Boat with Australian Shepherd Dog

Sniffing for Smallmouth Bass

Five o’clock in the morning, the alarm goes off. On any other day, the groaning and moaning would commence, but not on a weekend when the boat is packed up and ready for launch into the glass-smooth water, before the rest of the world comes to life.

Fog rises from the surface as I pass the no wake zone buoy at an idle. There is not one soul on the lake as far as I can see, and it’s going to be a perfect day. The smell of fresh pine fills my nostrils as I slide the throttle forward and listen to the smooth droplets of water coming up aft. My dog breathes in the air like it’s his last chance to smell any hint of a dream that will come later – ears back, nose up and enjoying every minute like today is the best day, ever.

We tuck into a cove, re-enter a no wake zone and idle to a perfect spot. A deer raises her head as if to say “welcome, isn’t this a great spot”? I throw out the anchor, toss out a line and wait. Fishing for me has never really been about what is caught or lost. It’s not the fish stories about the one that got away. It’s this moment, sitting in perfect silence, and hearing more and more sounds arise as if the volume is slowly being turned up from total quiet to the first frog groan, to crickets chirping, to the doe chewing the fresh spring grass. It’s watching the tiny dew drops glisten in the first light of the morning. Yes, this is what fishing is about.

Later comes that moment when the sun is no longer warming my shoulders, but growing hot. The sounds of nature are drowned out by distant hums of revving motors, screaming kids on tubes and the thumping bass of wakeboard boats blasting distant sounds much like the sounds tennis shoes and loose change in the dryer. The Smallmouth Bass fishing slows and it’s time to get in the water and cool off.

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My dog knows when it’s time to switch from quiet fishing time to the “splash around and scare the fish” time. Always the first in, he spins circles topside, honing in on the fish below. This amazing dog can flick a trout out of the shallows with one paw, like a Grizzly with a salmon. But here, the water is too deep, so he circles and bites and bubbles like a pointer saying “Here, here, here! Dive here!”. Time to dive. Or, in this case, snorkel.

The water is so blue as it reflects the cloudless sky, that it seems impossible to look down and see nothing but yellow silt in the water. There are lighter stripes of light yellow where the sun rays struggle to dance through the silt. Curious bluegill greet me in the shallows as I swim to find that right spot – the spot where the Smallmouth Bass are circling their nests. Today, one curious fish comes up to the camera for a quick peek instead of darting off. I nearly hate to interrupt her busy nesting schedule, but her red eyes and beautiful coloring have me entranced. Today is clear enough to see her and her surroundings and I wish I had my dive gear on so I could stay a little longer.

Diving down for a closer look, even to ten feet, I hit a thermocline that reminds me that it is still early spring and entirely too cold to be in the water this long without a wetsuit. I shiver and feel the cold hit my forehead like an ice cream headache. Heading back to the surface on the last inch of breath I can muster, I feel the warmth of the overhead thermocline – 64 degrees and time to go topside for a warm up.

I crawl back into the boat and warm in the sun like a lizard on a hot rock. My dog shakes the remainder of cold water against my warm skin and I have to agree – this is the best day, ever.