My fishing buddy is a liar. Unlike other anglers I know, he does not fib about location or the size and number of bass he catches. He also does not fabricate descriptions of lures he uses, water clarity, or temperature. This information is readily shared after he enters it into a spread sheet for the record.
His lying is more subtle. If fishing starts off slow, Wayne says, “Looks like we will get off the water early today.” That’s a laugh. I cannot recount a single example when we got off the water early – going with the Oxford Collegiate Dictionary definition: “before the usual or expected time.” We fish until shadows disappear and street lights glow along the shoreline because, according to Wayne, “the best bite occurs at sunset when bass load up.”
It’s not like I don’t know what I am in for. Wayne fishes for bass from March through November and studies his spread sheets religiously during the other three months. Any backwater slough or river shoreline where bass live is his place of worship. “Come into my fold,” he says this time of year, inviting me to share his passion and sign up for another season of shared fishing time.
Wayne is so adept at stretching the truth it took me a dozen trips before I understood his intention. “You must have caught 20 by now,” he says, when in my heart I know I landed half that many. I quit counting after catching a dozen or so fish. Anything above that is exceptional in my book. At some point in time more does not mean better.
Introduced to the mid-Columbia River in the 1920’s, smallmouth bass spread throughout Columbia and Snake River reservoirs, the Hanford Reach, and regional tributary streams, including the John Day, Umatilla, Yakima, Walla Walla and Grande Ronde Rivers. The largest populations, however, enter selected backwaters of McNary and John Day pools to spawn each spring when water temperature warms to 50 degrees or so. The choices are many and Wayne has fished them all.
Each pre-trip dialogue begins with a review of Wayne’s recent catch records. Water temperature and wind speed are factors in selection of the day’s fishing venue, as is travel distance. Wayne always includes me in the decision-making process. In that respect, he’s a rara avis among anglers. I also know few anglers more generous with their expertise. As an example, Wayne shows me what lure he’s using after he’s caught more than three bass in a row. Any more landed on days when I go blank and he knows I might look for a tree to hang myself.
When we arrive at a chosen location, Wayne rarely deviates from a well-defined pattern. We drop a marker buoy and if several casts fail to yield a strike, we pull up the buoy and move to his next GPS waypoint. As the day progresses, I might hear, “This is the last place.”
That’s another cock and bull statement. What’s more likely is we will stop by the light of the moon to revisit a failed location close to the launch where we started the day. “Maybe they moved in after we left,” he says.
If it’s a slow day, we don’t quit and go home early because Wayne’s extensive data base says bass must be present. When tried and true locations don’t produce, we search for new places to try. And sometimes we find bass. Expert anglers like Wayne catch more bass because they fish longer and try harder.
Inclement weather is not a deterrent. When wind and rain threaten, we bundle up, hide under his Bimini top, and wait until whitecaps reduce to a steady chop. The one exception to that rule occurred recently when an aggressive storm front blitzed us on the Yakima River. We quit because fishing was poor, we got soaked before we could install the boat top, and it was an hour past when we promised our domestic partner we would be home.
Another ploy Wayne uses to keep my interest is lathering on superlatives in the rare instance where I demonstrate prowess. “You had a nice hot streak tossing that crawfish plug,” he might say to build up my self-esteem. Embellishment is not a lie if there is an element of truth in it.
On a recent trip to Crow Butte Slough, I spent more time netting Wayne’s two-pound bass than reeling in fish of my own. A glance at the setting sun said our long day on the water was gratefully coming to a close. “One last bass and we’ll quit,” Wayne said.
I believed him because air temperature had dropped 20 degrees, it was six-mile run to the launch in the dark, and we hadn’t landed a bass in over a half hour. So much for the sunset bite, I think, but if we quit now, I might get home before the graveyard shift starts.
Standing at the bow to ease the pain in his back, Wayne chuckles and says, “Dang, missed a bite. That bass chased it to the boat.”
Shoulders aching from six hours of casting, I drag my 5-inch Pumpkin Grub over a submerged gravel bar and hook a feisty one-pounder. “That takes care of our last bass,” I say, when I bonk it for the dinner table. Five decades of marital life has taught me to not to return home late at night smelling like fish unless I have a fish in the cooler.
Wayne keeps casting, so I stow rods, zip up tackle bags, and admire the ever-changing colors of a darkening sky. Twenty minutes pass before I realize “one last bass” does not pertain to me. Luckily, tomorrow’s plans do not require significant physical or mental activity.