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The Odyssey (part I)

      April 2nd. 4:45 AM. O'Neill Williams is talking to some guy on the radio about the ins and outs of turkey hunting as I turn off the clock radio and think about what lure the Flint River shoal bass will be hungry for today. Today is the day my wife and two small children go out of town for three days, and I get to fish like I did when I was single: nonstop. The river is gonna be stained, high, and most likely a tad on the cold side. Ought to be a good day for a Husky Jerk. Gotta meet Troy down there at eight. Wonder what he's gonna fish with? Probably a freakin' buzzbait. Three days of freedom. Man am I pumped...

    April 2nd. 5:56 AM. "Hey, this is Troy. I am away from the phone right now but leave me a message and I'll get back to you as soon as I can." "Hey Troy, Sam. Look I overslept and it looks like I'm going to be about an hour late so hopefully you haven't left yet. See you at nine." No point lying about it. Excuses always sound really lame this early in the morning anyway. I load the canoe and kick myself down to the Flint. 

    April 2nd. 9:05 AM. Troy is waiting at the takeout and gives me his Incredible Hulk flex impersonation as I sheepishly park the truck. Luckily, Troy is too fired up about having some fishable water after all the rain we've had to be too pissed about my tardiness. We load the canoe and all our gear into his truck and drive to the launch point. The first set of rapids, which normally speed you up just a bit as you enter the chute puts wind through our hair and a sizable amount of water in the boat. Five hundred pounds of fishermen on a tricky river made ornery by spring rains could be a recipe for a swimming trip. Be careful.

    April 2nd. 10:42 AM. My first shoal bass of the year is quite solid if I do say so myself. I don't feel a strike at all. I just think my Husky Jerk is hung on that darn grass again. Then it jumps, or tries to. I lip a solid three pounder and slip it back in the river after a photo. I strut back over to the pool the fish came from and fall in the river, realizing suddenly why that fish didn't put up much of a fight.

    April 2nd. 1:00 PM. We break for lunch on one of the few river rocks still protruding above the surface. We've caught five fish so far and I have three of them. I've never been ahead of Troy this far into a trip. I'd look like the Michelin Man if I ate all the time the way I do on the river. We are sitting in the middle of the best quarter mile of shoal bass water perhaps in the world. Time to get busy.

    April 2nd. 1:43 PM. Hung again. I'm cussing out loud now, glad that the roaring river is drowning out my words. Too bad God can still hear them. I shut up. I have three choices. I can go straight to my lure through a pool that looks 5-6 feet deep. I can wade downstream and cross at the shoal line, but that involves making it through some heavy and fast water. Or I could cut my line. What'll I risk: freezing shrinkage, life and limb, or five bucks? I choose life and limb, and before I shuffle across the scary part, I glance downstream at Troy, who I'll be rushing past in a few seconds if things go badly. He's holding a nice shoal bass and paying me no mind. He hasn't moved an inch in half an hour and every time I look over there he's holding a bass. Maybe he's been admiring the same one for the last thirty minutes. I inch out into the current.

    April 2nd. 3:00 PM. In the last two hours, Troy has caught ten bass, all between one and three pounds. I've caught two. After retrieving my hung Husky Jerk (luckily, the shoal crossing was easier than it looked), I decided to use one of my Flint favorites, the Rebel Crawdad. Troy caught all his bass out of two pools, and I decided to hit those pools with the Crawdad. The fish were there and still hungry. Inexplicably, I could not land one. From 2 to 3 PM I got at least ten strikes and landed two small ones and lost one at least as big as my first bass of the year. I check to see if Troy has clipped off my hooks. Well, the good news is that the fish are biting and Troy just lost the lure he caught all those fish on.

    April 2nd. 3:14 PM. We've got a decision to make. The main run of the river is to the right, but a small channel that is usually too shallow to float juts off to the left around an island. I decide to take the small channel. A couple years ago, the Flint was a bit higher in mid-May, and me and a buddy caught about fifteen nice shoal bass on topwaters in the half-mile channel. Nobody ever goes through there. We are about to get into some serious fish.

    April 2nd. 4:45 PM. We haven't had a strike for almost two hours and I make a mental note never to attempt a career as a fishing guide. I've been awake for about eleven hours and wish I was back in bed.

    April 2nd. 5:37 PM. The last good shoal of our trip. Troy is still fired up and I ponder ways to kill him. Troy must know something I don't because when we step out to wade, he bolts upstream and across the river beelining for a run on the far bank. He slips and falls, but like my daughter's Weebles, he is upright again before he has a chance to get wet. Sunburned, tired, and cold, I begin to wade around, barely paying attention to where I'm casting. I hang up the Husky Jerk one last time and my line breaks after a frustrated yank. I don't even bother trying to go get it. I've only got one more lure under my hat, a topwater bait, and don't have the energy to walk back to the boat to tie on something the fish might actually bite.

    April 2nd. 5:48 PM. BANG!! The big shoal bass nails the big Rapala two feet from where I'm standing and I am mentally somewhere else. Failing to set the hook properly, I lose this bruiser after about three intense seconds. The frenzied little jig I dance immediately afterward calls forth a second wind, and I gather my senses and make another cast.

    April 2nd. 6:17 PM. I am into my fifth shoal bass in the last half hour, a solid two-pounder with the brightest red eyes I have ever seen. I notice the eyes on this fish from fifteen yards away on his first of three impressive leaps. I suddenly feel the panic familiar to all fishermen when a really big fish is just about ready to be landed. Don't do this! Don't do that! I want to look into those fiery eyes and let this proud creature see up close the man who bested him. The fish is far from a trophy, but it is two pounds of perfectly sculpted shoal bass. I kneel down to release this proud creature and he doesn't move. "Need some help buddy?" I kneel lower and reach out to revive the fish, and at that moment he delivers a chilling splash of water right in my eyes as he bolts for the pool. Though there are at least thirty more minutes of daylight left, I decide that my day of fishing is over, having been had by one of the most gorgeous fish I have ever touched. 

    April 2nd. 6:42 PM. Having just hauled my canoe straight up the side of a steep and muddy bank, I sip on what must be the coldest, most satisfying beer ever made. "My beer's better than yours", I say to Troy, though he is savoring one out of the same six-pack. "No way", he says.

    April 2nd. 10;14 PM. I pull into my driveway and begin to take my canoe off the truck. I suddenly stop unloading and put everything back in the truck bed. I have a date with the Alcovy River tomorrow morning. 


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