That One Day by John Sherman
The afternoon sun was shining bright and there wasn’t even a hint of a breeze. The boat was beached on a gravel bar in the middle of the river and all the rods sat unused on the floor. We were skipping rocks across the water, laughing, and having a good time. If someone had taken a picture of us on that day, no one could have guessed we were on a fishing trip.
I’m speaking about one special day on the water with my friends. Every fisherman has one. The fishing probably wasn’t that great but you’ll always remember the trip for the companionship and how much fun you had. I refer to it as “that one day” and I will never forget it.
We were on our annual fishing trip to the Allegheny River in search of the elusive flathead. Daytime was spent smallmouth fishing and searching for potential spots to set up at night for flatheads. Now, Mark, Phil and I were best of friends, which normally led to a lot of goofing off instead of searching for prime flathead waters. Let me tell you about that day.
As the sun rose on our last day, fishing all day and staying up most of the night had taken a toll on all of us. We slept until around lunchtime, grabbed a quick bite, and headed to the river. We had already secured a decent spot to set up that night so we decided to spend the rest of the day smallmouth fishing.
We roared upriver in my jet boat to the site of some serious top water action the day before. Upon reaching the slack water eddy just before the riffles I turned off the engine and threw down the trolling motor. Almost instantly the top water lures were flying. After about five minutes it was apparent to us that the time of day was not right for our lures but we weren’t about to let that stop us! A few minutes later Mark set the hook on a feisty little smallie. As he eased the fish towards the boat something big exploded on Phil’s lure! The fish had missed his lure and all three of us immediately threw back at the fish. The water erupted again, this time on my lure. I swept back to set the hook and was instantly disappointed. My line had broken in the mouth of a musky.
Twenty minutes and zero fish later, boredom had set in for us. Mark looked at me and smiled. I knew what was coming. He reared back screaming “Minnow from heaven!” and heaved his lure as far up into the air as he could. I quickly followed suit as we laughed hysterically. The term “minnow from heaven” was coined on the first day of the trip when I threw a top water minnow as far up towards the sky as I could. After it landed with a loud plop a smallmouth exploded on it, resulting in quite a nice catch.
After the laughter subsided we agreed it was time to move on. We continued upriver to where we would set up that night for flatheads. The boat idled for a moment and we decided to go further up than we ever had before. A mile later we came to a stop again. Some low riffles were standing in our way. I glanced over at Mark and he gave me a huge smile. “Go for it!” he said. Phil groaned and grabbed the seat to hold on tight. I pushed the throttle down as far as it would go. The boat got up on plane just as we reached a long series of riffles. We all held our breath as the river bottom moved up closer and closer to the bottom of the boat. We were in mere inches of water, then suddenly the bottom disappeared. Mark and I grinned at each other as Phil let out a giant sigh of relief.
The river turned left then straightened out. An eagle followed us for another half a mile and I cut the engine. We all laughed talking about how close we were to not making it through the riffles. As we threw spinnerbaits at the uncooperative smallmouths the talk quickly changed to fishing that night. We were all very excited. This spot was sure to produce that big flathead we were after. In the two years that we’d been taking this trip, none of us had caught a flathead over ten pounds.
The discussion about catfishing that night motivated us enough to give up on the unproductive smallmouth fishing and head back down river and see if the catfish were in a better mood. As we motored back downriver we decided we’d better eat some supper before we settled in for the night.
I beached the boat on a gravel bar in the middle of the river a few hundred yards away from our intended catfishing hole. We ate turkey sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs as we discussed the final plans for the night.
After supper was finished we all got out on the gravel bar to stretch our legs. I picked up a small, flat rock and skipped it across the water. “That was pretty good” Mark commented. He and Phil followed suit and we all began to see who could skip it furthest. Our laughter echoed through the valley as the competition raged on.
The sun began to fall behind the mountain and we all climbed back in the boat and slowly made our way upriver. We dropped anchor upriver from a large grass bed that was adjacent to the deepest water we could find in that stretch of river just as the sun plunged out of sight.
We hastily stowed away our bass gear and got all the catfishing gear ready to go. Lively bluegill were hooked and hurled out into the night and we all sat back to wait. We discussed just about anything and everything to pass the time. We talked about my upcoming wedding, time travel, and even named our bluegills that we were hoping would bring us a big old flathead.
As the night wore on, we began to realize the fish were not going to cooperate. A little bite here and there was not enough to keep our attention. Boredom had set in so we decided to head back to the cabin for card games and beer.
We returned to the cabin cold and disappointed. All was not lost however. We broke out the cards and beer and laughed the night away. A case of beer and some emotional discussions later we hit the sack, ending the best fishing trip I’ve ever been on.
I’ll never forget that one-day. I know Mark and Phil won’t either. So go ahead, think back about that one day.