Like it is so often on this lake in southern Vermont the winds blew from the northwest, clouds skated across the blue sky with abandon, and the sun played hide and seek keeping the temperatures in this wilderness on the cold side. It was mid October and we knew there weren’t many outings left for the Fishound this season so we let each moment soak in through our skin as a sponge absorbs water. The bass season had been good to us, not as wealthy as last year, but quite favorable nonetheless. Those angling off of the Fishound, usually myself and one of my sons or a friend, had caught 197 small mouth bass thus far and we hoped the good fortune continued today. A angler’s daily limit of small mouth bass is 5 fish during bass season and so we had returned at least four bass for every one that we kept. Most of the fun is in catching the fish. And certainly there is more than modest pleasure in eating the fresh fish at the end of a good day of fishing.
Only the week before I had gone out with an old friend from my younger days. Dan was someone that I met when another friend, Jeff, and I had one of our first apartments in the early 1970′s. He was a local fellow, someone who liked to party, and always had something funny to say or an interesting perspective on a topic. Dan and I liked each other instantly and have remained friends to this day. Dan now lives in the central part of Massachusetts near the New Hampshire state line so we only see each other about once a year. When we do get a chance to visit it is as if we just saw each other yesterday. After a little catching up we automatically fall into the old jokes and stories. Dan and I caught up on each other’s families on the ride up to this glorious lake. After unloading the Fishound off the boat trailer Dan and I motored up to the northern end of the lake, some six miles away. We fished all of my favorite haunts. I have been intensely fishing this lake for a years and know many of the best bass fishing spots like the back of my hand. Our luck was minimal at first until I noticed that many of the bass were suspended in 16 to 20 feet of water. They wouldn’t bite if they were in deeper water at those levels but I knew that if you could find a spot where you had those depths right up against the shore that our luck might change. Once we started fishing against some steep ledges the fish finding their way onto our lines. If you’ve never fished for small mouth bass it is hard to describe how hard they fight. They take the end of your line straight to the bottom and then launch themselves to the surface occasionally jumping three or four feet into the air. It’s easy to lose one of these crafty competitors, especially if you are not used to their shenanigans. Dan had a hard time getting them into the boat. Each time he lost one he’d say goodbye to the fish as if they had just been visiting. I laughed and laughed at his antics and his constant sense of humor reminded me of how much I enjoyed his company. At the end of the day we filled our creel. I may have helped Dan a little bit in that department. When we returned to Heath Dan went off without any fanfare. We talked about hunting together this winter but I knew the chances were slim and I felt sad to see him go his way at the end of day.
On this day Liam and I were a duo in search of bass. Liam, my youngest son, really enjoys fishing as a way to get away from the challenges of graduate school. Liam is an accomplished fisherman. The last outing he caught nearly two fish for every one that I landed. I let him revel in his success and hoped that this time the fishing gods would grant me more fortune. An even score between the two of us was all that I asked. Of course, the fishing gods do not always answer my prayers.
The Fishound smoothly motored up the lake on this blustery day. Judging from the trailers in the parking lot near the boat launch there was only two other fishing boats on the lake and they were no where to be seen. The brisk temperatures were keeping the kayakers home. Between the wind and the cold it was not ideal for this peaceful aquatic sport. On warm weekend days it is not unusual to see a couple dozen people in kayaks and a few more in canoes. With an irregular rocky shoreline, many islands, loons, bald eagles, heron, otters, and beaver this wild lake offers a lot of entertainment for those who are inspired by nature. Perhaps the best feature is that it has no cottages or cabins, camping is not allowed (although the kayakers frequently camp on the islands), and it is far, far away from any paved road. The ten mile dirt road that leads to the lake is a pleasant journey in and of itself. On the way the traveler gets to pass through one township, population 6 (no, I’m not kidding!).
The wind was picking up and white caps adorned the lake. We knew it would be hard to hold anchor if we left ourselves exposed to the strong northwest winds so we looked for steep rock walls on the southeast side of an island. Our collective memories reminded us of one such place’ Upon arrival we dropped our lines into the water after Liam slid the anchor into the water. I laughed as Liam gently placed the anchor over the hull of the Fishound. About four years before, the first time he put the anchor over the side, he tossed it into the air like he was throwing a shot put in a track and field event. It made a gigantic splash. As the wake from the displaced water made a wave at the shoreline I suggested we might want to move. Liam asked why. And then I said, “Well there used to be fish here but they might have moved on.”
Liam caught the first small mouth bass. A decent sized fish, perhaps two pounds, and we decided to keep it. He caught the second and third fish as well, each about the same size. I was beginning to wonder if I had lost my touch when my line went taught and I found myself fighting a mighty female small mouth. The female of this species is considerably larger than the males. This one would prove to be three and a half pounds, not too much over an average female bass in this lake. Once I had landed the big bass I looked up and Liam was landing another. This proved to be a large white sucker although you’d never know it from the fight in the fish.
As quickly as the bite had started it stopped. This is typical for small mouth bass fishing on this lake. There have been days when we fished for eight hours and caught 30 fish; all of them in fifteen to thirty minute spans spread out throughout the day. Many times I have seen a boat full of fisherman launch their boat, fish for a few hours, and give up without a bite. In that same time the anglers in the Fishound did not catch anything significant either, In variably, within an hour or two we get into a slew of fish, and later leave the lake knowing that we have given it our all.
These in between times, when the fish are hanging out on the bottom of the lake laughing at us, are often some of the best parts of our day. We watch beavers swim by, eagles cruising the lake for an easy meal on the water’s surface, and we watch big white clouds drift overhead. As we wait for the bite to return we go from one potential fishing honey hole to the next. At each stop we set the anchor, dangle the line, and talk about current events; school, my business, family affairs, politics, and our favorite sports. And when Brendan, my oldest son, comes home from the eastern seaboard to spend a day fishing we spend the day jibing each other. The kidding is all good natured and in many ways has actually made the three of us closer. The naked truth can be very funny and sharing our observations about each other joins us in the most intimate way: through humor.
The absolute solitude that can be found on this lake nestled in the Green Mountains is astounding. Often the only sound is the wind whipping over the water. The air smells crisp and clean. A hint of sun every once in a while warms the cheeks on your face. And a wild blue lake cradled between two forested mountains defines the essence of visual beauty. The experience is nothing less than breath taking and significant enough that a single day can be remembered for years. Being on a quiet lake can resolve conflicts, melt away stress, and make problems irrelevant. The power of the natural world demands your complete attention. It has a way of letting you know that you are really not in control of the important parts of life. And for those who seek inner peace it is an essential foundation.
Before we knew it we could see the sun approaching the western horizon. One disadvantage of October angling excursions is that the days are shorter. Loading a boat on to a trailer in the dark in thigh deep frigid water is not exactly the most pleasant activity in the world so it is better to be off the water well before night sets in. Liam and I noticed that the sun, as infrequent of a visitor as it had been on this day, was getting ready to give up for the day. We held on for a few more fish and the fishing gods let us have a couple of nice bass on this day. But all good things must come to an end, at least temporarily, and Liam pulled the anchor as I started the motors.
Liam piloted us back that late afternoon. I sat on the starboard side and watched the forested shoreline go by. I wanted to hold on to each and every moment that we had left in this little piece of heaven. Just to the north of the boat launch in an eastern cove I noticed a bald eagle sitting on top of a white pine tree. His white head caught the last rays of the evening sun. As we turned around a long point on the shoreline I thought I saw him look directly in my direction.
And then he flew off to the north. Like us he knew that night would shroud the lake in blackness within the hour. Another peaceful day was coming to an end.
And it occurred to me that this is what memories are made from.
Written for the Heath Herald in early November 2012.