Original Floater, Shad Rap, CountDown, DT Dives-To
By the time I was twelve, I had been fishing trout in the Poconos with my family for over ten years. I’d caught a few bass up to that point, but they were little. A fingerling (a couple of inches long) to maybe half a foot, tops. And I had never caught one on purpose. The only time I even used artificial baits was trolling around, usually with basic inline spinners. So heading up to the lake that June, I was just looking forward to another week of catching trout and having fun. I had no idea my life was about to change.
The first morning of that summer’s trip to the Poconos, I hit the dock to cast a few before Pop and Uncle Don came out. It was just gonna be another day of trout fishing, but today, Pop’s box kept calling my name. Maybe it was the excitement of being back at the lake, but I couldn’t resist going in and grabbing something to throw off the dock. I pulled out a 9S Floating Rapala - black on the back, silver sides, two treble hooks: one on the belly, one on the tail. At the time, I didn’t even know what it was. I just reached into the Coleman and pulled it out.
The scene is still vivid in my mind. I’m out on the end of the T-dock, there’s a little fog on the lake, and the water is slick and calm. My rod was still rigged to catch panfish and trout, which meant line out of the reel attached to a swivel, a snelled hook, and a Water Gremlin split shot.
So I pinched the ears of the Gremlin, popped it off, and attached the Rapala, with absolutely no idea how to fish it or what it was going to do in the water. All I knew how to do was cast, which by now I did pretty well. I threw out the Rapala in a big, beautiful arc and it hit the water, ripples moving away as it hit the water. It just floated there. That’s what it was supposed to do, but I didn’t know.
For the first few seconds, I just stared at this strange, floating bait. Then I gave the reel four or five cranks, watching the Rapala’s swimming action. I was astonished. I’d never seen a lure behave like that. And as I thought, “Okay, it’s a bait you cast, swim and reel in,” the bait floated back to the surface, where I let it sit for another couple seconds. Whoosh! This bass - not a giant, but at almost three pounds it was the biggest fish I’d ever seen- blew out of the water, mouth wide open, swallowing the Rapala. The visual was the most intense thing I’d ever seen. In trout fishing, you drag live bait along the bottom of the water, watching your rod tip or bobber. I had never seen a fish explode out of the water after a lure. I don’t even think I set the hook! If the bass hadn’t totally engulfed that lure, I probably wouldn’t have brought it in.
I could barely breathe, as I used every ounce of energy to land that fish. It gave me a fight like I’d never experienced, bulldogging me and splashing all the way back to the dock. I was flipping out, thinking, “If that line breaks, I’m gonna have to fess up to taking the lure, and replace it... And nobody’s gonna believe I caught it to begin with!” It was a situation where I had to beat that fish, the first of many over the course of my career.
Once I had it on the dock, I started screaming bloody murder, running back to cabin 3, where we were staying that year. I didn’t even know how to hold a bass back then, so I just ran with the fish hanging off the end of my line. “Aaaaaaagggghhh!” My family must have thought I was being stabbed to death by some lakeside killer. I busted through the door, the bass dangling off my rod tip like a hanging grenade, and everybody freaked. Pop thought it was the biggest fish in the world. And not being a catch-and-release guy, the first thing out of his mouth was “Get my stringer! Put him on the stringer!” My new buddy was getting some Crisco and bread