Hudson on the River

Yeah, yeah, I know. One of the universal truths of this world is that the way to be sure you’ll hook a big one is to leave your net at home.

You may recall that this is the time of year when white bass make their springtime spawning runs from lakes up into rivers and streams. It’s an annual pilgrimage that not only ensures the presence of future generations of white bass but also makes fishermen’s hearts beat a little faster. You see, during these runs, white bass are not only abundant. They’re cooperative, too. On good days you can enjoy quite a lot of action, and when the white bass are in town those good days can be more common than you might expect.

To make the most of those days, I’ve been trying to squeeze in an hour or two of after-work as often as I can. In fact, just last week (just a day or so before the latest monsoon hit) my friend Scott called me up and twisted my arm just enough (it didn’t take much) to convince me to brave rush-hour traffic and meet him for some white bass fishing.

And that’s exactly what I did.

At the water, I was slow to get ready. Scott, more expedient, was in the water before I even had my wading boots laced up and started fishing right away. Me, I got sidetracked talking to my buddy Dan, a fellow fly fisher whom I’d first met at that very spot four or five years before. Each year we seem to cross paths there during white bass season, and it’s always good to say hello. 

As it turned out, that very day was Dan’s birthday. I gave him a freshly-tied white bass fly — a small gift that just a few minutes later brought Dan a nice birthday present of another kind — a white bass on a fly rod. I am pretty sure I heard the fish singing “Happy Birthday” before Dan released it and went back to casting. That’s a good day on the river.

Scott, meanwhile, was already fishing. He hooked a nice white bass on his first or second cast (always a good sign), and then we each went on to catch and release several more over the next hour or so.

But then…but then…

You know how sometimes your ninja fishing sense just says to you “cast over there?” Well, mine did exactly that. I’d been doing okay on white bass “over here,” working a section of the main current that flowed near a series of loggy blowdowns. My fly, a flashy little pattern called the Rolex, was doing a good job. It was the kind of situation that an angler doesn’t want to leave. But then came that whispered voice again: “cast over there.”

There’s an old fisherman’s adage that tells you not to leave fish to find fish. There’s a lot of wisdom in those words. But sometimes you have to go against prevailing wisdom and take a chance.

Okay, I’ll give it five casts, I told myself.

And so…

I repositioned a few feet and cast the little gold-and-silver fly to that new patch of water.  It looked like all the other patches of water, and as I began to retrieve the fly I found myself wondering why it had drawn my attention. 

Flies like the Rolex have to be animated on the retrieve. The idea is to make them look like minnows, so you’ll typically retrieve them in a steady strip-strip-strip cadence, varying the pattern till you find what the fish prefer on that particular day. 

Strip…strip…strip…

And that’s when I just about lost my fly rod as something really, really strong nailed the fly – hard! I set the hook and the reel began to scream as an underwater locomotive took off down the river. This was definitely not another 9-inch-long white bass.

Since I’m about out of space here I’ll skip all the details — the excited yelling, the encouragement from Scott , the frantic stumbling around all over the river to keep the fish (still unseen after 10 minutes) out of those nearby blowdowns where it would surely have broken off.

But luck was on my side, and the fish stayed connected. At last, about minute 14, it started to tire, and I was too. Its dorsal fin broke the surface, slicing the water like a shark’s.

Holy cow. It really was a big fish. 

And that’s when I realized that I didn’t have a net.

You don’t usually need a net when white bass fishing, but I sure did need one then.

“Scott!” I called across the river. “See anybody with a net?”

About that time who should happen by up on the shore but Luca and his buddy Colter. Both are accomplished anglers, and (lo and behold) they did indeed have a net! Serendipitous encounters with net-bearing buddies — that’s a good day on the river too!

Scott, being the fine friend that he is, dashed through the water (at least as much as you can dash while wearing waders) to the bank and then returned, borrowed net in hand. Bless his heart, he was able to net the fish on the very first try.

It was a striped bass — a huge one, at least by the standards of what I usually catch, of Biblical proportions and all.

We admired the fish and took a few pictures and then eased it back into the water.

“I think I’m done,” I said to Scott, for that is the sportsmanlike thing to say after landing a big one, especially when you do it with the help of your buddies. Besides, my arm was still tired.

But arms recover quickly, especially when there are white bass to be caught, and within 10 minutes I was fishing again. We fished till dark, landing more white along the way. 

It was a good day. Yes, it was a good day on the river.

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