Aug 30, 2016
By: Ron Weber
A bald eagle stared at me from the top of a towering white pine as I slid the boat out of my Ford Ranger. Pulling the twelve foot aluminum boat the 50 yards or so to the water’s edge brought a series of high pitched chirps from the eagle signaling that it was not happy about the prospect of sharing the lake with me on this soft June evening. Since this small, remote northern Wisconsin lake had no real boat access point, the statuesque bird was probably not accustomed to having the tranquility shattered by humans very often. As I pushed off from shore, I hoped the eagle would forgive my intrusion and not hold it against me for trying to catch a few largemouth bass from the numerous blow downs that lay in the dark stained waters.
A few strokes of the oars, squeaking and in need of oil, brought me to where the top half of a balsam fir had snapped off and fallen into the lake. As my buzz bait raced across the surface a second time, a twelve inch bass found it too tempting to pass up and exploded wildly out of the water at the bait. After a brief tussle, the fish was unhooked and released back to its watery playground, maybe just a little more wise for the wear. It was a good start to the evening; an evening that was alive with all the fragrance and possibility befitting a summer’s eve.
Working slowly and purposefully around the shoreline, I tried several more likely looking spots with no takers. A great blue heron spooked from a hunt along the shoreline, and as it silently winged away with long graceful strokes, I took a pause. I pictured hundreds of other lakes across the north where a different scene was playing out on this same summer evening. Large boats with larger and larger motors were busily and noisily racing from one spot to the next. Electronic fish finders and graphs removed much of the mystery as to what lied below. Trolling motors ranging from the most archaic tiller, to the newest GPS controlled helps keep boats precisely in desired locations. Fishing, like soda, comes in many different flavors to satisfy many tastes. As my eyes navigated me towards my next likely spot, I thought back to how I acquired my taste.
My grandpa introduced me to the sport of fishing when I was seven years old and a better mentor I could not have asked for. Technically he was a step grandpa, but since both my birth grandpas had died while I was quite young, he was the only grandpa I had really ever known.
Each summer I looked forward to the week long vacation we would go on to the Woodruff/Minoqua area. Grandma and grandpa came along. Mornings and evenings were spent fishing on the many lakes the region had to offer. Often, we would take grandpa’s “big” boat, a 14-foot aluminum fishing boat with a nine horsepower Johnson motor. My favorite trips, however, were when we would load the 12-foot rowboat in the back of the truck and try our luck at some backwoods lake. Never in a hurry, my grandpa would work us slowly and surely from one spot to the next, the squeaking of the oars always a part of the background. I really think grandpa enjoyed the rowing as much as he did the fishing. As we glided along, I would stare into the water wondering what mysteries were hidden just beyond my sight. It seemed like such a peaceful, perfectly natural way to fish.
A splash brought an end to my reminiscing as a fish swiped at but missed my bait skimming across the surface of the lake. I took another cast into the same area and as the bait passed a protruding log, the water boiled and the bait disappeared. I set the hook and the fight was on. Right away I could tell that this fish had some weight to it as it bent my rod and pulled line from my reel. I used the rod to do my best to keep the fish out of the visible dangers, but soon it wrapped itself in some submerged brush. Just as all seemed lost, the fish was again free from the brush and the battle continued. Eventually the fish began to tire and I carefully worked the fish to the side of the boat and grabbed the four pound largemouth. Once unhooked, I admired the chunky fish before gently releasing it, watching it slowly descend into the dark water.
I continued working my way around the lake, anxious to see what waited around the next corner and anticipating what covers would hold fish. As often as not, spots I thought looked like sure things produced nothing while more subtle covers produced action.
The sun disappearing behind the pines was my cue to start heading back towards the truck. A whippoorwill broke out in its frantic song, reminding me that often the things in nature that we do not see, but are made aware of only by sounds or tracks, make our adventures ever more fulfilling. As I worked my bait back towards the boat the twilight peace was again shattered as the water exploded and my line zipped through the water. After several frenzied runs, a 30-inch northern pike was brought into the boat, the hula popper it mistook for a real frog, dangling from its upper jaw. A quick removal of the hook and the fish was set back in the water, where it quickly disappeared with the splash of its tail. That seemed like a perfect way to end a memorable evening of fishing.
As I guided my boat towards the shore, I couldn’t help but think how, at that moment, little had seemed to change since my grandpa rowed us around some other lake long ago. That explains my taste for simply fishing. The oars, squeaking and in need of oil, would probably annoy many people, but they made music to my ears. I think grandpa would want me to leave them just the way they are.