Saturday, November 16, 2013

Country Bass

I received feedback at deer camp that the story about rattlesnakes was decent.  Here is another story told to me by one of the Haley clan.  It is not my story.  I simple wrote it down.  All errors are mine due to the frailty of my memory.

The Pond

Kris and Jerry Haley have a bass pond in their backyard. The pond is right outside their back door. It is about 80 yards long by 30 yards wide and 18 feet deep. The bottom is gravel out to about 4' of depth. Jerry keeps the brush and weeds cleared out except for 15 yards of shore on the south end. 

Kris likes the pond because it is a magnet for the family. She also likes to float in the pond on hot summer afternoons. She paddles around, chasing the shade in her floating lounge chair. A cool drink at one hand, a Debbie Macomber romance in the other.

Jerry likes the pond because he likes to fish and he likes to catch BIG fish. .Jerry raises largemouth bass for the same reason people raise giant pumpkins. He wants to see just how big he can grow them.

Anybody raising trophy bass in Michigan faces an uphill climb. Bass grow best during the long, hot summers of the south. They runt out early in the north. Still, Jerry works at it....except it is more like play when you work at something you enjoy.

Like any farmer, Jerry knows there are two parts to raising critters. You have to start with the right breeding stock. And then you have to feed them right.

Jerry visited Michigan lakes known for giving up lunker bass; lakes with names like Cloverdale, Gun, Morrison, and Coldwater. He made a point of picking lakes that were more than 60 miles apart because inbreeding is the bane of raising healthy animals. He carried them in two 55 gallon barrels in the back of his truck. He put clean, healthy bass in one barrel and clean, healthy bluegills and sunfish in the other. These fish were his seedstock.

Feeding bass right means getting rid of cover that baitfish can hide in. Jerry left 15 yards of the bank in willow, cattails and rushes because he did not want the bass to wipe out all the breeding bluegills. The pond is filled with swarms of 2" and 3" long bluegills. Lots of bass food..but the bass still have to chase them down one at a time, and really big bass are like really big people. They resent having to move unless there is a very big payoff.


Jerry used to be very generous about allowing people to fish in his pond. That changed the day the bluegills were on their beds and one of the young men in the neighborhood showed up at the door. Jerry was at work.

"Good morning Mrs. Haley. Mr. Haley said we could fish the pond." Said the young man.

"Go ahead." Kris said. "You know where it is."

The next time she looked out the window she saw six young men with cane-poles catching bluegills. It was like watching wheat fall before a combine. They harvested that pond. They filled five gallon bucket after five gallon bucket with nice, slab-sided fish. That was never going to happen again, not if Kris and Jerry had anything to say about it.

Today, there is a very short list of people who are invited to fish in Jerry's pond. Mostly they are kids and they fish for bluegills. Jerry coaches them on how to catch them. Kids who don't listen or play by the rules don't get invited back. Jerry keeps an eye on them the whole time they fish. Partly, Jerry wants the kids to be successful because he wants everybody to enjoy the outdoors as much as he does. Partly, you don't let kids mess around in an 18' deep pond unless you keep an eye on them.

Jerry tells the kids to wade out into the pond and toss the baited hook into the weeds on the south end of the pond. Then, when you get a bite, to drag it out as quick as you can. Even so, a bass will rip the 'gill off the end of the line more often than not.


After a while, Jerry noticed that the bass congregated around them when they waded out into the pond, kind of like Indians circling a particularly prosperous wagon train. The bass anticipated an easy meal. Well, Jerry wanted to get a better look at them. So he caught a frog in the tall grass east of the pond and waded back out into the water. He gripped the frog by the front legs and dangled it in the water out in front of him. It did not take the bass long to become accustomed to this new form of easy meat.

Feeding frogs to the bass became one of Jerry's favorite forms of entertainment. He would catch two or three frogs every night and feed the fish. He even fancied that the bass recognized him personally. The idea is not as farfetched as it seems. The small pond is nestled in a depression and its surface is seldom marred by any ripples or waves. 

Another reason that Jerry liked feeding the bass was because he could monitor how they were growing. He would let a neighbor kid catch a few when it looked like their growth stalled out. They would usually put on a nice growth spurt after being thinned out.

The Boyfriend

Then, one fateful day, his daughter brought a boyfriend home from the Big City. Jerry is a traditional kind of guy and bringing home a boyfriend means something in these parts. He recognized that the boyfriend was a prospective son-in-law and his daughter was trolling him in front of the family to get their read on the situation.

It turns out that the boyfriend was a big-time bass fisherman. He had all the videos and watched all the pros on TV. He had heard stories of the lunker bass in Jerry's pond. He discounted the size of the fish as exaggerations. Bass just don't grow that big in Michigan. But he brought his $500 dollar tackle boxes and $200 fishing rods with him, just in case Jerry invited him fishing.

Kris and Jerry talked it over. Jerry was kind of protective about his bass. He believed in the old adage, "Screw me once, shame on you. Screw me twice, shame on me." Why make yourself vulnerable?

Kris, on the other hand, was getting a little tired of the bass.

Kris belonged to an informal book club. The ladies who patronized Kris's hair stylist all shared books. All you had to do was buy one book a month and then it was leave-one-take-one. 

Kris loved to spend the hottest summer days floating in her recliner and catching up on her reading. The temperature would be in the mid 90s. She would be following the antics of the Debbie Macomber's Christmas angels, Shirley, Goodness and Mercy. Snowflakes would be floating down from the sky. Lost in the story, Kris would forget and let her hand dangle in the water. Hey, it was hot and the water was cool. It feels darned nice to let your fingers play in the water. 

Then, a mega-bass would try to eat her hand. It was becoming awkward trying to explain why so many of the books she brought back had that "sat out in the rain" look.

After much discussion, Jerry and Kris agreed to let the young man fish the pond on a catch-and-release basis. They figured that there is no better way to learn about a man's character than to watch him fish or hunt.

The young man consulted his tarot cards, horoscope, three websites and his stockbroker's recommendation. He selected his portfolio of lures and spent the next two hours beating the water to a froth. He did not get a single rise. It does not take much to put the fish down when you are fishing a half-acre pond. Jerry watched. Jerry was amused.

"There are no fish in this pond." the young man stated after making the 25th cast with the last lure he had selected.

"You are wrong." Jerry replied, "There are bass in there, and some darned good ones, too."

"Nope. If there were any fish in this puddle, I'd have caught them." said the young man.


One thing you need to know about Jerry is that he is a millwright.   Millwrights are the Labrador Retrievers in the universe of skilled trades.  Electricians are poodles; scary smart but some individuals can be temperamental.  PLC programmers are beagles;  they are impervious to heat, cold, hunger, thirst, human voices and #6 shot when on a hot scent.  Small tool repair are dachshunds;  good at what they do but limited.  Tool makers are German Shorthair Pointers;  precise and high-strung.

Labrador Retrievers are a robust breed of dog that is strong and resilient and versatile and plenty smart enough.  Labrador Retrievers are noted for having a "soft mouth" but the term is relative.  It does not seem "soft" to anybody threatening their people.  It is a bit like calling a yellow pine two-by-four "softwood" as it is being vigorously applied to your backside.

The point is that Labs not only can do what needs to be done, they will get it done  without hesitation...even if they give up a few style points.

Millwrights, like Labs, tend to be big dawgs.  There is not much fluff on a Lab.  What you see is meat.  And it is the same with millwrights.

Nobody likes to be called a liar. Especially a millwright, a skilled tradesman, who prides himself on knowing exactly how many fish he has in his pond...and knowing exactly how big they are.

Ego and deceit

"Your problem," Jerry said, "is that you are relying on ego and deceit. These are country fish. Country fish are like country folk.  We like things simple and honest."

"Whaddya mean, 'simple and honest'?" challenged the city slicker.

Jerry is more of a "doer" than a talker.  So Jerry showed him.

Jerry waded out into the water out in front of the city slicker. He made a fist and reached down into the water.  Beneath the water he made a "come hither" motion with his middle and index finger where the city slicker could plainly see what he was doing.

From the depths of the pond Hogzilla herself saw those big, meaty millwright fingers.  These were not lissom leopard frog legs nor petite junior bullfrog legs.  NO!  These were veritable sides of beef beckoning her. And she responded.

The water around Jerry's arm boiled as Hogzilla chomped down on the "frog legs".  Jerry clamped onto the lower jaw with his thumb. Jerry lifted the massive bass out of the water.  It was a bass that would drawn "ooohs and aahs" in Florida.

"That's all you gotta do around here.  Be simple and honest." Jerry said.

The young man never came back.

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