- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 20, 2005

MOUNT HOLLY, N.C. — It has to be a bad omen when you plan a fishing trip far away from potentially nasty winter weather, head south to warmer climes, but arrive only to learn there’s a snowstorm raising the devil not far from where you’ve checked into a motel.

The temperatures plummeted, and the first day of fishing in famous Lake Wylie was canceled. Things didn’t look good at all. Wylie, you might recall, was the site of last summer’s world bass fishing championship, the Bass Masters Classic.

“You worry too much,” said the best guide in these parts, Jimmy Drumm. “We’ll find ‘em.”

On Day 2, after a breakfast of “beeeskits” and gravy, grits, bacon and a half gallon of coffee, Drumm asked, “Did you bring plenty of warm clothes? We’re going to run up the lake a ways. It won’t be very comfortable.”

Despite the cold weather, the public boat launching ramp that would take us into a lengthy stretch of South Fork River (a part of the impoundment that straddles the border between North and South Carolina) was jam-packed with tow vehicles and boat trailers. The Carolinians, it was obvious, were champing at the bit to do a little fishing. For them, winter hasn’t been a cakewalk either. Unusually icy, snowy conditions were not a stranger in the Southland this year.

Drumm, zipped up, woolen face mask and broad goggles covering every inch of his usually smiling mug, turned the starter key to a 225-horsepower Mercury. Before you could say, “Ho, ho, Duke lost to Maryland again,” Drumm had his gleaming white Ranger bass boat charging up into Wylie’s South Fork.

How he spotted a couple of tiny flips and ripples near a lengthy, water-covered lake point I’ll never know. I was too busy thinking of a toasty bed or perhaps a bowl of hot, homemade soup in a warm kitchen.

The temperature stood at 27 degrees. What I didn’t know was that the heated, discharged waters from a distant Duke Power plant saturated the fork even to the area where we were. The slight rise in the water temperature apparently was enough to activate small schools of threadfin shad, which in turn made the stomachs of bass and landlocked stripers growl.

Drumm mercifully slowed the boat, stared some more through his big goggles, then suddenly turned off the big outboard. He slipped a bow-mounted, electric trolling motor into the water and picked up a rod that was rigged with a chartreuse curly-tailed grub on a 1/4-ounce jig hook. On his second cast, Drumm had something slam into the grub.

“Holy cow,” he said. “What in the world have I got here?”

It had to be a big striper. The fish was bending Drumm’s rod like a pretzel, line screeched from the reel. This rockfish did whatever it wanted to.

Eventually, Drumm coaxed the striper a little closer to the boat and then we heard a sickening pop. The line didn’t break, but the jig hook broke free from whatever body portion of fish it had been imbedded in.

“Probably snagged it somewhere,” Drumm said. “Could be it didn’t even have it in the mouth.”

The guide remained remarkably composed. When nearly the same thing happened to me a few moments later after I’d cast a large Road Runner lure, I said a few words not suited for a family newspaper.

But what really got our goat was the sudden appearance of largemouth bass. You could actually see their backs occasionally breaking the water’s surface as they chased the frightened baitfish, yet somehow ignored our lures.

I suppose they were smart enough to discern the difference between the real and the artificial food. It was either that or our lures didn’t — as trout fishermen describe it — “match the hatch.” It’s a reference to having to match pretty closely whatever it is the fish are feeding on. If you can’t, there’s the risk of being terribly frustrated while you watch the fish all around you, dining on something but not necessarily your offerings.

Oh, to be sure Drumm got into some bass, but this day was one of those that could be put to good use as a lesson: fish can make humans appear totally helpless.

However, if I were looking for a fishing guide who knows Lake Wylie like the back of his suntanned hands, Drumm would be my first choice. He can be reached at 704/827-3018.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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