Fishing journeys start with a first

Firsts are good for the soul and the psyche, serving as hallmarks that help us measure progress as time marches on and our lives chug along.

The first robin, first warm day and even the first dandelion all help us put winter in our rearview mirrors and focus on the return of fair weather. Much like we celebrate opening day in baseball, we anglers hold special places in our memories for each year’s first fish.

My first largemouth bass of 2018 here in Ohio was more than a month ago. The first smallmouth, however, is still fresh in my mind, as I boated 10 days back.

I had another first this week, but more about that later. First I’ll tell you about that smallmouth.

It was not a particularly remarkable fish. The technique I employed to catch it is as tried-and-true as any tactic commonly used by all the other anglers who fish for smallies.

But the first smallmouth of 2018 nailed it for me. Spring was really here. The smallmouth bass were moving up on the hard-bottom structure around Lake Milton, and the fishing would only improve.

That’s one of the good things about “firsts.” They are the line between zero, zilch, nada and the optimism that starts with success and grows as we continue to succeed.

To me, fishing is the epitome of the optimism of the human experience. Every day we awake to no promises and somehow manage to make life fun, productive and fulfilling.

For the angler, every fishing trip starts with zero catches. But we go to the water with a plan that, when the first fish bites, begins to bear fruit. The first fish of the day is essential if we are ever going to catch two and then advance to our limit.

My first smallmouth of the season lit the fuse on a bass season that I believe will take me to my favorite smallie haunts: Lake Erie, the Ohio River, Shenango Reservoir, Chautauqua Lake and more.

The first smallie was pretty much a standard-issue fish. Perhaps a pound and a quarter, the fish was typical of those that roam the perimeter of Lake Milton and serve up the occasional surprise to unsuspecting crappie anglers in aluminum boats and panfishers laughing and lounging on the hundreds of docks there.

For all of them and for me, smallmouth season is officially open.

So that other first?

By contrast to the Milton smallmouth bass, the “other first” was spectacular, far exceeding the length, girth and weight of any other fish I might hook this month, this summer and perhaps in this lifetime.

The fish was a carp, considered unworthy of attention by lots of anglers. But in my world, where catch-and-release is the rule, the carp was worthy of celebration.

I didn’t weigh the fish, but my good guess is it topped 30 pounds. It was long and broad. The belly was fat, and the tail fanned out to nearly 10 inches. When I slid the carp headfirst into my landing net, I strained to pull the load over the gunwale of the BassCat.

After a few photos, I released the bruiser. It glided away, and the last glimpse I saw was as the fish’s golden flank disappeared in the murky water on the north end of Mosquito Creek Reservoir.

I think it was a sign of the gold that will come as we fish through 2018. Firsts are good. Here’s hoping you have plenty of them this season.

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