My philosophy on life is no matter what happens on any given day, if you managed to catch a fish, any fish, then you’ve had a good day.
And after the heinous day of work I just had in Cubicle-Land, believe me, I needed a good day.
So after work, I rushed off in my Honda CRV with the ever-present canoe on the roof. 45 minutes later, I was off the main highway, and driving up a gravel logging road towards my favorite lake.
As soon as I put my canoe in the water, I knew from the sun and the water I was going to get lucky. I’m not an expert fisherman (far from it!) But on some days, you just know…you’re gonna catch something. It’s hard to explain, it’s kind of a sixth sense.
Early July is my favorite time of year. The days are long, the water is still cool, and the fish have just finished spawning and are eager.
Unlike late summer (when the blistering heat has faded Nature’s colors), everything this time of year was still fresh and emerald green.
The trees, the lily pads, the rocks, everything was bathed in a warm greenish/golden hue from the still-high evening sun slowly making its way to the horizon.
I slowly paddled around the lake, casting my line, here or there. There were a few other canoes but I had this whole corner to myself, next to a marshy area where a creek entered the lake. This was the Hot Spot.
You’d think it would have been quiet, but the cacophony surrounding me was astounding.
The red-wing blackbirds chirped in the bull-rushes. God, I love that sound. They nest in marshes, and when you hear them, you know it’s still early in the season. As a kid, I remember hearing them shortly before school let out. Their chirps promise of many warm lazy days yet to come.
The white sparrows were also out that night. You don’t hear them in the city. You only hear them up in Shield Country: the land of grayish-pink bedrock, towering white pine, wild blueberries and cool lakes with coarse sandy beaches. The sparrow’s plaintive call “Sweet, sweet Canada Canada Canada“ was haunting yet soothing.
The bullfrogs were having a field day. They sounded like a bunch of asthmatic Grandfathers clearing their throats. (GARUMP! GARUMP! GARUMP!!!). There was splashing in the water along the shore, as two were duking it out to mark their territory.
While all this was happening, the resident asshole squirrels scolded everyone from the tree tops: “Ttttttttt-ttttttttttt-tttttttttttttttt”.
It was just past 7:30. The sun was getting lower and the water turned to glass. The colors, the noise, the sky…everything felt right. This was the precise time of day when everything seemed to fall together in place…I could just FEEL IT…This was what I was looking for:
The Magic Time.
This is when the fish like to bite.
And sure enough, as I cast my line out, I felt it.
A slight touch. Very gentle, like someone tapping a finger on their watch.
Something was THERE….I just knew it.
More casts. Nothing, nothing, nothing…
Then another touch.
They’re MESSING with me. The little bastards.
Then, as I was reeling in my last cast, instead of coming right back towards me, the fishing line moved slightly sideways.
(This is SO AWESOME..!)
Because when the lines moves like this, you KNOW there’s a fish.
This is when I had to decide what to do.
If I yanked the rod too soon, the fish would get spooked and spit out the hook. If I didn’t yank at all, and kept reeling in, the fish would eventually figure he has a hook in his mouth, and he’d let go.
The secret is to yank at precisely the right time (there’s an art to it). If I did it right, I’d be rewarded by a hard tug, and I’d know I had him.
So I yanked…and BAM! I hooked him! After some splashing and kerfuffle, I reeled in a modest bronze-silver largemouth bass, maybe 10 inches long. Not huge, but decent enough for the frying pan
Ha-HAAAH! I gleefully cackled to myself. I got a fish!
So already, this was a GOOD DAY.
But sometimes when there’s one, there’s another near by. Let’s try again
BAM! Another bass, about the same size. (Hee! hee! hee! This is TOO MUCH fun!)
This is really a GOOD DAY, twice over!
BAM! (Not another!?)
(Wow…they’re really ON tonight!)
Usually, on this lake, it takes me a good 2 hours of paddling around and casting to get my limit of six fish.
Tonight, I was done within 20 minutes, within the same few hundred feet.
Well, now that I had supper for a few meals, this was the bonus round. I was just fishing for fun, now.
Magic Time was Accelerating.
More taps, and fishing lines moving sideways. BAM! BAM! BAM! One fish after another. I just kept throwing them back.
Bass tend to have different personalities. The smaller, younger fish are just STUPID. The impetuousness of youth. They bite anything.
I caught one who was so greedy, he bit my lure while he still had an un-swallowed minnow in his mouth.
(Idiot!). Back to the water with you…come back when you’re bigger.
The medium ones (12-14 inches) are somewhat smarter. They’ll put up a good fight. Their silvery dart-like bodies shimmy in the deep black water, as they try to shake the hook off.
Others will try to break the line by diving and wrapping themselves around the weeds. One bass I managed to snag was totally covered in a mat of grassy vegetation. (Pretty smart, actually, for an animal with a brain the size of a pea).
The larger fish are the hardest to catch, and rightfully so. After all, they didn’t grow to be this big by being stupid.
On one of my casts, I felt not just a tap, but a HUGE TUG and the rod bent. My stomach flip-flopped with adrenaline.
Oh my God! I’ve got a LUNKER!
I set the hook, and now I had to decide how to land this guy.
And oboy, was HE PISSED. I eased the tension on the line with my drag control. ZZZZZZZzzzzzz…the line reeled out, as he dove deep and tried to run off.
Suddenly the line went slack. He’d changed directions, and was now heading towards me.
(Oh, no you DON’T, you sonnavabitch!…You’re not getting away from me…!)
I yanked the rod in the other direction, keeping the line taught.
Now the rod bent again, and ZZZZzzzz, more line went out.
Suddenly, in a boiling mass of water, he breached the surface, silhouetted against the sun, temporarily suspended in the air, shaking his head indignantly, before splashing down and diving again.
Diving, twisting, breaching the surface, over and over. My heart was bounding.
Nothing else in the Universe mattered to me at this moment, except to land this fish.
Fuck! He busted my rod!
Fortunately, he’d finally tired himself out. Broken rod and all, the line was still intact, and I managed to coax him just close enough to the canoe to grab him by his sand-papery lips. The hook was barely in his mouth. (A few seconds more, I’d have lost him).
I held him up against the sky to admire. What a BEAUTIFUL FANTASTIC golden-bronze specimen! About as long as my fore-arm, but much thicker (all pure muscle). His mouth was so large, I could almost put my fist in it. I admired him for few moments, and then gently put him back in the water, where he sullenly swam off.
This is what fishing is all about. Letting the big ones go, so they learn their lesson and become even harder to catch for the next time. And letting them go so they can continue to breed and make more fishies for me to catch.
The was just the icing on the cake. I was completely at peace with myself.
The sun was at eye level, turning the water into liquid gold. The red-wing blackbirds were getting their last bit of play-time in before bed. I was outside on a perfect summer evening, during Magic Time.
And now I’d just landed and let go The Great-Grand-Daddy of all Bass.
At this moment…
At this very moment in space and time…right now…
Was there ANYTHING I’d rather be doing instead of this?
This is why I go fishing…to experience moments like these.
BUT…I was still not done catching fish. There was still daylight left.
To paraphrase Foghorn Leghorn: “Fortunately, I packed an extra rod, for just such an emergency”.
The sun was low now, lighting the pine trees in shades of crimson. The last glimmer of sunlight reluctantly hung on for a few more minutes, and I kept casting my line, trying to squeeze every moment out of this perfect evening.
Yet another tug.
(No…you have got to be shitting me!) Not ANOTHER FISH?
Yes, another fish. And another. And another.
Sometimes you just have to be at the right place, at the right time. And today is one of those times.
I’ve never seen it like this before. Ever. I’m almost crying with joy.
The sun had set now, but there was still lingering light in the early summer dusk.
Still more fish. BAM! BAM! Almost every cast.
I didn’t know how many I’d caught tonight. I stopped counting at twelve, and that was two hours ago. I must have been close to thirty (or forty?).
Nobody will ever believe me (but it doesn’t matter…I know what I did !)
Un-freaking believable. But I wasn’t complaining.
The birds were less active now, but a few stragglers were still chirping. The blue shadow of the Earth was climbing up in the Eastern sky. I knew I’d have to leave soon, it was still a fair paddle back to the car.
But that’s okay. I’d accomplished my mission. I’d had a “Good day”, many, many times over.
As I paddled back on the pristine water, the orange glow of distant campfires started to flicker on shore.
A silver fingernail of the crescent moon appeared where the sun used to be in the violet-orange yellow sky. It was almost completely dark as I pulled my canoe into the docking area and went to get my car.
If there was a better way to spend a July evening, I didn’t want to know about it.