Saturday, July 7, 2012

Smallmouth Bass

     Can't say I've ever dreamt about catching them. Mostly I try and fail in those dreams. Usually the lake is East Pike. I caught my first one there. It's been years since the last dream. What seemed to be the recurring theme was the continual shrinking of the lake. And the growing incursion of civilization. Spookier than hell to me.
     The first one I ever saw was caught by one of my cousins. I was at Big Birch Lake with a couple of my Aunt Lavina and Uncle Joe's  teen-age sons. They all made a big deal about the fish. Like it was something special. And so it became something special to me. Give me a break. I was only seven years old. Snot nosed.
     The ones Rod and I caught on East Pike twelve years later were a total surprise. I'd only seen the one when I was a kid but there was no doubt in my mind that they were smallies. Big, hard hitting. A fish of the Canadian border. And that was as far from civilization as you could get without crossing the border. The border was a big deal to a kid from the Twin Cities back in 1966. The end of life as we knew it. The boonies. And East Pike wasn't a boonie you could drive to. The hundred-eighty rod portage separated it and us from the world of television and indoor plumbing. You had to work to get there. Pay your dues. That was where smallmouth bass lived. The idea of catching them from a boat with a motor on the back just didn't fit the image. Some of that feeling still lives in me. Always will.
     I had mixed emotions when we set off on Wednesday morning. And not because of the breakfast. For a change I had my usual gut fillers. Don't do meat or eggs unless there's no choice, which usually means someone else is doing the cooking. My idea of heaven is two kinds of cereal mixed in with fruit and almonds. Add a banana and a tumbler of orange juice. Yeah, I suppose it's healthy. But that's not why I eat it. Flavor baby, flavor. And it makes my tummy feel good. Maybe having breakfast stick to my ribs had a lot to do with us sticking to the plan.
     Would have been fun had we caught more on the first day. But we saw new water and maybe learned a little in a negative sense. Also, having a slow day would help define the good days. We'd been at the game long enough to know not every day is a winner as to fish in the boat. Not a big deal. We'd learned it wasn't hard to put a lot of fish in the boat. And knew where a few of the barrels were. No doubt we'd hit one or two before the week was out. Our hope was finding a new treasure.
     The mixed emotions had to do with smallmouth bass. I wanted to find them. No doubt about that. But it wouldn't be the same as the Boundary Waters or the Quetico. The lake we were heading for had a public access. I didn't like the sound of that. That's why we'd always driven past on our way to other waters. There'd be boats. Big boats. Big boats with behemoth engines. And live wells. And electronics that did everything but actually catch fish. Time, temperature and internet. As far as I'm concerned all that stuff screws the pooch. No matter what Al Lindner says, a boat full of gadgets doesn't make you a better fisherman. Lord knows he doesn't need them. He's already a good fisherman. As for me, it's hard  pretending I'm in the boonies when there's other people on the water. Yup, I'm an elitist whiner. And damned proud of it.
     The lake we were off to see also had a thicket of run of the mill largemouth bass. Some big ones in the mix. Better than nothing I suppose. But the idea of largemouth, no matter how big, seemed to pollute my idea of smallie water. My problem, as usual.
     Like i said, we'd seen the lake before in a drive-by kind of way. Usually there were a couple of trucks with boat trailers at the gravel access. No so today. The breeze was up and the sun out. Not the best conditions but the wave chop was in our favor, as was the southerly wind. The water was beyond clear with a slight green tint. Almost Caribbean. Both canoes headed down the left shore. Larry and Ryan took the first bay. Fine with me. It was sandy bottomed. Not my smallmouth cup of tea.
     Before pushing off, I'd delivered the smallmouth gospel. Fist sized rocks. Lots of 'em. Whole shorelines of 'em. Smallies are finicky. They like it clean bottomed. And they like to eat crayfish. Crayfish live in rubble covered bottoms. Kinda all comes together doesn't it? Take a peek down a smallmouth's gullet and you just might see a crayfish looking back at you. Help me! Help me! And I'll give you three wishes. Happened to me on East Pike. Made me think bass must suck them down tail first. Next time I'm in Cajun country I'll have to watch how they do it. Maybe there's a connection. East Pike, the Quetico and Mann Lake, every smallmouth I've caught, all were hooked on rubble bottoms. That's why it's gospel. And why Eldon and I paddled on.
     Wasn't but the next point and it was rubble for as far as we could see. Time to fish. We were drifting down wind. As usual the breeze spun us broadside to the waves. A bit of a bob but definitely fishable.I turned us nose to shore. Kinda the opposite of ideal but you take what life throws at you and make the best of it. Clear water like we were floating on calls for long casts. That is if you intend to catch bass.
     Don't know if Eldon heard me but he kept flipping toward shore. Or if I actually said it out loud. But he kept short flipping and pretty much catching zip. I was throwing downwind and parallel to shore. Casting so hard the canoe would bounce when I let her rip. That's not an exaggeration. Can't say I know the physics of it, probably action and reaction, but suppose the bounce has to do with my arm and butt being connected by my torso. If you've ever pitched a lure for all you're worth while sitting in a canoe, well, it's a pretty neat feeling ain't it? A kajoing!, more or less.
     Yes, I did catch me some bass. All smallmouth. Yup, it was fun. And they did jump. And spit the hook even better than their big mouthed cousins. Maybe I need to sharpen my hooks? And they did fight and feel bigger than they actually were. And no, it wasn't the same as fishing East Pike Lake. But it was definitely okay.
     The only draw down was the wind. Snorting and keeping our drift way too fast for my liking. A half dozen smallies in a half mile of rubble. Good, good lake indeed. Good enough for a return trip or two. Now if the county would tear out the road that passes along the south shore or barricade the access and bulldoze the cabins along the shore and make it illegal for anyone to fish the water unless they were in a canoe. Then you'd have something. Or at least I would. Guess my idea of the People's Water mostly pertains to me.
     While me and Eldon were doing our thing, Larry and Ryan were doing just fine. Mixing their smallmouth with largemouth. Sometimes I'd watch them from a distance. See how they're doing and how they're doing it. Like watching whoever's in the canoe with me, it's entertaining and gets my mind working. Saturday morning fishing show in real time with people I know as the stars. Seeing others drifting along, self propelled, catching fish, is a joy.
     Before the morning was out we'd toured all three miles of shoreline. Saw enough and caught enough to know the spots to hit the next time. By the time our stomaches were grumbling the bass were taking a deep water siesta. Time for lunch. And maybe a couple of Dos XXs.

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