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By James Drake“Hey Jim, want to go catch some crappie on Thursday?”

That message was left on my answering machine by a friend last week and the answer to his question was, “Of course.”

I mean, he could have substituted catfish, perch, bluegill, bass, croaker, or even bullfrogs instead of crappie and I probably still would have said yes.

Maybe it would have gotten a rejection if he wanted to go after things such as garden slugs, rabid bats or a bad case of Ebola, but I’m game to go fishing for pretty much near anything.

When I called back my buddy and got more details, I learned he had plans to fish a remote farm pond that has plenty of big crappie and yet gets very little fishing pressure.

That was actually good news and bad.

I liked that a lot of other fishermen weren’t also beating up the water here before us, but I quickly learned there was a good reason for that.

My friend further said that we couldn’t drive up anywhere near close to this particular pond, but rather we had to walk across several farming fields to get to it.

“Pack light,” was the last thing he said to me after we discussed where and when to meet.

I’ve got a fair size plastic box chock full of my crappie lures. It’s got all kinds of plain lead jigs, plastic curly tails, tubes, straight tails and little marabou feather dressed lures. It’s not that big and certainly isn’t real heavy, so that was going along.

Any little farm pond would be a pretty remarkable water if it only had crappie swimming in it. Bass and bluegill had to be there, too, and I wanted to be ready for a few bass so I put some worming gear in a little plastic bag to carry along with my crappie box.

I guess if my name was Jimmy Houston I’d have taken a box of spinnerbaits as well, but my name isn't Jimmy Houston. I’ve got a lot of confidence in them and plastic worms would have to do.

Two rods, one ultra-light for the crappie and a stiff, heavy action for the bass, a pair of needle nose pliers plus my old toenail clippers and I was done packing.

The day arrived, we met at my friend'’ house and I drove us to the farm.

“Park here,” he told me and I pulled off the little gravel lane to a clearing.

“Where's the pond?,” I asked.

“Over yonder, beyond those trees,” my friend said pointing way off in the distance.

Most of those fields we had to cross were hayfields and the thick grass and clover were already up above my ankles and in places nearly to my knees. There were a lot of briars along the edges and it was a tough hike.

And, when we finally did get to those yonder trees, I sadly discovered we were only about halfway to our destination.

From that little forest we had to contend with all kinds of ruts and holes, going uphill and downhill over and around countless fallen logs, but I’m proud to say I only had to stop twice to sit and catch my breath before my buddy would have been forced to call 911 to report a fatal heart attack.

I’m simply getting too old for some of these adventures.

After walking a whole lot farther than I had anticipated, we finally made it and the pond wasn’t all that big but it did look very promising.

The water was clear, the surface calm and I quickly found a little spot to cast along the shore.

My first cast fouled on grass as did the second and then the third.

This little water might have a lot of fat crappie and that still remained to be seen. But, after only a few casts in several directions, I knew it was most definitely loaded with that slimy green grass you sometimes encounter just under the surface.

If I started to reel just before my lure touched down, it didn’t foul. If I stopped reeling for just a second or two during the retrieve, that’s when the crappie would hit ... if it didn’t quickly foul first on the grass again.

OK, at least I had some kind of plan.

The truth is they weren't biting great, and the general crappie size was disappointing. But, after about a half hour of this drill, a nice bass finally grabbed my crappie bait.

I got it to shore and it was fat, feisty and about two pounds. Yes, I put down the crappie rod and picked up my bass outfit.

I used only a small, 3/16 bullet weight, and had a 2/0 Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp worm hook on the business end of the line. To this a Texas-rigged 4-inch Turtle Back pumpkinseed Gulp! worm was attached.

It fouled on grass the first cast. The same thing happened on the second and then I finally hit a relatively clear area next to some reeds and bang, a very nice 3-pounder quickly inhaled it before the grass could snare it.

The crappie may not have been biting too well this day, but the bass sure seemed hungry.

After a few more fouls, I got lucky again and another respectable bass took it.

Another 20 minutes or so of way too many more grass-fouled casts and I decided to try another approach.

It was time to retie and take off the weight. Instead of a 4-inch worm, I used as an alternative a 7-inch June Bug Turtle Back Gulp! worm to give me a little more casting weight. These aren't floating worms and provided plenty of weight to cast easily. Bingo.

For the next two hours or so, we wore out those bass and didn’t foul on the grass nearly so much. We never caught a really big one, but nor did we catch any little dinks. All of them, dozens really, were all between 1 1/2 pounds to maybe pretty close to four pounds or so.

Some generally cooling weather in the days before our trip probably turned off the crappie, but all in all this was a great day of fishing.

If you’re not carrying a few bags of Gulp! Turtle Back worms with you when trying for bass, you really ought to stop soon at a tackle shop or place a phone order with Bass Pro or Cabela’s. These things absolutely work real well.

Now, if I could just find something to give all my poor foot blisters a little relief. Did I mention how far we had to hike?

Plant a treeArbor Day in Maryland is today. And to suitably celebrate, grab a shovel and start digging.

If you’re going to plant any tree properly, dig the hole two or three times the width of the root ball but do not dig deeper than the root ball depth. Make the sides of the hole slant gradually outward.

Cut all the ropes holding together any balled and burlapped stock and pull that burlap at least one third of the way down. Remove tags and labels and after carefully positioning the root ball, partially backfill with the soil you took out of the hole.

Water to settle the soil and then finish back-filling and tamp the soil gently, but do not step on your project is the advice from the International Society of Arboriculture.

If you’re going to mulch, don't put any mulch up against the trunk. You may see this happening in yards all over our area, but that doesn't make it right.

Do make sure the root ball has plenty of water throughout the year.

Happy Arbor Day.

zbasser@aol.com