By sun-up the parking lot at Penny’s Bend was already full; not my fault. The overflow area had one good parking space left; not my fault. A fly fisher was already in every good spot; not my…well, maybe it was my fault.
This time of year, when the dogwoods just start to bloom, the white bass make a spawning run out of Falls Lake into the Eno River. Just downstream of Penny’s Bend there is a large pool and riffle which is typically where the meat fishermen congregate and at times catch huge numbers of white bass. For the bank bound anglers, this is almost elbow to elbow fishing and is as much a social event as it is an angling opportunity.Years ago, I was a lone fly fisher amongst these meat fishermen. I remember one day in particular. I waded into a riffle just below the Oxford Highway Bridge. Next to the pool below Penny’s Bend this area was popular, and for good reason. The riffle emptied into a deep eddy and fish congregated here quite often. The shoreline anglers would cast into the eddy and retrieve their lure, but I knew the best way to present to these fish was to wade across to river right, cast into the swift current and let my fly swing into the eddy. It was a left-handed fly fishermen’s dream.
That day I noticed these two gents fishing from the bank, one not catching anything and the other catching nice sized white bass every so often. That told me the fish were there, probably stacked up like cordwood. I asked them if they minded if I waded over and fished the other side. The shrugged like they didn’t care, but I knew that I looked a little funny to them with my breathable waders and long rod.
I got into position, I made a relatively short cast quartering downstream and allowed the current to swing my special “white bass clouser” I tied into the eddy. This was classic streamer fishing. Just as the fly reached the “seam” between the fast and slow, WHACK! I strip set the hook and landed a nice one. I released the fish and glanced at my fellow anglers. I sensed they didn’t like the fact I let the fish go…or maybe they thought it was just dumb luck.I made another cast and BAM! I had an even nicer fish on the line. Sensing that I would wear out my welcome, I hollered up to the bank fishermen and said, “Hey…I’m not keeping any today, y’all want this one?”
One of the gents replied, “Sure.”
And why wouldn’t he want the fish? After all, most of these meat fishermen were subsistence fishing. I knew many of my fellow “catch and release” parishioners of the church of fly fishing would argue with me, but these fish would get caught whether I kept any or not, and they would get eaten. Besides, white bass are prolific spawners.
I waded over and handed him the fish. I waded back to my spot…searching for the exact rocks I was standing on…must of found them because my next cast ended in a WHAM! Holy white bass Batman! It was on! I preceded to catch as many as 60 white bass that day including some females in the 3-5 pound range…a hoot and a half on a 5-weight! I helped my shore bound fishing buddy fill his bucket.
In fact, as the day wore on and other fisherman stopped to ask whether they were bitin’ or not, my shore buddy would shout out, “Hey Terry…sho’ them how to catch a white bass…y’all watch it’s just like one of them fishin’ shows on TV.” I obliged of course. I batted a thousand on every such request.I ended that day with a tired arm and a giddiness about what was probably a top ten fishing day. My shore bound buddies thanked me for the fish and they are probably still telling the story about a dude in funny fishing pants and along fly pole whackin’ them white bass.
I too told the story; again and again…and again, oh and…again. I really didn’t think it would have much effect since no one believed my fishing stories anyway. To my knowledge there was really only one other local fly fisherman fishing the Eno River white bass run…at least I didn’t see any, but things changed.
The following year I had to hike further downstream. I’d see one or two other fly fishermen. Then some of the hardware chuckers started donning hippers and waders and like me hiked to various spots finding fish along the way. That old adage about walking 15 minutes further, wasn’t enough. Hell, on one outing I hiked at least 4 miles - one way - to find fish.
So when I pulled into the parking area yesterday, just 10 minutes later than I had hoped, and it was already full I thought I’d be lucky to find one single spot to fish. Sure, I knew the meat fisherman would be there, but as I finished rigging up, I counted 6 different fly fishers getting ready. I passed at least that many more already on the water. It reminded me of opening day of trout season on a hatchery supported water.
I prepared for a long hike…got way downstream and saw a motor boat that had put in near the lake and headed upstream…DAMN…it’s hard enough to find a spot in between other bank and wade fishermen, but a boat, really? I hiked back upstream and dropped into a spot where I had caught fish before…and I caught them there today too. I was having a good day piscatorial speaking until two fly fishers made their way up to “my” pool and a wader wearing hardware chucking meat fisherman waded down to the pool and cast overtop of me.
Fortunately, I made one more cast out of frustration and landed a nice female. I wasn’t “too” showy as I released her back into the Eno. Then I reeled in my fly line and headed back towards the truck. Just as I was about to leave the river I saw that riffle and eddy where it all went down so long ago. No one was fishing there! I had to make one more cast…I waded to the spot; stripped out some line; made one back cast and let the current do its job…WHACK! I released the 2-pounder…made two more casts for good measure and then hiked up to my truck.
Back at my truck,…two more fly fishermen were readying their gear. We exchanged pleasantries and one of them asked about the crowd. I smiled and told him good luck on finding a spot. He discounted that by replying that he’d walk 15 minutes further…I told him that wouldn’t do it, not today.“Who the hell let the cat out of the bag about fly fishing this white bass run?” he asked me.
“I guess that’s my fault.”