By Steve Chaconas
In this fast paced world with email, Instagram, and social media posts, there’s nothing like a 6 hour fishing trip to get reacquainted with high school classmates. Fort Hunt High School was a huge school. Our class of 1973 had nearly 650 graduates. Alumni from all over the country gather every year to stay in touch at an annual reunion at Fort Hunt Park and via social media. A couple of us reunite on the Potomac River for an annual fishing trip.
During our school years, we all fished. Why not, with the Potomac River right up the street. But then the river was nasty, polluted with forever contaminants and fresh raw sewage. But by the time we were in the waning years of school days, the river cleaned up. My buddies Duel Ballard and Keith Salo moved out of the area but maintained contact with those who just couldn’t leave the Alexandria suburbs. In the 70s Duel spent several years on the Fort Hunt Crew team, rowing up and down the river. Duel and Keith grew up in the oldest part of Fort Hunt territory, Hollin Hall. In fact, our baby boomer classmates provided a steady flow of students into one of the best high schools in the country. Nearly every home housed a Federal or future Federal. Most of them enjoyed fishing.
Flash forward to 0600 on a July morning, the same guys who couldn’t get up to go to school on time were at the dock ready to fish. We all anticipated a wonderful day, regardless of Mother Nature. But today she cooperated with fantastic weather and decent fishing. But, let’s face it, we weren’t out on the Potomac just to fish. We sped through 50 years chatting about our friends, teachers and even the old local businesses. Lots had changed, but not us. We picked up where we had left off. Stories came out rapid fire, followed by a chorus of “I remember that!” A few times we just couldn’t remember, even with a little help from our friends.
Our classmates who had passed on were remembered as if they were still with us, receiving accolades for whatever mischief they had gotten into. They were put on special pedestals for us to highlight those years. Many of our stories also included fishing trips or our favorite old lures. Other stories also mentioned our fishing mentors who got us into this fun game. Of course, we briefly provided health updates with the latest lab results and surgeries but stopped short of comparing scars. Keith and I don’t have kids, so that left Duel free to chat about his, but also of his new family and his 6 year old daughter.
Mixed in were updates on our careers and lives, and in my case how many jobs I’d been fired from. Keith had gone into law enforcement, Duel and I had many careers, too numerous to detail. But it was the jobs where we got to work with former classmates hat were the most interesting and entertaining. Keith and I had worked at Belle Haven Country Club, where many of our classmates picked up summer or part time employment. One story involved eggs and another classmate, Steve Gahart. By this time, we were fishing but not really focused until fish interrupted the conversation and we had to stop for photos. And then we had to figure out the best position for a selfie and how to work the phone camera. We were able to tell stories, just not so good at using electronic devices for selfies. I think the fish hooked themselves just to come on board to meet us.
Of course, we chatted about the girls, all of them grandmas by now, but still youthful in our minds. We were complimentary to all of them, although I don’t remember that we discussed their academic achievements. There were many, “Have you heard from what’s her name?” With no response, we would jump to the next one until we had some kind of update.
What took us 50 years to accumulate, we went through all of our memories in just 6 hours. They might not have been the best ones, but they were the only ones we remembered. We went way beyond what electronic media would allow. Our colorful stories could only be told in our captive environment without outside interruption. As my phone rang, I answered with, “I’m at the office right now, can I call you later?” Those were the fastest 6 hours I’ve spent in a long time. Probably 50 years worth and we did it without a single beer.
Potomac River Bassing in August
Hit the mats. Grass beds are getting thicker now, and fish are in them. There are two solid techniques for getting them to come out.
Hollow bodied frogs are effective as they cover water. Gamma Torque braid in 50-60 pound test is a must! At least a 7 foot medium heavy to heavy rod and a fast casting-reel are required for effective hook sets and for winching fish out of thick grass. Also bend the hooks open just a bit for better hook ups. Cast over grass and twitch the frogs to entice bass to bust through the grass to eat them. Once the fish has the bait, do not count to ten! Set the hook straight up.
The other technique is a bit more tedious but very effective. Punching mats refers to a heavy tungsten weight, 1 ounce or more, pegged to a stout hook with a small plastic crawfish. These are pitched to either small openings or shaken to drop to the fish below the grass mats.
Either method produces big fish. But don’t forget to use swim jigs and bladed jigs on 16 pound test Gamma Edge fluorocarbon.
Author Capt. Steve Chaconas is Potomac bass fishing guide. Potomac River reports: nationalbass.com. Book trips/purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com.