Four Who Fished Sawdaga

The floating island in the middle of the 194 acre pond provides a lot of great fishing habitat, especially for large mouth bass.  Dan, Brendan, and I worked the edges of this large mat of vegetation that covers several acres in the middle of this large pond, called Sawdaga by the locals.  Dan, who is a good friend of my son Brendan, was in the front of the boat on a raised deck of the Fishound while Brendan and I worked the back of the boat.  Dan was flipping a Megabass Latte, Brendan was flipping another Megabass lure, and I was pulling a wacky worm with a weedless hook across the muddy bottom of these dark waters.  We were experiencing moderate action.  Brendan had caught a nice large mouth bass, and Dan and I had caught a few pickerel and perch; really nothing to get too worked up about.  The lack of heavy action did not lessen our enjoyment of this incredible resource.  Right in front of our eyes was a large island of vegetation that actually floats in this calm lake.  Tamarack trees, willows, meadowsweet, and even a few small white pines grow on this gigantic mat of sphagnum moss.  Late September brings cool temperatures.  The foliage on the shrubs that inhabited this island was already changing color.  Red, yellow, and purple were reflected in the murky waters along the perimeter of the island.  The perfect mirror images were witnessed in brief intervals when a light breeze shed its energy and restored calm to the water.

This island is an oasis for many different fish bird, reptile, amphibian, and mammal species.  Insects and unusual plants inhabit this floating island as well.  The unique acidic environment plays host to plants typically associated with bogs.  Turtles bask along its shoreline, fish swim under its massive mat, birds perch and nest in its tamarack and red maple trees even though they are stunted.  River otter use the island as a place to hunt, rest, and play.

As I cast my green rubber worm across the water I looked up into the gray sky.  A large bird was flying in from the north.  Its wing tips curled up as it glided through the clean air.  As it got closer I saw the white head and then as it soared along the eastern edge of the lake I could see the white tail.  We would be sharing the pond on this day with another species that enjoyed fishing.  The bald eagle is one of the most effective fishers in the animal kingdom.  Their mega vision and great athleticism give them a distinct advantage over unsuspecting fish.  An air attack from another environment altogether is certainly an unexpected event in the underwater world.   As the mature eagle climbed higher in the sky, riding warm currents of air, he kept a close eye for fish near the surface of the pond that might provide his next meal.  Dan seemed fascinated with the eagle.  It was his time experiencing this master raptor in the wild.  He watched the bird intensely and managed to crank his reel handle while doing so.  The eagle tucked his wings and dove through the air.  His missile shaped body plunged towards the water and then he suddenly spread his wings.  The uplifting air helped him to level out and he flew along the top of the water in search of a meal.

After a short glide along the top of the pond’s surface the eagle did a double take, turning his head to the left as he passed by some object in the water, and then he flapped his wings to gain altitude.  He flew up into the air, did an about face, and headed back to the spot that had gained his attention.  He  tucked his wings again and fell to the water.  We could not see him make contact with the surface of the pond.  The eagle was on the other side of the floating island and our view was obscured.  A splash could be heard even from a distance of more than 100 yards.   We all continued fishing, flipping our various artificial baits into the water after retrieving each cast, but kept an eye out for the eagle to appear.  After a few minutes and no visual sign of the eagle I assumed he had flown off, low and parallel with the water surface, and slipped away from our view unnoticed.  After a few moments we all renewed our focus on the task a hand.  I caught a pickerel, unhooked it from the weedless hook, and placed the fish on a yellow nylon line that held our catch for a hardy meal later that day.

As we worked the western edge of the island I raised my head and there sat the eagle on top of a dead tamarack.  Surprisingly he did not have a fish in his talons.  As we passed along the shoreline, flipping our fish rigs next to snags that could ensnare our lures and make a temporary mess of our day, the eagle kept a close eye on us.  He watched our every move.  Brendan took his cell phone out of his pocket and used the camera on the phone to capture a photograph of this unusual moment.  The eagle was only about 40 yards away at this point.  As we drew closer he got a little edgy and hopped off of the narrow branch on which he was perched.  His white tail and white head stood out against the dark clouds in the background as he flew over to the opposite shore.  In a few seconds he was out of site.  His reservation about our presence in his territory was understood and appreciated by each of us in the Fishound.

It was at that moment that it occurred to me that the eagle and I had something in common beyond sharing this beautiful lake.  We both were in pursuit of fish for sustenance but with some distinct differences.  His efforts necessitated success.  If he failed he would go hungry.  If we failed we would not.  Even so I felt a sense of comradery with the bald eagle, a feeling that I’m fairly certain was not shared by this master of the wild skies.

After a period of no fishing action we motored back up to the north end of the island.  There was a small cove in the floating island where we could anchor our boat.  From this position the three of us could work three small areas of the island shoreline.  Dan flipped his Megabass lure off the tip of a point, and let the rattling weights sink the artificial bait towards the bottom.  He reeled the lure in a bit and let in sink again.  A bass slammed the lure.  Realizing he was hooked the bass pulled towards the edge of the island.  If he could get under the floating vegetation he might be free, but Dan would have no part of that.  Dan wasn’t worried about playing the bass.  His “fireline” fishing line had enormous strength.  The bass rolled over and over flashing his white belly in the water and giving all of us quite a view.

Brendan had his wits about him and got a video of the action with his cell phone. I manned the net as Dan brought the fish along side the Fishound. We all immediately recognized this bass was bigger than average and worked together to help Dan with a successful landing.  Just before I netted this beauty, the bass gave one last brief tug and pulled out a little line off the reel.  Dan patiently let him take it and reeled the big boy in so that I could slip the net under his large body.  We all hooted and hollered when this bass came aboard feeling some relief after two days of relatively uneventful fishing.  This bass was a fine catch for Dan.  At 20 inches and 3 pounds 6 ounces it was a fish to be proud of.  The fish was unusually long for its weight, something that I haven’t fully reconciled yet.  We fished for about another hour.  Dan landed a very large perch out of the same hole.  Brendan and I could not help but enjoy his enthusiasm.

Dark clouds moved in from the west.  Rain was imminent.  We turned the Fishound in a north bound direction and headed for the public boat launch.  As we cruised across the lake Dan sat in front of the boat on the swivel chair.  He was smiling from ear to ear.  I turned my head and looked back at the island.  On the dark horizon a lone eagle soared above the water.  It was his turn now.

Written for

  • Sandy

    You may not have gotten the fish, but you got a great story! I have seen more eagles this year than in my whole life. Some of them in the darnest places, like over the state capital in Augusta. How about you?

  • bill

    Hi Sandy-

    This has been a fabulous year for bald eagles. My son Liam and I saw 6 in one day on Somerset Lake in the Green Mountain National Forest (4 adults, 2 immatures). I have also seen one along the Deerfield River, and several along the CN River. By the way, and you’ll get a kick out of this, my first bald eagle was seen from the top of Mt. Katahdin at age 13. A treat I’ll never forget.

  • brendan

    Nice write up. That was a great day, and a nice fish! Next time I will catch the big fish…

  • Dan

    Great post! It was a real pleasure being out there with you and Brendan (plus the eagle). I can’t help but feel that luck was on our side that day and without both your help, it would have never been possible for me to have landed it. Thanks again Bill/Brendan for making that fishing trip one i’ll never forget!

  • bill

    The pleasure was ours Dan, you are welcome on the Fishound anytime! Looking forward to fishing with you again.

  • Out on The Prairie

    Haven’t caught a pickerel, but this area od SE IA is famous for good bass.Many of the state areas have catch and release which gets the size up nice.During the winter the eagles are thick, walking under a roosting tree is like going past a fishmarket. They are great to watch.Very nice piece.

Nature Blog Network