Tuesday, March 15, 2016


Every year, as winter fights a losing battle with the advances of spring and natural rejuvenation, Mother Nature’s actors stage for the opening act. Upon spring’s minor victories, the mercury ascends—into the 50s, 60s—and some of my favorite actors, in an aqueous, farm field gem, begin their own ascent.

    These charismatic, southern sporting phenotypes begin undergoing changes as water temperatures approaches 50 degrees. Their metabolisms ramp up. They’re inspired to move, to chase, and to earn energy in ambush games with larger and larger prey. More importantly, they experience a change in attitude—from the idle survivalism of the winter doldrums, to the procedural excitement of reproduction.

    The males move first, from the thermal refuges of deep water, finning the ridges of points, towards warming shallow-water spawning sites.

    As the sun beats down on the sparkling water, these shallow spawning flats become the most attractive habitat to awakening bass—but only by temperature. The rest of the set is a skeleton of its unhampered essence. Lily pads, bullfrogs, tall grass, dobsonflies—all are holding off for the security of the warmer months.

    Grasses, though, are on the way. When the right water temperature is achieved, they begin to sprout from the pond floor, and play an important part in the story that I have come to know.

    The ambient air temperature continues to fluctuate—from the high 30s to the low 70s—throughout the end of February and beginning of March. Likewise, competing warm and cold air masses created by the periodical warming of the Earth, and the subsequent radiation into the air, bring the lion out in March. She rages on almost every day, particularly the warm ones, representing the final variable in the annual production I’ve acquainted myself with.

    Humans are creatures of habit too. Outdoorsmen, I like to think of as seasonal junkies. Every week of the year can be designated a particular pursuit (or faction of a pursuit) that is ripe for the time. The late winter window, in which all of the aforementioned variables coexist, is one of my personal favorites, which has come to be acknowledged as “The Weekend”—for big, early season bass—by some of the more fervent of my fishing companions.

    It was my father who first introduced me to this happening, on a warm, windy day in March on the farm pond I return to every year, before I had become a full-fledged teenager.

    A bottleneck is formed by two facing points, which mark the transition between the main-pond and the shallow coves on the insides of the points. The area between the points is a kind of flat—shallow, littered with a few well-known stumps, and, in the late winter, tufted by the beginning efforts of lake weed. Moving deeper into the coves, the water becomes shallower, creating a gradient of heated water and, in following, grasses.

    On that inaugural March afternoon of my childhood, the wind was roaring parallel to the points—from the west, right into the face of the dominant point.

The author's father with a healthy late-winter bass. Photo by Matt Reilly.
    “Wind from the west, fishing is best,” they say, but this is sounder science. By the will of the wind, the food chain was moved into the grassy flat between the points. First, phytoplankton. Then, baitfish. Then, predators. It was all explained to me before the first cast, and I believe it was on the first that my father stuck a respectable largemouth of about five pounds.

    Looking back, I am excessively proud, and thankful, of my father for that moment of genius.
Since, I have taken many a fish, always returning to the same setting, chasing the same memory, with the ambition of having a brush with an early-season trophy.

    Indeed, the pattern has produced well, over the years, resulting in several fish over five pounds and up to 10, by student-friends, myself, and others. This story is a testament to the dimension of fishing that is all too often dismissed, and that is hardly quantifiable by one who does not practice it and know its benefits—that is, observation and critical thinking.

    These days, I don’t get to watch that childhood story play out in front of me, often. The farm ponds of those years I left behind in search of an education. Still, change is in the air, and it brings memories to mind, which might compare for enjoyment. Then again, perhaps it’s merely the continuation of that story I’m after every year, on the bank of that farm pond, chasing fish I caught long ago. Perhaps nothing is lost.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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