By Billy “Hawkeye” Decoteau
It was always pitch black when we set out on our nighttime excursions. In the beginning had it not been for our flashlights I’m sure I would have ended up walking knee deep into the water, as I meandered my way to our shoreline destination. My ears became my eyes, while my sense of feel detected the cool mist of twilight and the aroma of a frog laden pond indicated we had traveled in the right direction.
My mentor reminded me of the necessity to remain completely quiet. Opening the lid of his “Ole Pal” metal tackle box, he removed what seemed to me a huge, monster size black plug! Whispering, while he tied the plug to his braided black fishing line, “This is called a Hula Popper.”
As a young boy, I was introduced to the trilling adventure of pursuing “Night-Time Top Water Bass”, via the seductive movements of a well built lady dressed in black with tantalizing dangling lace.
Quoting the advice given to Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman, in the Graduate.), “Plastics Benjamin….Plastics!” Modern day technology has catapulted bass anglers into a world of synthetic reality, leaving nothing to the imagination. Creature baits in every shape and form have been devised. With each manufacture “legally” claiming to have developed a design like none other before?
Fiberglass “Buggy Whips” of yesterday have been replaced by graphite constructed single piece ultra-light blanks dressed with titanium ferules. Heavy bulky metal reels mounted on metal reel seats have found themselves put to pasture, as lightweight supper sensitive space age material reels are saddled to new era rods. (www.AllStarRods.com.)
They label them Super Braids, Microfuse, Fire-Line, Power Pro and let’s not forget our comic book hero Spiderman with his super strong, super sensitive “Spider-Wire!” Not only do these Super Braids have the ability to cast further, have the memory to have no-memory, but also they disguise themselves as super weaklings with the generic strength of line ten times their size. (www.PowerPro.com)
As I reflect back to my early childhood days, I cannot help but to chuckle. The old fiberglass bait caster pole stood about five feet tall, showing a sign of maturity having turned yellowish white, a color distinguishing its age. Its cork handle wore the scars engraved by an arsenal of topwater baits that had been locked and loaded in a position of readiness.
A round nickel silver PFLUEGER-SUMMIT Level Wind and Anti-Back-Lash reel with shiny ruby jewels embedded on each side, beckoned a praise of Royalty. Spooled to the crown jewel of bait casters, much like the Tucker Automobile ahead of it’s time, was a form of ancient braided line that even the Bass Professor would have been honored to use. Super strong, multi-colored, woven to lay flat this unique “Braided (Woven) Line” displayed the qualities of a brainless inventor, for it too had no memory! (www.Pfluegerfishing.com)
Two distinct topwater baits were the only two my mentor relied upon for successful nighttime excursions: the Hula-Popper and the Jitterbug. Both products of Fred Arbogast a lure maker of the 30’s, yet still readily available today in the exact same-patented design. (www.Arbogastlures.com)
“Always use a heavy plug on these bait caster outfits,” he would say. With smooth precision he sailed the bait in the air, always arriving at its destination. “It’s imperative that your ears become your eyes, listening to the rhythm of the baits cadence and the sudden splashing sounds!”
Although I don’t remember being able to see the plugs as we worked them along the surface, I do recall the necessity of making sure the line ran through my fingers while reeling in the slack or working the baits. “Once you hear the sudden splash, be prepared to feel the line move. When you feel any pulling sensation, set the hook by sweeping the rod upwards and to the side,” he added.
Closing my eyes, the thrill of that familiar Pop-Pop-Pop…pause, Pop-Pop-Pop…pause cadence brings back the exhilarating rush when out of nowhere an explosion sounded, my line started pulling, the hook was set as the rod went up, and then as quickly as I raised it, the bass would lower the tip right down to the water.
Although not yet invented by Ray Scott, my mentor insisted that we always release the bass that we managed to land. After admiring the deep dark rich green colors, the size of each bass’s belly, and of course the ability of placing a closed fist into their large-mouths, we thanked each of our competitors for a stealth fight, challenging them to another “Bass Battle’.
As time went on, I learned to read the water and weather conditions, which helped us to choose the topwater bait we tied on first. “If we have a slight breeze or ripple on the water. It’s always better to tie on the jitterbug. A slow crawling retrieve will usually produce more action, but don’t hesitate to vary your retrieve faster-slower or combinations of both; bass are very moody creatures.” Adding with a chuckle, “Kind of like women, maybe that’s way we always refer to bass as She’s?”
Today’s fast pace bass angler has more baits than most tackle shops, always striving for that ‘Secret Bait’ or something different than the other competitors? Wanting an edge to out smart the other guy, anglers have lost the passion in some respects to the antique art of bass angling.
Today’s educated bass anglers are discovering that topwater bites can exist all day long! “My go to topwater bait during hot summer weather is often a Booyah Buzzbait, “ claims Mercury Outboards Frank Scalish. (www.MercuryMarine.com) “I learned how to become patient when setting the hook on buzzbait bass by fishing the Booyah Buzz at night when I could not see, but only hear it gurgling across the surface!”
Burning summer heat has a tendency to wear out an angler quickly, forgetting there are usually two distinct patterns available: deepwater bass and super shallow bass. “I have had times when smallmouth bass will blast a ½ oz Booyah Buzz burned on the surface over an open water point with grass cover in twenty to twenty-five feet of water.” Cracking his ‘Buckeye” smile Scalish replied,” If they are missing the bait, I’ll add a trailer hook.”
When asked if he slows down his buzzbait retrieve at all, Scalish laughed saying, “Only to put another bass into my livewell!” “These bass are responding to an inherited reflex bite and I believe it’s the speed and sound of the buzzbait that is attracting their attention. In shallow water largemouths may miss the bait, due to not clearing the thicker matted grass, or lily pads. That’s why it’s imperative that anglers concentrate their shallow water cast to specific areas.” Frank Scalish suggest areas with several types of cover such as wood, pads and rocks have the potential to product bigger and better bass.
Outdoor Writer Tim Tucker once wrote, “I truly believe that when Bass Anglers die they go to heaven, where all their “Bass Bites” are Topwater.” I pray my belated colleague is right and everyone of Tim’s cast are Topwater, as nothing is more exciting than pursuing our favorite quarry at the borderline where our two worlds meet with unparalleled explosive action!
Dad, thanks for the mentoring memories. I have memorized your instructions word for word every time I tie on an Arbogast Hula Popper or a Jitterbug. Rest in peace as your special plugs have been retired along with your ‘Ole Pal’ metal tackle box, shown only on occasion to retell the stories of a young boy, his mentor, and their excursions of Topwater Midnight Explosions……………….
God Bless and Best Bass’n