Good Sport: The improved clinch

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Anthony Harrisonby Anthony Harrison

Thread the line through the eye of the hook. Turn the tag end of the line around the standing end five or six times. Pass the tag end of the line through the small loop near the eye, then through the bigger loop on the line. Moisten and tighten the knot; cut the excess line.

That’s how you tie an improved clinch, one of the simplest yet most reliable knots in fishing. My father taught me how to tie it when I was a young boy.

Until May 20, I had not been fishing in three-and-a-half years. No matter: I walked through the woods near my house to the large pond on the old Jefferson-Pilot property in southwest Greensboro as if I hadn’t missed a day.

Walking down the disused paved road through a tunnel of trees, you come to the pond at the bottom of a hill. The southern side of the pond is basically a shallow cove, shaded by immense hardwoods. The undergrowth creeps all the way to the shore; you have to watch closely for poison ivy, but the sweet aroma of honeysuckle tickles your nostrils.

I strategized under the shade. The pond is pretty weedy, so I decided on a plastic twitch bait — a vaguely fish-shaped lure about five inches long that could pass through the vegetation without getting snagged.

I had been worried about not remembering how to tie an improved clinch, but my fears were unfounded. Without hesitation, I cut the line with my pocketknife — engraved with my father’s initials, which are the same as mine — and tied the knot the way my dad taught me 20 years ago.

Casting is quite like throwing a ball. You have to follow through, and after you let the line fly, you’re basically pointing exactly where you intend your lure to go. The cove is rather small, though, and I was testing the waters, so finesse and accuracy wasn’t really on my mind; I just threw that sucker as far as I could toward the opposite shore.

It seems that, to so many people, fishing can be simple recreation. However, I think of it as solace.

I fished almost every damn day when I was a kid. Growing up in northwest Greensboro, our nearest neighbors had a small pond on their property, and they let me use their johnboat. I caught beautiful bass there for years, snagged boatloads of crappie at the drain near the dam on the far side and nearly fished the bluegill population to extinction, catching dozens at a time with tiny Prince nymphs on a lightweight fly rod. I would stay on that pond for hours, from the time I got back from school until sundown or when I’d hear the sound of my mom calling my name echo from the woods separating our property.

Fishing helped me forget the social rejection at the hands of my elementary school peers; it was my way to recharge.

Still, while it is peaceful, fishing is quite like hunting. You have to stalk your quarry, and you have to be able to change your tactics.

After working the cove without luck, I realized it was time to re-strategize. The bass in the shallows were too small to strike the lure, and they seemed only idly curious. Then again, it was the middle of the day and very hot.

The heat was oppressive outside of the shade, which is where I moved after about 30 minutes.

The pond curves north and a large meadow with tall grass juts into the water and leads to the dam. The shore once had a lot of brush along the banks, but developers doing some mysterious project with the Jefferson-Pilot property cleared the area a few years back.

I was surprised when I saw bream beds lining the shallows all the way to the dam.

Bream — a generalized term for any small panfish like bluegills — spawn in small, bowl-shaped beds. They look like moon craters pocked in the lake bottom. Nearly every single one was guarded by its own bull bream, who circled the beds and chased away any fish brave enough to approach.

It was time to change tactics. There was no way a bream could strike the lure I had currently tied on, so I rooted through my tackle box and pulled out a black Rooster Tail — a small, inline spinnerbait fitted with an oval piece of metal and a feathery skirt around the hook.

They tend to devastate bream, but due to both the heat and the spawn, the bream weren’t hitting. Fish become single-minded during the spawn, thinking only of protecting their eggs; typically, you can only catch them if you annoy them enough. You must be patient and persistent.

Eventually, as I worked a shady spot near the shore, I saw a flash as a fish dashed some 10 feet and slammed my Rooster Tail.

The fish fought hard, surprisingly bobbing my medium-strength rod, and even tore some line off the reel. But I drew him in after a minute. The fish was a pumpkinseed — a brightly colored bream a little bigger than my hand, spotted with bright cyan and slashes of orange.

I released the fish, and he retreated to his bed. I walked back to the house, sunbaked, dripping sweat and satisfied.

It had been three years since I caught a fish. I felt like I was back home.