Work could not have gone by any slower. The second hand on the clock probably would have lost a race with a snail. The forecast called for a warm and mostly calm night and the topwater bite was in full swing. It was mid-June and I was ready to begin my annual three month stint of night fishing for bass on various lakes in northern and eastern WV. I enjoy all species of fish and types of fishing but really look forward to the summertime night bite. Not only are the strikes often times violent and loud, the gear is significantly narrowed down so I don’t have to pack as much with me. One well packed topwater box and a couple of rods are all I usually take. On this day, just like many others, the car was loaded down before work so as soon as the clock struck 5pm; the car and kayak on top of it were in route to hit the water.
After being on the road for over an hour, I finally made it to the lake. It was a couple of hours until dark still and I arrived to find a few people bank fishing for bluegill, bass, and catfish. A couple of others were out on this part of the lake fishing as well, one in a kayak and another in a jon boat. I rigged my rods and shoved the kayak off. The sun was still high in the sky so I opted to throw a purple-skirted spinnerbait and a pearl colored fluke. I worked the banks and some structure for the next couple of hours and brought several largemouth bass to hand. Most were your average 8-14” bass but I did manage a couple of bigger ones in the 14-17” class. As the sun began to drop behind the distant ridge top, the lake seemed to come alive. With darkness falling, the bass in the lake came out from their hiding places and were taking full advantage of the various types of baitfish the lake had to offer. It was a typical summer evening you see just about anywhere on any lake in Appalachia. Nice and warm, frogs croaking back and forth at each other, gnats biting every inch of exposed skin, and yes, the near constant sounds of fish splashing the top of the water. And so it began.
I paddled back to my car and swapped out my “daytime” lure boxes for my lone “nighttime” topwater box. It’s a standard 10 compartment clear plastic flat style storage box that will hold anywhere from 15-30 topwater lures, depending on their size. Through experience, I’ve learned that the fish in most of the lakes in this region like walk the dog style baits and the classic buzz bait at night. I tied one of each onto each of my two rods. I put my pfd back on, loaded up the kayak with the topwater box, bug spray, a couple of lights, a net, and back out on the water I went.
It was an awesome couple of hours of night fishing, I’ll tell you that. I didn’t catch any large bass but the catching was almost silly. Once I found the part of the lake the bass were most active in, it was non-stop…until about 11pm. At that point, the bite abruptly stopped. I’ve never really figured out why bass do this at night but it happens. During the day, bass will stop biting all of a sudden too but you can usually tie it to something directly weather related such as the sun coming out when it had been cloudy, temperature rising or dropping sharply, etc. On a nice, clear, calm, and warm night though, there is not much changing. I started changing baits but ultimately still kept getting hits on the Heddon brand Zara Spook I was throwing so I kept it tied on.
I was at that point in the night where I was talking myself into getting ready to leave. I had already done my fair share of catching, it was getting closer to midnight, I still had to work the next day, and I still had an hour plus trip back home ahead of me. You know how stuff always happens when you least expect it? Well, that’s EXACTLY when it happened. During a generic cast to a generic area of the lake, something decided to follow my lure in and eat it beside my kayak. Without warning, right as I was pulling the lure out of the water to make another cast, I saw this “thing” come of the water and grab the lure, making a gigantic splash at just two feet from the edge of my kayak. Insert near heart attack. My immediate and completely by surprise rationale was that I had just hooked a beaver, even though I saw the head of the fish eat the lure. In those kinds of moments, you don’t exactly think straight.
After a few seconds of fighting the fish and a couple of airborne jumps later, I realized that this was no beaver, or largemouth bass for that matter. It was a musky, and a good one at that. Not a giant, but for a kayak at night it was quite the fight. Now, I’ve caught a number of musky from a kayak but all in the daylight and all mostly intentional. At night, unexpected and boat side, it was a whole different ball game. After I calmed myself down and mentally realized what was happening, I played the fish the best I could with the bass gear I had. A minute or two later the fish was worn out and close enough for me to net. Luckily the net I use is a little larger, just in case I catch a giant bass, so the musky fit pretty decently in it. Upon getting the fish in the net, I saw that the lure’s back hook was perfectly placed in the side of the musky’s lip. With the hook being there, the fish’s razor sharp teeth dodged the 15lb test line for the most part and kept it from breaking off the lure. I was only a few yards from the bank so I paddled over to it with one arm, keeping the fish in the water the whole time with the other arm. I made it to the bank, set up my self timer camera on a rock, snapped a quick picture, grabbed a quick measurement, and back into the water the fish went. A quick recovery by the musky and off it swam to be caught again by someone else.
After all that excitement, I decided at that point in the night that I was satisfied enough to leave. I loaded up the car, drank a couple bottles of water to re-hydrate, and was in bed a couple of hours later, still thinking about that beaver-turned-musky that almost gave me a heart attack. My friends and I would ultimately get a good laugh out of the whole event. It is memories and stories like this one that keep me going back to the sport every day. You just never know what’s going to happen!