My hiking boots were destroyed. I'd never wear them again. Both thumbs were raw and I had two cuts on my right hand. I hadn't had as good a day fishing as this one in a long time.
The day didn't start out promising. Dad was visiting, so I took him to a spot that was accessible, and which I expected to hold a few fish but nothing remarkable. When we got to the river, my opinion of the place was confirmed. Two guys had driven a pick-up down the sandy trail and backed the rear tires into the water. They sat on lawn chairs in the bed, drinking from a case of Keystone Light and sharing the use of one surf rod while country music blasted out of the speakers. We headed upstream.
Dad stopped at a pool, and I went up to the start of the slow water, just below a short, but quick set of riffles. Another angler appeared in the brush behind me. We chatted and he, after asking if I'd mind, took up a spot halfway between me and Dad. Before he had a line in the water. I took two little smallies and a bluegill on nightcrawlers.
I was efficient with the nightcrawlers, pulling fish out regularly, with nothing going over eight or nine inches. Then I saw some kids in swimming trunks fishing their way upstream. They waded through Dad's pool, bungling along fishlessly and their leader reached me. We had a chat about river etiquette. I don't know if it took, but it was worth the breath. They were high schoolers new to fishing, and I don't think they knew any better (if they had, they wouldn't have been so friendly about invading my space). Later one of them was stuck 15-20 feet above the water trying to situate a rope swing.
After catching a few more fish (and adding the first river chub of the day, on what I hoped was a bass to teach them a lesson), I walked down to Dad. He'd only taken one bluegill, so we headed downstream, to a spot I knew where the water pooled just off from a weedbed, near some algae (the type I always referred to as "sea weed" as a kid, and which I still can't identify). Then things got interesting.
I continued getting hits on nearly every cast, but the size of the fish increased. I waded out as far as the algae would allow, to allow my casts to reach close to the far bank, under the shade, assuming that the fish, like me, would be wanting someplace cooler in the 90 degree day. I wasn't wrong, and when the sun lowered enough to extend the shadows out to the middle of the stream, the fish really turned on.
I pulled two surprising fish out of the river. First, a largemouth I was sight-fishing for. Not a big one, he simply surprised me by being there. I know now it's not uncommon, but I didn't realize the largemouths were in this river. The next one I caught a flash of after I set the hook, and thought it was a chub, except for it strong fight. When I got a second look at it, I realized it was a cat, and I quickly landed my first ever channel catfish, only about 12 inches, but still a treat.
Things kept getting better. I took one largemouth and one smallmouth that were 14 inches or more. The first I led quickly through the open water around the algae, but the second burrowed into the stuff, and I had to maneuver him out, and then nearly missed netting him in the thigh-deep water. After that, the 10-12 inchers were plentiful. The sun dropped lower, a goose arrived, and the fishing slowed.
Dad, on the other hand, had an okay day, but nothing like what I had, and there seemed to be one key difference in our approaches. He used the traditional pre-snelled Eagle Claw hooks, and I was using Matzuo red-colored baitholder hooks pre-snelled on fluorocarbon leader. I had become convinced that the thickness of typical snelled leaders was too big, and was costing me fish, but this was my first time putting the theory to the test. The Matzuo didn't hold the nightcrawlers as well, but the fish seemed less shy of the leader. I even took one bluegill while reeling in an empty hook.
When the fishing's that good, it's usually hard to leave the water, but today I just felt like I had received so much more than expected that I was content to leave. We hiked back to the car, sand filling our shoes. My hand was bleeding from where a smallie had finned me, and I had another cut I couldn't remember getting. When we reached home, I took off my boots and realized they had made their last trip. They'd given me 15 years, and while I'm sad to see them go, at least they'd gone out as part of an incredible trip.