We only had a few hours to fish so we took the boat and headed for the river a few miles away. I took only one lure, an old Hula-popper with a white skirt dangling behind it. I don’t know when they made the first Hula-popper, but it was a long time ago because when I was a kid in the fifties and early sixties, I had a couple of them and used them on my Uncle Roy’s farm pond, where fat little two-pound bass slurped them readily from the surface.
I write often about fishing with topwater lures because it absolutely enthralls me to see a huge fish smash a lure on the surface of the water. If you have fished much, you know the thrill of it. He is there and gone in the blink of an eye, and he can suck it under with just the slightest wrinkle of the water around the lure, or he can throw water three feet in the air with the energy of his strike.
The size of a fish cannot be readily determined by the commotion he creates, unless you are a grizzled old veteran fisherman like me. A greenhorn fisherman can have his eyes bugged out and his jaw dropped open with the splash created by an extra frisky one-pound bass.
At times, a bass actually clears the water and comes down on top of the lure, and that’s what happened a day or so ago with that hula-popper. I saw a smallmouth bass slash at it and miss, and honest to goodness, I didn’t even have time to react. He just decided that my Hula-popper was something he wanted to eat, and he came out of the water a few inches and smashed it from the upper side, carrying it deep as he did so. He was a nice one, and he made me feel very happy for a few minutes.
I made him feel very happy too, by removing the treble hook from his jaw, and returning him to the water. Only a worthless no-account would keep a smallmouth bass from an Ozark stream and while I may be a worthless no-account at other times, I certainly am not one when I am fishing.
The Hula-popper had caught two nice big bass for me on one of the Missouri lakes I fish often, only a day or so before. I realized that I had written about Zara Spooks and Buzz-baits and Rapalas and Jitterbugs in the past year, but had failed to mention how effective a Hula-Popper can be. It isn’t that I do not use them. With my casting gear, I use one that is about three or four inches long, not counting the white skirt that extends from the back. It is colored like a frog, with a yellow belly.
But truthfully, I think that white skirt does a lot for its fish-catching ability. I don’t think a big bass looks up to see it splashing along above him and says, ‘oh, there’s a frog with a mess of white stuff sticking out behind it”. I think he just figures it is dessert, with whipped cream, after a meal of crawdads or shad or minnows.
Rich Abdoler had on a Buzz-bait of some sort, and truthfully he caught more bass than I did. We must have landed a dozen or so really big ones, up to about 4 pounds. He almost hooked one about 6 and ¾ pounds, but it missed the lure just a little.
I never actually saw the bass but I heard it ‘wallering’ around on the surface and I have fished so long, and missed so many good fish that I can pretty accurately guess how big one is when I hear it miss a lure on the surface.
Two different times, we caught fish around a log-jam at the same time. Once I let my Hula-popper sit on the surface while I maneuvered the boat to help Rich retrieve his lure, hung on a snag. His lure pulled loose finally, and a nice largemouth nailed it. As that happened, I heard a big splash and turned to see a ring of disturbed water where my lure had been. My fish wasn’t as big as the one Rich caught, but at least I caught mine on purpose and not by accident.
We came in about dark, empty handed, with all our bass returned to the water. I can’t tell you why we do such a thing. I guess it is the satisfaction of being off away from the crowd, where God’s creation is all around, undisturbed at least for awhile by man’s conquering, greedy hand. It is seeing so much that doesn’t even hint of this awful day and time, making me feel like I am some angler from the 1930’s using a Hula-popper just after it was invented.
And for some reason, a topwater lure and a big bass excites me still. It isn’t that way when I look down the sights of my rifle at a buck deer, and it isn’t that way when I flop another crappie in the boat with my ultra-lite outfit.
There is something about seeing a big hard-fighting fish, like a bass or a northern pike or a muskie or a brown trout, or one of those ten-pound hybrids, come up and slash a lure on the surface, only a few feet away from my rod tip. And in this modern time, it is really something to have that happen while I use a lure made long before I was born.
A reader sent me an article published on the outdoor page of a big city newspaper where a writer expounded on the catching of two fish on one lure at one time. One was a small sunfish and the other is a bass. There is nothing unusual about such a thing. In the many years of fishing and guiding fishermen I am sure I have seen that happen a couple of hundred times.
Once, floating the Arkansas portion of the Eleven Point River, a friend and I caught two fish at once a total of five times. In each case, the fish were small bass. But once on Crooked Creek in north Arkansas, I hooked two smallmouth, which clobbered a Rapala lure as it hit the water. One was better than three pounds.
If you use a lure with two treble hooks, you will see it happen a lot. Fish are aggressive and competitive. In Canada I have hooked two northern pike at once, and in the Ozarks on twenty or thirty occasions I have hooked two white bass at once, usually small ones. Green sunfish also double up on topwater lures often, along Ozark streams. But the greatest thrill you can get from double on one lure is when a big muskie in some Canadian backwaters comes along and nails a smallmouth you are fighting, and you actually land them both. I have seen that happen too, more than once.
At night on Ozark streams in the summer, when you float through a shallow shoal with headlamps on at the head or foot of that shoal, bass seem to panic as your paddle clacks against the rocks and gravel. They will jump high out of the water, and often come down in your boat.
One night on the Kings River in Arkansas in mid-July, I had two smallmouth jump into my boat at once, and both were better than two pounds. One of those two fish hit me right smack in the chest as I was paddling the boat through the shoal. Old time rivermen saw that happen quite often.
I know many people will never believe that, but it is the truth. I had a witness that night. But you pay a price when you are a writer who tells tall stories at times just to get a laugh. What I wrote about seeing the flying saucer on a duck hunt… and that time I swore I saw a mermaid in Bull Shoals Lake, well…
Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at lightninridge@windstream. net. My website is www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com.