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Bartlett Bass November 2012
Gerhard Schroeder  

David with a stringer

In no other year have there been as many trips to Bartlett Lake for us. Main reason – the fish were biting in 2012! David and his cousin went first. Later I jumped on some invitations. Another reason was our dry and hot weather. Resulting fire restrictions kept us from going shooting.

Don’t get me wrong. At Bartlett it’s still fishing and not always catching. Coming home without a limit of largemouth bass was the exception, however.

Bass have been the most-cooperative species there. Amongst us, David caught the only crappie so far this year. And I had a memorable few seconds once when something big nailed my idling lure and tore line off my reel with the drag clutch singing. It was indeed a hopeful fight until the contender at the end of the line revealed itself as a carp. Can’t even tell you how big he was because he got off when I tried to lift the thing into the boat.

Occasionally a really optimistic bluegill hooks itself on our lures. They are voracious feeders, attacking what is clearly out of proportion size-wise.

There was at least one day where a limit of bass decorated our stringers early. So we targeted Bluegills with smaller trout lures, and kept a few worthy of filleting.

Speaking of early, all our trips have a couple of constants. The main feature is David’s 14 foot flat bottom boat. It is older than his sons, and way more trustworthy (sorry boys). Didn’t matter who went to the lake. That boat was the way to get to the fish.

The other constant was timing. We got out of bed unwillingly early to be on the water at no later than 4AM. Often the action noticeably declined once the sun crawled over the Mazatzal mountains.

Michael with a stringer

Those are two elements to catching Bartlett bass – get there early, bring a good boat. No, I’m not going to give you all the secrets. Exploring is part of the fun.

Can’t see what it’ll hurt to mention lures. Many worked. David’s favorite is a slurping topwater plug. People say topwater is the most fun way to catch a bass. Tough to argue that.

Me, I haven’t learned yet to operate one of those efficiently. My happiness came from below, sending various deep-running plugs. One with a hinged back design seemed especially fruitful.

We usually cast towards the bank. Often while retrieving my diver, I’d glance at David’s topwater plug acting like some seriously hurt critter struggling on the surface. Then came the sudden splash, and ‘fish on!’. He typically catches the most. But not always. To date he did catch the biggest bass in 2012, a 3+ pounder.

Aside from tasty bass fillets later, all the uncertainty, makes each trip worthwhile. Besides, those early hours on the water are one of nature’s many pleasures. Critters come to drink. Herons stalk near the bank. Vultures sail overhead, hopeful. If you’re lucky, you’ll even see agile competition – otters! Don’t cast around them or you really have a fight going. You have to be there early to take those experiences in.

The competition

Add the occasional tug on your line, and out come the smiles. Depending on how badly you want to take home fresh fish, moments of stress arise when something struggles at the end of the line and it’s not in the boat yet. What kind is it? How big is it? Oh no, he’s jumping – a movement where they come off the easiest. Then the approach to the boat … play the bass so the final extra pull with the rod will lift the wet beast out of its element and into the 14 footer. Despite losing fish at that last phase of the fight we do not use nets. It takes too much extra time to untangle the lure. OK, OK, some fish were big enough such that ‘wish I’d used a net’ slipped past our lips. Oh well, our choice.

As I’m writing this the bite is still ‘on’. Next trip is already planned, and only severe monsoon activity would rain on our parade. In my mind I see the faint early morning outline of the bank and mountains behind it. Mostly my wrist swings the fishing rod. With a gentle hiss and whining line the lure is on its way into the dark. If I guessed the distance to land correctly it’ll splash into the water somewhere out there. Otherwise an uneasy clank will indicate that plastic hit something solid on the bank. Either way, I begin to crank the handle, feel the resistance of the lure diving deep. Meanwhile I hear David’s topwater lure splashing spastically. Who will get the first, the next largemouth?

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