Double Eagle on the Par 5
“So what are your plans tomorrow, there cap'n?" "I want to put 125 crappie in the boat. I’m sure it’s been done before, but I’ve never seen a guide put a five man limit in the boat, and I know I’ve never accomplished that feat either. I’ve seen a handful of four man limits come over the gunnels, but never a five man. I think we really have a shot at making magic happen.” Without hesitation or doubt, Paul confirms my thoughts, and after a few more logistical details are discussed, our plans to meet at 6:30am get set in stone.
I’m heading east under a nearly full moon, something that I’m hoping the predicted cloud cover takes care of shortly. We don’t need these fish gorging themselves full of shad all night. The open highways and the roar of the diesel allow me to drift into dreams about tomorrow. I know I don’t control much, but the negatives and the positives are volleying back and forth through my mind.
Will the weather man be right? If so, the clouds should roll in shortly, blanketing the moon. If the clouds hang around and it stays dark all morning, the fish will continue to feed heavily throughout the day. Will the winds be closer to 10mph or will they be closer to 20mph? If it’s low, we can fish the secret spots of the open water. If the higher winds prevail, we’ll have to run the east side, fishing whatever we can. What if this spot doesn’t pay off or someone beats me to it? We can run and gun. You have the boat to do it and over a thousand piles to pick from. There’s a front coming in this weekend which should make the fish go crazy today, but what if the thunderstorms run us off the lake? What if…?
“Did you see that lake when you crossed Clear Creek?!” Paul is the first to arrive and is already pumped up. “Is that good for crappie fishing?” Always a fan of some good sarcasm, we shake hands and start talking trash right off the bat. “These other dudes fish much that you’re bringing with you?” “Well Laner, I know a couple of them do, but I don’t know about the other two. We are different greens keepers from all over so generally when we talk, it’s about golf courses. “Ain’t no big deal man, I just like to know so I can get a game plan to suit everybody’s needs. I bet we have a good time no matter what.”
We’re making wake a little before 7:00am and in no time there are marker buoys on the water. “Alright guys, what we have here is a long log running up a slope. The left marker is on the shallow end of the log, and the right side is denoting where a large root-ball sits. Directly underneath us is a ton of scattered scrub brush. Let’s focus on this shallow log first and then we’ll clean up the deeper scrub brush after that. As far as technique goes, pitch it out about halfway towards that shallow buoy and let it fall back to you. If that’s not your style, drop straight down to the bottom and come up two turns. Looking at this graph, it really shouldn’t matter.”
It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter one single bit. From the very first pitch out it was fish after fish after fish. The action was non-stop, and the only downside I could see was trying to shovel through the shorts to get to the longs. For every three 9.5” fish came one keeper, but they were coming in so fast that if we really had to think about measuring we just threw it back and caught the next one.
We cleaned out the shallow stuff, and I let us drift about fifteen to twenty feet to the north before putting the hammer down again. “We now have brush all around us. It’s only about 2ft tall, so y’all don’t be scared to pitch out in every direction and let your jigs cover the entire water column.” This new school of fish obviously hadn’t heard the news, because they took just as big of a beating as the first group. At 8:40 we had either caught all the dumb hungry ones or they finally got smart, but our pace slowed down to a point that we needed to move to the second spot. Our first stop of the day yielded 52 keepers.
If we’re going to make this happen, I can’t waste time by putting these guys on slow spots. I head north to another log that generally treats me very well. I throw out the markers and have everyone line up on the left side of the boat. “This log is directly underneath your rod tips. Everybody drop down and take one and a half to two turns of the bottom. When you stop reeling, hold it steady. That’s when you’ll get bit.” We drop down and nothing happens. Thinking I’m right on top of the structure, I move the boat over to the right about five yards and have the guys pitch out between the two markers. “Throw it past the log and let it fall back to you. This is just a log and it will be really hard to get hung up on. If your bait makes it to the bottom without getting bit, lift your rod slowly to 1 o’clock and you should get bit on the lift.” The 101st Greens Keeper division fires their shots and we pull another 12-15 legal fish before heading on.
Our third spot is full of fish, a few of which are very healthy, measuring between 14 and 15 inches. The problem is that they are all within a very small area and I have 3 guys watching the other two catch fish. That’s crappie fishing. It works out though because after catching those couple of swamp donkeys everything else has been a dink, prompting us to leave anyways.
The wind has become practically nonexistent at this point, and if we’re going to hit the secret haunts of the big water, we better do it now. The skies are still a gun metal gray so I have no reason to look any deeper than what we’ve been doing well on so far. I scan my first target and it’s as loaded as I hoped it would be. Traditionally, this open water stuff holds the high quality fish that don’t move when you set the hook. The kind of fish just shake their heads and grab ahold of the brush, bending the rod over and making the angler beg for a net. I can see them down there, but whether or not they’ll bite has yet to be determined.
These guys don’t need coaching anymore, they just need to know how far to toss their jigs. I share this information and the lead does fly. I make one toss in the southern direction and the fish I wanted to catch takes the bait. It turns out to be a broad shouldered fourteen inch black crappie that looks turquoise under the dark skies. I push the spot lock on the Xi5 and walk down to put a deposit in the meat bank. I have one of the other guys replace me on the front of the boat so that he can take better advantage of what we’ve just stumbled upon.
Fish are coming in the boat fast, and I mean real fast. The beauty of these open water spots is that they usually hold higher quality fish, and this morning is no different. I’m enjoying the scene that is taking place in front of me. Dark skies, just enough ripples to keep the fish calm, and five guys on the bow of my boat swinging slabs like they were born to do so. Seeing that they don’t need a guide anymore, I opt to put a count on the fish that are already in the coffin. This is tricky business when you have fish being thrown at you from the front of the boat. “That’s a three man limit right there and we got another fifteen or twenty fish to go.” I finish counting and come up with ninety keepers. “Gentlemen, we’re at 90 right now and it’s not even 11:00 yet. We’re on pace to make something special happen.”
Reminding me that I’m only human and control nothing, a crack of lightning and roll of thunder come out of nowhere. “Well, damn.” Checking the radar we have a cell blowing up to our southeast. “Let’s get under cover to let this pass, get a quick bite of lunch and we’ll come back out and finish what we started.”
We run-n-gun to our hideout and watch a few minutes’ worth of rain fall around us, but nothing more takes place. What does happen though is not in our favor and could present a challenge for rest of the afternoon. The wind has picked up and is pushing 20mph. The sun has also decided to show itself. Usually I don’t mind, but during a full moon cycle I want dark skies so those fish keep feeding all day.
I get in a place where the wind is minimal and scan some trees that look be quite loaded. We all drop down and nothing happens. We pitch all around and nothing happens. We do some more vertical jigging and can only trick two more keepers into the boat. “We have four hours to put 33 more keepers in the boat, let’s keep moving.”
I drive these guys around to three more spots, each one looking to be loaded as loaded can be. In each instance we can only trick one or two fish, and after burning another hour, we still have 26 more keepers left to go. Don’t get me wrong, ninety-nine crappie in the box is an exceptionally good day, but this is personal and I want to see something I’ve never seen on a guide trip before.
I’m starting to feel like a coach watching a no-no and his pitcher has put up a full count in the 7th inning. There is a nervous tension of watching a dream not come true, but we have a lot of time left in the ball game and a few thousand brush piles to our disposal. “Think Lane, were should these fish be now that it’s a sunny afternoon. Where can you put up some quick numbers…?” I know where.
The white caps are still present, but we’ve got a big boat and a spot lock. We settle in on a big saddle that is home to a huge tire reef ranging from 17ft down to 23ft. The fish should be toward the top end of the saddle and a quick scan shows that they are right where they’re supposed to be. “Y’all drop down and find bottom, lift it up 18”, hold for 3-5 seconds, and repeat that process. If that doesn’t work, throw a long way into the wind, let your jig hit bottom and walk it back to you. These fish are always close to the bottom on this spot.
First drop, bam! Keeper in the boat. Second and third drop, same thing. “We’re on ‘em y’all so let’s make it count. Don’t be scared to pitch out in front and to the left and right. We are surrounded by tires and fish right now.” It’s not an easy bite to detect in this wind, but we manage another 14 keepers and are now left with an hour and a half to go and in need of a dirty dozen.
I know of a milk run in a cove that should produce nicely if nobody has already cleaned it out today. We head that way and start on a pile of crisscrossed logs in 16f, find enough keepers to cut our dozen needed fish in half. The next spot on the run yields nothing. The third spot yields five more keepers, giving us 124 crappie. “We need one more fish and we got it. I’m not going to catch the last one, so it’s on your shoulders.” I pull over to a row of stumps and all we can catch is sand bass. I am certain that there crappie down hanging around, but they are either too lazy or too slow to compete.
We’ve got about ten minutes until the clock strikes 3:00 and this spot isn’t getting it done. I know we pulled 52 keepers off our first spot this morning, but it’s on the way home, and maybe, just maybe, it will give us the coveted last keeper that we need. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re getting our 125 on this day, the 10th of May. Coincidence maybe, or reassurance from a distant relative of the natural world, a huge and fully mature bald eagle soars low overhead, drifting south. “He’s looking for the same thing we are, and he’s headed in the same direction. One fish would do us both a lot of good.”
I idle past the scrub brush and log we started on when this whole journey first began early this morning. Looking at it now one would never know we even pulled a single fish earlier today. It’s loaded up again! I don’t say a word, but instead I casually throw the buoy and shut down the engine. I slowly walk up to the bow, in preparation to deploy the trolling motor. Interestingly enough, Paul is walking in the opposite direction, with rod in hand. Reading his mind, I don’t even bother with the Motorguide. I turn around and watch. Off the back of the boat, a pitch is made towards my little orange H-shaped marker. I see the line twitch, I see the hookset, I watch the rod double over and on the deck is number 125.
For all practical purposes, somebody just sank the winning putt on the 18th hole at the Masters. “We did it! We got the five man limit! You will never understand how much you guys helped make this possible. We did exactly what we came to do, and you are part of something I have never seen nor heard of before. We did it guys, we did it!”
Riding an emotional high but feeling a physical tiredness, I recount the fish. Everything is as it should be. Not one to miss a photo opportunity, the men all line up for a picture they may never get to take again, taken by a guide who may never again get to shoot this shot. Beers and hand and places chosen, I focus on the scene before me. Let’s just say I didn’t have to ask anyone to say ‘cheese’ this time.