Sep 10, 2015

The Song Of September 

There is something special about September. It really isn’t summer, but it isn’t fall either. It is a bit of both. There is a Song of September. You hear it in the wind through the trees and across the waters. It is a song of change as one season leaves and another begins.

In September, you leave for fishing in midday and have the air conditioner on in the car, then to return home in the evening with the heater on. You will see the first colors on the trees. The bright red colors of maples and sumac tell of the coming autumn. Everything seems to be changing in September.

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Labor Day seemed pivotal in my young life. Usually, the last grilling out of the summer was during Labor Day weekend. Life seemed much more regimented then. You only grilled out in summer. The grill normally came out on Memorial Day weekend and then got packed away in the garage or basement right after Labor Day. That meant you had all winter long to think about how good a grilled hamburger or bratwurst would be.

Also, the day after Labor Day was always the first day of school and, once again, we would be standing outside waiting for the yellow school bus to pick us up. It would be a long nine months before we got off the bus for the last time of the school year for summer vacation. Normally, we started out wearing short sleeve shirts, but by the end of the month we were in sweaters and jackets.

Despite the unpleasantness of having to return to school, I liked the month of September. After the dog days of August it seemed fishing flourished again. Possibly it was the first cool days and nights of September that turned fish on. In October, hunting seasons started and people forgot about fishing. Therefore, the unofficial end of the fishing season normally ended with September.

In my youth, September was about trout fishing. It was the last month for trout fishing and my father and I tried to get every opportunity we could to go. Labor Day weekend was our last trek to the far northeastern counties for brook trout. Then we spent the remaining days of the season fishing near Wautoma for brown trout.

There was a lot to like about September trout fishing. There weren’t any bugs, which is always nice. Temperatures were cooler making it pleasant to be wearing waders after the hot days of August. There were few, if any, fishermen out on the streams. Father and I wondered why no one else was on the streams in the last month of the season. For my father and I, we couldn’t get out enough in those last weeks. It was the best fishing of the season after May, and we had it all to ourselves.     

We always got out on the last Saturday in September for sure, which was my last chance at trout fishing. By late September it was cool, even during the middle of the day. My father’s favorite stream was the Mecan. We parked on the road, rigged our spinning rods and then hiked to different spots on the stream.

It seemed magical to slide off the banks into the water. It rushed around my legs, tugging at me. We fished spinners for trout then, and I worked upstream flipping my spinner into holes, past brush and around logs. Occasionally, I was rewarded by having a trout dart out and slam my bait. It was a quick, intense struggle to finally get the fish into the net.

I never broke a sweat most of the day and felt a sense of satisfaction as I walked along the road back to the car with a creel bulging with trout. In those days, the limit for trout was ten fish and you could always expect a good half a dozen trout for the day and some of them would be around a foot in length. When I was in junior high school and senior high school, my season ended on the last Saturday in September. The next day was Sunday, which was reserved for church and then back to school on Monday. The trout season actually ended on the last day of September, which was often in the middle of the week. I wasn’t able to participate in the actual last day of the season, but Father did.

Later when I was in college, I had a bit more freedom in my schedule so I joined Father on the last day of the trout season. We got back to the car usually in the early evening, as shadows were getting longer. We dumped our fish in the ice chest and stared at them, knowing we weren’t going to get any more trout for the next seven months until the new season started again in May. In the last year or two, before I joined the Army, Father and I would split a small bottle of champagne on the last day. Leaning against the fender of his car we clinked our glasses together in a toast to the end of another great season. As we sipped our champagne we were reluctant to leave. We didn’t want the day to end and we relished listening to the final notes in the Song of September.

That was over 40 years ago. I do not trout fish much anymore. Instead, I bass fish and much like the trout fishing I found in my youth, September is a great month for bass fishing too. Bass fishing in September has many of the same qualities I remember from my days trout fishing; no bugs, cooler weather and fewer people on the water. It just might be the best month of the season for bass, and I know I have caught a lot of big fish in September. I still continue to hear the Song of September.

It was mid-September and the first big storm of the season was pounding us. My buddy, Paul Valle, of Cumberland, Wisconsin, and I were sitting at a landing looking out across the water at the lake we planned to fish. Bruised, black clouds were pilling up on the horizon and the wind whipped the lake into froth covered white caps. Although not a particularly big lake, the water looked intimidating and we would be launching the boat right into the wind. We hated the thought of giving up on the day but this lake did not look promising. Finally, I said something about it not being worthwhile to fish this lake today. Paul reluctantly agreed. Then I mentioned just north of us about 20 miles or so was another lake. It was smaller, so perhaps the wind wouldn’t be so bad there and we would be launching with the wind rather than against it. It had been a of couple years since I last fished it, but it looked like the best alternative to saving a day of fishing.

As we were launching the boat, we noticed the storm followed us but it wasn’t raining yet. I made a comment that perhaps the rain would hold off for a few hours while we were fishing. Within the first dozen casts, my bait jolted to a halt. I felt a fish pulling back. The fish tore off, but I turned it and got it coming towards the boat when it ran off again. Finally, I had it alongside the boat and Paul brought the net up underneath it. It was a fat 17-inch largemouth bass.

After releasing the fish, I looked over my shoulder. Dark clouds were rolling in. Paul and I anticipated the worst and were already in our rain gear. We were hoping it wouldn’t rain but were realistic enough to expect it. Suddenly it started to pour. There wasn’t any light rain or sprinkles to start out, instead it was like someone opened the water faucet. The wind picked up as quickly as the storm blew in. We pulled up hoods, turned our backs to the wind and just continued fishing.

We worked along the shore and steadily caught fish. The fish hit hard and fought with reckless abandon. It was like the storm charged them. Drags on reels gave out line and spinning rods were doubled over with rod tips plunging as the fish raced off. We felt battered by the rain and wind. Later Paul told me he wished he had taken a photo of me with the water streaming off my hat. I caught a 27-inch northern pike. It was a nice bonus to the day.

Finally we were in a marshy corner of the lake just beyond the landing. We agreed we would fish this last spot and then head in. The rain continued without let up and, by now, had worked its way through the rain gear and was soaking into the clothes nearest our skin. Paul yelled. He had a fish and it felt big. I reeled in my line and grabbed the net. The fish raced off swirling on the top of the rain-splattered water. At the boat, the fish pulled away several more times before I got the net under it. It was an 18-inch bass and the biggest of the day. It seemed like the right moment to quit. Back at the landing, as we were strapping down the boat, the rain began to subside. Dark clouds still swirled overhead but the rain stopped as suddenly as it had started. We laughed. “It figures,” one of us said.
     Although it was turbulent and sometimes harsh, the storm seemed to turn on the fish so we didn’t complain about the weather and just enjoyed the adventure. Even in the rain we heard the Song of September.

A week later I was on the upper St. Croix with another fishing buddy, Scott Clark, of Hudson, Wisconsin. The day was cool and overcast. The trees showing color stood out brightly against the other trees, still green, and the slate gray skies. “We are looking for deeper water with current close to banks,” Scott said to me. He pointed to one stretch of shore and I angled the boat toward it.

Scott is fishing a plastic rig, and in the first ten minutes he boats three smallmouth bass, each about a foot long. I am using a crankbait and it took a few more minutes before I felt a fish slam my bait. It put up the “no holds barred” fight, typical of smallies. The fight never ends for these fish as they are still fighting as you net them. By the time we finish that stretch of bank I had six smallmouth bass.

We move upriver and let the wind and current drift us along another spot of deep water adjacent to a rocky bank. Scott picks up a northern pike. We try a couple of other areas and I lose what looks to be a 30-inch northern pike. Scott picks up a walleye. It is the only one we caught that day. It begins to rain and we put on rain gear but it is a light rain and does little more than irritate us.

We move back to the first stretch of water we fished. As we are drifting along, I see Scott pull up on his spinning rod. His rod is bent in half and I can hear the drag on his spinning reel whine as it haltingly gives out line. It looks and sounds like a big fish so I get the net. I am waiting as Scott continues his tug of war with the fish and then I see it in the stained river water. It is a big smallmouth. Now we both are getting excited. The fish sprints away and again Scott gets the fish coming back to the boat. I get the net out but the fish darts off again and again and again. Eventually, Scott pulls it close enough to lead it into the net. As the net clears the water, the fish is still thrashing in the mesh. The fish is 19 inches and fat.

We hit a couple more points and pick up two more fish by the time we quit. Our total fish count with the northern and walleye is 20. It is later in the month and we can feel the edge of fall beginning to creep in. Change is in the air. There isn’t much of the month left but even in the last days we still hear the Song of September.

I look forward each year to hearing the Song of September. It is the time when the seasons collide. It is also a time of great fishing. I have been listening to the Song of September for many years and hope it will play for many more.