By Jim McGuire
October is the month of the Full Hunter’s Moon. The designation originated with those tribes of Native Americans who inhabited the region from the Upper Great Lakes and eastward into New England. Newly arrived Colonials heard them use such names when employing their nature-centered system of lunar cycles to track the seasons.
The names made obvious sense. For example, both cultures viewed this period of cooling temperatures and falling leaves as the year’s premier hunting time. Mast was now abundant and game animals such as whitetail deer were feeding vigorously. The prime opportunity to secure meat for the larder — vital fat and protein necessary to survive the coming winter.
Of course, neither settlers nor Indians were into stream-fishing for smallmouth. A pity, because they might have instead called this timeframe the Full Bronzeback Moon … though as Shakespeare succinctly observed, what’s in a name?
Those of us who long ago devolved into incorrigible bronzeback fanatics already know there’s simply no finer time to be a’stream than during these early weeks of October. And the reasoning stirring a salivating angler is exactly the same as it was for those hunters — the fish and fishing are now at their absolute peak.
Ideal water conditions.
Plus, like icing on a cake — the stunning seasonal setting as bankside scenery morphs through its autumnal kaleidoscope of changing leaf colors.
A day’s fishing action typically covers the gamut from splendid to sublime! In fact, I don’t see how an even mildly capable angler could fail to enjoy a banner outing. It’s practically impossible to not catch fish.
Make a cast, give your lure a crank or two. You feel an abrupt jolt, strike, and hook-up. Suddenly your rod is bending into an energized circle as the water’s surface simultaneously erupts. A few yards away, a feisty smallmouth starts leaping and somersaulting and tailwalking all over the pool — taking you on another rousing piscatorial waltz.
That’s the typical drill. One fish follows another. So many you lose count. I regularly come home bone tired and giddy with success.
October never lasts long enough!
Which is why, on a recent misty morning, I parked the truck along a familiar rural backroad, grabbed my fishing gear, and carefully made my way a hundred yards downhill through dew-soaked underbrush to the graveled banks of the upper Stillwater.
The water was moving seductively, not too low, a pale translucent jade shot through with sunlight which sparkled off time-worn stones a foot below the surface near the head of the riffle. I had to make myself slow down and breathe.
Some might think this an odd destination choice — a sort of busman’s holiday — since I live on the Stillwater. A few hours hence, and some thirty miles downstream, this very same water would be flowing past my modest stone cottage. With less effort than it takes to amble uphill to my roadside mailbox, I can exit the front door, cross the deck, descend a few steps to the water’s edge — and fish a dandy bass hole below a big riffle.
Why make the drive?
Because fishing is about more than creeling fish—though catching certainly lies at the endeavor’s heart. Central, yes, important, yes … but only part of the impetus that motivates an angler to visit a certain stretch of water.
Rivers and creeks are individuals, each with its own personality — an accumulation of strengths and weaknesses and quirks. And as you ply their waters and begin to learn them down to an ever-finer level, those various portions become even more pronounced.
The three-quarter mile bit of water I’d chosen was one I’ve fished for decades. There’s something magical about this particular series of pools and riffles, its bends and channels and sycamore-lined banks. It speaks to me, charms and welcomes me. I feel a comfortable bond.
Like all old friends we share a history — one which includes a wealth of memories compiled during past October days. Memories I also needed to revisit … maybe as much as I needed the actual fishing action.
I stepped into the current and picked out a submerged root-tangle target for my first cast. Through some mysterious revelation of angling presentience, I knew the day ahead would be extraordinary.
But then, the outcome was never in doubt. It was, after all, the time of Bronzeback Moon.
Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at [email protected]