Years ago, I had the luxury of fishing just about anytime I wanted. As a college student, most of my spare time was spent in the woods or on the water. The only problem I ran into was finding someone to go fishing with from time to time.
One day, after doing some work on my grandfather’s farm, I decided I would plan a fishing trip in the next few days. I sat at the kitchen table while my grandfather was busy cutting a cantaloupe. He and I shared an affinity for fruit of any and all kinds, and snacking on fresh fruit was a regular pastime we enjoyed together. My grandfather, or Papa, as I knew him, always said that a person’s good health and vitality can often be attributed to whether or not they were a “fruit eater.”
I thumbed through the local newspaper until I found the weather forecast which indicated there was a storm on the way that would bring frigid weather and possibly snow. I also checked the astro table predictions for the upcoming days, which indicates the best days to hunt or fish based on lunar phases and when wildlife can be expected to feed or be moving.
It turned out that Friday was expected to be one of the best days of the entire month for hunting and fishing, according to the astro tables. The storm was expected to hit the east Alabama area that same day. Faced with the decision to go through with my plans and hit the water, or pass up an opportunity and wait for more favorable weather, I decided to see what my grandfather had to say about the idea of fishing in a winter storm. I asked if he wanted to join me on my trip.
“No,” he laughed. “That’s way too cold for me.”
Temperatures weren’t expected to reach more than 30 degrees on Friday, but Thursday was predicted to be warmer. I would only have about three hours to fish on Thursday after my classes, but I was free to fish all day on Friday, as was my older brother, Josh.
“I bet I could catch some fish if I went out there Friday, but I’d have to bundle up,” I said, curious to know whether my grandfather would make the trip if he were in my shoes.
I explained how the astro tables predicted a great day to fish, but the storm looming on Friday was preparing to ruin anyone’s hopes of getting on the water. Torn between fishing on Thursday or Friday, I asked my Papa what day he might choose to go.
“When do you think the best time to fish is?”
He gazed downward as he sliced the cantaloupe and smiled.
“Son, I’ve been fishing a long time and I’ve found that the best time to go fishing is whenever you can,” he said, looking up at me with an encouraging grin.
I laughed, realizing that his answer was just what I was hoping to hear, but in a much different way. I’ll never forget him telling me that and the wisdom he was trying to pass on to me with that simple statement.
Sometimes, we outdoorsmen spend so much time and energy going over the little things related to planning a hunting or fishing trip and we often miss the bigger purpose of enjoying and being grateful for our ability to go fishing or hunting. That concept meant more to me than ever a few years later when he was unable to leave the house, his body wracked with pain as be battled cancer.
Josh and I got up early on Friday and got our boat and fishing gear ready to go. Papa sat at his kitchen table, sipping coffee and smiling as we hurried around in preparation for a full day of fishing. I like to think he was smiling because he was proud to see that his grandsons were both crazy enough and determined enough to brave tough conditions in pursuit of catching some fish.
On the drive to Wedowee, Josh and I laughed and joked nervously about the fact that we were about to put our boat in the water on a day that most people wouldn’t dare to so much as step outside.
We pulled into the boat dock parking lot and instantly noticed that it was completely empty. We were the only nuts crazy enough to go fishing with a snowstorm moving into the area. Before I could get the words out, Josh said exactly what I was thinking.
“We’ve got the whole lake to ourselves!”
As we put the boat in, I drove the truck and trailer to a parking spot and started to walk down the hill to the dock. I noticed a snowflake fall right in front of my face right before Josh yelled out from the dock below.
“Fishing in the snow, baby!” he yelled, his voice echoing across the empty lake. I replied with my best Ric Flair “Wooo!” that broke the silence hanging over the lake. If anyone living in the nearby houses were watching and listening to us, they surely had to think we were a special breed of idiots.
I climbed into the boat and felt like I was grabbing solid ice as my hands gripped the side of the aluminum vessel. We both grimaced as Josh ramped up the 25 horsepower Evinrude motor to full speed as we tore out to our first destination.
We arrived, shivering as we picked up our fishing rods. Both of us were not laughing as much as we had been now that the snow was coming down more heavily.
It was unusually peaceful being on the water during the snowfall. The lake was usually bustling with other boats, but that day was eerily quiet to the point that you could almost hear the snowflakes gently landing on the surface of the water.
We found some success on our first few casts with the tried and true Roadrunner jigs we often used. Josh and I were fishing on a large flat that stretched underwater several hundred yards in the middle of the lake. The flat was bordered by a steep drop off on one side and was a spot that Papa had just showed us a few weeks before when we caught dozens of crappie using dropshot rigs.
After about thirty minutes without a bite, I picked up a rod that had a Texas rigged dark red worm on it. The lure setup was unique because I had used the same dark red colored bullet sinker and a red hook. I had tied the lure combination on the night before, curious to see if using the same color sinker, hook, and worm might be effective.
It turned out to be our secret weapon that day.
I caught a nice bass and immediately hooked another, bigger bass on my next cast.
“What are you using?!” Josh said.
I showed him the lure I had on and shortly after, we were both reeling in bass one after another. These were big, healthy spotted bass that were hungry and fiesty.
We both couldn’t believe how many fish we were catching. After all, we were using a bait that was normally employed in relatively shallow water during warmer weather. We were waylaying the bass in just over 20 feet of water as the snow began to accumulate on the bare surfaces of our boat and the surrounding land.
We lost count of how many fish we were catching.
After the bite slowed down, we noticed another boat in the distance—the only one we had seen all day. The angler waved to us, and we slowly made our way over to him. Just like us, he was probably eager to meet another nut who was crazy enough to fish in such weather.
As we approached his boat, we exchanged the usual pleasantries that are customary for fishermen.
“Having any luck?” we asked.
“No,” he replied. “I caught two fish since I’ve been here. Just been playing around with a new waterproof camera I bought that lets you see under the water. What about y’all?”
“We’re doing pretty good,” Josh said as he looked over to me with a giant grin on his face.
“Y’all can have these two fish I got if you want them,” the man said. “I don’t want to fool with cleaning just a couple of fish.”
“Sure! We’ll take ‘em!” we said.
The man slowly maneuvered his boat over to ours and opened his livewell, taking out a decent-sized crappie and handing it to me. I took the fish and reached for the Igloo cooler that sat in the middle of our boat. I pulled the lid open and the man’s eyes nearly popped out of his head.
“Good Lord!” the man blurted out, his eyes fixed on our cooler that was literally filled to the brim with bass and crappie. “Where did you catch those at?!”
I couldn’t resist the urge to use one of my grandfather’s old jokes I had heard him say at a boat dock more than a few times.
“Caught most of them right in the mouth!” I said emphatically with a semi-straight face. The man was still so flabbergasted at the pile of fish in front of him that he was unphased by my humor. His eyes were still bulging as if he’d seen a cooler full of hundred-dollar bills.
I quickly realized that we didn’t have room for his two crappie in our full-sized cooler.
“Uhh, I don’t think we can fit anymore fish in here,” I said as Josh burst out laughing.
We chatted with the man a little longer before he insisted that we exchange phone numbers and meet up again on the lake. He undoubtedly mistook us for angling gurus who could fill a cooler slap full of fish at will—even during a snowstorm.
The drive home was slow as we carefully navigated the winding country roads back to Temple, Georgia. It was dark, but we both couldn’t wait to show off our catch to everyone, especially Papa. His reaction was similar to the man on the lake.
We got back to our grandfather’s house and walked in to find him lounging on his couch watching television.
“Want to see our fish?” we said as soon as we walked through the door.
“Ah, y’all didn’t catch any fish out there today in that mess,” he said in a way that was half intrigued and half suspecting that we were playing a joke on him.
He quickly realized that we weren’t joking when we struggled to lift the weighted cooler out of the boat and onto the ground. Josh opened the cooler’s lid and we both stepped back, admiring our massive catch.
“Man alive!” he exclaimed as he stepped in for a closer look. “How much ice do y’all have in there?!”
“None!” we laughed. “It’s slap full of fish!”
We all counted the fish as we pulled them one by one from the overloaded cooler. A successful fishing trip was usually capped off by a photo of us with our fish laid out on the ground, but my grandfather discouraged us from taking any pictures this time.
“Boys, y’all must not have kept count today because y’all kept way more than your limit,” he laughed, partially reprimanding us for the lapse in judgement. “If the game warden had stopped you, y’all would’a got a bunch of tickets!”
In our fishing frenzy, we had completely forgotten to keep count of our catches. My grandfather and father had unbending ethical standards in everything we did in the outdoors. Breaking the rules was never an option, and my grandfather, though he was highly impressed with our huge catch, didn’t want us to capture any photos because any angler would take one look and clearly recognize that we had gone well over our limit of fish.
Now, you’re probably starting to suspect that this whole story is slightly exaggerated, but Josh and I can attest that it’s completely accurate. I suppose it makes the story better since we don’t have photographic evidence, so it adds a bit of mystique to the tale. Let’s just say the total number was close to triple-digits.
The moral of the story is this: we almost never even went on that fishing trip because we knew that the conditions would be pretty rough. Frigid temperatures, icy water, and snow accumulations would make just about anyone assume that a day fishing on the water would be anything but successful.
Instead of following the crowd and staying home, hoping for another chance to fish with better weather, Josh and I took the trip and it ended up being one that we’ll both never forget. I’m sure that fellow we met on the lake probably remembers us and our cooler to this day.
In all, there is one fishing question that I’ll always answer the same way from now on…
“When is the best time to fish?”
The best time to fish is whenever you can.