Thursday, June 14, 2012

pass the bass, please...

So I had this hot tip about a bass lake from a fiddle player, of all people, and I was trying to figure out when and how to check it out. Now, a fishing tip from an old time fiddler can be handled several different ways, but I happen to know this guy and know he’s a fisherman, so I took him at his word. He even showed me a phone photo of a hefty smallmouth lying on top of a cooler. A good-looking fish, no matter how small the cooler was. That fiddler wasn’t fishing for bass, though, he was looking for walleyes and crappies – you know, eatin’ fish – but he caught so many accidental smallies that he thought of me and my flyrod. Last Tuesday seemed like a good day to check it out so I marked “gone fishing” on the calender at work and headed north with a canoe on the rack.

The lake is around 50 miles from my place, the last seven miles on a worn, partially flooded gravel road that gets narrower the farther you go. The kind of road that’s turning into a trail and feels good to drive in a four-wheel drive truck. If you meet another vehicle one of you pulls over as far as you dare and the other creeps by with nods and waves exchanged. I’d gotten a pretty good start and stopped only once just long enough to fill my coffee cup. Still, I’d had thoughts of being on the water at sunrise, which I wasn’t but it didn’t matter. It was a beauty of a morning with fog wafting across the lake and the warblers, thrushes, and whitethroats were singing and chirping. A mother loon with babies greeted me just off the landing and I felt the anticipation rise and the familiar haste in getting started before anyone else came along and saw what I was up to.

I have two canoes, and the one I use is determined mostly by the distance I have to carry it. One is sleek, narrow, fast and light. I’ve paddled and portaged it all over canoe country and love the darn thing, but it has it’s own personality and is only user-friendly to a degree. It’s kinda like sitting in the yard knowing there’s a hornet nest hanging fifty feet away. You probably won’t have any trouble, but if you do... It’s hard to get completely relaxed.

The other is a bit shorter, wider, more stable, and heavier. It's easy to get comfortable in, and you can sneak out of the seat to move forward to reach your rain-gear, or turn around to grab something behind you without feeling like you're going in the drink. Usually. Occasionally I'll even stand up in it to stretch a bit. Because I could drive right to the landing, I had number two. At the ramp I plopped it in the water, rigged my rod and pushed off.

Right from the start, the shallows along shore consisted of rocks varying in size from boulders to the softball sized rubble that means smallmouth bass! Here and there is a patch of sand or weeds, and there are many trees laying from the shoreline to add hiding locations for the fish and snagging places for the errant tossed lure. I started with a hard, froggy looking popper and hooked a bass on the third cast, hardly away from the boat ramp. I continued along the south shore, in the shade of the forested shoreline as the sun lit the rest of the calm lake. Easing the canoe with a slow stroke of the paddle, I’d rest it across my lap and cast five or six times, catching bass regularly as they boiled at the popper and hit with a splash.

Cruising into a large bay I was greeted by a pair of upset beavers that circled my canoe and dove with their tails cracking the water every few minutes. It was so quiet and still I could hear their breathing as they swam a hundred feet away. I’d have an eye on one as it zig-zagged in front, only to be startled by the loud splash of it’s partner behind me. The beavers didn’t exactly drive me from their bay, but I’d have no peace until I left it.

Thankfully, it was mostly calm all day. There was the infrequent casual breeze that would come along and nudge the Old Town and me into, or away from shore and I’d have to scull myself back into position for a quick cast, but it wasn’t enough to bother much. I'd mentioned before to my fiddle playing friend that he could paddle me around and guide me, but he showed no enthusiasm for that suggestion. I didn’t try to keep count of the fish I caught, and you don’t have to try until they start adding up. Sometime in the morning I actually did lose count and anytime that happens you’ve had a good day. I did keep an eye on the size, however, and though the fish I caught fought for all they were worth, all were well under anything considered a trophy. For no particular reason I changed flies once in awhile. I caught bass on hard poppers, deer hair divers, a big Madam X, Wooly Buggers, and Clouser Minnows. I was casting well enough, it was a gorgeous day, and I was having a ball!

Long about 10:30 a lone angler in a boat arrived on the lake and he stood in the front of his boat and worked the shoreline as I was doing, only with an electric trolling motor. I watched him a couple of times through my binocular and saw he was casting a crankbait and skittering it back with purpose. I saw him land two bass and hoped he dropped them back into the lake. He saw where I was and stayed well away, which I appreciated, and then motored to the other side of the lake. I was kind of surprised to see another guy targeting bass, but I know he was having fun. Next time I visit that lake I may use my boat as well, and let the motor do the work while I do the fishing!

At lunch time I paddled into deeper water, dropped anchor, and rigged a spinning rod with a worm rig and dropped it overboard for any walleye that might wanna have lunch, also. Then I slid off the seat to the bottom of the canoe, propped my life jacket behind me, and rested my feet up on the gunwhales. A cold hamburger and a beer from the cooler hit the spot and I sort of dozed off until I heard someone chatting across the lake. I turned to see five canoes going by heading for the portage down at the other end. Nice! I thought, and they reminded me of the many canoe camping trips I’ve been on and how I need to again. I know I’ve envied over some pretty fantastic looking fishing boats, but there’s something about a canoe that stirs me.

I like having a rod in my truck and a canoe on the roof, sometimes for a week or more, in case I get the chance, or the urge, or a whim to use them. There’s not much trouble to it: see some water, stop and check it out. You might find something good, or you just might find something great! And paddling warms and loosens muscles that hardly get used any other way so that’s not a bad thing, either. It’s quiet and peaceful, and... what the heck, canoes and fly rods cohabit the deep and artsy side of what a lot of folks think fly-fishing entails.

The motorboat had loaded and left an hour before, and it was closing in on suppertime when I eased my canoe back to the landing. I was pleased and tired in a way handling a canoe and flyrod all day makes a guy feel. It was easy to let that old, familiar satisfied relaxation come to me while I recounted the day on the way home.

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