The bow of the Fishound cut through the quiet water as the 40 horsepower mercury outboard slowly pushed the boat along. There is a speed limit on this wild lake to help lessen the disturbance to wildlife. Those that enjoy kayaking and canoeing also appreciate the slower speeds of motor boats. There are no other boats that we can see on this 6.5 mile long lake on this July first morning. The skies are clouded with a heavy overcast and temperatures hovering around the sixty degree mark. We did not get a particularly early start this morning so we are hoping the cloud cover will aid our fishing success. We are fishing for small-mouth bass perhaps the best fighting fish in northern fresh water environments. It is one of the best eating fresh water fish found in these parts so it is our inclination to locate some of these fish for our future dining pleasures.
The lake is long and narrow. Mountains surround these quiet waters. The tall hills are green colored along the shoreline but blue colored in the distance. This contrast between wooded mountain and lake paints a picture of the landscape as it existed before Europeans came to this continent. Not one cabin, house, cottage, or structure can be found along the shores of this lake. Fog gently rises off the water where cool waters meet warmer air.. Loons call in the distance. A lone bald eagle soars overhead. His white head and tail and six foot wingspan gives him the regal appearance that he so deserves. Eagles are truly the royalty of all the birds that inhabit this watershed.
Liam is on the bow of the Fishound uncoiling the anchor rope. I am studying the bottom of the lake and looking for structure on the sonar. Good structure, large boulders, stumps, large woody debris, and submerged weed beds means potentially good bass fishing. The small-mouth bass in these waters are a bronze color. Their color matches the wet sand and gravel bottom and hides them from both prey and predators. Just down stream in a larger lake all the small-mouth bass are a green color. Here their color matches the large weed beds and areas of organic bottom. Fish in any pond will evolve to a certain degree to take advantage of their environment. The color of a bass may well determine how successful it is a foraging. The successful fish in any pond breed and beget more fish with similar traits.
The bass are now off of their nests. A member of the sunfish family, bass (both large-mouth and small-mouth) build nests in gravely substrate nestled amongst aquatic weeds like coontail and watershield. Once the young bass have hatched and moved on the parents abandon the nesting area in search of feeding habitat. The bass are in that transitional stage on this day. Finding these bass to fish for them may be easier said than done.
We decided to start on the north end of the lake. Few kayakers reach this end and in past years we have had remarkable success at this end of the lake. I can feel a cool breeze on my face. I look up at Liam in the bow of the boat and he is taking in the ever loving scenery. Liam is nearly twenty six years old. He is my youngest son. He is bright, strong willed, and a loyal friend and son. Over the past years he has honed his fishing skills and now holds his own on his end of the boat. We share the love of the outdoors. Any day spent on the water with Liam is a wonderful day.
We slowly cruise along the northeastern shore until we come to a rocky point. I love to fish off of rocky points for bass. Large boulders left behind by glaciers some 14.000 years ago are now found along the bottom of this lake. They are irregular shapes and hold deep depressions, overhangs, and crevices; all features for a perfect covey for bass where they can escape and predate. This knowledge helps the angler land a few extra bass and on this day this knowledge proves to be fruitful. The bass in search of new hunting grounds are competing for the best hiding spots. The larger bass take the best locations. This information could help us to find some bass. I catch a “keeper” almost immediately. It weighs in at about a pound and a half. My polaroid sunglasses help me see into the water and I spot a large boulder sitting on the bottom of the lake in about five feet of water. On the near side there is a large dark area. This indicates a dark shadow where the rock overhang keeps the penetrating light from reaching the bottom. I cast over the rock, let the bait sink and land on the rock surface, and then pull it over the edge and let it land on the lake bottom. Before it reaches its destination a large bass comes out from hiding in the shadows and grabs the bait. I set the hook and the bass pulls line off of the reel. The bass jumps clear out of the water, exposing its bronze skin to the daylight. A few minutes of playing the fish and I have it boated. It is about seventeen and a half inches long and about three and three quarters pounds: a magnificent small-mouth bass in any water. It will likely be the best catch of the day.
From this point on Liam goes on a fish catching streak. He lands bass after bass all in the same size range. We return the smaller ones to the water. Every fish pulls hard and jumps out of the water over and over again. Liam is not phased and handles the pressure of catching these wily fish with skill. I know from watching him that he is skilled with the rod and reel. I wonder if my skills were as honed as his at the same age. It is doubtful that they were.
At one point I get a wicked line tangle. I am able to retrieve the gear at the end of the line but the tangle is a mess and it would be nearly impossible to sort out. I cut the twisted and knotted line, re-rig the tackle, and get the bait and tackle back into the water as quickly as possible. I carelessly leave the disheveled wad of line on top of the gunwhale and a wind blows it into the water. I quickly grab the net and retrieve the wasted line. Tangled fishing line can be deadly to wildlife, especially water birds like herons and loons. After I retrieve the spent line I carefully wind it up and tuck it away for safe disposal later on. We anglers have a responsibility to the environment and most of us take these responsibilities seriously.
The skies above remain overcast. We move around over the coarse of the day quite a few times to find fish. Stratton Mountain looms in the distance to the north. From our vantage point we can see nothing but water, woods, and sky; a triplet that is my personal favorite when it comes to scenery. Liam and I chat when the fishing is slow. We discuss careers, friends, and relatives. The conversation stops suddenly whenever one of us hooks onto a bass. There are definitive priorities amongst fishermen. The focus is always on the catch.
Although fishing is certainly one of my most favorite pass times, it is more than just recreational. The fish I harvest and put into the freezer along side of the winter’s venison constitutes a large part of my diet. Like raising a garden it is essential to our life style. The meat from wild animals is clean, nutritious, and delicious. At the end of a fishing excursion I say a little prayer to our Creator giving thanks for our catch. I also take the time to thank the animal for its sacrifice for our sustenance. This exercise of respect completes the process for me. It is an essential part of the angling experience for me.
After about six hours on the water Liam and I decide to call it a day. We still have to travel the length of the lake and load the boat onto the trailer and drive an hour back to the homestead. Our creel is full and the desire to catch fish has waned. We learned a lot about the lake today. We learned where the bass were and were not in this transitional period between the nesting and foraging cycles. Getting to know the lake is a nearly never ending process. The lake changes from week to week and season to season. Water temperature changes, the aspect of the sun is repositioned, the length of day changes, and the moon cycles are always on the move. The location and behavior of fish are impacted each and every time the character of the fishing environs is modified. This is the challenge of fishing. The angler is always in search of the medium that explains the behavior of fish.
As we pull the Fishound out of the water and secure it on the trailer a loon laughs across the lake. We pause to listen and the loon laughs again. I think to myself he is inviting us to return again to share the wonders and mysteries of this lake that I have come to see as a place where my spirit can soar.
Two days later in the early morning I find myself driving along a dusty road pulling the Fishound once again. I am headed back to my favorite small-mouth fishing lake and on this day my oldest son Brendan and his good friend Dan have come all the way from Boston for a day of angling. Their busy lives in the city amongst tall buildings, traffic, and never ending sensory overload makes this trip to the wilds greatly appreciated. They both work, for the most part, indoors and I suspect a day on the water in search of small-mouth bass, peace, and quiet is just what the doctor ordered. From the looks on their faces it appears my suspicions are correct.
This day promises to include storms and unsettled weather. The weather is beyond our control and we all know that we will have roll with the punches thrown our way by the weather gods. We quickly unload the boat and begin the slow journey to the north where the fishing proved to be more than adequate only two days before. An eagle patrols the lake along the eastern shore. We watch him land in a tree top and he patiently waits for us to pass before he resumes the hunt. These large birds are now hunting for fledglings in the nest and must be persistent in search of fish.
The skies to the north and west are nearly black, indicating that bad weather is not too far off. The Fishound has an aluminum hull and is light and maneuverable. If the weather gets too bad and includes thunder and lightening we can seek refuge on shore or on one of the islands on the northern end of the lake. We cruise up to an area on the eastern shore where there are some large submerged boulders. There is little direct light to penetrate into the water so it is difficult to see to the bottom. We are casting blindly into the shore line without actually seeing the rocks based on my experience and memory of the lake. I hook onto a nice keeper almost immediately. As it fights on the end of my line the gold and bronze flashing color tells me that it is a small-mouth bass. I bring him along side and Dan nets him immediately. My second fish will prove to be the biggest of the day. While not a monster it is a healthy size bass that will make for two succulent filets. Dan catches a couple off the stern end of the boat where I am fishing also. Brendan has not yet had any luck fishing on the bow of the boat.
We begin to hear thunder in the distance and watch for lightening. Not too much time passes before the sky lights up in the northwest. I know we have to keep a serious eye on this impending storm. This lake is large enough that it can get seriously whipped up in a storm. While potentially wild waters are nothing that the Fishound can’t handle it is always wise to play your cards cautiously with a storm. Disrespecting the power of weather is usually a mistake and one that I don’t care to make on a day that is supposed to be fun and relaxing. A few rain drops start to fall. We all crowd under the bimini cover and continue fishing. It isn’t too long before we get a serious flash of lightning to the northwest. I count to ten before we hear loud, very loud, thunder. The storm is about two miles off and moving quickly. I look to the west and see an island. We can motor over and anchor on the southeast side of the island. The island has tall trees that will block the northwest winds. We motor over to a small cove right along the shoreline of the island and set our anchor. I’m going to wait and see how close this storm comes before we actually seek refuge on the island. It is now raining very hard. Huge rain drops pepper the lake. Curiously there is very little wind. We keep casting from under the cover of the bimini top and Brendan lands one bass and soon thereafter another. The storm stays generally to the north of us and after about forty five minutes the rain stops. We wait an extra ten minutes to be safe and can hear the booming thunder quite a ways to the east. The coast is clear and we head back to the eastern shore line where we hope the fish and ready and willing to cooperate.
The sky is a bit lighter now and you can actually see the submerged boulders along the edge of the lake. Dan casts his bait in front of one of the large rocks and immediately gets a strike. He sets the hook and I can see a bright gold flash in the water. He has hooked on to a first class bass and it is taking the line to the bottom. Dan tries to play the fish but his drag is set a bit too tight. The line goes slack and we know the fish has had the benefit of an unintended release. Dan reels in the monofilament and sees that his knot failed. The fish that got away. It is already larger in our memories than it was in reality and its story will continue to grow. This is a mandatory action for true anglers. A fish lost equals a fishing legend. Before we reach shore this three to four pound fish could be as large as eight pounds in our minds. It is a long held rite and we aren’t about to change the rules.
As the day passes we catch one here and one there. We work hard for our fish and keep trying. A loon pops up form underwater directly along side of our boat. It’s brilliant black and white checkered back, the black and white striped ring around its neck and the red-appearing eyes contrasting with the black plumage on its head are more than beautiful. This symbol of the north woods takes a long hard look at us and dives beneath the boat. They can travel a hundred yards under water in search of small fish and this one does. He reappears a good distance away on the water surface and swims towards the shore line. These birds are more comfortable in the water than they are in the sky.
Eventually I decide to navigate over to an underwater shoal that I learned about last year. In mid summer this is a prolific fishing spot. The long submerged shoal is surrounded on both sides by deep water. There are aquatic weed beds and structure along this underwater feature and in mid season the area holds a lot of small-mouth bass that feed on bait fish, benthic invertebrates, and crayfish. It is a slight gamble for sure, but one that could pay off.
No sooner do we secure the anchor over the edge of the deep water drop-off and I catch a fish. And then I catch two more. Dan catches a couple, and then Brendan catches a couple. Brendan and Dan have a ten dollar bet on the biggest fish of the day and Brendan manages to land a nice two pounder; the eventual winner of their bet. We stay on this spot and fill our creel. The winds are now starting to blow and the anchor is having a hard time grabbing onto the bottom. We do some catch and release fishing for a while before calling it a day.
As we cruise back slowly to the south I look at Brendan and Dan. They are talking and laughing. Any stress that managed to hang as they started this day has now been released along with some of the fish that were returned to the water. We came in search of tranquility, peace, good times, and a few fish. The creel for all were filled to the max.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in July 2011.