On a beautiful spring morning with bluebird skies, I took a few hours to explore a new stretch of river in search of bass. The water had just come down to a reasonable level after a drastic amount of rain, and the color was about where it should be. I found my way into a few hungry and eager fish that were willing to chase streamers and poppers.
Wading out into the middle of the large, shallow river, I made my way towards a shelf. One of my favorite places to catch smallmouth is those churning, flat pools that are created after a series of riffles and rocks give way to deeper water. Spying one such spot across a deep slough, I waded upstream to the aforementioned shallow riffle and them down into position.
During my journey down, a group of tubers (innertubes, not potatoes) floated by. Being early in the season, their presence was hardly a nuisance. They were few in numbers, and the river was certainly large enough to accommodate their splashing and wallowing. Apparently, their terminus was adjacent to my position, as they all flopped out unceremoniously and went to a cluster of tents on the hillside above the river.
Two young men moved with a little bit more vigor than their peers. After docking their tubes, they charged the water like migrating wildebeest. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt: their original trajectory may very well have been outside of the very pool I was fishing. However, the strong current and their “swimming” moved them directly through the deep water I was probing with my fly.
All the while they were yelling something. They didn’t look distressed, so I knew it was going to be a “Hey mister!” conversation.
I had one such interaction the night before, downstream, while fishing from the bank. The teenage boy popped out of the woods, vaping and barefoot. “You want some chicken livers?” he asked, “you’ll need some if you want to catch the big cats.” Still trying to figure out where he had been seconds before, I responded with a polite “no thank you, chicken livers wouldn’t stay on a fly.”
This young man followed me as closer than any professional ghillie would for the better part of two hours. I can tell you his family history, what he wants to do with his life, and, of course, how to catch the big catfish with chicken livers. His presence wasn’t obtrusive, annoying, or an inconvenience. He was pretty convinced that I was wasting my time fishing sans liver, until I caught a bass in front of him. “Mister, I didn’t think that you’d ever catch anything with that bait…”
The two river-crossing boys were more irritating. If not for the noise then for their swimming through the prime spot I was targeting. What had they been yelling? “Mister, you want some nightcrawlers?” One of the boys pulled a crushed worm tub from the pocket of his baggy cargo shorts/swim trunks, spilling dirt from the cracks in the styrofoam as he held it out towards me.
I chose not to argue that I had it from an expert source that chicken livers were the preferred cuisine of the river’s catfish.
“No thank you, nightcrawlers wouldn’t stay on a fly.”
He gave me a “suit yourself” look and a shrug, and walked over to a submerged tree that was up against a little shoal. Squatting down in the water, he came back up with a full rigged spinning rod. With deft precision, he skewered a worm and flipped the rig out into the current where he and his partner had just sloshed through.
I was doing my best to stay humble and courteous, but as I looked up and downstream and saw literally no other humans for a mile I couldn’t help but be a bit put off by the fact that they chose to share the same pool as me. This began to trickle into that evil part of my fly fishing brain that can very occasionally scoff at “inferior” styles of angling.
Wouldn’t you know it, he caught a bluegill the size of a dinner plate.
Bigger than any I had caught that day. That fish, and his wholly innocent and benevolent “see mister, nightcrawlers!” snapped me out of my funk.
That is what bluegill and kids are for: to humble us and help us remember what fishing is all about.