By Nick Simonson
Having spent a good deal of the weekend scoring for the local high school trap team and doing yard work in the unseasonable 80-degree highs, I hoped the rain scheduled for Sunday afternoon would hold off long enough to let me loosen my arm for the approaching stream trout opener with some pre-season panfishing on a little pond in a nearby Wildlife Management Area. Heading west from town toward the spring-fed pond and its bull-sized bluegills and sunnies hidden deep in the rolling hills, I watched the sky warily as white wisps of rain came down from the gray clouds on the horizon.
No sooner than I pulled into the grassy bottom, which served as a makeshift parking lot for the WMA, it began to rain. Large, intermittent drops pattered on the inside of the open truck door as I exchanged my flip flops for socks and knee-high waterproof boots for the hike down to the small pond and the many vantage points of rocks and wood that provided ideal casting spots from the swampy shoreline. Cursing the weather, I began the trek down the hillsides along the winding river, all the while mockingly challenging Mother Nature to show me something stronger as I flipped an angry salute and pulled the top of my fishing vest over my neck to shield it from the chilly rain propelled by the north winds.
By the time I arrived at the clear waters of the pond, the precipitation had stopped and the effects of the wind had all but disappeared as the small ridge which cradled the north side of the flow buffered the area from the gusts that sailed overhead. I selected a size ten bead-head woolly bugger from my fly box and connected it with an improved clinch knot. With a couple strips of the neon green line from the reel and a backwards flip of the rod, a paper-clip curl of a backcast folded out behind me, unhindered by the winds that roared above. Like a pendulum, the rod swung forward and pulled the remaining fly line from my hand, sending the small streamer into the water with a plop.
The surface reflected the gray sky, and I strained through the lenses of my polarized shades to see if any fish were brave enough to rise in the two-acre impoundment. Flipping the lenses up and down repeatedly, I determined there was a slight advantage to wearing them, but it wasn’t much. Seeing no fish in the process, I picked the line off the water and false casted a couple of times, finally setting the cast to my right. I counted to ten, letting the woolly bugger sink in the column to a depth where perhaps the pond’s panfish might be holding on the rapidly-chilling afternoon. With the heat of the day before now a distant memory, and the hidden sun unable to warm the shallows, the deeper blue-gray of the pond’s center seemed like the most likely place to connect with a fish.
Having not held a five-weight in quite some time, it felt delicate in my hand. Odd heaviness in the line caused me to squint as I stripped and paused in rhythmic cadence while bringing the bugger back toward shore. I lifted the rod tip, and sure enough, it bounced with the weight of something small on the other end, which explained the nearly undetectable takes. A five-inch bluegill circled and splashed its way to the surface and slid to hand. Its chilly body and previous location suggested that other fish would be equally sluggish and out in deeper water.
Releasing the tiny panfish, I sent another cast toward the deepest section of the pond and counted it down to fifteen as I watched the floating line. A rumble of thunder to the west drew my attention from the water to the sky and a distant white arc of lightning between two darker clouds caused me to quickly reassess the afternoon outing. I gave a quick strip of the line which served as an unintentional hookset, and a second small bluegill came to shore beneath the grumbling of the gray sky.
“C’mon, just one of the big ones,” I bargained with the rapidly approaching front while I laid another cast across the surface, “at least before you open up on me,” I concluded.
The sky flashed electric white and roared its response to my request, signaling my short fishing trip was about to get shorter. Hastily, I drew up my line only to have it streak away from me. Lifting the rod tip, the blank bent in a heavy bow and a wild splashing erupted among the small circles formed by the renewed rainfall. A large sunfish surfaced and splashed its way to shore; just as I had requested. On cue with the delivery of my bargained-for fish, the skies opened up; not only with a chilly rain, slanting sideways with the intensified north wind, but also with pea-sized hail which stabbed my cheeks and cut short my photo session.
I rapidly reeled in, spinning the fly line around in bunches and loops which pulled the leader and the black bugger to the top eyelet. The fish made a small wake from his release point in the clear shallows back to the blue-gray depths as the surface began to explode with the impact of the large raindrops and small hailstones. I began my sprint up the hillside and through the forested edge along the farm fields toward the truck.
Halfway back to the WMA’s entry, the hail stopped and the rain began to let up. I looked back over my shoulder and considered returning for more fish at the pond, but the white fork of a lightning bolt over the farmhouse across the field renewed my hasty retreat. Wiping the water from my face as I approached the truck, I cracked a smile and tipped my hat to Mother Nature. After all, in the short afternoon outing, she had given me everything I had asked for…in our outdoors.