And the water erupted like a volcano.
I was trying to get my camera up as Don jerked on his rod to seal the deal. He landed another bass, and I was still way behind on the count.
That hidden lake in Holmes County was off the beaten track on private land we leased to deer hunt. We discovered the isolated Big Black River oxbow lake by mistake. All total it was no bigger than a football field, but it held some decent bass.
"The first time I laid eyes on that little lake, I knew I had to get a boat in there," Clinton's Don Norton said.
Norton is a highly accomplished fishing tackle designer in his own right, but his real forte is putting his creations to work.
"Hence the efforts to drag in two johnboats via ATVs after having to virtually clear trails we could get down," Norton said. "The lake was too small, too shallow for a boat motor, and really a trolling motor was overkill.
"We cleared a boat ramp on the shore and mudded our way out into the lake with a push pole and paddles."
For the few years we held that lease until the land finally sold, several of the deer club members fished it. We pulled some pretty decent bass out of that oxbow jammed with fishing structure from one end to the other in all forms of natural configurations.
We learned several things from finding that little body of water.
First and foremost, small lakes are manageable to fish. There can be less impact from weather, wind, waves and wakes.
Such lakes overshadowed by timber-laden banks can develop constantly changing fishing structure, as trees fall and sink into the lake, often leaving exposed stumps behind. The same can be said of break-off limbs and other cover that creates great fish habitat.
Small lakes can be some of the best lakes to fish for bass.
Naturally, we also came to appreciate the lack of fishing pressure on this small piece of water, and not just because it was isolated on private land. Smaller lakes tend to attract fewer fishermen, and certainly you seldom run into the bass-rig racer mentality. Fishing a small lake is relaxed and calmer, so the outdoors experience can be fully enjoyed.
Seldom is there a backup line bankside or at the ramp waiting for a guy (like me) who cannot back a boat trailer to save his life. It takes only scant minutes to load the gear into a small watercraft to ease out on a small lake to begin fishing almost immediately.
The nature of fishing a small lake for bass has many advantages.
Sam Lemonis of Madison fishes small lakes, and he has a number of commonsense reasons for that.
"First I have access to some pretty good small lakes that present plenty of really good challenges to catch some decent largemouth bass," Lemonis said. "Secondly, I am not by any stretch of the imagination a particularly talented bass angler, but I have learned enough about how to fish the smaller lakes to bring home more than enough bass slabs for supper.
"And thirdly, I don't have a big bass rig with a 200-horsepower outboard to compete with the wannabe tournament boys on the weekends, even if I wanted to do that."
He admitted his prowess on the water is a work in progress.
"Whoever I fish with usually outfishes me, especially my son Logan, but I keep working at it," Lemonis said. "I learned to bass fish the old-fashioned way: I just got out there and started to toss a few baits until I began to figure out what worked.
"I don't land every strike I get - far from it - but like anything else you want to do, it can't be done from the recliner. I like to fish; it is a good mental release from my day job, so I guess, as they say, practice makes perfect. At least in theory, the more time spent on the water ought to translate into more fish in the cooler."
Lemonis' frame of reference to fishing sure seems to work for him.
When he rows out into one of the small lakes he fishes, Lemonis starts by pinpointing textbook fish-hiding structure.
"I fish all the likely spots for bass; sometimes I might circle the lake several times working over the same spots a second or third time," he said. "I look for half-submerged structure like a tree trunk or maybe even an old broken-down, abandoned dock.
"I like to fish around exposed stumps, especially on the sun-shaded side, assuming big bass prefer the darkness for lurking."
He also spends time working the edges of the water.
"I cast lures up close to the bank into grass or moss," Lemonis said. "Sometimes I throw and the lure lands up on the bank out of the water. That works, too, if you pull a quick jerk backwards, but light and controlled, just plopping the bait back into the water at the edge of the bank.
"A big bass might just think that was a frog or something good to eat hopping back into the water. I have had that little trick work more than once."
However, he also will occasionally abandon his boat so he can work his lures from deeper water to the shallows along the bank.
That difference might seem insignificant, but sometimes a bass hiding under a log can be aroused by a bait coming from the depths of the lake can cause a reactionary striking action.
It helps to have a lure - like a spinnerbait - with a flash component to it.
But that's not his go-to lure.
"Actually, my favorite bass bait lures are lizards," Lemonis said. "The main reason I use them is because they don't get hung up on everything under the water, so I don't lose many of them.
"The other reason I use them is simply due to the fact that fish bite them."
Lemonis said it really doesn't take a lot of expensive equipment to catch small-lake bass.
"It doesn't take special gear to fish a small lake," he said. "The other day, I tied a crappie jig onto my 3-year-old granddaughter's line and threw it in the lake. It immediately hooked a 4-pound bass that almost jerked the Mickey Mouse fishing rod right out of her hand."
Reasonably priced bass fishing rods and reels can be found at any fishing tackle outlet. It doesn't take a $100 rig set up to consistently catch bass. Stick with brand names that offer reliability and long term service. Pick a reel that works best with your style of fishing. Add quality line of a suitable pound strength to haul big bass out of tangled cover and structure. Buy a wide variety of bass lures, topwater, spinnerbaits, worms and others in different colors.
Small lakes are best handled by small watercraft. Most commonly this includes johnboats, prams or even a canoe. Since kayaks are very popular now, widely available and easy to learn to handle and haul about, they can make excellent minimal-gear watercraft from which to fish in small lakes.
Be sure to invest in a decent anchor. Add to that a well-fitting PFD for each boat passenger.
One soft-sided tackle bag is enough to handle all the gear one should need for a single fishing trip.
Also, take water and snacks. Be sure to tell family where you are going and when you expect to return. Carry your cell phone, and be sure it's well charged.
There is no argument that big lakes and reservoirs are great fishing options for bass anglers. Their merits can hardly be denied.
However, small lakes - public or private - are ideal for slow-paced, low-pressure fishing opportunities.