Late spring is a wonderful time to be on the lake. Fish of all types are biting, the days are long, the lake isn’t too crowded yet, and the weather can be beautiful. I say it “can be” beautiful because spring is a crapshoot. Sometimes it’s all sunshine, balmy days, and blossoming flowers. Other days it’s more volatile.
I found myself on Pickwick lake one balmy spring afternoon enjoying every single thing around me. Calm green water kissed the tan river rock along the bank, which gave way to the slanting slate-gray slabs of rock which formed the foundation for the beautifully forested green hills above. If you went any higher from there it was all blue skies and sunshine. It was as pretty a day as one could ask for, and I had it mostly to myself. There was one other boat that had been fishing around me all day, not too close, but always close by. It was occupied by three teenagers (a guy and two gals) who appeared to be enjoying a lazy day on the lake. Given their disposition I couldn’t really imagine what they were fishing for. It appeared they were more concerned with relaxing than fishing. They each had a pole, but cast very little, and didn’t seem to have a care in the world. They were calm and quiet every time I saw them.
It was getting late in the day and I was slowly casting my way down the last few hundred yards of bank before heading back to meet the family at the cabin. The hills here are high and fishing the west side of the river puts you in deep shadow long before sunset. The hills are so high that you can’t see what the sun is doing to the west, you just have to watch the shadows and trust that it’ll go down on time. Somewhere in the far distance I could hear the smallest hint of thunder. “Sounds like we might get some rain tonight” I thought.
Once you hit the bank here the terrain shoots upward quite steeply until you crest the ridge 80 to 100 feet above. It’s very peaceful easing down the bank tossing a Texas rigged plastic at timber that’s fallen into the water from the eroding bank, or at large boulders that have fallen into the water over time. A wide, smooth gravel bar will appear on one section, then transition to chunk rock, then gray slate, then dirt and timber. It’s the same scenery arrayed in an infinite variety of ways that makes it fun every time you see a new combination.
Even when there’s no visible target at which to cast, the backdrop to this entire section is one long ledge. If you cast two inches from the bank, by the time you’ve pulled it toward the boat a few feet you’ve dropped off into 15 or 20 feet of water. It’s just a gorgeous and interesting place to fish. It’s not uncommon to catch largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass along one stretch like this. On every point you’ll see a Great Blue Heron or two, and as you silently cast in the fading light it’s not uncommon to have a bald eagle soar past you to land in a nearby tree. Boom! Hookup! After a short fierce battle, you land a 4-lb. largemouth, toss him back, and marvel at everything nature has stacked up around you. It can get no better than this. The very distant and soft rumble of thunder gave me hope the bite might improve ahead of the rain.
I had about 300 yards before I hit the point at the mouth of Indian Creek. The creek mouth is about half a mile wide and the marina is on the opposite side. The boat with the laid-back teenagers was sitting right on the point and I’d fish until I was close to them, then call it a night. When I say these kids were laid back I mean it. Most of the day they were sitting with legs in the water and laying on the deck, they were super relaxed. I don’t think a boat full of sloths could have moved any slower.
It looked like they planned to sit on that point and fish until dark so I planned to pull up the trolling motor before I got within 100 yards of them. I made a mental note of how much further up they were and I got back to casting. Surely, I could pull one or two more fish from this ledge before quitting time. The slashing red and yellow lines on my sonar were telling me that it was dinner time down there. The fish were hammering bait all around me.
The blissful calm of that late spring afternoon was suddenly shattered by the kids in the other boat. The slow, laid back relaxed kids had urgently thrown every rod down to the floor, jumped on the gas, and were making best possible speed around the point. A boat full of meth fueled ferrets couldn’t have moved any faster.
I didn’t waste a moment thinking. Before they’d gone 20 yards I had my line in and was at the helm starting the boat. From their position on the point they could see down the creek to the west. Their actions could mean only one thing…danger.
I got up on plane and was watching the bank to my left slide by at 40 MPH. I could see the marina just half a mile ahead. Whatever was happening I was home free because I was about to be under the cover of my slip at the dock. The long ridge began its slope down to the point at the mouth of the creek. Trees were a blur of green to my left, and then I passed the point. What I saw in that creek can only be described as a Hydra, the mythical Greek water monster.
While I had sat in the calm, placid waters guarded by the high hills, a monster of a storm had crept up from the other side unseen. The entire creek was filled with what looked like a raging whitewater river falling from the sky. The teenagers boat had simply disappeared when they drove into it. The volume of water pouring from the sky reduced visibility so much that they disappeared right in front of my eyes. There was no rain on me, but a literal wall of water was approaching me at great speed.
A huge volume of wind was pushing right ahead of this storm and the lake suddenly became very rough. My thoughts of reaching the marina unharmed disappeared like the tin boat full of teenagers. I barely had time to marvel at the size of the storm before a furious wall of water hit me. I went from 40 MPH to 5 MPH immediately. I couldn’t see a thing. I knew that every boat on the lake would be heading for the same choke point at the same time. The mouth of that marina would be a dangerous place in a storm like this. All it takes is one person freaking out and speeding in low visibility to cause a wreck. A wreck in this maelstrom would be unthinkable. I slowed my pace and took the beating this storm was bringing.
I turned on the bilge pump because so much water was getting in the boat I was concerned I might have a problem. It was a torrential downpour. Within the first minute everything I wore was fully saturated and the water was just streaming down my body under my soaked clothes. Scan for traffic. Watch the rollers. Don’t go faster than your visibility, you’ll only suffer for a few more minutes. The rain drops were so big, and the volume so immense that even with high winds and big whitecaps rolling everywhere you could see an infinite amount spray coming up off the water from the pounding rain. It looked as if the lake was shattering.
At this point I just had to focus on scanning and navigation. No matter how uncomfortable this was, my primary job was to scan for boats. I could not allow myself to be the guy who gets distracted by weather or concern for his own comfort and focus on himself. I had to focus on the threats, and right now that would be any other boat heading for the choke-point at the mouth of the marina.
Progress was painfully slow as I was bashed by rain and rocked by waves. I began to wonder “just how water proof is my sonar?” I started to question whether it could really be rated for this type of immersion. Patience is never harder than in trying times. Lucky for me I’ve got lots of practice. After what seemed like forever I began to make out the white rip-rap wall of the marina. I crept along, rising and falling in the torrent like a bobber in a hurricane. Finally, the mouth of the marina was in sight!
I passed through the narrow opening to the marina and felt an instinctual sigh of relief. I quickly realized though that “instinctual” was all it was. I was in no better shape now than I was before. I was protected from the wind and waves, but the rain was still coming down crazy hard. The really ironic part was that now that I had smooth water, I was in a no wake zone! I could see my slip 200 yards ahead, but I had to creep along with the rain beating on me due to the no wake zone. Rain and discomfort was no excuse to break that rule.
As I got closer to the covered sip I realized there would be one more insult before I was done. Docks don’t have gutters, and the torrential rain was falling off the 20-foot roof like a waterfall in an Indiana Jones movie. Before I could idle into the safety of my covered slip I had to endure one last soaking. I sat in a pouring rain and pushed the bow into the solid sheet of water falling from the dock. I watched it creep slowly along the deck toward me, over the live well, up the console, and BAM! The last wave of water washed over me like a rush.
I coasted in to a dock full of wide eyed stragglers who were taking shelter from the storm. They don’t dock here but it was the nearest shelter they could find. I told a few jokes to lighten the mood and get everyone laughing a bit then tied up my boat. As I stood on the dock talking to a few guys I had to shout to be heard over the din of the storm beating on the metal roof. It sounded like we were on the inside of a gravel crushing machine. About this time the storm did something unthinkable, it intensified.
Now there were great crashes of thunder and lightning, and the rainfall increased so much that visibility dropped to maybe 50 yards. You could no longer see the mouth of the marina, or even the next dock. I pulled out my phone and was able to tell the other folks this looked to be the worst of it and it should be gone quickly. I’m sure it felt like they’d be waiting until the end of time for it to stop raining. They were all clearly nervous for their physical safety. A high roofed dock will keep the rain off you but it’s not enough shelter to make one comfortable in a storm like this. The wind was driving the rain sideways so hard that it could reach you 20 feet under the cover.
In a few minutes the lightning stopped and the rain slackened to where I could see to drive the truck. I walked up to the parking lot and laughed at how wet I was getting into the truck. I’d never sat on my seats this wet, but there was no choice today.
The upside of the whole thing was I didn’t need to shower before dinner, all I had to do was dry off! Sometime the fish we catch aren’t the biggest part of the story. It’s things like this that ensure fishing will never be dull.