The teeth marks tell the story, Hopefully, the bourbon helps communicate that story.
Under a glowing lamp in my home, I’m surrounded by stories. Personified in various shapes, colors and profiles, these artificial lures bear the brunt of a deep, fishing underbelly located just below the surface. Through epoxied eyes, we’ve exposed them with good intent to some of the most savage and violent things. They wear the scars.
One bait in particular stands out: a very colorful Floating Corky Fat Boy, aptly named Texas Turnip. From the faint pink presence on its upper half to a glowing yellow chin, this bait looks fishy. However, it’s most notable feature is the distinct violet stripe running down its dorsal. To a big-trout angler, profile and capability generally wins over color — at least from what I’ve seen — but this one is a little different. The Corky’s famous exaggerated eye glares emotionless, and the blend of colors command a presence, so off she goes to the business end of a loop knot.
We often hear that fishing transcends time; I wouldn’t argue otherwise. I still remember my dehydrated fingers configuring that knot and the gentle easterly breeze kissing my cheeks. Although nautical twilight was well under way, the cloudless sky made you question whether it was Texas or some flat located on the west side of heaven — jaw-dropping being the understatement.
Fat Boy findings
For years, I’ve fished Floating Fat Boys and, more often than not, I’ve considered them a complimentary bait to wary fish uncommitted to topwater baits. That day, however, I learned their distinct and precise capability: big profile, skinny water and super-aggressive fish.
In the days leading up to this trip, life’s questions started to mount. A pandemic environment with social unrest looming, it was only fitting that a distant hurricane located in the northern Gulf brought water levels up, well beyond their mean. Bogged down by my own personal thoughts, I yearned for clarity, so off I went.
As I slid into my waders, I debated whether I should target deeper structure or focus my efforts up shallow. Remaining indecisive, a small slick out deep was the apparition I needed. The searing smell of watermelon quickened the pace of my pursuit, and my lure choice of a small soft plastic was the investigator for hire. Admittedly, I’m no stranger to this area, but given the fact it was early summer, my decisions went fully uncommitted. After almost an hour, with a few dink trout and an eager, young redfish, I quickly thought that the previous apparition was some sort of twisted joke crafted by the devil himself. Unlike him though, I remained true to my convictions to a higher power and believed that some big fish were up skinny — I had faith.
Making the change
For years, I’ve always wade-fished with two rods. I keep telling myself that it’s easier and more efficient to wade with just one, but year after year, I feel that subjecting myself to such clumsiness is worth the effort. In short, today was that day. As I abandoned the deep stuff, I swapped my finesse gear for something with a little more power. Now, soundly wedged between me and my wade belt, I unsheathed the Texas Turnip.
Corky Fat Boys are so unique. Their pliability, density and hardware are unmatched in the saltwater world. Nose and tail bends applied by anglers up and down the coast from Virginia to Texas match not only their persona but the fish’s as well. On this day, I chose a slight downward tail bend with a perfectly straight nose so I could keep the bait just above the grass in the water column. As I gave her one more quality check, her eyes and bright, shiny red hooks screamed, “Put me in, Coach!”
Take stock of surroundings
With the wind at my back, I methodically threw onto a shelf lined with lush sea grass. Mullets skipped happily nearby, but as the sun sank, carefree quickly turned to a matter of survival. Dinner-plate sized slicks earmarked those less fortunate, their oily residue a target for my lure to explore.
With more and more falling victim to a roaming wolf pack, the thump that followed made me question my bait’s willingness to subject itself to such a savage world. Although it came back empty, the back hook neatly placed above the loop knot certainly remains one of the angling world’s great mysteries.
Now realigned and my slack reeled in, I made another cast, 10 feet to the left of the previous one. A two-twitch cadence and a slightly elevated rod tip, I hear her trash-talking on the descent. This time not so lucky, a healthy 28-inch trout finds extreme offense to her communication style. With remarkable dissent, she hits the bait so hard that the braided line jumps, sending a shock wave all the way to your spine.
For more than 30 years, I’ve targeted trout, getting more serious with every passing day. I can assure you that the “thump” is the apex of a trophy trout fishing world. A myriad of lures in my fishing kingdom try to emulate, with some getting close, but my Corkys, both active and retired, stare down their counterparts with undeniable bravado. After all, they’ve been exposed to the meanest of the mean without backing down.
Face the turbulence
With sunlight completely gone and multiple fish over 25 inches to include that 28, mosquitos encourage my retreat to fully functioning air conditioning. No doubt I found my clarity that evening. Even in the waves of the smallest bay, turbulence both in life and in fishing is always overcome by standing tall, being honest and always trusting that something larger than yourself is in control — trust being the key word.
As for the bourbon? It’s a smooth Texas single barrel that has a great finish, but sadly, the ice has melted, and it’s all but gone, minus one sip. As I look around, peering through the downward light, the lures hanging on my wall all have stories to tell. This one in particular, though, was not just about big trout pulled up on a shallow flat, or a Floating Corky Fat Boy, but about courage and how we navigate this unsettled world. The parallel here is that we share many of the same scars from our earthly life: ours being above and theirs below. It’s when we go fishing that our worlds collide, and we gain greater perspective as to our purpose in life. Even though I don’t envy my lures and the situations I put them in, they may argue the same — it’s all about understanding. This day was all about clarity and the teeth marks communicate that. Hopefully, the bourbon found the words.