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       For 99.99% of the civilized world, the New Year is celebrated on January 1st and is marked by lots of booze, fireworks, locking lips with the nearest available person, and watching some monstrous apple (or peach) fall from the sky. I mark the new year with a slightly different ritual, and the date of my new year varies according to a specific event in my life, not the revolving of some rock around a celestial ball. A couple years ago, the year began on January 3rd, but the rivers were lower then and a convenient warm front allowed me to get out on the water and lock lips (well, my hand on the fish's lips) with my first river bass of the year. March 28th was the day this year, one of the latest New Years I can recall.

    Late on New Year's Eve (about 10:00 AM on March 28th for you normal folks), me and an old fishing buddy slid the canoe into a familiar river, one on which we have ushered in more than one New Year. Due to heavy spring rains, this river was not quite as familiar as in the past, as many of our old familiar logs and rocks lay hidden beneath the thankful waters. By 1:00 PM or so, the river was no longer a friend but an adversary, and the fickle bass had thumbed their noses at all of our offerings thus far. Things were getting a bit testy as they often do when the fish won't cooperate. Even the local wildlife could not escape our sullen attitudes. As we rounded a bend, a raft of turtles plooped into the water off a sunny log, a few of them returning to periscope depth.

    "Just once, I'd like to see one turtle stand his ground and maybe give us a glare as we went by", my grouchy partner offered.

    It was time for lunch, a cooling-off period, and a serious strategy session. We had thrown spinnerbaits and soft plastics all morning with nary a nibble.

    "If I am going to get skunked, I may as well do it with something fun", I muttered, tying on a buzzbait.

    "Rule #1 on this river: Never take off the spinnerbait", countered my buddy.

    We set sail again and eased up and a sweet looking area swallowed up in and eddy and smothered with downed trees. As luck would have it, my partner got hung up on his first cast into the hole, and we had to wedge the canoe into the thick of it to get his precious spinnerbait. The hole was ruined. As my ex-buddy retied his spinnerbait, I cursed his heritage (he comes from a long line of inept casters) and absentmindedly worked the buzzbait all around our spoiled honeyhole as we sat there wedged up against a log. No takers. Once my partner got his spinnerbait tied on, he made a cast into a spot I had run that buzzbait over repeatedly and rang in his own New Year with a chunky largemouth bass. Then he did the same thing on his next cast, and we hadn't moved the entire time. His theory was that my buzzing was waking up the bass just enough to interest them in his slow-moving spinnerbait. My theory was that I was tying on a spinnerbait as quickly as possible. He didn't like my theory.

    "Nice theory", I muttered, "but I ain't diving on the grenade so you can skunk me today. Plus, I've already violated Rule #1 and my penance was watching you catch two bass. Time to atone for my sins."

    I wish I could honestly say that my New Year was ushered in with a bone-jarring strike from a trophy fish, but it wasn't. I made an average cast to an average spot and caught an average fish on an average strike. Yet there is nothing average about the first encounter with a bass after an excruciatingly long time off the river. It had been way too long since the last time I mentally muttered "Don'tgetoffDon'tgetoff!" and seen that majestic head shaking on the end of my line. As that nice little bass swam slowly off I said a quick little prayer and asked that this year not last quite as long as the last. 


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