The price we pay for a great day of fishing
Largemouth bass in shallow water get the adrenalin pumping for many anglers, myself included, so it was an easy decision last week when it became apparent that Saturday morning was open on my calendar.
Itching to see whether the cooler water had activated the bass at Shenango Reservoir, I hitched up the boat before dawn last Saturday and headed up the highway to Sharpsville, Pa.
I anticipated Labor Day Weekend would attract a swarm of boaters, but the crowd apparently decided to get a late start. The lake was relatively free of traffic and the bass were in a mood to play.
My first stop, where I spent 30 minutes fishing a topwater plug, produced nothing so I fired up the outboard and headed to a favorite shallow flat loaded with trees that have toppled off the bank over the years. It wasn't long before I dialed in on bass that were enjoying an abundant breakfast of shad.
A small baitfish-colored crankbait went unmolested as I bumped it down the length of several tree trunks. The water was slick calm, raising my suspicion that the bass might be spooked by the bogus bait, so I switched to a weightless watermelon-green Senko.
That's when the fun began.
Baitfish skittered all over the flat as largemouths, crappies and white bass dashed through the schools. A Senko rigged whacky-style -- pierced in its midsection with a weedless hook so both ends dangle -- is a neat setup for imitating feeding activity. It can be skipped like a flat stone across the water, creating the illusion that shad are fleeing a predator.
I skipped the worm to the spot where a tree arched out of the water and the lure had barely settled when my line jumped. The hookset ignited the anger of a 15-inch largemouth that jumped twice before I swung it up over the side of the boat.
The next half hour produced two 16-inchers and several in the 13- to 14-inch range. When the action slowed, I moved to another spot nearby and picked up a rod to which I'd tied a white Booyah jig with a 4-inch white grub. A 3-pound largemouth found the offering irresistible as I swam it down the shady side of a big log.
I'd set a noon time limit for the trip, so I hurried off to check two more sections of Shenango's meandering shoreline. Both are loaded with sizable trees whose tops still sport lots of branches where bass can lurk while waiting for baitfish to pass.
The gnarly cover called for a short-line presentation on a stout flipping stick and heavy line. I like to fish such places with a 4-inch tube rigged Texas-style -- the hook point turned back into the lure to prevent snagging -- or a skirted jig with a plastic crawfish-type trailer.
It was as though the bass along one particular 100-yard stretch of bank had never seen a lure. One log yielded an especially strong 17-incher. The next tree was home to a 14-incher that had settled into the darkest thicket in the center of the mass of branches.
Twenty feet away, another laydown, another bass, this one out on the end. At the shallow end of the tree, where the roots rose out of the water, a big fish grabbed my tube and boiled the surface in a tug-of-war that ended when my 20-pound test line broke at the spot where it rubbed the wood one time too many.
With just a few minutes remaining before my return to the ramp, I stopped at a spot that might as well have had a neon sign flashing "Fish Here!" My first flip with the jig was jarred by another bass, which quickly wrapped itself in the mass of branches. The line held, however, and I was able to get into the cover and extract the fish.
Sadly, time was up. After loading the boat onto the trailer, I drove away from the parking lot and rubbed my index finger against my left thumb. The skin was rough, thanks to the raspy lips of all those largemouths.
Bass anglers know that's the price we pay when the fish are in the mood. It just doesn't get any better than that.