The bass seemed even bigger on its second spectacular leap. I was desperately trying to devise a strategy for landing this magnificent fish when I became aware of a canoe sliding up close to my skiff.
"Take in slack. Don't apply too much pressure, young man. Drop your rod tip." The advice was delivered in a nasal Back Bay accent with broad a's and long o's. I heard but didn't look. Nor did I listen. I wanted the victory to be all mine.
Riding the bass gingerly via the wispy leader and frail hook, I watched the infuriated fish continue its acrobatics all over its favorite corner of Coonamessett Pond. But with each run and jump, the bass showed less determination. I even regained the backing and, at last, some of the heavy fly line. I railed silently at the slowness of the single-action fly reel, then gasped as I saw a loop of the line fall over the hornlike prong of the oarlock that I should have remembered to ship earlier. Miraculously, with my left hand, I was able to slip the line free as the huge shape in the lake's translucent subsurface ran again from the skiff.
Suddenly it dawned on me: I had no landing net.
A picture has long been etched in my mind by the innumerable illustrations I have seen of an angler, arced rod held high, net low in the water, guiding a fish effortlessly into captivity. The unfortunate situation in which I found myself didn't fit that idealized image at all. Even as I gained on the tiring bass, I was all thumbs and barked knuckles from the furiously rotating handle of the fly reel. I desperately tried to figure a way to get the smallmouth into the skiff.
Keeping pressure on the big bass as the patrician in the canoe had advised, I finally brought it alongside my boat. Up close, it appeared even larger. The fish was also clearly exhausted. I sat down on the thwart of the skiff and started groping in the direction of the bass's gill plate. Suddenly, in an unanticipated burst of renewed energy, the fish thrashed again. I looked on in disbelief as the leader, which had looped itself over the oarlock once more, snapped.
The fish flashed me a parting salute with its gleaming golden-olive side as it slowly vanished back into the safe depths of Coonamessett Pond.
"Good show!" The voice in the canoe complimented me. "What a dickens of a spot. Awfully tough with no landing net...." The private school accent trailed off as the canoe disappeared behind the hilly point, leaving behind a tiny wake along with the faint aroma of rich Union Boat Club pipe tobacco.
I cursed the oarlock and my ineptness and my failure. Remaining motionless for a long time in the skiff, I watched the sun go down below the surrounding trees.