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Angler's Journal: Nothing is Often Better Than Something

May 9, 2006

By King Montgomery

A major spring cold front and rainstorm had rolled in, and the fish had shut down like a seized-up engine.  As I sat on the front porch of the lakefront cabin , bundled up in more clothes than I thought I'd brought, my thoughts turned from the lousy angling prospects to reflecting on my past successes and the tactics that had brought them about.

Smallmouth bass sometimes like nothing, too.
(Photo courtesy of King Montgomery)

Specifically, I was thinking about how the best retrieve with a fly rod popper for bass or sunfish often is none at all.  A few hours before the storm moved in, I had cast a popper to a sunken brush pile against the bank.  Varying the retrieve resulted in a few nondescript fish, but I knew larger ones lurked nearby. 

On the next cast, I let the bug sit.  And sit.  And sit some more.  Even more minutes passed, and then a big female bluegill slurped the fly with that characteristic "splat" that always makes me smile.  Few fish fight harder than a pound bluegill on a light rod, and this was just one of many over the next hour. 

The same non-tactic worked on largemouth bass when I cast a popper on fly or spinning gear.  It works on striped bass, too. Why did these fish strike an inanimate, unmoving, seemingly boring object?  I would like to say that the two pairs of rubber legs on the fly were undulating seductively, but I've done the same thing with poppers, other bugs, and hardware lures that don't have rubber legs.  Lest you think this was a phenomenon associated solely with an approaching storm, I have seen the "do-nothing" retrieve work in all the seasons except the coldest winter.

One summer morning it was oppressively hot and muggy, and just breathing raised a drenching sweat.  The surface bite ended soon after the sun peaked over the trees. 

Bottom-bouncing flies and streamers, or plastic worms and jigs didn't produce, and it looked like it might be one of those days.  I switched to a Dahlberg diver for the fly rod, cast it to the lily pads, and worked it slow, fast, and in-between.  Nothing.  Now I was really sweating.  A short nap in the air conditioned cabin was looking real good.  I made one more half-hearted cast, set the rod down against the gunwale of the jonboat, and reached for a cold bottle of water.  A great blue heron flapped into the cove and began wading, fishing.  I reached for the camera and popped off a few shots.  (You can never have too many blue heron photos.) 
Another swig of cold water and I glanced toward the pads.  The Dahlberg was gone and the line was slowly moving to the right.  I made my presence known and five pounds of largemouth bass exploded from the surface. 

After releasing the bass, I tried the same tactic farther down the line of pads.  It worked more than once then, and still does now.  Cast it out, let it sit, pop a soda or grab a sandwich, scratch, mop your face, change film, and set the hook; this is low maintenance fishing at its best.  I don't ask why anymore, I just do it.  In fishing, sometimes nothing is better than something and slower is better than fast.  Right now, the wind is whipping through the trees, and the temperature has dropped a few more degrees.   Time to kick back in front of a warm fire.  Tomorrow?  Well, tomorrow could be another do-nothing day.

About King Montgomery
King Montgomery has fished in all kinds of waters for over 50 years.  He is an award-winning outdoor/travel writer & photographer with a degree in fisheries biology.

Issue 1.3: May 11, 2006