T he young bank fisherman was proficient. He carried proper tackle and used it well. He moved smoothly, hugging the shadows of the pond bank while fan casting to cover each station.
I walked over and we started talking. We did not introduce ourselves. I told him I was new to that particular pond and asked several questions. He provided sensible answers.
We were fishing last winter for the put-and-take rainbow trout in one of the urban lakes in Houston. We both were rigged with light spinning rods. He was casting a 1/8-ounce in-line Mepps spinner; I was chunking a 1/8-ounce Super Duper spoon.
Both lures are proven winners on the small rainbows and our timing was good—about a week after the early-February stocking. But it wasn’t happening. Neither of us had a strike.
He reeled up, hooked the spinner on his rod and prepared to leave. “Just one of those days,” he shrugged. “I’ll let you in on something, though. This little pond may not look like much, but it’s got some really big crappie in it. Not many, but some huge ones.”
I filed that “intel” away and on a balmy afternoon several weeks later decided to gamble a 45-minute drive on my confidant’s tip.
I walked the brushy banks, dabbling here and there around promising stickups. The spinning rod was rigged with a soft twist-tail crappie jig suspended about two feet below a slim cork.
I worked the bank for about 30 minutes and fired total blanks. A nagging doubt began to muster; I mean, why would the guy unveil an off-the-radar hot spot to a total stranger? Most likely, he was jacking with me, seeing if I (unlike the presumed white perch) would take the bait.
The chartreuse and white jig plopped alongside a “fishy” brush pile about five feet off the steep pine-littered bank. The cork disappeared in the determined slant that almost always means a good fish. The rod lifted smartly against startling weight and the surface flashed thickly of green and silver—a good bass, no doubt.
Then I got a better look in the murky water. The fish was a world-class crappie. I almost fell off the bank. Crappies are not hard fighters but this one plowed in a tight circle near the tangle of stickups. Fearing a breakoff, I panicked and lifted harder, doubling the light rod and trying to derrick the protesting “slab” over the brush and onto the high bank.
The gleaming crappie suspended for a moment, flapping and bucking in the sun, then the miserable little hook pulled free. The fish fell back with a lusty splash. It would be an exaggeration to claim that my curses wilted the dogwoods along the far bank, but I severely scorched the spring air.
I glanced sheepishly around the park trails, grateful no young mothers and children were strolling nearby to suffer my meltdown.
The slab was one of the largest I’ve ever hooked—if it took a deep breath it surely would have topped three pounds. The open mouth looked as wide as a beer can. I am of the opinion that a big white crappie with glaring eyes and flaring fins and glowing scales is among the most striking of all fish. This jumbo did nothing to dispel that opinion.
I failed to draw another strike during the short session and left the urban pond before Houston’s beltway traffic became a seriously major issue. But I know what I lost, and I will return—with a sincere nod of thanks to my benefactor.
The purpose of this account is not to admit to ham-handing a career crappie; rather, it is to point out that, now and then and for no apparent gain, an angler you’ve never seen before and most likely never will meet again may give you a golden tip.
This is a remarkable contradiction to the typical hush-hush reaction. Secrecy, even jealousy, runs rampant on lakes and bays, streams and ponds, inshore and offshore. The crush of competition is a real problem on public water.
No doubt, some readers are thinking, whoa, you moron! Only a chump would spread the word to a stranger about a secret spot!
I get this. Let me back up: I served on active duty on an aircraft carrier in the Navy and am well aware of the old expression, “Loose lips sink ships.”
And, closer to home, loose lips can french fry secret spots.
Most serious anglers tend to be reluctant, even evasive when discussing productive spots. Frankly, some salty guys deliberately mislead even with proven friends. For example, a big trout caught in upper East Galveston Bay somehow winds up in lower West Galveston Bay.
That sort of blatant misdirection is going too far. I won’t outright lie, but on occasion I might be dodgy when pressed on specifics. This is a fairly normal reaction in playing cards and catching fish.
So, to casually divulge privileged coordinates, or maybe a new technique, to an unknown person wielding a hungry fishing rod is a rash gesture. Yet, it happens.
I do believe that a “fraternity of fishing” exists. And, under the right circumstances, you can quickly size up another angler. It’s not necessarily friendship. Perhaps it’s more an offering of respect, an appreciation that the other person plays the game the right way—that maybe they deserve a break.
Granted, this can be a risky call. Either knowingly or accidentally, the recipient of the guarded information might muddy the water. So maybe I am a chump. But, giving or receiving, the nod might make you feel pretty good about fishing.
If nothing else, it’s an uncommon gesture that you tend to remember.
Email Joe Doggett at [email protected]