Outdoor Life - - NEWS - Ryan Kirby

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.

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