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Stillness

STILL. That's just what today is – still, dead still. The heat, the humidity, the fierce mid–summer sun press down on both the water and on me, flattening the water and stifling me. The wind is gone off somewhere else, perhaps giving some other fisherman a "walleye chop." Sure no sign of it here – there's not even a hint of ripples. The lake is flat, calm, quiet, still. The air is, too.
Nature is at peace here with me.........


...................................................................................................

I'm out on the lake, running my twelve foot fishing boat across Riley to the docks on the other side. I'm going bass fishing, July largemouth bass.

This year the boat launch on the lake is closed for the summer. The construction of the city park has torn up the launch area, and the public is excluded. The hordes of water skiers and jet skis normally infesting the lake are absent. The lake is stiller, far more peaceful this year than in my other seven summers here. Especially today, right now.

And I've seen this before, many times. I know what it means. It means the fish are also at peace, resting their little minds and bodies. Eyes drooping, mouths slack, fins barely wiggling. Comatose. They might as well be dead.

And that's what the fishing will be, too – dead. I'll go ahead and fish, that's why I'm out here, but I won't be doing any catching. I'll cast and retrieve, jig, troll, all the usual things, but the fish won't bite. I know they won't. Nature is still. The fish are at rest. Peace.....

If by accident I happen to hit a bass on the head with my plastic worm, it might move to one side to let the worm drop off. Or, it might not. The bass just might let the plastic worm sit on its head. For sure, what it won't do is strike, attack, bite, swallow, nibble, chase, etc., any lure that I care to put in front of it. It won't, I know it won't. I've seen these conditions before, I know what the fishing will be like. It'll be dead. Both nature and the fishing. Dead. Calm. Still.

These thoughts rattle around in my head as I slow the boat down and coast in toward one of my favorite docks. I lower the trolling motor and shut off the six–horse outboard . The trolling motor slowly slides me past the wooden dock. My first sideways cast with a black plastic worm sails in a flat arc toward the corner of the dock, into the six–inch space between the dock and the water.

Splash! The sound of the worm hitting the water breaks the stillness, but only momentarily. That's all it does. It doesn't wake up the bass. I "twitch" and "hop" the worm back, reeling it in with tried and true techniques developed over the years of bass fishing. Years in which I've caught many a bass on a plastic worm, from this very spot under the corner of the dock. And this time? Nothing.

I cast again, further along the dock, back toward shore. I reel in the lure along the length of the dock. On other occasions I've had bass charge out from under the dock to attack the worm. And this time? Nothing.

I move around to the other side of the dock, where the runabout sits up on its lift. I cast the worm into the foot–wide space between the lift and the dock, and slowly retrieve it. If there are any active fish in the lake, that's the most likely spot to find them. Again, I've done it many times. Bass up to twenty inches long have surrendered themselves to my plastic worm here. And this time? Nothing.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. No strikes, no takes, no "ticks" of a bass inhaling the worm, no line sliding off sideways through the water. The fish are dead, the fishing is too.

I move on to the next dock, and repeat the process. No fish. Another dock, and the same again. I try a weedbed, some fallen trees along the shore, other spots where I've caught bass before. No bass.

And then....

But before I get to the "then" part, a question for you.

Have you "been here yourself?" Have you experienced these times of stillness? Times when the fish will not be caught by any method short of dynamite? Do you know what I'm talking about?

As I was describing the stillness, the deadness, the absence of bass, were you in the boat with me? Was your head nodding as the scene unfolded? Did you know just how hopeless the fishing would be?

If so, my friend, then you are in fact a true fisherman. You stand distinct from the run–of–the–mill perch jerkers, panfish meat fishermen, and their kindred. I welcome you as a comrade.

On the other hand, if your reaction was, "The dummy went out and didn't catch any fish. So what else is new?" Well, you still have a lot to learn. See me after a few more years of fishing experience.......

But to continue. And then....

It breaks.

Nature stirs, quivers, moves. I've seen it so often. It's one of the oddest feelings I've ever experienced. Something changes, snaps. A bass jumping quite often signals the change. Or it might be a Candia goose stirring, starting to feed. Or a seagull diving down for a minnow at the surface. Or even a swarm of mosquitoes coming in on the attack. Whatever it is, nature comes to life.

Fish jump. Swirls from fish feeding at the surface appear. Bird calls start up. Snapping turtles rise up to gulp air. Insects buzz. The stillness and deadness is gone. Life stirs, vibrates, in the air and in the water.

And oh, by the way, the bass bite. Do they ever! I can now cast my plastic worm into almost any even mediocre looking spot, and can fully expect a strike. At the good spots, like the dock I described earlier, catching a fish is a foregone conclusion.

I remember one of these times on Riley, a couple of years ago, when the change occurred. I had been fishing for two hours, without a bite, without a sign of fish. Suddenly, the bass were everywhere. I caught (and released) ten of them, seventeen inches and larger. I caught them from under every dock I tried. I caught them from weedbeds, from alongside fallen trees. I couldn't keep the fish off. They wanted to be caught!

And then, after twenty minutes, they shut down again and were gone. I couldn't catch any more fish. It stopped, just like that......

So, what is it that turns the fish on? And then off? I've pondered my experiences and observations during many such incidents. You know, it happens without an obvious cause.

I'm familiar, of course, what can happen when the wind picks up, or the sun goes behind (or comes out from) clouds, and changes like that. For sure, those things can do it, can turn the fish on or off, and I've seen that too. Walleyes in particular will react to wind and waves and light changes. But that's different, not the same thing at all.

I've also seen so many of these other times when nothing like that happens, and nature – all of it, not just the fish – just plain springs to life, or falls back asleep, for no apparent reason at all. There is something going on here, a rhythm or pattern, a cause, that I just don't understand.

I know. You're going to give me that standard business – the "Solunar" stuff. The moldy theory that spins a convoluted tale of gravitational affects from the sun and moon causing tides to ebb and flow and also making fish bite.

Do the sun and moon really do that? Maybe so, but you know, I doubt it. There's something in all that Solunar stuff that just doesn't make sense. I know enough science to be skeptical of the possible effects of obscure alignments of sun and moon on fish. The gravitational forces are infinitesimal, when measured by a fish, or for that matter a bird or turtle or mosquito. Not to mention you or me.

I've also read scholarly studies of catch rates – documented proofs, so they claim – of the Solunar effects. They're all so much hand waving. Read them carefully. The statistics don't add up, they just don't.

Does the Solunar theory really "hang together?" I doubt it. It's a fairy tale.

I believe the sun and moon have little or nothing to do with it. I think there's something much more fundamental and mysterious going on. But I also think the Good Lord has not yet authorized St. Peter to let us know. For sure, I haven't figured it out, and I haven't met the person that can convince me they have either.

Just consider. Many other rhythms in nature also follow their own intriguingly mysterious patterns. I give you the 17–year locust. Explain to me why these peculiar critters should rest underground for sixteen years, and then spring to life in the seventeenth? Can a locust count up to seventeen? Or what triggers Monarch butterflies to start their annual fall migration to Mexico from Minnesota, at the right time to avoid being caught in winter? (For that matter, how can the butterflies possibly know where Mexico is?)

How do fireflies synchronize their flashing when placed together in a jar? Why do male bass guard their nests so fiercely when their eggs first hatch and develop into fry? And then turn cannibalistic at some point and make every effort to gobble up the little basslings?

I could go on forever. Nature in its infinite variety and grandeur has an endless store of mysteries with which to tantalize us. There are things, influences, forces, which we can't comprehend. Nature has her secrets, and our awareness of them is dim. We may see the effects, but we don't know the causes.

The sun and moon, the solunar tables? Maybe. But I think they're irrelevant.

Let me return to that deep stillness of the lake that changes to an exuberant display of life and energy. It puzzles me, it really does.

If I could understand it, predict it, I could increase my fishing success enormously. I suppose I could also dream up some screwball theory, write it up, and make a small fortune selling books on it.

But you know what, I don't care. In fact, I'm not sure I want to understand it. Taking the mystery away would be a disappointment, a diminishing of the joys of fishing.

I believe that God made the world so that the fish don't always bite, perhaps to protect and save the fish. But I think He also did it to give us – the fishermen – a reason for wondering, for patience and waiting. He lets us enjoy the mysterious patterns of nature. We don't – maybe shouldn't, even – understand them fully, and that's fine. Their purpose is not to be understood, it's to be savored.

And we should thank Him for it.

So when I'm out there, in that stillness, I no longer worry about
why the fish aren't biting. I just accept it, and I enjoy, as
much as I enjoy it when they start biting. And my friend, I
recommend that you enjoy the stillness too........
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Date Created: May 15, 1996
Last Modified: April 9, 2004
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