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Red Sky at Night with JB Cornwell | Stealth Fishing
Article courtesy of JB Cornwell

I think it was Uncle Jim Willis that first showed me how to sneak up on fish.

We often fished for bluegills on spawning beds very close to the shore. The fish could see us if we just walked up and dropped a worm or cricket on them. They would just ignore our offerings.

Jim would place his bait, with a small bobber, in the bed, put his pole down and walk away. He would sit down several feet away and watch the bobber. Sooner or later the bobber would bob. Jim would then walk up and land his catch.

That didn’t work with larger fish. They would feel the hook and take off for the other side of the pond with our pole in tow. We were usually able to retrieve the pole eventually; sometimes with the fish still attached.

I developed the habit of crawling up to the shoreline where I knew a bed to be and depositing a bait with a short pole, holding on to the pole. If I had been sufficiently stealthy I would catch a fish pretty soon. Then I would go fish somewhere else for a while until the short memory fish forgot about me. Then I would return for another fish.

Where the water was over 4 or 5 feet deep stealth didn’t seem necessary, but a new challenge arose when we got a “boat” and wanted to fish the large field of lily pads. The water was up to 4 feet deep there with large areas less than 2 feet deep. Not only bluegills lurked there. It was a favorite haunt of rock bass (goggle eye) and largemouth bass, too.

Our “boat” was pretty much a 3’x8’ open box with thwart seats in the bow and stern. She was made of wide pine planks and leaked a lot. I don’t remember exactly where she came from, but I suspect that Uncle Jim made her from construction scrap. Her planks bore signs of having been used to hold concrete in place as it set. She was propelled by paddles made from other planks.

I would sit in the bow (whichever end I sat in became the bow) and with my left arm slowly skull the boat around and through the lily pads while I fished with the other arm. This worked best when I used flyfishing methods (limber willow pole with 10-12’ of line, cast like a fly line) Bait was usually a flyrod popper, sometimes with a small wet fly on a 10-12” drop line. I also used this method with a bare hook and cricket.

This worked pretty well except for the sculling. It was very hard on my left arm and hand to one-hand a homemade paddle.

“Pop” Tate at the local hardware store made me a gift of a real canoe-style 4’ paddle that was damaged, so not sellable, but worked a whole lot better than a trimmed plank. The shaft was round where my hand grasped it and with a twist of my wrist the top nestled in the crook of my arm. It was still tiring but in time I developed enough stamina to skull around for hours.

Bow sculling allowed me to go places a motor driven boat could not go, and to do so quietly, with full control of speed and maneuver. Not even a modern, wireless, sonar controlled electric trolling motor can do it as well. It did not require a battery, either.

In later years I used bow sculling often to get my wonderful Sport Yak to prowl silently among and around fishy places.

But there was an additional development that made bow sculling even easier. A special paddle made for the method. The sketch shows its shape. I bought one and made several exact copies. They must not have been very popular, because I haven’t seen one in about 40 years, but it sure was popular with me.

[EDITOR’S NOTE] now offers new lines of fishing gear such as Abu Garcia, Shakespeare, Berkley, Fenwick, Pflueger, Penn and more. Click here to shop Rods & Reels.

JB Cornwell writes from “The Hideout” in Whitt, TX, and is also an expert moderator, instructor, and fountain-of-knowledge in the Boating Forums, where he may occasionally share a yarn of his own.

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