So why do we keep going back to the lake?
Strange things have happened around me this fishing season, oddities that range from the humorous to the ridiculous to the downright frustrating.
One never knows what to expect out on the water. But I've learned to expect the unexpected. Just when I think I've got this fishing thing figured out, up pops an event of incredible, humbling or laughable proportions.
The mind plays tricks. As proof, I cite an experience on a rainy day in July at Mosquito Creek Reservoir while Steve Zarbaugh of Poland and I were fishing in a bass tournament.
He hooked a nice bass on a topwater lure over one of the reservoir's sprawling weed beds. As largemouths often do, this one cartwheeled out of the water and appeared to be a giant. It fought long and hard, but Zarbaugh finally maneuvered it boatside, where I scooped it up, recognized it as a 2-pounder, and wondered where the big one had gone.
Had it shrunk? No, of course. But had that fish escaped, I would have sworn it was a solid 4-pounder.
Other crazy events have me wondering now about the wisdom of investing in expensive fishing lures.
In the spring, I succumbed to temptation and shelled out $7 for a Chatterbait. They are the rage among bass anglers this year. But before I could barely break in the lure, a 2-foot-long northern pike ate it and broke my line. Not ordinary mono, mind you, but stout goat-ropin' braid.
Yeah, we all know pike have sharp teeth. But I'm talking 65-pound-test Kevlar-reinforced braided line. It should stand up to a barracuda.
Then in July at Lake Milton, blissfully tossing another $7 Chatterbait, I hooked a monster muskie that cut that same braided line so cleanly it was silly.
I have, so far, resisted the temptation to buy another Chatterbait. But you muskie and pike anglers certainly ought to give them a try.
Funny how anglers can go on streaks. I play golf, too, and have noticed that some days the putts just seem to find the hole all by themselves, while other days they stray. The same thing happens out on the water.
I traveled to Lake Chautauqua in New York a few weeks ago for a weekend of bass fishing. Saturday was dedicated to scouting the lake for the next day's tournament. I had a good time testing various docks and was pretty pleased about Sunday's opportunities.
One particular dock was spectacular. I flipped my lure in and felt the kind of solid thump that was unmistakably caused by a big fish. Not wanting to catch the fish, but rather save it for the tournament, I attempted to pull my lure away. I never jerked, but the fish somehow managed to clamp down hard enough on the plastic-shrouded hook to stick itself.
I did nothing to fight the fish, hoping it would spit the lure. The fish apparently was destined to be mine, against all odds and certainly against my intentions. I finally had to pull the creature from the mass of rusty metal posts, cross-members and steel cables.
It was the biggest smallmouth I've ever seen -- and I've seen plenty out on Lake Erie. Well beyond 6 pounds, the fish should have broken the line, which was badly scuffed by all the hardware under the water.
But it didn't, which proves false the old line that "the big one always gets away."
Just one week later, another big one bit at Shenango Reservoir. I did everything textbook right in hooking and fighting the fish, and, well, you can guess the result.
It got away.
Like I wrote at the beginning, the fishing game is incredible, humbling and sometimes laughable. I guess that's why we love it so much.