White Oak Mountain Ranger: Waders In May

  • Friday, May 12, 2023

“Rapid and repeated probing, so typical of these wading birds, is thought to allow them to build up a composite three-dimensional image of food items hidden in the sand.” - Tim Birkhead

“My momma used to say that a girl had to find her prince after wading through the frogs.” - Shelly Crane

Being in the water at first light in May is something truly special. Read; not on the water, but In the water. In the water is radically different from say, standing in flooded timber, in January. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Easing into May waters before the sun rises is anything other than extra ordinary if you’re wearing waders, especially when the waders don’t leak; even when they do seep a little, the warmth of May’s water is kinder and gentler than the previous one hundred days of water.

Over belly button deep, daylight May water offers a series of unique sensations. What is it that dredges up this one faintly familiar but strangely odd sensation? Chest deep brings an almost overwhelming sense of a different feeling about pressure. It’s difficult to define this slightly bewildering and pressurized sensation in its surrounding warmth as it engulfs your torso. The feeling never stays with you too long, but you sense the oddness of it immediately.

Maybe it is the fact that we all spent somewhere around nine months in someone’s womb at one time or another. Maybe it is the weirdness of being engulfed in warm spring water and subtle pressure that conjures up an old, or strangely faint remembrance of life, spent in some dark womb. What else could it be?

It is probably a little bit of a stretch to liken slipping into some patch of water in May; and likening the pressure of the water on your waterproofed clad belly; summoning feelings of life in a womb. But, for now, in the steel gray light of a new day, I can’t come up with any other plausible reason for the unique sensation, belly-button deep, warm and pressurized.

I never much cared for the boat rides in the pre-dawn. Fast rides in the dark, hunting for some remote duck blind could be tolerated, but they have never been necessarily enjoyed. Paranoia and duck boat rides are something you just have to strive to overcome.

Fast boat rides in the dark, in May, always seem to be accompanied by some new and heightened level of dread. Running blind over some unseen log or stump, followed by the horrifying vision of the transom giving way and the outboard motor flopping into the backseat, weed eating everyone in sight seems to be a horrifying vision I sometimes have trouble shaking.

Maybe having an outboard motor eating your lunch is just a bad dream, but in May, its best to wait until you can actually see what you’re chopping up when you’re having to get wherever you think you need to get to, in a fast boat, in the dark.

High speed fishing is not really all that necessary in May anyway. A good pair of waders will pretty much take you where the fish are tight to the flooded shore during this fishing month. May offers an excellent opportunity to slow it all down to a crawl. Walking the edges of the flooded yellow weeds, cattails and buck brush is about as fast as anybody needs to go in May.

Slowing it down gives you time to listen to the rhythm of bull frogs and the thrashing of the gar and carp in the weeds. Red wing blackbirds loudly show off their red shoulder patches like their red arm bands could adorn some high ranking military uniform. Great Blue Herons stalk patiently and with silent stealth ahead, with long, bent necks. Overhead the Osprey soars singing in lazy circles waiting to stoop and steal from the Heron. Downy geese slide by in small flotillas, big bird leading and big bird following, looking all the while like some small armada.

May is, without a doubt, the month of the aggressive big bass, bedded, tending the shallows with next years age class of largemouths. A soft rain is definitely optimal for wrestling the largest, knee deep in the slowly staining water. Feeder streams gushing slow runoff stack up with hungry fish. And, any all day rain makes it easier be a stealthy wader like the bird.

Moving more heron-like allows you to spot the dished beds of the shellcracker and bream. Standing in one spot can fill a fish basket as long as just about any wad of worms or crickets hold out. There’s something almost mystical about watching a bobber disappear at every cast. The multi-hued purple and green fish in hand lights up even the cloudiest rainy day.

Some can’t take the time to fillet a basket of these colorful and protective, hand-long creatures. Some just fish for the circular battle on light tackle. Maybe catch and release has some merit. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the concept of releasing fish as long as a hand, but it still may have some amount of merit in some places in May. Some can eat their weight in fried bluegill fillets.

May can be considered to have been created for those that can fillet fish for hours. May more than likely was born for those that fry hushpuppies and panfish.

I’m still not sure that wading the shore of some warm body of water in May should illicit the odd sensations that may have possibly come from the long months spent in a womb. It’s probably best not to belabor the point. But, if that’s not it, what is it about wading belly deep in May?

“Especially when you live in the Southern US of A. winter is a novelty season, a niche job. Winter wonderland? Forget about it! You were more likely to spend it in the wading pool. One horse open sleigh? Forget about it! Unless that sleigh was a trashcan lid and that horse was a 4-wheeler.” - J. V. Roberts

WOMR Note; Yesterday, at a quiet and remote boat ramp, I chatted with two shellcracker experts in a beat-up old Jon boat who declared the day to be a very a slow day. They said they only caught 30. The day before they claimed they caught 80. They proudly showed me photographic evidence of a 13 incher that weighed 1.5 pounds. They had no idea what turned the fish off yesterday. They said they just fished for the fun of it and every fish they hauled into the boat was released and all of the females were still full of eggs. They explained that they didn’t care for the chore of cleaning fish, but they didn’t mind messing with night crawlers.


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