Tag Archives: bass

CALLING FOR SUN

Independence Day weekend was upon us and my wife, three kids and I were staying with friends in their cabin in Old Forge to celebrate. Three bedrooms, an open kitchen/dining/living area, screened porch, big stone fireplace and indoor plumbing. No grand hand-hewn beams, lofts or giant picture windows. Just a simple, comfortable single-story cabin that’s been a lake-side snowmobiling, fishing, swimming and bonfire-ing family get-away for a couple generations–three actually, since our friends now have kids of their own tracking sand and pine-needles into the place.

Twenty-five years ago, I spent a long weekend at the same cabin as a guest of the family and their son. Being one prone to spending every waking minute in pursuit of fish, I had brought with me one rod and my tackle box. Thankfully, my mom had made sure a backpack with things like extra shirts and shorts, clean underwear and a toothbrush made it’s way with me too.

That weekend, I managed to catch a bass that is still talked about amongst their family members–even their Old Forge cabin neighbors speak with great reverence and enthusiasm about it. Its size fluctuates between good-eatin’, pretty dang big and trophy, depending on who you talk to. That’s a story for another time though. I digress.

It just so happened that on this particular Adirondack summer morning, heavy clouds elbowed their way in-between our 4-day vacation and sunny blue sky. Since the plan was for the dads and boys to fish for bass on a remote mountain lake anyhow, I didn’t necessarily mind the clouds, or the light mist-rain that came with it–although I had neglected to bring any wet-weather gear. The 10-day forecast had called for nothing but sun. Fortunately, I now have a wife who is as diligent about packing the practical stuff as my mom was when I was 13. I could count on a warm change of clothes to wear while I my rain-filled tackle box and I dried out. My boys, on the other hand, thought otherwise of the weather and made the 11th-hour call to hang out and watch a movie. A wise choice, as fate would have it.

Chris and I lashed the 14 foot aluminum rowboat into the bed of his pickup and stowed our gear. Harry, Chris’ son, waited patiently in the cab. It should be said that Harry is a born fisherman, like my boys. They all inherited the fin-tuition gene from their fathers. They are as comfortable on the water as they are tormenting their sisters. Thankfully, it’s a condition for which there is no cure…fin-tuition, not tormenting their sisters. They will carry the malady for the rest of their lives. We climbed in the truck and made haste to Little Safford Lake.

Chris had recounted fabulous tales of big bodied largemouth caught right from the shore, before the boat had even been taken off the back of the truck. Eager, hungry and ready for a fight, a morning of Little Safford bass was supposedly enough to make a man wonder if he should’ve spent some time in the weight room before casting a line in that tea-colored water.

I’m telling you, he said, there’s fish in here like swimming pigs.

I must admit, I’ve never seen a pig swim. But I have heard of a diving pig, named Ralph. Used to leap full-on into Aquarena Springs – the head of the San Marcos River in Texas – back in the 60’s and 70’s. Swimming pigs. I was wondering if I had heavy enough line.

We followed miles of dirt roads through the mountain pines – snowmobile trails in the winter, when the snow is deep enough to necessitate directional signs placed 7 – 10 feet up on poles. A few lefts and rights at forks in the road and the road became less a road and more like a wagon trail. Then quite suddenly the trees opened up and the lake appeared.

Now, I’m pretty much a sucker for just about any body of water, but Little Safford, at first glance, looked about the fishiest I could hope a mountain lake to look. We pulled the boat and gear out of the back of the truck and staged it on the shore. By the time Chris had walked the forty-or-so yards back from where he parked the truck, Harry and I had already fought, caught and released a bass each. By the time we decided to actually put the boat in the water, we had managed a dozen between the three of us. No pigs to speak of, but very good fish nonetheless.

Even as we shoved off, the sky looked unhealthy and the misty rain had pulled itself together into respectable drops. A half-hour later and a quarter-mile into the wind, unhealthy gave way to down-right ugly, as if Mother Nature had just woke up with a hangover. Undaunted, we pressed on. We had adopted the tactic of rowing 40 yards up-wind of a likely stretch of bog shoreline and then fishing the 40 yard drift back. And it was working. Even with the worsening weather, fish were still biting in the water along the face of the bog. Then the temperature dropped like a stone. As if to put an actual sound to the falling temperature, a thunder clap shook loose from around the far side of a not-so-distant mountain at the other end of the lake.

An aluminum row-boat. Four or five graphite fishing rods. A good quarter-mile between us and where we put in. And at least 300 yards of bog between us and the safety of the nearest treeline and cover. Now Mother Nature had our full attention. So as to keep from attracting any of her more electrically charged hints, we elected to pull the boat into a small cut-back in the bog, get out onto the bog, and hunker down on the bog as far away from the boat as we could safely tread.

This wasn’t a black, muddy, tractor-pull type bog like you find crowding out a smaller pond. This bog was a 6 to 8 foot thick tangled mat of bramble-like growth that half floats on top of the black, muddy, tractor-pull build-up on the bottom of the lake. Acres of it. Under normal circumstances, most all wildlife avoids these bogs. Well, most wildlife that carries any sort of weight anyhow. False steps and weak spots are met with nature’s equivalent to the carnival dunking booth. And much like the carnival itself, it’s tough to get out once you’re in, and you feel lucky to be alive when you finally do.

We hunkered down and weighed our options–praying the hair on our arms would not stand on end as lightning flung itself like jagged party streamers around the valley. Mother Nature’s own version of fireworks.

Looks like this is going to be around for a while, Chris said.
We should make a run for it, I replied.
In the boat? Chris asked.
Yea. Look for a cloud break, we’ll pace it, I replied.
I’m not rowing, added Harry.

And so we rallied and rooted for Mother Nature to give us a break in the clouds.

Now, I’m not sure if it was an actual break or if our imaginations had fabricated that small window, a blue-sky oasis in the clouds. But we all saw it and piled into the boat with the fervor of hunting dogs after waterfowl. Chris was first up on the oars. The wind refused to cooperate though, blowing at an angle across our three man tub. As we zigged and zagged roughly in the direction of where we put in, rain picking up, I grabbed hold of the oars as well and we rowed with the intensity of Vikings approaching an unsuspecting seaside village.

Reaching our port, we dragged the boat up on the shore and raced to the truck to get out of the rain and get some heat going. No sooner did we get the doors closed, our window in the sky closed as well. Sheets of rain and hail, cracking thunder and flash after flash of lightning made sure we understood just how lucky we were to have arrived when we did. After a while the heat sank in to our wet clothes and backbones and our chattering teeth stopped chattering. Harry scarfed down a snack he never had the chance to eat while in the boat, smiling at his dad as if adventures like these happen every day.

Any idea what the weather’s supposed to be like this afternoon? I asked.
Calling for more sun, Chris said.
Cool, Harry added. I won’t even have to change my clothes.

 

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, On the water

TONY AS MY WITNESS

Like any other fishing morning, Saturday started very early and with a strong pot of coffee. Tony arrived around 5 and we wasted some time talking at the kitchen table, having misjudged first light by about a half hour. By the time we got to the marina, loaded my gear on his boat, untied the ropes and shoved off, it was 5:45. Right on time.

Canandaigua Lake sunrise

Before the sun found its way clear of the hills to the east, we settled into a spot just up from the water treatment plant. It was cold and the breeze couldn’t make up its mind. It pushed us away from shore. We repositioned. It pushed us south along the shore. We repositioned again. We drifted north.

Guess it’d been nice if I remembered the trolling motor, Tony offered.

Fish–possibly trout after minnows–were rising everywhere. After an hour, Tony had fought and landed a scrappy rock bass. I stayed busy pruning weed-beds and exercising most every lure in my tackle box. We decided to head back to the north end of the lake and fish the shallows by Squaw Island.

The Captain

The shallows up near Squaw Island are some of the fishiest-looking water anywhere. 3 – 5 feet deep and gin clear. Weed-beds that all keep an uncanny 10 – 12 inch distance from the surface and hold a buffet of sunnies, bluegill, perch, small and largemouth and pickerel. Tasty, sand-shell-shale-bottomed ambush clearings throughout. Every cast feels fully-loaded…like you’re pitching metal to a lake-full of lightning bolts.

By the time we shut off the engine, the breeze decided to cooperate. As the boat found a nice north/northeasterly drift, the sun continued its climb and the temperature followed. We got back to work.

Some measure success on the water by the size of their catch. Some by the number they landed. Since we had neither size or numbers on our side, we re-tooled our measuring stick. Our morning turned out to be stellar as a result of how many different species we boated and released. We managed a couple perch, more rock bass, a smallie and a pickerel. Four different species in one morning isn’t too shabby considering our slow start.

Get the net

Pretty...and pretty feisty

Sun's up

But our list of species didn’t end at four. As a matter of fact, it even headed into another Kingdom entirely. Within minutes of pulling into the shallows and getting our lines in the water, we had to start thwarting a gull’s best efforts at nabbing our lures.

Yes. I am going there.

I had just made a cast off the back of the boat when I heard from behind me,

Son-of-a…DROP IT, you stupid bird! DROP IT!

I turned around to see Tony in a tug-of-war with the gull. He looked like he was flying an unruly, squawking kite. I reeled in my line so as to not hook up with a bird of my own and went up front to help him. Reeling it down toward the boat slowly, he got it close enough for me to grab the line, coax the bird to fold its wings and sit on the water next to the boat. I must say, Tony played that gull like a pro. Definitely a shoo-in for the BIRD Tour, if there was one.

Tony grabbed the pliers I had in my tackle box and I had him grab my sweatshirt too. I lifted the gull by the line and lure, draped the sweatshirt over it to get those crazy wings under control and grabbed it–carefully and gently–by the neck behind it’s head. The squawks and flapping stopped. Tony removed the hook with one deft, surgeon-like move and, with an underhand toss, I released the bird to the air…and released my sweatshirt into the lake.

Stories like this always seem to belong to somebody else. Always told by someone who was fishing alone, they always seem fantastic and hard to believe. And they usually do not end well for the bird, turtle, muscrat or–occasionally–the fisherman. Not any more. We’d have taken pictures, but our hands were full.

The gull met up with a couple others and flew off, presumably to find another boat with fewer sharp objects being thrown from it. We wrapped up our successful morning with a breakfast fit for a king…or a couple happy fishermen who could corroborate each others story.

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GEAR

Ahhh, mid-summer. The prelude to fall…my favorite time of year.

Cicadas have begun to echo their rattling song in the lush heavy-ness of a quickly approaching August. The day’s heat is trading its oppressive edge for a longer shadow. All the busy-ness that’s accumulated since the winter is passing in one great, final exhale right about now, and a modest measure of free-time is quietly making its way back, like the unconditional love of a good hunting dog.

While this free-time lets me get back to some much-needed fishing, it’s also when I’m able to get my bow out, stand twenty paces from a 3D target and wake up the shooting muscles that have been asleep since last season. The kids love when my free-time returns, when all my hunting gear starts appearing again from the barn. They know dad’s going to be taking them along for the ride. Aleida’s about the right age for her first bow. Cam’s not far off.

It could be that I just celebrated my 20th high school reunion this past weekend. It could be that we hosted a surprise party for my dad’s 60th birthday this past weekend too – I’ll get back to these. But when I pulled my bow out of its case at the range last night, it struck me just how much my dad has handed down to me, specifically as an outdoorsman.

There’s the obvious: All three bows I’ve hunted with, including the Mathews I shoot now, were dads previously. My first shotgun, a bolt-action 12 gauge Mossberg, was his as a kid, and I hunted with it until its retirement a couple seasons ago (there’s a story for another post). There are brand-new boots that just didn’t fit him right, hunting jackets, Pendleton shirts, my first tree-stand, fishing lures, rods and reels, knives, flashlights, a thermos or two. The list goes on.

Handing down the tools of the trade, so to speak, was his way of making sure I had what I needed for a good start, and would get me out in the woods with him at least once. Where I took it from there would depend on my own moxie. I’ve always valued these gifts because they were his and because I know how much he loves the outdoors. But the gear is only part of the inheritance. The stories and lessons, friendship and time together…those are the real deal. That’s a hand-me-down that’ll still be there when all the gear has worn out.

As I said, my 20th just went into the record books, as did my dad’s birthday. Sunday afternoon a handful of my friends made their reunion-exhausted way, with spouses and kids, over to our place for one last cookout. We turned the kids loose on the pool, sodas and chips and simply relaxed in the sun. Watching the kids and how they interacted with each other was like watching little versions of us. They weren’t perfect, but if there was an issue, they managed to figure everything out and get back to getting along.

The next day, my dad’s shin-dig brought out a bunch of his old buds from school…folks who have known me since I came home from the hospital some 38 years ago, brand-spankin’ new and carrying my dad’s first name. At one point, the boys were telling one of my dad’s friends, an avid outdoorsman, stories about catching bass and getting to shoot a .22 for the first time. Excited and proud as all get-out, you’d have thought just discovered Disneyland in their backyard. My dad’s friend looked up, winked at me and said, wonder where they get that from.

Exactly.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, In the woods, On the water

EAGER FISH. THE VIDEO.

While the phone didn’t play nice for Saturday’s outing, it made up for itself on Sunday with the boys. Here’s a little recap of the afternoon… put to Taj Mahal’s Fishin’ Blues (w/Vassar Clements).

Father’s Day Fishin’ from Matt on Vimeo.

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THE GLORY OF EAGER FISH

Saturday’s kayak excursion delivered one very nice largemouth (see below), a mess of panfish, a lot of paddling and a chance to see one of the two resident bald eagles that patrol the south end of the lake and the river. I managed to get these shots of the eagle before my phone crapped the bed.

The lookout

Freedom in flight

There was something in the mythology or attitude or presence of that bird that was tremendously empowering and settling at the same time. He was a talisman, a force of nature, an entire nation perched and vigilant. But he was a fellow fisherman as well, with the patience of time…confident in the fortune of instinct. It didn’t matter if I caught a single fish at that point. I was happy to simply be sharing the same circle of existence.

We wrapped up the evening with wings, burgers and some barley pops. After I got home and unloaded my gear, I crawled into bed and fell asleep with thoughts of the boys fighting scrappy Father’s Day bass dancing in my head.

Big flies. Big fish.

The next morning arrived bright and early…the kids descending on me with PJs, bed-head and handmade cards and crafts. I hadn’t even barely put a foot on the floor next to my bed when the conversation turned to:

When are we fishin’ dad?

How many minutes till we go?

Can I go get my tackle box from the barn?

Oh yea…mom got BACON for breakfast!

Father’s Day isn’t Father’s Day without bacon for breakfast.

After church and a couple small chores around the house, the boys and I were off to catch bass. The ladies elected to stay and enjoy the pool, and some peace and quiet.

I had mentioned that the bass ponds on my in-law’s property are easy pickin’s. I don’t think I mentioned that the ponds are on their golf course. Bass fishing with my boys on a golf course on a blue-bird, Father’s Day afternoon. Like Old Milwaukee, it just doesn’t get any better than this. We loaded the gear on a golf cart, waving to foursomes and smiles and shouts of Good luck! as we made our way back to the pond at hole #3.

My youngest, Jonah, struck green first. His first full-size rod and reel, and his first bass. When he had backed the fish safely on the grass, he let loose some fist pumps like he just boated a tarpon…or won the Masters. Cam quickly followed suit with his first fish of the afternoon.

A few Gatorades and a few hours later, Jonah finished with 6 or 7 fish. Cam was not far behind. The sun was still high. Golfers were stopping to watch and clap for hook-ups. The boys were rock stars. We called it a day, grabbed a couple red-hots at the clubhouse and hit the road.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, On the water