Belly Boating

July 17, 2023 By: Bob Romano

Living here on the east coast, I spend the months of April, May, and the better part of June playing tag with wild trout, fish that require cold, clean water. By Father’s Day, this can become a problem here in the east where the weather becomes oppressive with high humidity and air temperatures in the nineties. It is a time when few self-respecting trout are willing to rise to a fly.

This is when my wife and I pack up our dogs and head to our camp in western Maine for a week or two. I know of other anglerswho abandon their home waters for the salt where they fish for stripers, blues, and weakfish in coastal waters. Still others drive or fly many miles to fish tailwaters that remain cool all year round. A few are even tempted to pull out a spinning rod from the back of the closet, hitch the boat to the pickup and head for the largest lake. There is, however, an alternative to flinging large streamers into the wind blowing off the coast, traveling long distances to a cottage or cabin, or purchasing and maintaining a boat.

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Within easy driving distance from our home are many ponds containing warm-water species eager to slam a fly. For this reason,when not at our camp in western Maine, I spend most summer evenings at a pond, a few minutes from my home. Roughly oval-shaped, it takes only a few minutes to paddle from one side to the other. The water is shallow on one side, with a number of deep holes off the far shore where blueberry bushes grow down to the edge of the bank.

Largemouth bass lurk around submerged stumps at one end while they brood over life’s mysteries between lily pads and reeds at the other. Their mouths are large enough to swallow a softball. They’ll strike at most anything cast their way, the bigger and uglier the pattern the better. They have been known to devour their own kind, as well as frogs and ducklings. Mothers have been cautioned not to allow their little children to play too close to the water’s edge.

On most nights, the fish in this pond are quite accommodating. Bluegills and pumpkinseeds are willing to chase my fly on those rare occasions when bass are off their feed.

The trick is to avoid the timber rattlers that spend sunny afternoons sunning themselves in the field adjacent to the three-acre impoundment.

Last evening, I arrived at the pond a little past seven. It was another humid evening. Overhead, a few cumulus clouds floated nearly motionless in an otherwise powder-blue sky. The sun would not set for at least an hour, maybe longer.

From the scrub pines, I heard the slurred tee-err of a red-winged blackbird. A few swallows circled over the water. A frog croaked along the shoreline. Another hopped into the water as I approached.

In my chest pocket was a small plastic box containing a couple of Woolly Buggers and a few other large bushy patterns tied especially for the big bass I hoped to find. I had tramped through the field, watching where I stepped, doing my best to avoid any encounters of the reptile kind.

Trudging down the planks leading to an old wooden dock, I carried a pair of fins in one hand and a nine-foot graphite fly rod in the other while lugging a belly boat over a shoulder. It was one of the first generation of personal watercraft. Nothing more than a seat stitched across fabric covering an inner tube. The kind you must step into, it has more patches than Carter once had pills.

I placed the tube in the water, holding it steady from the dock. Slipping down into the pond, I lifted my butt to avoid catching a splinter in the Neoprenes that also have their share of patches. My legs dangled in the pleasantly warm water as I slid onto the fabric seat. Stretching over the front of the tube, I struggled to place a rubber fin on each foot, and then, turning the tube around, grabbed the rod from the dock.

With a kick of the flippers, I propelled myself backward while casting toward the weeds along the shoreline. The fly line arched behind my shoulder then swept forward. A bass erupted from the surface, water splashing over waterlillies when I twitched the frog-like pattern knotted to the 3x tippet. In my excitement, I pulled back on the rod prematurely. A moment later the pond returned to its earlier tranquility.

Leaning against the inner tube, I slowly kicked my feet, the fins propelling me backward around the perimeter of the pond. A few painted turtles, their legs stretched outward along logs, took in the last of the sun. Dragonflies hovered over the water. One swung in my direction, staring me eye to eye before contour flying over the pond’s surface. A water snake lifted its head, stared in my direction with ill intent, but then slithered away. Frogs began to croak in earnest.

I can think of no more decadent manner of fishing than to cruise along the shoreline of a familiar pond suspended from a fabric seat attached to an inner tube on such a warm summer evening.

After an hour, the hard edge of my concerns began to blur while I cast toward stumps and patches of nondescript reeds. The ease with which I was able to raise these non-selective fish, and the sheer pleasure of drifting across the pond, eventually dispelled any lingering troubles from earlier in the day. In this manner, the evening progressed effortlessly toward nightfall as I sat, suspended waist-deep within the lukewarm womb of the little impoundment.

In the gloaming, bats zigged and zagged over my head. One mistook my fly for a mosquito on steroids, but at the last moment its expert sonar revealed the error. And with what appeared to be an errant change of course, the tiny pilot darted past the bushy pattern to intercept the genuine article.

Fishing well after dark, I lost count of the fish that battered my flies. Sometime after nine I reluctantly pulled myself onto the dock where I sat looking up at a moonless sky. Overhead I made out the Big Dipper. Following a line from the two stars at the bottom of the dipper, I found the North Star at the tip of the Little Dipper’s handle, and nearby, Cassiopeia, the constellation that appears in the summer sky like a lopsided W. I waited for a meteor to flash across the horizon, but none appeared. On the way back across the field I thought to myself: Only in Spielberg movies.


Excerpted from “Fishing With Faeries” by Robert J. Romano, Jr. Copyright 2002 by Robert J. Romano, Jr. Used with permission of Birch Brook Press, and slightly modified for this essay.