Really, it totally depends on how you look at it. Either we took a long storied tradition and proved it's really just a fisherman's tale, or we missed out on a day that truly would have been epic.
Anytime you can land a ride in a guide's boat on his day off, you don't turn it down. Two hundred and twenty days a year, people pay for that chance. And a beautiful day was expected.
Per the weatherman's best guess, it would be a great day to be outside - the perfect Spring day. I left the house early, and in a rush. Scrambling to get the coffee going and my contacts in my eyes, the dog nipping at my ankles trying to get a morning treat after sniffing the bushes in the backyard. As the sun began to fill our bedroom, I reached for the first pair of pants I could find, threw them on, grabbed some socks and a couple of long sleeve shirts and bounded down the stairs. I filled the Hydroflask with a triple shot espresso, grabbed some ice for the cooler and headed out to the garage. Tossing the last few things in the car, the sun stopped peaking over the horizon and quickly filled the sky. Before I knew it, I was rolling in to Warner Bridges.
As I rolled in, Austin appeared around the bend and hopped in. Bill was waiting at Bird Park, drift boat loaded and ready to roll. As we met Bill, I quickly noticed neither happened to be wearing their waders. "It's gonna be beautiful," Austin said. "Whatdaya need waders for?" At that exact moment, I couldn't have agreed more. But quickly a realization came over me - I was wearing my work pants. Business casual, heavy cotton slacks - exactly what you don't want to be wearing on a drift boat for a warm day of fishing in the sun. Suddenly I was hoping my Lucky Brand khakis were just that, lucky.
As we got the rest of the boat packed up, Bill was the first to notice. One of the most superstitious rules in the fly fishing world was broken - a banana had made it's way on board. I won't point fingers, but it's presence was immediately feared, mocked and laughed at all at once. Some of us tried to fight it, hesitating to get in the boat. But it was what it was, and had already been tossed on board. Our fate was sealed, or was it?
As we made our way down river, we jockeyed from one side of the river to the next, with Austin sliding us from hole to hole, looking for prime water. Strip, strip, strip, pick up, re-cast. Strip, strip, strip, pick up, re-cast. The thing about streamer fishing is what it does to my heart. I can't speak for you, but with every strip, I'm hoping to feel the tug. The anticipation building from cast to cast, I truly expect a fish to be in every perfect spot, and hope every good cast is awarded. It wouldn't be too late in the day before my desire for a tug was satisfied, the skunk was knocked off the boat and we could forget about the curse of the banana and focus on finding "the" pattern for the day.
A nice fat smallie rolled on my streamer, putting a nice big bend in my Fenwick six weight. It was great, the first fish on my new, classic fiberglass rod and a my first smallie of the year. With a fish on the board, I busted out the powdered donuts and someone ate their banana. And that's when things turned on.
Bill, chilling in the back of boat, decided to flip the switch. It wasn't before long that it seemed like I was merely inviting the smallies to the dance, but Bill was filling their dance card. From the front of the boat, I couldn't have been happier. It's fun watching someone catch the biggest smallmouth of their life, and then doing the same thing with the next fish. The kid was on fire!
With every cast and oar stroke, Austin and Bill put on a clinic. Austin showing us the best parts of the river, hitting the best holes, rowing upstream to help me get my streamer out of the trees, and Bill was picking fish out of every run it seemed. From alongside the boat, to inches from the shore, in deep holes and on shallow banks, Bill had it zeroed in.
It's days like these where I tend to wish the river wouldn't end, the pull out would just stay another mile down stream. The fish were biting, the conversation and laughs were flowing and the weather was outstanding. Just the kind of day you'd order up, given the chance. And best of all, the Kankakee hippos stayed just downstream of us. Or were they staying just ahead of Bill, waiting for us to slip up? But in the end, the question still remains - had we debunked the myth of the banana, or was a great day tempered by a storied curse? I'll go with the former and stand confident that with the right guide and fishing partner, the fish will be found.