While most fish will occasionally jump from the water when hooked, few do so as readily as the smallmouth bass.
The mere thought of a leaping smallmouth — gills flared, red eyes glaring, seemingly suspended in a curtain of spray — can quicken the pulse of even the most jaded angler, let alone a brown bass monomaniac like myself.
My pulse was as slow as the fishing Tuesday evening on the Wapsipinicon when after more than an hour of fruitless retrieves my jig finally made contact with something alive. I set the hook and a long brown shape leaped 2 feet above the river’s surface, cracked itself like a whip and re-entered the water.
It takes a lot to make me nervous, but the prospect of catching perhaps the biggest smallmouth of my life will do it.
I started coaching myself: Take your time. Don’t horse him. Check your drag. Maintain steady pressure. Set your reel to backcrank mode just in case.
The fish dove to the bottom and, with the current multiplying its might, pulled me downstream. We traded blows for what seemed like minutes before the pressure of my rod coaxed the fish out of the strongest current.
A sense of calm came over me when I realized his run was slowing and weakening, and I started inching my way toward shallower water for the eventual sandbar beaching.
But first just a sneak peek to confirm what the trademark leap had told me — that I was about to reach the pinnacle of my fishing career with the landing of a legendary bass.
I applied steadily increasing rod pressure, expecting to soon see the noble green-gold face emblazoned with the war paint hash marks emblematic of the smallmouth bass.
Instead, to my extreme disappointment, I saw beady eyes, rubbery lips flanked by undulating barbels, fins like the thorns of a locust tree and scaleless charcoal skin glowing with slime.
Not (to quote, Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer) that there is anything wrong with a channel catfish.
Although I had never before personally witnessed the phenomenon, it will leap from the water when hooked.
And it, rather than the smallmouth, could well be the fightingest fish, pound for pound, that swims in our waters.