- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2005


The way I figure it, if a park ranger who answers to the name of Smokey invites you to go fishing, you go because he has to be one of the good guys. Bad people would never be known as Smokey, would they?

I’m here to report that my first hunch about Smokey Davis, 72, the ranger at Occoquan Reservoir’s Fountainhead Regional Park, was right on.

Our day started at 6a.m. “We need to be in the water kind of early,” said Davis, a retired special education administrator who came by his nickname back in his Illinois college days when folks compared him to Smokey Bear for some reason. Whatever it was, only close family members know his real given name, Larry. Now you know it, too. Just don’t call him that. He won’t respond.

Smokey climbed into my bass boat with a couple of sandwiches, a thermos of coffee and several spinning and casting rods, each showing a properly maintained reel. He pointed to the left of Fountainhead’s boat ramp and said, “Let’s start here. Those waterlogged trees over there ought to hide a bass or two.”

I dropped my bow-mounted trolling motor into the water, and roughly five minutes later his crawfish-patterned Excalibur Fat-Free Shad lure was stuck on the upper lip of a chunky largemouth bass. Just like that.

After a quick photo, he soon released the fish, smiled at me sheepishly, and said, “I told you there’d be a bass here,” while I mumbled something unintelligible.

Five or six casts later, Smokey’s lure drew a strike from a crappie that quickly was deposited into the aerated livewell of my boat because when I left my house before daylight, I was admonished for rarely bringing any fish home for dinner. This crappie would serve to start calming down my better half.

Now a few other anglers showed up at the little marina at Fountainhead, having pre-paid their boat rentals at the nearby park office and sliding aluminum johnboats into the water, Smokey and I rounded a lake point silently, listened to a couple of Canada geese noisily objecting to our presence, then cast again to stickups and fallen logs.

As the temperature rose a bit, the park ranger switched to a soft, plastic 5-inch-long Yum Dinger jerkbait. He cast it close to the dark logs that poked from the lake’s surface and — swoosh! — a little bass inhaled the lure that was nearly as big as the fish.

Meanwhile, I struck out with my crankbait, spinnerbait and assorted other lures that were attached to my lines. My lack of action held up while Smokey, who sometimes teaches bass fishing classes and even has authored a now out-of-print book about Occoquan bass fishing, caught several more bass on the Yum Dinger at a place known as Red House Point. The ranger also quickly discovered that most of the bass action came from main-lake points and blowdowns or the first 20 yards inside a creek or cove — never far back in a tributary.

For me, things quickly changed when Smokey said we’d fish farther uplake in Wolf Run, a fine body of water that also had its fair share of brush and wood sticking up through the water.

The two of us were busy casting and retrieving plastic baits, with me not about to give up on a 5-inch-long Zero worm that reeked of garlic and was the color of watermelon rind with red glitter. Why shouldn’t it do well here; it had served me well in many other outings.

Sure enough, close to a sunken shoreline log a largemouth bass snatched up my scent-filled worm imitation and took off with it, swimming to the side. I set the hook and it churned up the shallows. The bass was released.

Then Smokey had another one, and I snagged my worm in the fork of a sunken branch. When I maneuvered the boat close enough to shake it free, the worm came loose and right before my eyes a young bass attacked the fake bait. I swung it into the boat, the two of us laughing at the bass’s insolence. It, too, was let go.

But what we didn’t let go were a number of fat crappies we found in a place called Turtle Cove. Smokey had predicted they’d be there — and they were. The park ranger stuck with a 3-inch-long Senko plastic worm that bass and crappies will look at, but I quickly switched to a light rod and reel, a 1/16-ounce shad dart and a bobber some 3 feet above the little lure.

The crappies liked it. Smokey, a remarkably pleasant fishing companion, enjoyed the action along with me, and later that evening my spouse appreciated tasty, battered crappie fillets, fried in a heavy iron skillet.

Life was good indeed.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washington-times.com.

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