Gaston & Catawba

It's the one she wanted to get away

Michelle Armstrong of Denver is a regular on the Women's Bassmaster Tour, now in its third year.

When Michelle is not fishing, she is busy raising her two children – Fischer, 9, and Brooke, 5 – or working at her nail salon. She also conducts bass seminars for her sponsors.

She enjoys sharing her fishing experiences with everyone. The following is an experience about a recent fishing adventure:

“It was the dawning of a beautiful day – day one of three stops on the Women's Bassmaster Tour at Old Hickory Lake. We had just arrived at our first spot of the day. The steamy fog was settling in patches just above the surface of the water. During practice, I had found the morning top water bite to be fantastic, so my obvious plan was to keep my ‘crazy shad' glued to my hand.

“Right away, I had a few short strikes, but I was not worried. I knew the potential of this area. I cast my bait next to the bank and let the rings fade. I kept an intense eye on the twitch-twitch, pause, twitch-twitch, pause action of the lure.

“The upper right side of my peripheral vision was suddenly distracted by something quickly approaching. Before my brain could digest what was happening, an owl swooped down and grabbed my bait. As he ascended upward from where he had come, he hooked himself. At this point, it appeared as if I were flying a kite.

“My amazed co-angler said, ‘What are you going to do…what are you going to do?' I said, ‘There isn't a thing in the pro manual that tells me how I am supposed to handle this one.'

“The owl swooped back down and landed in the water. He was terrified, and so was I. At this time, I tried to collect my thoughts. I knew I didn't want to cut the line and lose my great lure – only kidding. I also knew that the owl would get twisted around the line or stuck in a tree and die a horrible death.

“As that thought entered my mind, off he flew again. His wing span appeared to be about 12 feet. In reality, it was probably more like 4 feet.

“As I flew the owl like a kite again, a small sparrow began to attack the poor, trapped bird. The sparrow dove at the owl's head about five times before the owl headed for the water again. I tried to reel him closer, but he flew off each time the sparrow attacked him. Finally, I was able to reel him close enough to the boat and swing him in.

“At this moment, I realized that one claw was hooked. Then, in a panic, he began to kick his legs and he hooked his other claw. Now, all six hooks were embedded in his claws. My co-angler gave me a glove for my left hand and my pliers.

‘I could see the horror in the owl's eyes. I tried to place my hand over his face, but he wanted no part of that. He pecked fiercely at me and pushed his claws outward toward me as far as he could. I removed my sunglasses (in hindsight, that could have been bad), and said to him softly, ‘Look dude, either let me help you, or you're going to die.'

“I then placed my hand on his chest and began to work on the first three hooks. This is when I noticed, and paid very close attention to just how long his nails were. Being a manicurist, this scared me.

“The first set of hooks came out fairly easy. The second three, however, took a little more force and time, but they came out all the same. There was no blood, and he never even flinched.

“I backed up slowly and said to the owl, ‘You're free!' He laid there and stared at me without moving a muscle. I said, ‘Dude, get off my boat so we can go fishing,' and just like that, he stood up, spread his beautiful wings, and flew up to the tree he had come from.

“As I left the weigh-in stage on day two, a young boy asked if I would sign his autograph book. As I was signing it, he told me he had heard about me catching the owl the day before. He looked at me with his great, big eyes and asked, ‘Will you put under your name ‘The Owl Whisperer,' so I will remember who you are?'

“Though my top water bite never paid off, and it was not a great tournament for me, the experience of this made up for it all. I hope to remember that moment forever and will savor all the wondrous moments that only anglers get to experience.”

Tips from Capt. Gus

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission asks that recreational boaters be reminded of the following: Do not obstruct or impede public access areas or boat ramps. Tickets will be issued and towing will be enforced for:

A single vehicle in a space designated for a vehicle with a trailer.

Parking in an unmarked area.

Upcoming events

A free fishing seminar by Capt. Gus Gustafson, “Deep Jigging for Summer Stripers” and “How to Catch White Perch with Sabiki Rigs,” Gander Mountain, Exit 36, Mooresville, 6:30 p.m. July 23. Call 704-658-0822 for additional information.

Hot spots of the week

Stripers are being caught along the edges of the main river channel early in the morning, on down riggers and deep jigging spoons. Bass are hitting top water baits along rip-rap banks at dawn. Try bottom bumping soft plastics around boat docks. Perch and catfish have been plentiful.

The water level is 2.8' below full pond. Water surface temperature is in the high 80s and low 90s.

Captain Gus is licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard, is a member of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association and a Professional Fishing Guide on Lake Norman. Visit his web site at , e-mail, or call 704-617-6812.