By A.M. Giacoletto

Cliff faces surround the lake, creating a rocky pen for the fish within its waters. Crappie, walleye, sauger, channel catfish, carp, and, one of my personal favorites, smallmouth bass call the lake home, which is far from the stereotypical trout and salmonid inhabitants one thinks of in the northern Rockies and the American West. Desert landscape, sagebrush, juniper trees, and rolling hills line the landscape around the lake where trout streams meet to fill its boundaries, and antelope, mule deer, and feral horses trot its perimeter to graze and loiter with their kind. Garret (my old college friend) and Chelsea, his girlfriend, meet me in town at the gas station for energy drinks and water before launching for the day. Our plan is to camp for the night and go at it tomorrow for round two, so we ensure our supplies are filled and logistics are aligned for the next two days

I look forward to spring smallmouth bass fishing like a convict looks forward to his next parole hearing. Similar to coaxing a judge for early release on good behavior, I enjoy convincing spring, pre-spawn large smallmouth to grab my fly on the basis of good presentation. As a streamer junkie, I tend to prefer chasing non-trout species more than the average bear because numerous warm-water, non-trout fish are primarily caught on streamer flies, and the eats are voracious and intense from the likes of bass, so it’s as if smallmouth and largemouth bass, otherwise known as black bass, exist for my personal intrigue.

I see trout in a similar light to how I see grilled chicken – I love grilled chicken, and it’s a healthy meat selection for one's diet, and I eat grilled or baked chicken with rice often. For as much as I see the health and pleasure benefits of juicy, fresh-cooked white meat so tender it falls apart with the touch of a fork, I can’t eat it exclusively because I eventually grow tired of it. Sometimes, I’d rather have a ribeye steak or salmon, with a Caesar salad and cubed grilled potatoes with garlic-butter, salt, and pepper seasonings. I need a break from chicken every once in a while, and occasionally I need to focus on smallmouth over trout for my own sanity. In fact, whenever I eat ribeye steak, I realize it’s significantly tastier than chicken, and whenever I catch a quality bronze back (smallmouth bass), I’m reminded it’s a superior fly rod fish compared to every trout except for a brown trout. Others may feel differently, but to those, I ask, “Why would you choose a dinky rainbow over the pound-for-pound best fighting freshwater fish?” I’ve yet to receive much of an answer.


Garret and I often share a campfire in the mountains or near a body of water when our work schedules allow, so such an opportunity is welcome. Plus, he’s dated Chelsea for a while now, and she’s long since proved herself to be a wonderful woman and partner to my friend. The couple opts for spinning tackle while I wave my fly rod through the air like a deranged madman, with my four fly rods with various lengths, most sinking, and different flies as if I’m a pro-bass-fly-bro wannabe. I bounce between each rod in a similar fashion to Taylor Swift jumping between boyfriends (she and Travis Kelce are an arranged, fake relationship that the algorithm created; you can’t change my mind) and hardly stick to one outfit for more than 10-15 minutes as a process of elimination. Through observation, I determine what color, size, water depth, retrieval speed, and – most importantly – fly action best engages the smallies. It changes throughout the day; an olive Conjuror makes a bullpen start, the MeeMaw with the Flash (natural) fills in as a multi-inning reliever, and a black BLC Leech struts out as Kenny Powers, from HBO’s Eastbound and Down, to close the game, win the series, and hoist the metaphorical trophy… unless I go buy one of those cheap trophies from Amazon we hand out to little kids at karate tournaments and local science fairs, so I can hoist a literal trophy; it’ll read “World’s Okay-est Fly Bum Smallie Slayer.”

Day one closes with an 18-inch long and 15-inch girth smallmouth bass, which according to the weight calculator, roughly weighs four pounds – my personal best smallmouth bass landed in this fishery. It comes as I jig a black BLC leech off a rock shelf descending into the water to a depth of 14 feet. Lift, strip down to the surface, and pause, and when I lift the rod from the cork handle to initiate another jig, my line pulls tight and the thrashes and headshakes distinct to an angry smallie vibrate through the blank of my fly rod, down the tip, and through the fighting butt of the rod. It wobbles up to the surface, dives, and dances until, finally, I reach over the side of the boat, pinch its lip down hard with my thumb and index finger, and hoist it into the air. “Let’s go!” I shout, as if I solved world hunger or some other man-saving feat worthy of celebrating like Richard Sherman’s “Crabtree!” rant from the 2013 NFC Championship Game.

Pulled pork fills our bellies as the orange sunset dips over rock spirals and ridges patched with mountain mahogany, sagebrush, and junipers, and the campfire flickers and waves side to side as we finish the final scraps of our delicious meal. For dessert, we swap stories and conversation for the sake of old friends catching up, and Penny, my blue heeler, curls up into a ball at my feet with her head resting on my ankle as if it’s a soft, plush pillow.

The next morning we drive into a new cove. Tight cliff walls rise from the water with hardly 25 feet from one cliff face to another. Garret opens the morning with the hot hand and slams a few solid bass, a few in the three-pound range, on a white, soft plastic swimbait, and he rigs the same for Chelsea’s rod, who keeps her own. Boulders and jagged rocks sprawl the bottom of the lake, so we commonly snag our flies and baits on the bottom, forcing me to put the boat over with the trolling motor to remove the snag. Chelsea, who is more polite than a south Georgia grandmother, apologizes with each snag, and I make a point to inform her that it’s “no big deal;” however, her default polite manners cause her to sincerely apologize each time, which is respectable. Garret and I face the back of the cove where we’re picking up a few bronze backs when a splash echoes through the canyon. With a swivel of heads, we see Garret’s rod launch into the water as if it’s evading a warrant it’s “totally innocent” of.

Chelsea felt guilty for regularly snagging her bait in the rocks, so she decided to set the rod down and wait for the two of us to finish throwing to the back of the cove to inform us. She forgot to flip the bail to feed line, and the boat continued to creep forward, thus causing the rod to slip off the back because it remained anchored to a rock behind us, a rock we slowly crept away from.

Slow motion kicks in, and I observe the expression on Chelsea’s face, and I know – I know exactly what comes next, and she’s made up her mind, so there is no changing what comes next. The Olympic diver steps to the edge of the deck, turns her gaze toward her target, and gains zen – focus – to perform a daunting task through air and to the water. The landing must illustrate grace and precision to optimize performance, a performance that certainly proves make or break, win or lose, advance or go home stakes as the world watches – stares – in anticipation with fists clenched and teeth grinding in the midst of the uncertainty set for imminent resolution. Her toes grasp the deck’s lip, a sparkly gel-coated surface, and her right knee hurls toward her chest causing lift into the air onto a parallel plane over the water with hands extended for the superhero to take flight. Only, instead of saving a would-be victim, our hero streamlines into the water, reaches into the cold depths of the brown, runoff water, grabs the spinning rod’s handle, and lifts it into the air victorious. The judges on the bank lift cards reading “10” across the board for a perfect score from a dive well executed.

Chelsea elevates her head above water, side-stroking leaning to her left, and lifts the rod above water with her right hand. She reaches shore, shakes as if “the cold don’t bother me,” and with a big smirk exclaims, “I got it!” Garret and I look at each other, back to Chelsea, and snap our heads back to each other in disbelief. I’m not sure what, or how, this happened because never once had I seen someone leap off the side of the boat to grab a rod. I explain, “If you’re stuck, tell me I’ll never be upset with you.”

“I know,” she says, still with a smile ear to ear, “but I felt bad and wanted you to fish.”

I appreciate the thought, and she provided me with a first. She changes her clothes, dries out, and continues to fish as if the whole ordeal never happened. I know numerous people (men and women) who would call it quits the second they felt cold or if they fell in, but not Chelsea because she’s a tough cookie, one I respect the hell out of. We laugh the whole ordeal off, and I continue to ponder the amazement I witnessed.

Our weekend excursion wraps, and I strap the boat down in the parking lot. Water seeps from the drain of the bass boat while the livewell drains water as I store rods and gear into the back of my truck. I tell Chelsea, “This is one for the books,” and she agrees, stating her excitement for “our next fishing trip.” After throwing everything on the line for a spinning rod, of all things, she holds my respect as an angler and a permanent spot in my boat. We bump knuckles, say our goodbyes, and depart our different ways. I recall my bass from the night before, my biggest in years, and grow satisfied the more I ponder the issue. It causes me to wonder why anyone with half a fishing sense would choose a rainbow over a smallie, but I guess I should be grateful because that means one less person in my smallmouth fishery; ultimately, nothing can top Chelsea’s diving performance; that’s one for the books.

Anyone, order a few Blue Line smallie flies (or trout flies if smallies aren't an option) and go find a fishy adventure. There’s always one to be found, and odds are you won’t regret it.

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