Freedom in the Great Outdoors
article by Dan Chason
As we welcome another year of Independence for our country, I cannot help but think back to our Founding Fathers and the reasons that this nation was founded. One word describes it all: freedom. That freedom is never more apparent than when in the great outdoors. If you look around our great state, we are blessed with thousands of acres of public hunting grounds, fishing opportunities and places just to get out and see God’s beauties. If you talk to anyone who has ever been outdoors to any degree, you will undoubtedly hear tall tales and stories. The stories I will tell today are about those most memorable trips that began when I was just a small boy. There is rarely a trip without a story as when you combine the human element into fishing or hunting, Newton’s law will prevail and something is bound to happen. Such was the case when I was first loaded into my stroller by my Dad and taken fishing. Sure enough, the fish were biting and he didn’t notice when my wiggling caused the stroller to roll. Right into the lake. The same nightmare happened to me when my son, Andy was only four years old. I was trying to have a fishing trip with my son with cane poles. Andy wanted to try fishing the cane pole by himself. So, being the mindful parent, I took the hook off and let him thrash the water. After a few minutes of watching this I noticed a very large bass bust the top on some shad, about 15 yards down the bank. I couldn’t stand it. Besides, what could it hurt when Andy doesn’t have a hook on his pole? I walked down and started casting a top water lure at the bass and became somewhat distracted. I still watched behind me as Andy continued to beat the water to death. I guess my attention was more on the bass than him. When I turned again, he was trying to thrash away but his head would turn with his chin coming towards his left shoulder every time he would try to make the cane pole work. I figured he had the line around his neck so I laid my rod down and walked down to fix it. Imagine my horror when I saw that my sharp little boy had figured out he didn’t have any bait and had picked up the second cane pole with a hook and bait to fish. The pulling of his head was due to a hook being impaled in his left cheek. I was horrified. Needless to say, it was a while before he was allowed to fish unsupervised. I never felt so horrible in my life as when the doctor had to pull that hook out of his cheek.
Then there was a trip many years later to Lake Fork. I used to make an annual trip there as we could film at least a show a day on this promised land of fishing. I had located a creek that was literally loaded with shad. I returned there that afternoon and the stars must have aligned just right. We caught over 50 bass on top water baits, up to eight pounds. I had never and haven’t since seen four to eight pound bass schooling. It was a trip to remember.
I love to fish the Ouachita River. I used to spend at least four afternoons a week on it and could pretty much catch a limit with ease. It was in November, when most anglers are getting bows and guns out for hunting season. A friend and I eased up D’Arbonne Bayou and found some current pushing through a flat. Long story short, I had five Bandit crankbaits on my deck with no paint left on them. In a two day period, we caught over 160 bass. We were at the right place at the right time.
Probably the most fun I have ever had fishing was on Lake D’Arbonne. I was 16 years old and could not afford an outboard motor. I had a 15 foot john boat with a Motorguide trolling motor. I was ready to tournament fish. I entered my first tournament and as the other boats blasted away, I trolled over to Stowe Creek. An old pine tree had fallen across a cut so I decided that was a good ambush point. I sat in that one spot all day long and caught 34 bass. I didn’t know that you could only bring five to the scales so I culled down to the state limit of 16 (at the time) and headed to the weigh in….only to be disqualified. No one else was even close to me on size but I had broken the rules. It was a hard lesson learned.
If I had to pick one trip that left a lasting impression on me and was a great boost to my confidence was the first time I ever fished with a true legend. We had booked a trip to fish with Bassmaster’s Classic Champion, Jack Hains on his home lake of Toledo Bend. The fish were hitting one of my favorite lures, a jig. I was so excited as I backed Jack down in my 21 foot Champion with great anticipation and pride. As I left my truck to walk back down to start our adventure, Jack, in his Cajun drawl, brought me back to reality. “Hey, Dan…do you ‘tink dat you might wanna put a plug in ‘dis boat?” I had forgotten to put the plug in my boat and had totally embarrassed myself with someone I had dreamed of spending a day on the water. Not only had I forgotten the plug, I had soaked him and all of our tackle with my stupidity. He laughed about it and said it happened to him all of the time but I knew it was a rookie mistake that made me want to find a rock to climb under. We had a great day and I hung with him which he noted with the best compliment I have ever received: “Dan, you perty good ‘wit ‘dat jig. You are a talented fisherman, so you keep at it.”
Memories abound in the great outdoors and they were made possible by brave men who paved the road for us to enjoy our freedoms. I have been honored to share the boat and blind with some of these brave men, some who paid the ultimate price for our freedoms. In their honor, let us never forget their sacrifices. Some of them I have been blessed with sharing the great outdoors are: Ray Niswanger, Everette Johnson, J.D. Chason, Shorty Hough, Jim Smith, Jay Stone, Jerry Powell and Chad Powell to name a few. Thank you for the memories. I will forever be grateful.