As I completed three days on the water, I was left with the task of airing out all my tackle following the biggest downpour I have ever fished in tournament competition. Instead of traveling home like I had originally planned, I took advantage of a quality evening with a fellow road warrior in his own right, my father fresh off a workweek in Tennessee. Sitting in the den reminiscing a childhood engrained with weekends in the outdoors, I began to cognitively reiterate just how large of an influence my upbringing has had on my adult passions. As a tournament angler, it is easy to get caught up in your own failures to the point of rethinking your pursuits. Sometimes all it takes is a conversation with those who love you put things into perspective.
Like any youth involved in the outdoors, the anticipation of a day in the field/on the lake is enough to fill your dreams, even losing sleep leading up to the date. Visions of success fill both daydreams and rim sleep. Such was the case prior to heading out with the lawyers and fellow Hampden-Sydney College graduates of Cowan-Gates Law. It had been two years since our last adventure, and the memories of catching numbers on one of Virginia’s most beautiful private fisheries filled my thoughts. As I drove south of Richmond, I was confident similar results were ahead; however, a spring filled with cloud cover and heavy rains would result in a much different scenario than ‘ 14.
On Day 1 at the Providence Forge Fishing and Hunting Club, Neil Cowan and Johnnie Coleman arrived and we prepared to back the boat into the lake. As we took off, the anticipation builds and we whip our first casts towards banks embedded with shoreline cover, cypress trees and laydowns. One would think we were fishing the Chickahominy River just miles down the road. Although we picked off a bass or pickerel here in there, the conditions proved tough. We pushed on towards the shallow end of the lake, the area that had been most successful on my trip two years ago, but the bites were hard to come by. Weeks prior, the spawn was in full swing and the citations filled the fishing log inside the lodge. Stories of past triumphs were overshadowed by the contemplations of what changes in presentation were needed to entice the fickle bass. I re-tied my Culprit Incredi-Craw in June bug, the bait that has given me more success than any soft plastic in recent years. It is important to have confidence in what you are throwing, and as I pitched the cover from the back deck of the boat, I knew it was only a matter of time. I placed my bait along the knees of the cypress trees, but the bass did not appear to be positioned along the trunks. Although there was sporadic wood in the open, grass flats dominating the open water, and I began to work my bait along these areas. Out of nowhere, I picked up the soft plastic to a line that veered to my left. Having never felt a bite, I quickly set the hook, but instead of feeling the erratic movements of a small keeper, I was met with violent headshakes, weight that bent my rod over at 180-degree angle. I fought the fish left and right, and under the boat, causing my heart to beat like only true swamp donkeys can.
Later Neil would let me know that the boat had a sharp edge along the outer edges of the hull. I am glad I had Seagar Inviz-X, 20-pound fluorocarbon tied on, or there is a good chance the abrasion may have resulted in a snapped line. Johnnie reaches for the net, and the giant nears the surface, a mouth big enough to swallow two fists gaping. With the fish in the net, my hands shake as I lip the grown girl. At 22 inches in length, I gripped the girl and hoist her from the net. My trip was made with what is now my largest bass of the year!
Although we fished until dark, and caught a few more fish, the bite never picked up and we called it a day. With David and Heath Gates joining us, we enjoyed a few drinks over good conversations of fishing memories, mutual friendships and just how small of a world we lived. We ate dinner at the local Mexican restaurant, talking tournament and fun fishing, hunting of all sorts, and the joys of Virginia living. Life is Good.
Day 2 proved just as tough, with flurries of catches between long extents without bites. The weather remained overcast for the majority of the morning, and we had skipped breakfast to get an early start. The large fish eluded us, but I found confidence in casting a lipless crankbait in open water. Yo-Yoing the vibrating bait back to the boat, I picked up on the “pattern” when nothing else was working. Examining my options, I chose a perch patterned Strike King Red-Eyed Shad, knowing the bass often ate the perch in the lake. In fact, Heath Gates caught a perch, validating the color choice. What I found interesting was the pike reacted to the bait when the weather was at its coolest and the wind was blowing. As the air temperature rose, the pike bites were exchanged for the species we were after. As the sun peered through the clouds, the bite would increase, demonstrating the changing conditions that we had lacked after multiple weeks of clouds and rain were a few keys to successful.
We fished till lunchtime, fatigued from the exhaustion of attempts to figure out the tough bite. As I would learn progressively throughout the trip, if Johnnie is quiet, you know the bite is tough! It was a true honor to fish with the outdoorsmen of Cowan-Gates Law, and I thank them for the opportunity to participate in what has become a great tradition I hope will continue in the future. I am proud to bear the symbol of the firm on my tournament jersey and website, a partnership that I hope to continue to grow. After grabbing lunch at the local diner, we parted ways with handshakes and smiles. On the road once again, it was time to prepare for a tournament on Kerr Lake just a few days ahead.
Stay tuned for the second half of my trip!