Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Stubborn angler quickly learns small changes make huge difference

Woodstock’s Bob Clark shows off a beautiful 19-inch-plus smallmouth bass caught on a tip from Billy Heim of the Night Prowler Guide Service. (Photo by Steve Sarley)

By Steve Sarley

Contributing Writer


I have been fishing for a very long time. I tend to get very stubborn about the things I do, and resist change quite frequently. As the old saying goes, You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.


Well, I recently had a revelation that will hopefully change the way I do things and make a better fisherman out of me.


I was recently invited to an annual outing for regular members and media representatives organized by the Lake Geneva Fishing Club. I know Geneva is in Wisconsin, but I hope you remember that I always maintained that it should be claimed as part of Illinois. I now believe that even more so, since our rotund Governor, J.B. Pritzker, seems to send more time recreating there than he does in the state that elected him.


Anyway, the club has a drawing in which two anglers are chosen to spend the day in the boat with the guide the group has hired. Another winner is chosen to follow the guide boat in his own craft.


This year, Billy Heim of the Night Prowler Guide Service was hired to be the day’s host guide. I’ve never fished with Billy before, but I have enjoyed the experience of meeting him and talking to him on the water occasionally.


We launched out of Williams Bay in my friend Bob Clark’s Lund. Bob is from Woodstock and we were joined by Dave Davis. We caught a few small perch to use for bait and went to a deep reef in search of smallmouth bass. I immediately hooked into a good fish. We never saw it clearly, only an impressive silhouette in the water, before it became separated from my perch. The story of my life, I guess. I lost a couple more and it was time for the group to assemble on the water around Billy Heim’s boat for some tips.


Billy is a great educator and an entrancing speaker. If you don’t get excited hearing Billy Heim talk about fishing, you must have something the matter with you.


Billy talked about how he and his pair of anglers had been catching smallies, huge gills and walleyes using four-pound fluorocarbon leaders and on-third pieces of nightcrawlers on drop-shot rigs. He said that he would catch twice as many fish on four-pound than six-pound. He also told the group that a half-nightcrawler was too big. He said that the crawler piece needed to be hooked through the nose. Days previously, he was hooking the worms though the middle of the piece, but the fish had changed their desires and were now only hitting the ones that were hooked through the head. 


I sat there thinking that he was crazy. I couldn’t believe that the fish were that particular and were so finicky that the small changes made that much of a difference.


While Heim spoke, Davis and Bob Clark switched their presentations to drop-shit rigs with six-pound mono and put small crawler pieces on their hooks. As Heim talked, Davis caught a bluegill. I mean a real BLUEGILL! The thing was at least nine inches long. I mean a real nine-inches on a ruler, not the nine-inches some people attribute to gills that are only seven-inches in reality. Davis hooked and reeled in another gill the same size and then another.


Suddenly, Bob Clark’s rod doubled over, and he became engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a really big fish. He won the fight and led a beautiful 19-one-half-inch smallmouth bass into Davis’ waiting net.


The beauty of these catches was that they were all done in the middle of a group of a dozen boats that were listening to Heim give his instructions. It was a living example of Billy Heim’s little impromptu seminar. The timing could not have been better.


The group dispersed and everyone went off to use Billy’s tips in their favorite spots on Geneva. 


The bottom line is that my day was awful. I caught next to nothing at all for the rest of the trip. Davis and Clark continued to land huge bluegills, some very nice smallies and a few northern pike with Clark getting one over 31-inches.


What was my problem? First of all, I was using rods that were tipped with fluoro, but it was 10-pound, not Heim’s recommended 4-pound. Clark and Davis used 6-pound because that was what they had. I had a spool of 4-pound in my bag, but I was too stubborn to change. I absolutely refused to believe that a small difference in line weight could make that much difference.


I also put a small leech on my drop-shot hook as bait. I always say that no fish can resist a tiny leech that is fresh and lively. Well, the fish on Geneva certainly could resist my leeches. I didn’t get a bite on a leech.


That’s my story, my friends. A long day on the water with nothing to show for it besides a pretty intense sunburn. My stubbornness bit me squarely on the behind. I told Billy Heim my story and thanked him for making me realize that I need to be more flexible in the future and not be so set in my ways. When I get the chance to learn from the best, I need to be able to adapt to the things I learn rather than sticking with my own losing ways.



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