Retired now, a gray and white Jitterbug bass lure keeps a faded eye on things from a wall in my office, a safe place and a retirement the battered lure earned the hard way.
I bought the lure in Canada, a functional vacation gift from my dad. We were spending a week in a mouse-infested cabin, cooking on a wood stove and fishing the evenings away in the back bays where the bass hid under lily pads and downed trees.
I was 12 years old at the time, and already a serious fisherman. When Dad said I could select a lure from the tackle shop wall, I immediately focused on the Jitterbug.
During the week we had tossed surface lures in the shaded bays, and one night a neighbor agreed to take me night fishing, probably hoping that a late night trip might stop my persistent pestering.
I gobble up the experience like a stack of syrup-covered pancakes, and savored every second of it as we cast Jitterbugs into the darkness and retrieved them by sound — first the gurgling created by the back and forth wobble of the lure, then by the startling splash as one bass after the other ambushed our lures.
I had to have a Jitterbug and that need may have caused me to shift the pester thing to Dad.
So there I was, gently placing the mouse-colored Jitterbug in its own cubby hole in my borrowed and beat tackle box. Afraid to lose it, I used other lures instead. If I had known then how hard it is to lose such a fine lure, I would have certainly tied it on.
Some years later, a couple cousins and I paddled our aluminum canoe along the shoreline of Skunk Lake, a high country lake hidden deep in the pine and cedar forest near an uncle’s cabin on Lake Temagami. It was a portage trip, one that earned us a couple thousand mosquito bites as we hiked a shadowed trail with canoe and tackle.
Our goal was to see if rumors of great Skunk Lake bass fishing were true, or if we were being sent on a snipe hunt, typical foolery for this gang.
I tied on my treasured Jitterbug and subjected it to a severe beating as bass after bass sunk their teeth into it. One smallmouth bass, a good one too, flew into the air with the lure, a fine image still embedded in my mind some half-century later.
The bass spit the plug while in mid-air and fell back to its freedom. But freedom was not that fish’s reward, because the lure caught itself in the loop of a snelled hook that the fish had broken from another angler’s line.
As the fish neared the canoe it appeared in the clear water that the lure was six or so inches ahead of the fish — because it was. And yes, after that trick the big bass was freed to thrill the next lucky fisherman.
Now fast forward a couple decades and imagine my disappointment when a toothy fish hit the Jitterbug on a crisp spring day, a day way too early to fish top water but a good day to simply throw something into the water because the snow was gone.
It was a clear case of hit and run. My lure, my favorite of all favorites, was gone, never to be seen again. At least it was gone for several weeks, until it showed itself floating among some lily pads, like a lonely mouse-like imitation waiting for a ride. Lassie couldn’t do any better.
The Jitterbug had survived, but not without injury. Tooth marks, bent hooks, that sort of thing.
In later years the lure lasted through even more abuse on trips near and far, but always it came back for more. Today it is at rest, but it’s a sure bet that if this war-torn relic could have its way it would be on the business end of a fishing rod.