LOST & FOUND
Hunters and anglers are among the world’s greatest finders. But as these accounts reveal, not all of our discoveries have fur, feathers, or fins.
I was 9 years old and completely obsessed with fishing. I fished morning, noon, and night over the summers on our Illinois farm, insisting even on fishing in my Little League uniform after games.
A friend had a VHS tape of a seminar given by Babe Winkelman, fishing with a large orange-bellied crankbait. Up until then, I had stuck to spoons, spinnerbaits, and rubber worms, but I just knew this crankbait was my ticket to the Bassmaster tour. I had to have it, even though I was fishing on quarter-acre farm ponds and Babe was running the thing 15 feet deep on giant open-water lakes. I bought one of the lures from a mailorder catalog and couldn’t wait to try it on our south pond. It was so heavy I could cast it all the way over the pond to the far shore.
The first evening I tied that lure on, my dad left me to fish alone while he rode the three-wheeler over the hill to check on soybeans. A few minutes after he left, I had a massive hit from a giant bass. I finally got him to shore. I was so little I had to lean way backward, doubling over my Zebco. I was just about to swing the bass out of the water when he broke the line, plopped down in 2 inches of water, and started flopping around in the muddy cattle tracks.
I threw down my pole and went for him, but each time I reached for his mouth, he thrashed and threw that crankbait’s giant treble hook toward my hand. Eventually the fish got into enough water to gain some leverage, and with one giant slap of his tail he swam away like a torpedo, crankbait and all. As that orange beacon in the side of his mouth disappeared in the muddy water, I cried.
When my dad returned to find me at the edge of the pond, I told him the story. He didn’t believe me, of course, but as a sort of father’s consolation, he told me that we’d just have to try and catch that fish again someday. I was heartbroken. Not only did I lose the best fish of my life up until then, but I had lost my prized crankbait.
A week later, my dad was hunting for mushrooms in the woods below the pond when he saw something colorful in the brush. It was my crankbait. Apparently, raccoons had nabbed the fish, which had probably died from exertion after our fight. The coons carried the fish over the dam, ate it, and left my crankbait behind after determining it was inedible.
I never caught another fish on that lure. I never made the Bassmaster tour. But I’ll never forget that fish or the orange-bellied crankbait that did it in.