- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 11, 2006

MARBURY, Md.

The way Billy Patton saw it, I owed him a bass fishing trip. Nearly a year ago, I had promised him a day on the Potomac River, and for various reasons had not delivered. Billy reminded me of it, too.

“I’ll make sandwiches, you bring something to drink; water will be fine,” I finally suggested over the phone. Then I told the 32-year-old, who is big and strong enough to be a candidate for one of Vince McMahon’s professional wrestling troupes, that we’d be fishing a Potomac tributary during the last couple of hours of an incoming tide and also enjoy the mid-morning start of an ebb tide, which usually is more productive.

In years gone by, Billy has fished for bass, but because of a heavy workload toiling for his father, Bill Sr. of Patton Heating & Air Conditioning in Charles County, it has been mostly hunt and peck and take what the fish gods give you whenever there is a free moment to wet a line.

“That’ll change today,” Billy heard me say. “Today we’ll fish with five basic lures that can carry a body straight through summer and into autumn. All five will catch bass, and before the day is over you’ll probably have some of them stretch your string.”

We left the launch ramp in Mattawoman Creek and headed to the main stem of the Potomac, only to turn into another feeder creek minutes later. It was 6:30 a.m. There was no wind and no other water traffic — yet.

When we finally stopped the boat, Billy got a good look at five rods that were his to use if he wished.

One spinning outfit with 20-pound FireLine (8-pound diameter) held a Texas-rigged, garlic-scented Zero worm in junebug color. Another spinning set-up with identical line also had a Zero worm, but it was on a weedless hook in “wacky style,” meaning the hook was pierced through the center of the worm. A third spinning rod had its 10-pound monofilament attached to a dish-faced popper, a surface lure that, when line was retrieved during sharp downward rod motions, could throw water a foot or so in front of its “face.” The fourth and fifth fishing outfits consisted of bait-casting rods and reels loaded with 14-pound monofilament line. One held a Baby 1-Minus lure in a lemon/shad color; the other carried a spinnerbait.

By 7 a.m., the popper lure had fooled a couple of largemouth bass for me. With an unnerving “whoosh,” they’d come rushing up through submersed water weeds and suck in the popping, jumping, water-spraying lure. It was important not to be hasty and pull the lure away when a fish came up behind it.

Billy, meanwhile, chose to cast the Baby 1-Minus crankbait into open pockets and lanes between dense vegetation in water that rapidly dropped from two to five feet. Suddenly, it happened.

“Hey, what have I got here?” the young man shouted — as if he didn’t know.

Billy was into a fine bass, and he handled it nicely, keeping constant pressure on the line. The spawned-out female never had a chance. She saw the shallow-running lure, attacked it, and instantly felt something turning her to the boat. She surfaced several times, but Billy was in charge.

The bass weighed around four pounds, and the big guy was tickled pink. After we snapped a couple of photos, he wanted to release it. It was the biggest largemouth he had hooked in all the years he had fished.

Later, when Billy confessed that he had never quite gotten the hang of using plastic worms, I insisted he pick up a spinning rod with a Texas-rigged worm and a 1/16-ounce slip-sinker.

“Cast it toward that marsh edge,” I said, “then retrieve a couple of feet of line and let the worm slowly drop into the deeper water — but don’t allow a lot of slack in your line and keep an eye on it.”

Billy shouted with a happy laugh only a moment later.

“Look at this!” He exclaimed. He had hooked a smaller largemouth, then followed it with a second and a third bass — all within 10 or 15 minutes.

I was downright proud of the “kid” I’d known since he was 5. By the way, my spinnerbait also produced for me, as did the oddly arched, wacky rigged plastic worm that drew some vicious strikes when it was dragged across the thick vegetation.

The five lures of summer did what they were designed to do, and Billy Patton handled the whole fishing deal with ever-increasing skill.

When all goes right, that’s the way it should be. Heaven knows, there will be plenty of times when the fish gods won’t smile on him or me.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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