Sometimes all it takes is one bump against a branch to wake you up. Sometimes it’s the plop of the popper, almost sounding like a fish in that delirious 3 am state you’re in. More often than not though, it requires a hefty bass pulling the rod out of your hand to snap you out of your half asleep mindset. Something about a fish pulling on the end of your line in the darkest of dark makes it seem about twice as big as it is. Amidst the howls of coyotes and rustles of skunks and snakes, you brave the darkness, despite your fear of the dark, in search of some of the biggest fish any given body of water has to offer.
Bass are awesome predators. And the night is the preferred stalking time for the big boys that haunt the ponds. They’ll move into the shallows and slash at anything unsuspectingly swimming by – hopefully a 2/0 mouse pattern you tied up just hours ago. When it’s so dark outside, you’ve got to fish more with your ears than your eyes: timing your cast by the sound of the line, aiming by the sound of the popper landing, and occasionally losing your shit over the sound of a massive fish crashing on the surface, probably eating a frog. You’ve got to memorize the structure of the reeds from the daytime, knowing where the drop offs are, and where that almost invisible rock in a shallow cove is. It’s a totally different ballgame when you’re out there at night, you’re not there to hunt the fish, you’ve got to find a way to make the bass want to hunt you. Sometimes that results in a delirious mating dance with a turtle at 2 am, and other times you make your mouse move like you’d want it to if it was served up to you at dinner in a fancy restaurant.
Most nights you come home fishless. It’s too cold, not the right cloud cover, too much wind, you were chased off the water by a group of skunks, all the classic excuses. But sometimes, the stars align (maybe not literally, since the best fishing is on cloudy days) and you hook up with a monster. Sometimes that monster turns out to be a 8-inch crappie, but sometimes it’s a four pound largemouth in a pond that you’ve only ever hooked one pounders in. Sometimes that fish runs you deep into some reeds that you’d forgotten about, and the feeling of a hooked fish is replaced by the depressing reality that he’s gone, and you have to find some way to get your fly back. But occasionally everything goes right, and you land the fish, and have to find some way to aim your finger into it’s mouth in the pitch black, but muscle memory serves you better than eyesight, and that works out better than you had dared hope. You estimate the fish to be about five pounds, about twice the size of any other fish you’ve caught here during the daytime, it’s green sides reflecting devilishly from the moonlight, and as you let him go, the fish lets go of your finger, only to lift itself back out and take a final bite of your thumb as revenge before swimming off. And you think to yourself, “Damn, what a fish.”