The early evening sun spreads a warm, orange glow across the colorful landscape. Red is just beginning to creep across the maples scattered throughout the cattail-studded wetlands, indicating the change of seasons is just days away. Occasionally, a snout pokes through the glassy surface of the pond, sipping midges as they flit toward the nearby shore. A heron is perched on a faraway dock, silently awaiting a fish to lose its weariness and swim too close to the bird’s hovering beak.
No, this isn’t the scene of a remote trout pond; this is just a typical evening at one of my favorite local spots. While I always appreciate the chance to travel to exotic spots to target unusual species, there’s something comforting about doing things the way you always have. For me, that’s fishing at a pond next to my friend’s house with friends.
Fishing definitely started out as a social activity for me. At first, I would join my Cub Scout pack on annual outings to fish for sunfish in a nearby pond. The group of us would join in friendly competitions, seeing who could catch the most bluegill or the first bass. Along the way, adults would be there to help us tie knots and remove our catches from the hooks.
As I got older and required less adult supervision, a smaller, more devoted group of friends and I explored neighborhood bodies of water, most frequently targeting bass and pickerel, but occasionally trying our hand at the trout stocked in nearby waters. Now, our most frequent haunt was a pond adjacent to our friend Ben’s house, which arguably offered the best fishing in town. As with before, we’d organize small competitions, but this time trying to catch fish on the weirdest lures we could find or on a time limit as we filmed it for our Youtube channel. We had a blast coming together and fishing as friends, even if it was more for the social aspect than for actually fishing.
Unsurprisingly, Ben often ended up catching the largest fish with his superior experience of the pond. Over the years, we’ve all caught some pretty large fish out of the pond, including monster bass, pickerel, sunfish, carp, crappie, and perch, but Ben typically outfishes us 2:1. Sure, we all had our ponds and rivers that we each excelled at, but when we were at Ben’s pond, it was his time to shine.
As I continued to mature, I fell in love with a sport that has beguiled the lives of countless anglers before me, that being fly fishing. I enjoyed every aspect of fishing this way, but mostly the solitude and tranquility you can find in the waters you visit. I began to take fewer trips with my friends and more by myself, enjoying the peacefulness I found with the fish and nature. Still, I found opportunities to connect with my buddies, occasionally making use of my newfound fly fishing skills while they used typical bass gear.
Today, after numerous changes in school, sports, life, and family, my friends and I carry on our efforts to fish together. As with before, we usually fish by Ben’s house at spots that have become so familiar to us that they have begun to feel like home. Sometimes we make a competition out of it, but mostly we’re just there to fish and enjoy each other’s company.
With the extended summer we’re having early this fall in New England, we’ve had plenty of opportunities to fish for the pond’s warmwater species the same way we would during the warmer months. Of the methods we use during the hot season, our favorite by far is topwater. When the daytime highs are in the 80’s and 90’s, its crucial you fish early and late to have any chance of getting on a decent topwater bite. During the early fall, though, when there’s less sunlight and slightly cooler highs, it’s possible to fish with topwater lures and flies throughout the late morning and late afternoon in addition to the typical wee hours.
We seized this opportunity to fish topwater lures last week, opting to begin our early evening fishing session with one of our favorites, the whopper plopper. Fishing the whopper plopper is very hit-or-miss; sometimes you can’t keep the fish off the lure, and other times you can’t buy a bite. We could immediately tell it would be the former this outing as Ben quickly lost a massive pickerel that viciously took his new bluegill-patterned plopper. On the next cast, we doubled up on small bass, a rare feat, especially when using larger baits like we were.
As the evening continued, the bite only continued to get better, but our luck was getting worse. Ben was consistently getting strikes on the lure, but was frequently losing his quarry. At last, we arrived at a grassy strip of land known as the “five-pounder spot” for the mammoth, cleft-lipped largemouth Ben landed a couple years prior. We each cast into the flat-calm pond, Ben’s line attached to the whopper plopper, and mine to a drop shot. Our backs faced each other as we worked our baits, and the sound of the plopper kicking up water disturbed the dusky stillness.
Abruptly, a large splash erupted from over my shoulder, and Ben shouted incomprehensibly with excitement. I set down my rod and laughed as he struggled to get the behemoth on the end of his line under control. “Help me!” he pleaded. Thick, menacing treble hooks gleamed from within the beast’s mouth, and I knew lipping the fish without removing the hooks was just asking for trouble. Hopeful, I looked around for a net to no avail.
With the realization that we were unprepared to land a fish of this caliber, I replied, “You’re just going to have to beach it”. I waited patiently by the edge of the water for the fish to come close enough for me to grab it, not wanting to spook it and risk losing it.
When I finally got my hands around the girthy fish, I knew this bass was something special. “That’s my new PB!” Ben exclaimed, confident it would beat his six-pound all-time record. With certification on a scale, we confirmed the fish was indeed Ben’s biggest bass ever, coming in at nearly six-and-a-half pounds. The fish also qualified for a state catch-and-release pin with its 23-inch length.
The neighbors quickly began pouring out of their houses as they heard us shout with exuberance. Nobody wanted to miss this spectacular fish.
As we set the fish free to be caught another day, I couldn’t help but think that truly, nothing had changed. Per usual, Ben had won the day with his big fish, while I enjoyed the company of good friends and ferocious fish. Later that week, I finally overcame him with my two bass caught on a fly rod to his none, but in all honesty, it was never a competition; just an excuse to get outside and enjoy the simplicities of childhood.