By Nick Simonson
I watched the gallon and price counters on the pump slowly tick up, up, up. I estimated that I’d need about 28 gallons, with the tank of my pickup sitting at just below a quarter and impatiently ticked off each one. Unwilling to test the limits on the back portion of the fuel supply, I had stopped at the gas station, despite having a limited amount of time for a quick fishing trip after work. With a bit of a drive ahead of me to the small impoundment stocked with trout on the west side of the Missouri River, I checked my phone and did the math as I hung up the pump nozzle and paid. I’d have about an hour and fifteen minutes to fish after I got to the launch, when calculating the return trip home into the equation. Not much, but just enough to take advantage of what would most likely be my last chance to check out the lake before the forecasted front was to bring real late autumn conditions to the area.
With a clank and a splash, I dropped my 16-foot puddle jumper off the trailer and into the water, tying it to the dock so I could park the truck. After lowering the trolling motor and lifting the tiller, I tied on a 1/16-ounce jig and twister combo and began casting as I wound my way out from the cement launch through the creek channel. The count was on: I had an hour and seven minutes of actual fishing time before my planned departure.
Burning the jig back through the small channel, a green-topped flash of gold streaked after my offering before turning on a dime and disappearing back into the verdant remnants of summer weeds. Startled by the fast-following fish, which looked to be a beefy brown trout, I fired a cast back in the same location, hoping for a repeat that ultimately didn’t come. After fan-casting the winding shallows, I turned the boat out of the creek and into the southern gales which brought the sun and seventy-degree temperatures over the region for one last taste of summer.
As I turned the corner into the northern lobe of the small impoundment, a shore angler caught my eye, and I watched as he cranked on the reel of his spincast combo as I scooted away to give him the proper space. The fish on the other end of his line ran and splashed, causing the tip of the pole to bounce wildly. Picking up a nearby silver-handled net and tucking it under his armpit, he leaned in and landed what looked to be a large rainbow trout in the green mesh. I asked, and he quickly confirmed the species and held up the net with a smile to give me a better view.
Giving him the thumbs up, I spiraled out along a steep cut bank and fired casts in towards shore and out into the depths, covering as much water as I could with the forty-five minutes that remained of my time. Knowing the voracity of autumn trout and their love of the surface and shallows this time of year, I hustled to hit the high points, and did little counting down of my offering. I missed a strike in the shallows and one out over the deeper portion of the lake before moving out to the strait between the southeast and northwest points that split the small reservoir in two. With the trolling motor humming against the winds, I felt a solid connection and set the hook.
With thirty-seven minutes left on the clock, my first fish was alongside the boat. It was a stout fifteen-inch rainbow trout, painted green, blue and pinkish-purple, and thick from a summer of foraging in the small lake where it had been put six months prior. I wet my hand and secured the fish before unhooking it, snapping a photo and sending it back into the crystal-clear water. Two casts later, a carbon copy was on the line, rolling and twisting behind the boat as the wind caught the bow and pushed me back over the spot where I connected with the first two fish of the day. I hit the area with a few more casts, but nothing surfaced.
With 20 minutes to go, I plotted my path back to the boat launch, noting the southern stretch of the 50-acre lake would have to wait until next season. I coasted with the wind toward a steep bank taking the brunt of the day’s relatively moderate gusts when compared to the days before and what the forecast said was to come. When the bottom started to appear below the boat, I clicked the trolling motor on and turned to face the gales and the setting sun and zipped a cast that splashed down in the drop off in front of the shallow flat. Within three cranks of the handle, a no-nonsense smash on the other end of the line triggered an automatic, but almost unnecessary hookset, and a bigger rainbow trout tailwalked across the wavy surface. Around it, several swirls signaled other fish getting out of the way, and an area of fast fishing came to be. I hand-landed the purple-streaked 16-incher and turned it loose, re-rigged a plastic body and cast out over the breakline again.
As my game clock dipped into the single digits, four more feisty rainbows all 12- to 14-inches came to hand on the utilitarian jig and plastic offering. They fought hard, and in the sunlight, lit up the water under the surface with their blues, greens, pinks and silvers, coloring what was most likely my last openwater fishing trip of the year with great memories, and a sudden wish for a very short winter and a return to the water in spring.
I drifted the boat back into the creek channel toward the launch, with a few hopeful casts back to where the first fish followed. Cutting the power, the aluminum boat slipped in along the dock with a slight clank and was up on the trailer in no time, leaving me a few minutes to spare as I pulled up into the gravel parking lot. I waved to the shore angler making his way back to the tailgate of his truck and we quickly traded reports before I nodded the same good wishes back to him and rolled on down the gravel road smiling, knowing that we had both made the most of the time we had…in our outdoors.