HUDDLESTON, Va. — Have you ever had one of those days when everything was just going your way and you could seemingly do no wrong?
Yeah. Those days are just golden. Day 2 of the Blue Ridge Brawl on beautiful Smith Mountain Lake was not one of those days for me.
In terms of watch it happen, make it happen, or wonder what the hell just happened, Day 2 was in the latter class of the three. It was pretty much a train wreck on the water for the majority of the day and an ugly wreck at that, too.
The day began as just another derby day, but I could tell that something was different. Other than the fact that I was 3 pounds below the cut line and behind the eightball on a fishery that usually deals out very tight weights in the results, the day just had a funky feel to it.
Didn't really know what it was. Wasn't anything I could put a finger on. Just funky. Off balance. Out of the norm.
First stop was a point where I had seen several fish in the 3- to 5-pound range roaming along the previous afternoon. I couldn't get any of them to bite, but they didn't spook and run off either.
Maybe in the low light of the morning, I could entice one. After multiple casts with several swimbaits, shakey heads, and everything else I had on the deck, there was nothing doing. Strike one.
Ran up the Roanoke River a couple of miles to a flat point where I had gotten several bites on a swimbait around some docks the previous morning. Swam my little Basstrix all around the docks without even a sniff. Strike two.
Moved to the back of the same bay where I had located what looked to be a 3-pound male guarding a bed under a dock. He was still on guard, but still not aggressive enough to stay on or around the bed to fend off my Critter Craw, Finesse worm, Speed Craw, or anything else I crawled across his bed.
Just because you can see them on or around a bed during the spawn certainly doesn't mean they can be caught. Having messed with the same fish on the previous day, I knew he might not go. I was right. He's still swimming around under the dock. Strike three.
Time to reassess the situation. Reformulate the plan (not that there ever was a really solid plan). Figure out which way to go from here, because this just wasn't working. Time for a bold move that would bring big dividends, jump me up in the standings, and get me closer to the top of the heap. This was the "make it happen" phase of the day. That was the thought process anyway.
Now the plan was to run new water that I hadn't visited on the previous day. After a quick run to a pocket where I had seen several decent fish on beds during practice, I located a smallmouth next to a dock. Located on the eastern shore of the pocket, there was still shadow on the bed and the smallie was a little hard to see. Worked him for a few minutes with the Finesse worm and Critter Craw before he finally picked up the Craw and swam off the bed with it.
I snapped all 6 foot, 8 inches of the St. Croix Legend Extreme into a huge arc as I set the hook. Still it was a funky, off balance kind of hook set. Didn't feel right. Wasn't cool. Fought the fish out to deeper water. Back toward the bed. Had a little air time. Took a dive under the boat. Poink. Pulled off. Just like that.
Hadn't lost a fish I had hooked all week and here was the first fish of the day swimming away from me. That's cool. He'll go right back to the bed and I'll come back later to collect him.
Moving deeper into the pocket, I searched for a decent pair of largemouth I had located out on a flat point. I could see the brightly colored female long before I saw the bed or the male guarding it.
Making a long cast with the Finesse worm, I was a little surprised to see the female run right to the worm. Dink. She nailed it and started to move off with it. Whack! Set the hook too soon and came back with teeth marks on the worm just below the hook. She moved away 10 feet from the bed, but didn't leave the area. Cool. I'll catch the male and maybe she'll move up to protect the bed, then I'll get her.
Turning to the male, I could see him on the bed and dropped the Power Pole where I could stay just far enough away from him to keep him comfortable. After a few casts to the bed with the Finesse worm, he grabbed it and swam off. A quick jerk and I came back with half a worm. This was a smart pair. Cut an inch off a new worm and changed from watermelon candy to green pumpkin — show him something new, I thought.
Before casting to the male, I made a cast at the female, who had been slowly patrolling the area. Amazingly, she ran right over to the worm as soon as it hit bottom. Followed it, followed it, followed it for several feet across the gravel before losing interest.
A few casts later, she ran right over to it again. This time, I felt her peck it. Once. Twice. Then she whacked it and started swimming with it.
Wait for it ... wait for it ... I whacked back and again retrieved a worm with teeth marks just below the hook. It was like she knew exactly where the hook was located and that she had to pick up the worm just below that hook. This was the "watch it happen" part of the day.
Back to the male with a fresh worm, this time a slimmer Shakey Head worm in green pumpkin, I could see that he was more aggressive toward the slimmer worm. Ah, yes. This fish is going in the box.
Just like I planned, after a few drags of the worm through the bed, Mr. He-Man swims off with the Shakey Head. I bow up on him, setting the hook. He swims out to deeper water and pulls free. Retrieving the worm, I notice that the hook hasn't even penetrated the worm. This was the "what the hell just happened here" part of the day.
Time for a new plan; what are we on now, Plan D, E, F? Doesn't matter. Time to sit down, shut up, and hold on. Get me away from these evil fish. Do something different. Go somewhere different. Make something happen. Get a fish in the freakin' boat!
As the wind has started to blow pretty hard, I decide to pull out to the mouth of the pocket and run my Basstrix around the docks that are located along the points. Occasionally, I can see 3-4 pound bass either suspended under the docks or simply roaming the shallow water between the docks.
Seeing them and figuring out how to catch them are entirely different things, though. Fishing the swimbait around the docks was a valiant effort and a great idea, but pretty much like banging my head against the transom on the BassCat.
It's now 1 p.m. I still have a dry livewell. That's not a good thing. I'm up to Plan M. M for "Maybe this will work, Maybe it won't."
As the wind has slacked off, I figure it's time to look at a few more. Run to a flat pocket just off the main channel and — holy crap — there's a huge smallmouth bed with a big smallie on it. I back the BassCat off the bed, drop the Power Pole and rig up a fresh worm.
First cast through the bed, I feel a little peck. I'm not getting my hopes up, but it looks good. A few casts later, I get the sensation that my line has been cut. Can't feel the bait. Nothing there. Pulling air. Reel down fast and set the hook.
The smallmouth cleared three foot of air on his first jump. "Holy s***!" was the reaction from Jeff, my marshal. Back and forth, back and forth, I finally wear the smallie down and get all 4 pounds of him in the boat. Finally put some water in the livewell. Finally I'm on my way to getting out of the hole that I had dug for myself.
At 3, I had four keeps in the boat. Decided to go back to the pair that I had lost multiple times earlier in the day, in hopes that I had worked through the funk and could get at least one of them in the boat. Pulling up to the flat point, I wasn't able to see the female anywhere.
Not sure if she had left or been caught by another angler, but she was gone. I could, however, see the male still doing his best to guard the bed. Setting the boat up a short cast from the bed, I dropped the Power Pole. First cast through the bed, I felt him grab the worm and swim off. Setting the hook, I saw the fish flash, then felt a dead weight — I was hung against something. What the ... ?
I pulled harder and a three-foot section of tree limb about as big around as my thumb came to the surface. With my Finesse head buried in it. The male had built the bed up against the limb, as it was the only cover out on this flat point.
In all the casts that I had made to the bed, I knew that I could feel the worm come over something, but I never got close enough to the bed to see exactly what it was I was feeling. Just another funky thing in an otherwise funky day.
3:30 and my check in time is at 4. After re-tying and putting on a fresh Shakey Head worm, I stood up to see if the male has vacated the bed for good. Nothing doing. I could just barely make him out, still guarding the bed.
Was this really going to work out for the good after all? A few casts later, I see the fish swimming slowly from the bed and again have the sensation of nothingness on the end of my line. Amazing how they can pick baits up while you're looking at them
and you don't ever feel a thing. I reel up the slack, set the hook, and jump my fifth fish into the boat. Just that simple.
It doesn't matter that I only have 11 pounds and change to add to my 11-15 I posted Thursday. Doesn't matter that I will finish 70th-something in the standings. Doesn't matter that I'll fall further behind in the AOY points race. OK, those three sentences are pretty much crap, as it does matter. It's just one of those small little moral victories when you can work through what could have been a total train wreck of a day and make something out of it.
Back at the campground, cleaning my clothes out of the boat at the end of the day, I found out what had thrown the whole day out of balance. It was socks. A pair of socks. A mismatched pair of socks that I had worn until, oh, I'd say shortly before 1:30 when I put that first smallie in the boat.
Just normal socks that I'd gotten from Ozark Outdoor Supply. Two pair of wool socks; one pair light weight, the other medium. The only problem? In my early morning stupor I had mixed up the pair and put on one light and one medium, throwing my whole world out of balance.
Yep, a pair of mismatched socks had thrown my whole world off kilter. Moral to this story? Check your socks before you hit the water on derby day.
For more info on Kevin Short or to contact Kevin, check out his Web site at www.kfshort.com.