Bigger is not always better. A quiet lake, a rowboat and a trusty companion — a match made in heaven for the author
who is pictured here.
Respect for the rowboat and Grandpa.
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 12–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 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. 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 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 12–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 to its watery playground, maybe just a little wiser for the wear. It was a good start to the evening, an evening that was alive with all the fragrance and possibility befitting an early summer’s eve.
Working slowly around the shoreline I tried several more likely 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 pause. I pictured hundreds of other lakes across the north where a different scene was playing out.
Large boats with large motors were busily and noisily racing from one spot to the next. Electronic fish finders removed much of the mystery as to what was below. Trolling motors ranging from the archaic tiller–operated to the newest GPS–controlled, kept boats precisely placed.
Fishing, like soda, comes in many flavors to satisfy many tastes. As my eyes navigated me to my next likely spot, I thought back to how I acquired my taste.
Grandpa introduced me to fishing when I was 7 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 known.
Each summer I looked forward to our week–long vacation to the Woodruff/Minocqua area. Grandma and Grandpa came along and each morning and evening was spent fishing. Often we would take Grandpa’s “big” boat, a 14–foot aluminum fishing boat with a 9 horsepower Johnson motor.
My favorite trips, however, were when we would load the 12–foot row boat 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. I think Grandpa enjoyed the rowing as much as he did the fishing. 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. 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. 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 danger areas, 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 4–pound largemouth. Once unhooked, I admired the chunky fish before gently releasing it to slowly descend into the dark water.
I continued working my way slowly around the lake, anxious to see what waited around the next corner. 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 to the truck. A whip–poor–will broke out in its frantic song reminding me that it is often the things in nature that we do not see but are made aware of their presence only by sounds or tracks that make our adventures ever more fulfilling.
As I worked my bait back toward 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. It was a perfect way to end a memorable evening of fishing.
As I guided my boat toward the shore I couldn’t help but think how at that place, 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 make music to my ears. I think Grandpa would leave them just the way they are.
Ron Weber writes from Weyerhaeuser, Wis.