Not what it seems

I’ve taken pride in my observation skills over the years, trusting my senses to relay information that is real.

My eyes, ears, nose and hands rarely let me down. See vessel speeding on lake. It’s a boat. Hear gobbles in woods. They are turkeys. Smell smoke. There’s fire. Feel tug on my line. It’s a fish.

Sunday, however, was a day when things were not always what they seem.

I go to the water with an open mind. It pays to leave preconceptions at the dock. They can cloud the mind when they contradict the here and now. But the mind can play tricks, and I learned again Sunday that I don’t always see what I thought I saw.

As I gurgled a topwater bait over a pile of last year’s Christmas trees anchored to the bottom of Shenango Reservoir, I noticed a flash under the lure. That was nothing unusual, as the lure had teased several bass already that morning.

In my experience, when a bass misses a topwater bait, it’s an indication either that it wasn’t totally convinced it wanted to eat it or that it simply misjudged the angle of attack. Either way, it typically doesn’t pay to throw the same lure to the lurking fish.

My eyes “saw” a small fish missed the lure, but I wanted to catch it nevertheless. I picked up my heavy-cover rig and pitched a soft-plastic bait into the snaggy brush pile. The sinking line jumped, I struck and immediately recognized I’d connected with a fish more formidable than the dink I suspected lived there.

My stout tackle did the job and soon enough I worked the bass out of the tangle. I complimented myself on not passing on the opportunity to catch the fish. It would have been easy to move on, believing I’d seen a short fish boil under the plug.

An hour later, I found myself in flipping distance of a big tree that toppled into the lake a couple of years ago. As cited often in this column, a fallen hardwood that has been soaking for a year or more in a lake is almost certain to attract nice-sized bass.

I worked the outer branches carefully as the boat drifted into position for a few pitches to the places I’ve learned can be sweet spots. I toed the button on the deck to drop the twin Power-Poles on the BassCat’s stern and focused my attention on the next pitch.

My bait hit the water exactly on target and sank into the murk. Just as I lost visual contact with the plastic lure, my eyes detected a bass darting out of the shadow of the tree trunk. My brain recognized it as a small fish, but my arms decided, “What the heck ... might as well swing on it.”

Good decision. I yanked, the rod bucked and the water boiled. The bass surged back to the hole under the trunk. My line held and I turned the fish toward the boat, but it jumped and crashed back into the water with a splash that was more like your chubby cousin cannonballing into the backyard pool.

I won the tug-of-war and hoisted the big fish, all 4-plus pounds of it, in amazement. I was certain when I set the hook that I’d be plucking a wriggling 1-pounder from the branches. That’s what I thought I’d seen.

It’s good to be proved wrong now and then. It keeps us objective, humble even. It opens our minds to other possibilities.

I’m talking fishing, of course. But fishing has parallels in other areas of our lives. What we think we see isn’t always what it appears to be.

So I keep an open mind, don’t always trust I’m seeing the whole picture and react when intuition says “go for it.”

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