By Eric McDuffie
Finally, the downpours stopped. To check out the current water conditions, I drove down to the nearby bridge crossing the Eno River and looked over the rail into the cloudy water. The water level had risen, and its clarity was stained, but not as swollen and muddy as I had anticipated. On this Saturday morning, Aiden and I are ready to head out to my beloved cow pasture situated along a bank on Lake Holt. I drove back home with a smile and began packing the boat and truck for our first visit of the year to the cow pasture. A full moon rose the night before. I knew that this trip would be a magical time for the two of us just like it had been for granddaddy and me so many years ago.
I bought Aiden his first fly rod as a Christmas present five months earlier. He was now ready to experience the beauty and excitement the magical lake had in store for him as it had for me so long ago. At least I hoped so. I was filled to the brim with anticipation to witness him connect for the first time with his new fly rod I gave him. I prepared Aiden for this fly fishing trip to catch bluegills spawning on the first full moon of spring when those May nights finally warmed the lake water to that magical temperature needed to get the females busy fanning out those moon-like craters on the shallow lake bottom running along the cow pasture.
We arrived at Lake Holt a few minutes past 8:00 AM. The lake was full, but not muddy. It looked perfect with only a hint of a light northerly breeze forming wrinkles on its surface. We launched the skiff and puttered around the corner towards the dam. The left-hand bank was lined with bright green newly-emerged grass, overhanging alder berry and wild rose bushes, downed oak trees stretching outward into the watery depths. A steep rock face attached itself to the middle stretch of shoreline. I eased us down the bank with the trolling motor. Aiden began false-casting his old, but new retro fiberglass 7-weight Ted Williams Sears fly rod, just like the one my grandfather gave me on my 3rd birthday 47 years earlier. The only difference between the two was the color. Mine was still shiny red, even after so many years and thousands of caught bream. Aiden’s was the color of blond yellowish bamboo. They both wore Pfleuger single action fly reels loaded with weight forward 7-floating fly line, 7 feet of a straight ultra-thin monofilament 12-pound test leader. A size ten yellow popping bug was tied 30 inches above into a double surgeon’s loop with a trailing bumble bee for Aiden and a black gnat for me both sinking wet flies. These would both prove to be deadly as they slowly drifted downward into the lair of the spawning bream beds.
After getting out the kinks and slowly drifting down the bank, nearing the cow pasture, I calmly told Aiden to get ready for some fast and furious action. I pointed over to the grassy-lined bank of the cow pasture stretched out about thirty yards ahead. I said a little prayer to God to please reveal those beautiful bream to us, for it had been well over 35 years since I had last caught the large bedding bream along my beloved cow pasture where Gramps and I had discovered them when I was Aiden’s age. Aiden's 13th birthday was coming up in only a month. This trip would certainly be an awesome early gift.
As we drifted towards the grassy bank of the pasture, I told Aiden not to worry about making a perfect cast to the shore, but to let the fly flutter downward anywhere between 5 and 10 feet off the bank. I also told him to be as quiet and still as possible, and not scare the bream off their beds as we moved through the 3 to 5 foot deep shallows. Aiden laid out the most beautiful cast of the morning. As soon as the fly landed on the surface, the water exploded around the disappearing yellow popping bug! Aiden’s instincts kicked in, and he suddenly lifted his new fly rod upward with his right hand and set the hook with the downward thrust of his left hand against the strike. The rod quickly bent double all the way down to the reel. He yelled, “What do I do?” I yelled back, “Quit screaming!” I quickly moved the boat out and away from the cow pasture to keep the bream beds from being too disturbed and to allow Aiden ample room to fight his first fish on his new best friend in deeper water. He played the fish slowly and kept screaming, “I can’t slow him down!” Composing my emotions, I quietly and calmly told him to keep a tight line on the fish and play him to the boat slowly. The fish made three strong circular runs, surging under the boat and taking Aiden and his new best friend, bent double to the reel, for a ride.
Finally, after a long minute or two, Aiden began stripping his line in, and suddenly two of the biggest red-breasted males finally presented themselves to us. “Holy shit”, I said! “You have a double, Aiden!” He awkwardly lifted about two pounds of fat dark-colored slabs out of the water and somehow swung them into the boat. These bream were even bigger and more beautifully rust colored now than they ever were those many May moons ago. Even though the first fish caught on my red Sears and Roebuck fly rod 47 years ago was a 2 ½ pound crappie (to this day, still the largest crappie I have ever caught). I was more proud and pleased to see Aiden’s first double pounders taken on his brand new 40-year old retro Sears 7-weight. Those intense burnt orange colors bleeding into their breasts were a sight to behold.
Their colors were only matched by their fiery will to go free. After a couple of quick pictures were taken, they got their wishes, as both males were slowly released to go back to their beds and take care of their spring business.
At that moment, I looked up to Heaven and quietly thanked God for blessing Aiden and me with those strong-swimming butterbeans. As I did, I suddenly saw granddaddy’s smile looking down at me from heaven above. Now, as I look back at that picture of him and me on that day so many years ago, I remember our magical time on the cow pasture during May’s full moon rising.
Eric McDuffie is Panfish On The Fly's newest contributor. You can check out more of his work here.