Sunday, November 8, 2015

You Do What You Gotta Do

     Plan A was me going to the cabin for three days.  Lois is in the good days between chemo treatments and was as much in need of alone time as I.  Then Lois came up with the idea we went with.  Worked well for everyone involved.  I got my time up north, as did my son Allan and his son, Matthew.
     The change took a few minutes of adjustment.  I've always enjoyed time by myself and am well into the years when men become more reclusive.  So I guess having company was good.  And since that company was my son and grandson, even better.
     I think my trepidation came from thoughts of dealing with a five year old armed with a loaded fishing pole sitting right there, in the seat I'd made just for him, a coupla feet in front of my tender flesh.  'Bout as risky as sending a marginally trained, city kid overseas to do battle with the red menace.  Time for Grandpa to take charge.
     When you don't know what you're doing fishing can be a frustrating affair.  Cast straight up, lure straight down, bird's nesting line, lure in the bushes and never a fish on the line.  Throw in the nanosecond attention span of a five year old and two hours in a canoe might seem as exciting as a presidential campaign speech to someone who has a low tolerance for bombast, exaggeration and BS in general.  My plan was for Matthew to have a good time.  Maybe if he did he might return the favor someday when I'm a doddering, old codger.  Maybe lube the wheels on my walker.
     Matt has a fishing rod.  These days most every kid in the state of Minnesota has one.  His is red as opposed to the ever-popular yellow ones.  And it looks exactly like you figure a five year old's'd look.  Just like the one in the picture in Field and Stream captioned "My Toddler Caught a Forty Pound Musky With a Two Buck Snoopy Rod."  Like I said, it was red.  Also said Shakespeare on the handle.  Whether the playwright or the fishing rod company, I'm not sure.  And Matthew thought it was wonderful.  And Grandpa thought it a sure-fire source of misery.   Definitely a situation that called for strategy and tact.  That meant packing the rod in the truck just like he wanted.  And leaving it in the truck when we got to the lake just like Grandpa wanted.  And being smart enough to keep my mouth shut.
     Said it matter of factly so it sounded like a given that Matt would sit facing me.  No need to question, that's just the way it is.  I'd do the casting.  He'd do the fishing and catching.  Yup, I wanted him to catch a few, maybe a bucketful.  Matt was fine with that.  His Dad was up front doing what he does best, throw spinners and catch fish.  Problem was the catching part.  I'd never fished in November and figured the fish, be they sunnies, bass or pike would be deep.  Not easy for me to fish deep.  I'm a shoreline structure and cover fisherman.  Points, bays, weeds, rocks and wood in the water, all of them look fishy to me.  Out in the middle, water every which way, nary a lily pad to be seen, uh-uh, paddle on, ain't nothin' there.
     We were on proven water.  And had it to ourselves.  Silver Lake hadn't failed in a couple of years.  Thick with panfish, bass and a few big pike.  Deep gray clouds above, mist in the air, a small ripple disturbing the surface.  Couldn't see the far shore of the hundred acre lake.  Sure looked like a good day to catch some fish.  We had our rain and life jackets on.  Matt's life jacket was new and as red as his rod sitting back in the truck.
     We headed straight for the first of the two islands, the half acre sized one with the nice campsite in the middle surrounded by a big stand of tall red pines.  Started on the north side by the beaver lodge where Allan had begun the best hour of bass fishing of our lives.  Of course that was fifteen years earlier and today we found the bass had moved on.  Not surprising.  A fisherman never forgets the honey holes and also learns over the years they move around.  The honey hole is usually there, the challenge is finding it.  That's one of the reasons I fish small lakes.  If they're not here, maybe they're over on the other side of the island or on the far shore a five minute paddle away.  So that's what we did.  Not a bump, hit or ripple on the way.
     Along the south shore we found our first clue.  Don't recall which of us had to answer the call of nature.  Once ashore we all emptied and explored.  Lots to see along a wilderness beach.  Deer tracks in the sand, glacier dropped rocks to fling and skip, even a pile of scat bound together with hair.  Big enough to be from a wolf or coyote.  Been there for a while from the looks of it.  These days wolves have spread throughout the northern half of Minnesota.  Coyotes, well, they're pretty much everywhere.   Like squirrels that can't climb trees.
     But it was on our approach that we saw our first fish, sunnies in water so shallow they scattered on their sides like flounders.  Not a lot of them but if the sunnies were shallow so would the bass.  Probably.
     In the spring we'd found a mix of slab-sized bluegills and bass along the sand-bottomed, shallow east shore.  Back out on the water we headed that way with no more luck than we'd had the first hour.  Not much of a fishing story to this point.  Changed in a heartbeat.  Thirty yards short of the last point Al spotted a roiling on the surface in no more than two feet of water.  We both knew what that meant.  Be they baitfish or gamefish there was a lot of chowing down goin' on within casting distance.
     To this point I'd done the casting and Matthew had worked the retrieving bobber.  I'd coached him on how to make a piece of scented plastic look like it was alive and why we did it.  He was doing fine for a five year old.  But now that we were on fish that became a problem.  He'd know what a sinking bobber meant but setting the hook would prove a problem.  Been there before with other youngsters and knew unless we were onto suicidal, self-impaling fish Matt wasn't going to catch anything.  I changed my tactics and did the casting and hook setting, then passed the rod over so he could get the feel of life on the line.
     His first was a keeper-sized crappie.  I say keeper-sized 'cause it was big enough and Matthew sure wanted to keep it.  Don't know if he realized keeping meant killing.  And on a small gem of a lake like this one we'd always thrown 'em back.  Took a bit of explaining.  Don't know if he liked throwing the crappie back but he did accept it.  Life lesson I guess.  Can't always be happy about the reality of a situation but you can accept it and move on.
     For the next half hour we spent more time catching than casting.  Al threw spinners, caught a few bass and impaled a nice bluegill.  Matt reeled in a baker's dozen of sunnies and bass to go with his crappie.  Finally, near the access, on his next to last cast, Al tied into the bass he'd been looking for.  Not huge for this lake but a fat, fall-bellied nineteen incher we measured on my paddle blade.  Back when I was a kid we considered anything over four pounds a trophy so I guess that's what Allan's bass was.  Nice fish.
     Had it been just me and Al we'd have been out there till near sunset.  But on the seat between us sat the game changer.  Matt had had a good time.  That was what we were there for.  It was time to land, load and head back to the cabin.  Life changes.  A new generation arrives and it needs grooming.  These days fishing's not a life or death thing.  We fish for the joy of it and also the connection to nature being on the water gives us.  The three of us had done that.  What more could we want?

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