Stringing up my 8-weight fly rod in the pre-dawn hours of yesterday morning, I have to admit that my mind was somewhere else than the favored bass water I was preparing to fish.
But on what might be the coolest morning until sometime in October — and with the surface of the lake I was fishing on being as smooth as polished glass — I couldn’t help but give it one more try, attempting to coax one more sizable largemouth into taking my fly.
When it came time to actually tie something onto the end of the 15-pound tippet I was fishing at the end of my clear intermediate fly line, I was tempted to put on a big streamer pattern.
Something like the frog colored Ray Sims Lake Fork Diver that has produced a number of four to six-pound largemouths for me this spring, and one that with a little more luck, might produce one more angry swirl, a bent fly rod, and another nice fish in what has been a pretty good spring.
But fishing that fly requires a little bit of thought, especially when it comes to casting the deer hair streamer pattern on a sharp 2/0 hook. You want to get the fly in tight to cover, but not so tight that it hangs up.
So instead of tying on what has been one of my go-to patterns this spring, I reached for a #2 Umpqua Deer Hair Bass Bug instead, a frog hued topwater pattern that has also produced a few good fish for me this spring.
And maybe the Dave Whitlock inspired pattern had one more good bass left in it, despite the fact that this particular fly has gotten a little bedraggled and was missing an eye.
Truth be told, I was wanting to spend the morning thinking as much as I was wanting to spend it fishing. Because for a person already bent towards introspection, the end of the week trip was the perfect chance to ponder a few things weighing on my mind, things other than big bass that is.
For starters, it’s the week of Father’s Day, something that used to be a bigger event on the calendar for yours truly, but one that is now diminished by the fact that my own father, Bill Burkhead, has been gone from this side of eternity for a little more than two years now.
While the shock of his passing in May 2017 has worn off, the sadness that is associated with his departure from this side to the other has not waned very much.
As the summer solstice approaches, what can be sadder than to be a son, to walk through a local box store, and to have no one to buy a Father’s Day card for?
While my dad wasn’t a part of the Greatest Generation — the one that we solemnly remembered last week during the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion on the sands of the Normandy coastline — in my mind, he was certainly among the greatest men that I’ve ever known.
For one thing, he taught me to love fishing — especially for largemouth bass — and the adventures that can be found throughout the realm of the Creator’s outdoor world.
He was a man of deep Christian faith, a husband and father fiercely devoted to his family, and a guy who loved to help and serve others, so much so that he would annually take a week of vacation to work at the Vacation Bible School held each summer at his church, Parkside Baptist in Denison.
Dad was also a man unafraid to tackle any project or problem, someone who rarely complained when things didn’t go his way. Instead, he rolled up his sleeves, doubled down on the work at hand, and did what he could to make the situation better.
Take his work for instance. A longtime employee of a local company given to frequent layoffs, my dad never got the pink slip.
But that doesn’t mean that he didn’t sweat the nervous tension that undoubtedly came into his gut as rumors would swirl, and eventually, long time coworkers were shown their way to the door. While he shared his personal concerns with my mom Phyllis — whom he would have been married to 55-years this upcoming Monday — he never let on to me or my sister Amy that he had any worries in his life.
Instead, he would get up early each morning, pour a cup of coffee, read from his heavily worn Bible, grab the lunch that my mom had prepared, and simply go to work.
While faith, family and fishing have always provided a deep connection with my dad over the years, it’s his response to the difficulties of life that seems to stand out the most this year with Father’s Day approaching. No matter what circumstances came his way, my dad always believed that God had a plan for his life, even if he couldn’t readily understand it.
In addition to trying to make sense of the world without my dad, I also wanted to spend some time yesterday morning figuring out what’s next in my own fatherhood adventure, one that seems somewhat diminished these days as the nest has grown empty.
My wife Charissa has retired, daughter Katie has married Tim, and sons Zach and Will are preparing to graduate from college and move on into the workaday world, all this leaving dear old dad prayerfully trying to figure out what’s next.
That’s a lot to consider on a bass fishing trip — especially one where the angler in question is using flies instead of lures and continues to hope that he’ll catch a 10-pounder on a fly rod. But as I continued moving down the lake, the casts came rhythmically even if there wasn’t much thought behind them.
At each likely looking spot — the deep-water edge of a grass line, a laydown log in the water, a clump of cattails, and even some sizable chunk rock in places — I would tense in anticipation as the morning sun pressed towards the horizon and mist curled lazily from the water.
One by one however, each spot came up empty and I finally began to resign myself to the fact that the shallow water big bass season that I love so much had given way to summertime’s offshore bite.
With that, my mind began to think ahead and calculate the end of the day’s fishing trip, the gathering of gear, the drive home, and work that needed to get done.
As I began to mentally pull the plug on the morning’s quick fishing trip, I somewhat absentmindedly made one more cast, putting the one-eyed frog popper near a final clump of vegetation.
As the deer hair popper laid out on the water, I prepared to start my retrieve. And that’s when suddenly, the most violent topwater strike I’ve had all spring came with all of the subtlety of a bowling ball plunging into the water as a sizable largemouth came boiling up from several feet below.
The largemouth smashed the deer hair popper with a ferocity that all bass anglers live for. In fact, there was so much commotion, so much of a splash, so much noise that I literally jumped as the fish – not the biggest of the spring, but certainly the most memorable — came calling.
A short while later, after unhooking the fish and weighing it on my Boga Grip — 5 ½ pounds worth of long and lanky bass, for what it’s worth — I slid the largemouth back into the water, rocked it gently until it regained its strength, and then let it slip away out of my grasp as it swam back into the deep.
With that, I was content in the perfect ending to a day of fishing and contemplating the grand scheme of life on this third rock from the sun.
Pausing for one last second, I considered reeling up and calling it good. But as I did, I had the sensation that somewhere, someone was watching me.
Looking on with a big smile, the kind that all sons hope to see from their father.