked.
What's interesting about those two fish is that they were largemouths and they were on a stretch of water I'd never found to be productive.
In the past five years, smallmouth bass have accounted for a good 90 percent of the keepers I've been catching on the Ohio River. And places with obvious cover - like a neon sign blinking "Fish Here" - tend to get pounded so mercilessly that the bass seem to avoid them.
So I took the clue (call me Columbo), fished my way through the dead wood and got a bite on every third or fourth piece of cover. By the end of the run, I'd boated 10 fish, five of them solid keepers.
Beating the odds
Hitting .500 on keepers on the Ohio River also beats the odds.
The lesson learned is to take nothing for granted. Use your knowledge, but don't fish with blinders. These fish we pursue are prone to do the darndest things.
While on the subject of bass and their quirky ways, I also wanted to share another recent encounter.
Tossing a small spinnerbait into one of my favorite lunch-hour fishing spots on the Mahoning River in downtown Warren, I hooked a little smallmouth. As it jumped and splashed, I noticed far more commotion in the water than that smallie should have been able to generate.
The Mahoning was running clear and as I peered out toward the fish I was reeling in, I spied a three-pound smallie that had joined the fight in an effort to steal the bait from the hooked youngster.
Try as I might, however, I couldn't raise the bigger fish on subsequent casts.
Those fish will keep you humble.