One last chance before the hurricane. One more shot before back surgery. One more time to find solace in the wild. My son Liam pilots the Fishound the length of this wild lake where no cottage, cabin, or building adorns its 20 miles of shore line. We headed for the north end where bald eagles, loons, and small-mouth bass are plentiful. I’m incapable of a lot these days. Surgery for my back will be the day after tomorrow. A major storm is running up the coast and threatens to change the landscape in a major way either from floods or wind. This could be one final stab at my adventures on water this year and I aim at focusing on the day, the moment, rather than what lies ahead.
Liam is an able boat pilot these days. He is getting to know this complicated lake. There are spots where submerged rocks can take out the bottom of your boat and rip the motor off the transom. For that reason we travel slowly and I constantly remind him of areas to avoid or at least approach cautiously. With each reminder he glances over. Telling me without words that he knows what I tell him. Still I cannot help myself.
We motor up to the northeast end of a lake near an area of sandy shoreline that holds a lot of submerged coontail, one of the most prolific kinds of aquatic vegetation in the lake. I have a particular location in mind for the best fishing. Liam has another. Reluctantly he agrees to try mine first. Liam tosses the anchor while I temporarily man the helm. We lock into a submerged log with the anchor. It will hold us especially given there is little wind. The lake is uncharacteristically calm. This lake sits at about 2000 feet in elevation and typically holds northwest winds from dawn to dusk. Generally the hardest part of fishing here is balking the wind. Finding a place where the anchor can catch near good fishing grounds. The wind typically blows way to hard to drift but on this day there is only a slight breeze and it is from the south. The skies in that direction are cloudy and yellow; signs of things to come. We know we have about six hours before serious rain will envelope this area and so we take our fishing seriously.
On the second cast I raise a nice pound and a half small-mouth. And then on the nest cast I catch another. Liam smiles as my early luck exceeds his. He has other plans in mind. After those two fish the site goes sour; not a bite to be found. Liam works the bow of the Fishound while I struggle to find comfort. Neither sitting or standing in the stern of the boat feels good. I drink a glass of wine and then a second to relieve the pain. Liam will be commanding the boat on the return trip no doubt.
I want to leave to test another part of the shoreline but Liam tells me to settle down and be patient. He catches a very nice small mouth and we add this one to the creel. The waters quiet again and we move south to a point where we have had success in the past. Liam pulls the anchor and then jumps into the helm seat letting me know that I’m not piloting the boat today. We move several hundred yards and he tosses the anchor overboard. There is not enough wind to worry about the anchor not catching debris or rocks on the bottom.
Liam catches another nice bass at this location. We fish the area for more than an hour with no other results. I bite my tongue and decide that I will reward Liam for his patience and let him decide when we should move. I look to the bow and see him looking north. He says he has a hunch and we pick up anchor.
To my surprise he takes us almost exactly to the place where we started today minus about thirty yards. I roll my eyes but don’t say a thing. Liam leaves the pilots seat, sets anchor, and casts into a weedy area we can see below on the boat electronics. Immediately he hooks a nice bass. As he reels it in I set my hook in another. We like doubles although one of us must play our fish for a while the other pulls his over the side of the boat. I net my bass, a nice two pound specimen and place him on the deck of the boat. Liam pulls his fish along side and I net his as well; it is slightly larger than mine. As Liam adds our fish to the creel I cast back in and immediately get a hit. The pull is different this time; less fight and more erratic. As I get the fish along side I see that it is a very large yellow perch, perhaps 14 inches in length, and about a pound in weight. A keeper perch in anyone’s book.
There is no need to net the perch and Liam casts back into the dark water. Another bass strikes his bait and takes out line. At the end of the line is the largest fish of the day thus far and he aptly lets it tire and reels it in, nets it, and admires its girth. Liam casts a sideways glance in my direction. He can see my admiring his catch. This fish is close to three pounds and will likely be held as the best fish of the day.
The waters go quiet. The fish stop biting. We fish on without moving knowing the bite will come again without changing locations. During our idle time we talk about nearly everything; family, future plans, travel, and work. The conversation is easy and just slips out as time passes. My mind is far away from pain, surgery, and hurricanes. As we talk I drink some more wine. I look around. The sky is ominous to the south but somewhat brighter where we fish. Loons call. Kingfishers dive into the water. The tall forested mountains that cast their shadow’s on this lake stand quietly. In my own silly imagination I feel them readying for the storm. They stand solid and stout. The trees may be moved but the mountains will remain.
The fishing is easy. Bass continue to bite in spurts and spits. We land over thirty and keep our legal creel of five each. We also keep four very large yellow perch that help to sweeten the pot. After a while of catching and releasing bass Liam looks south. You can see the rain coming down from the clouds and it is headed our way. The wind is now picking up. He pulls anchor and we start south without much being said. The rains begin in earnest just before we pull up to the boat ramp. Liam jumps out on shore and I wait in the boat until the trailer is in the water. This gravel boat ramp is exceeding difficult but Liam backs the truck down artfully. I pull the boat up near the trailer and Liam does the rest. He hooks the cable onto the bow, cranks the boat onto the trailer by hand with the winch, and pulls the truck and trailer up the ramp while I am still in the boat. While I’m not surprised at his skills I am impressed that he works everything so easily.
We secure the boat on the trailer with ratchet straps, a safety chain on the bow, and tow chains on the trailer and then head south on the eleven mile dirt road that leads to Route 9. The road is empty and quiet. The rain is formidable. As the wipers clean the torrents of water from the windshield I try looking through the rain into the forest that slides by as we travel down the road. I see hazy images of wet woods, torrents of water running along the drainage ditches, and the light underside of leaves as branches sway in the wind. There is no clear vision of the present. There is no clear view of the future. But I am in good hands and I feel confident that the road ahead will be handled with grace and skill. It is a road that I hope to travel again.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in September of 2011.