Chris Ellis: Low expectations, high reward fishing

March 26, 2019

I know very little about largemouth bass. I have not studied them or their habits, characteristics or life span. It’s not that I don’t like them or fishing for them, in fact, the times I have fished for them I have had a blast.

But growing up on the Elk River in West Virginia, my educational knowledge of bass was all centered around smallmouth. Oh boy, have I ever studied that critter.

When you are blessed to have grown up alongside a river capable of holding trophy fish, particularly smallmouth bass, and were given the freedom to chase them almost daily you become educated quickly on how best to pursue your targeted species. It is almost impossible not to. They become part of your life and you spend a great deal of time with them.

I was drawn to smallmouth fishing because the fish are known for their willingness to bite and the way they like to bend a rod and show you who’s boss. For a kid with a very short attention span and little patience, a day smallmouth fishing was generally exciting enough to keep the entertainment factor very high.

Unlike others in my river community who specialized in muskies, walleyes or big catfish which all took specialized gear, talent and often hours of patience, my sport required an old pair of worn out sneakers, a fishing rod and reel strung with some light line and whatever bait we could beg, catch or borrow.

All I needed to be satisfied was a warm morning, a cool shoal to wade in and to cast to an eddy where I hoped a monster river smallmouth lived. Although I rarely caught a trophy, there were always plenty of sporty fish to play with until the sun got too high in the sky, causing my nose to turn red and the fish to become lazy.

So, when I get asked to join a group of anglers on a lake somewhere to fish for largemouth bass, I felt lost. The baitcasting reel, braided line and hardware baits are not in my wheelhouse of knowledge. I grew up on spinning reels, current, rapids, rocks and little plastic baits. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against lake fishing and largemouth bass and, in fact, I’d like to learn more about it. I love boats and being on the water so I’d be a natural fit.

Having said that, I have managed to catch a few largemouth bass over my fishing career. Two big fish in particular I feel a little ashamed of. Both were very large fish and I am not sure I was deserving of them, to be honest. They both had one thing in common - I caught them during spring gobbler season on an afterthought fishing trip to have some fun in the warm air.

They both were the only fish I caught that day and they both surprised me when they hit, the way they battled after being hooked and how big they felt in my hands. I guess a low expectations, high reward day on the water is indeed a gift.

And I looked at both of those trophy largemouth bass as that - a gift on a warm day during spring gobbler season. And those two fish will be etched in the fishing part of my brain and not forgotten anytime soon.

Chris Ellis of Fayetteville, W.Va., an outdoorsman and Marshall University graduate, is owner of Ellis Communications, a public relations agency serving the outdoor industry. Contact him at chris@elliscom.net.