- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2009

— When I looked through a window in the predawn darkness, all I could see of 20,000-acre Lake Gaston was a smattering of twinkling lights on a distant shore.

In Marty Magone’s comfortable home near the water, the aroma of cheap perfume wafted through the house. But this wasn’t Eau de Paris. No, this reeked of hazelnuts and anise. All the same, we had no time for lengthy discussions about yuppie coffee that somehow doesn’t fit the image of a tough guy like Magone - a weightlifter, former Marine and retired police officer.

We had to get to the water, launch Magone’s bass boat and join our friend, Dez Rubesch, in a search for Gaston’s fabled largemouth bass. Remember, back in the 1970s and ‘80s this was the lake where a series of Virginia state bass records fell and D.C.-area bass fanatics nearly wore ruts into the road that led to the lake in the south-central part of the state. Gaston and its larger neighbor, Kerr Reservoir, are shared with North Carolina, and seeing boats with Tar Heel State registrations on the Virginia side is as normal as having grits and crumbly biscuits with every breakfast.

Magone and Rubesch were anxious to start fishing. They didn’t want to miss the “morning bite,” as they called it. Their boats soon sat in the water, rods and reels stashed away safely. In pitch darkness they idled out into Great Creek, one of the many Lake Gaston feeders. Only the boats’ running lights illuminated the black water.

Rubesch headed off in one direction, Magone and I in another. The tall Magone, who looks like he could be the brother of former NFL great Howie Long, slowed his craft when he reached the mouth of Sixpound Creek. After dropping a battery-powered trolling motor over the bow, he popped a blunt-nosed surface lure across a broad area where the water depth quickly fell from 3 to 20 feet.

“Slooosh!”

The sound of a bass rising and inhaling the lure echoed through the early morning air.

I was next with a largemouth that wanted to take the rod from my hand. The bass hammered a Chatterbait lure that had been trimmed with a rubbery shad imitation.

When things slowed a bit, Magone ran his boat to Poplar Creek, fishing the outside bends of the vacation home-lined waterway, but it turned out to be fruitless. We stopped fishing and devoured our first “egg splatter” sandwich, a wonderful treat that Magone prepares for visiting friends. It consists of coarsely chopped hard-boiled eggs mixed with good mayonnaise, real bacon pieces, pepper, sweet pickle and squirts of hot sauce. It is totally terrific food!

Then came the rain. It alternately poured puppy dogs, then slowed to a soft drizzle, then it was back to the monsoon.

We slipped into our rainsuits and agreed that we’d stop fishing only if a serious lightning storm arrived - or when it was time to have another sandwich.

Magone and I didn’t know what to make of it, but upon arriving in Hawtree Creek the bass suddenly began to take more than one serious look at our lures. Could it have been the rain? Was it the lack of bright sun that chases bass into darker, deeper layers? It didn’t matter. The moment we began to get serious about fishing with dark plastic worms - I preferred a garlic-scented Zero worm, and Magone choosing a Senko model - the bass started tugging on our “baits.”

We hooked beautifully marked, healthy largemouths along a creek shore whose waters showed various depths. Much of it was shallow, but underwater wood and boulders provided abundant sanctuary for the fish, not to mention plenty of hiding spots where bass could ambush unsuspecting threadfin shad or bluegills.

We caught largemouths in the 1- and 2-pound range, but also some that reached 4 and 5 pounds apiece. It was magnificent. Magone looked at me and said, “Sometimes it gets even better. You need to come back.”

I promised to do just that, and my friend agreed that there’d be straight, strong coffee next time.

• 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] Read Mueller’s Inside Outside blog at washingtontimes.com/sports.

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