Some experiences just don’t fade away.
This applies every bit as much – maybe more – to fishing as it does to anything else. It’s certainly true where certain of my wondrous old lures are concerned.
If you read my last column you’ll recall I promised to tell about an experience that finally got me on the right track to get my Hula Poppers to do the job for me.
Goodness knows I’d had plenty of advice from experts regarding these old Arbogast baits. That advice was almost always much the same. It consisted of two words – slow down!
Maybe, like me and lots of other bassin’ men, you want to get your lure out there exactly where it needs to be but then you want to do something with it. What good is it gonna do just to let it set there? Why not start it dancing its way back to the boat and maybe get one of those bass you know is out there excited enough to smack it?
Now nobody wants you and me to be successful with specific lures more than the guy who markets ‘em. That’s how he buys his beans. I was well aware of that even back when I didn’t know my bass from a hole in the ground.
It was after I finally got to meet and get to know the owner of Arbogast Lures and some of the folks at the Arbogast factory that what I kept hearing regarding their Hula Poppers began to sink in. They maintained the mistake most bassin’ men were making with that lure was fishing it too darn fast.
It was around the middle of the last century when I got my first Hula Poppers. I lived on the shore of Silver Lake in Southwest Washington at the time. This lake, one of the better bass lakes in the Pacific Northwest, isn’t really deep anyplace. It’s shallower now, thanks to some really stupid things done to let its level come down, than it was when I lived there.
At that time the lake’s level would rise a few feet early in the year when the snow in the western Cascades began to melt. The rising water flowed out into the surrounding fields filled with pad and reed cover. The bass always did some early prowling around in these areas that they knew they wouldn’t be able to reach once the lake level receded.
I knew they were there because I’d caught a few in the several years I’d lived right on the lake’s shoreline. I made up my mind to try to do what the folks at Arbogast had been insisting was necessary where their Hula Poppers were concerned.
Russell Martin, my brother in law, was just getting into bass fishing and was coming up to go out with me. I’d advised him to get a Hula Popper like mine and he told me he had. We only had a couple of hours of daylight left when we eased our way through a canal on the west end of the lake and then out into a grassy field that had lots of reeds and pads that had been flooded as the lake had risen.
I asked Russ not to bang around in the boat because we were only in water of three or four feet or less in depth. The fish were sure to be spooky. I advised him to throw his lure into the open-water pockets in the pads. I did the same thing. The difference was once I’d cast my lure where I wanted it to be I just left it alone for at least a couple of minutes, even longer if I could stand it.
I’d probably managed to do this for the better part of an hour without so much as a sign of fish. Meanwhile Russ had been making one cast after another and had changed lures several times.
I’d about decided all that crap I’d heard about just leaving the Hula Popper alone was a lot like the stuff they scoop out of the pens where they keep the bulls. “One more cast,” I thought, “and I’m done with this nonsense.”
My Hula Popper splashed down into a pad pocket just like the others I’d been fishing. All of the ripples from the splash died away and the surface of the water was completely quiet. I could see the white strands of the Hula Skirt still moving a bit behind the lure though I hadn’t moved it an inch.
Then I also saw something else. There was just the slightest movement in some other pads about four feet away from my lure. I just watched and then my heart just about stopped as the water beneath lure my just sort of boiled.
I hadn’t had a hit but obviously a sizeable something had taken a look at that popper. After all these years I’m still not sure how I managed not to yank on my rod. Now I waited a half dozen heartbeats and then just flipped my rod tip enough to make the lure dig down and forward an inch or two and – BASSPLOOSH!
This time I did set the hook and I nailed that son of a gun solid. She raised hell as a big fish always does back in the shallows. Eventually I got her up alongside the boat and seconds later she was mine.
That fish weighed exactly 6-pounds when I got her on my old Zebco scales. I think they were called a “De-Liar.” The truth of what I’d been told about fishing the Hula Popper finally started to hit home. Any doubts I may have still had were completely erased within the next 20 minutes.
I’ve mentioned that Russ had been observing and no doubt questioning what I “hadn’t” been doing with my Hula Popper. Now he started doing the same thing. He threw it into openings in the pads and reeds and then just left it alone.
I happened to be watching him when I saw the pads move again a few feet away from where his lure was setting. And then the water boiled beneath his lure just as it had before on mine. I saw him tense up and start to jerk back on his rod. “WAIT,” I screamed. “That fish didn’t hit. Wait a few seconds and then just barely twitch your rod tip.”
Russ did what he’d been told. What followed was a repeat performance. Another beauty came surging up to smash his lure and within a few minutes she too was in the boat. And this one weighed 6-pounds, 8-ounces.
Now those are nice bass anywhere but especially so in the usually cooler waters of the Pacific Northwest. And they both went on our stringer and eventually on the dinner table because this was years before I helped introduce catch and release into that part of the world. It was also before electric motors or livewells.
But while many things in the bass fishing world have changed, some things haven’t. One is that you still can’t fish that wonderful old Hula Popper too slowly if you want it to put bass in the boat for you.
Darn few of the bassin’ men I know are gonna do that. They just can’t simmer down long enough to just cast, wait and watch. If you are one of the few who can, keep an eye on the cover around your lure. If it moves – get set. But don’t do any rod jerking until you actually get hit.
That old gal down there with the broad shoulders might just want to see what’s gonna happen when she gets up close and careful without actually making contact. Then, a couple of heartbeats later, when you do gently twitch the lure to make it come alive – Wham! Fish On!
Like everything else where bass fishing is concerned, it ain’t “always” gonna work. But take this old man’s word for it – sometimes it will. And when it does you’ll treasure the memories it’s certain to leave.