I had just glided into a green cove bordered by tall pine when I saw the silver flash of gills five feet below the surface on my right. I angled into the shade of the trees and began preparing my line. That I wasn’t prepared is still a bone of contention with me. A short time earlier my line had snagged on an underwater branch and I lost my lure. I hastily re-strung a floating shiner hoping to catch a largemouth bass.
I had fished this cove before without success. It’s a beautiful spot in water that varies between a foot deep to seven feet before dropping deeper. I see fish here all the time. Over this years I have come to think of this spot as being part of a travel line from the north end of the lake to the south. Fish move through here but seldom linger. I linger here more often than any fish. When the sun is high and the water is calm I can float here surrounded by the forest reflecting in the water like an impressionist painting. For company I have the two loons that dodge and dart nearby on their own fishing expeditions, and the occasional eagle that passes overhead.
I prefer to hunt for largemouth bass. I am not a highly skilled fisherman. I fish for a number of reasons, not the least of which being to relax. I love the outdoors, and I am partial to this place immortalized in the Hamm’s beer advertisements as “The Land of Sky Blue Water.” So it is. Our northwoods cabin hideaway rests on the shore of Lake Wawatasi, which was a lumber camp a hundred years ago. A section of my property intersects the Indian Reservation. Fishing, camping, boating and snowmobiling are the primary tourist attractions. I’m fortunate to be fifteen miles west of any major town.
Largemouth bass favor the shallows; less than twenty feet of water with plenty of weeds and lily pads for cover. These are food-rich zones where the bass feed on smaller fish. The pan fisherman will find ample supply of small carp and sunfish that can be cut into silver-dollar sized morsels for the frying pan. Memories of better times frying panfish with scrambled eggs to wash down with hot black coffee at Camp McNulty occupy my thoughts as I plunge into the shady shallows near shore.
My line is ignored so I experiment with lures. I try a variety of colorful plastic jigs about two inches long to no avail. Once I used a yellow twintail grub successfully, but only once. I’m convinced bass hate yellow. I try weed jigs and sinker rigs. My son-in-law tells me the best bass lure is a rubber purple worm. Sometimes I use a bobber and sometimes I don’t. I get to the point where it doesn’t matter, and I enjoy being removed from the ceaseless chatter of a culture focused on promoting discontentment via the Internet. I don’t even have a cell phone on me, and I stopped wearing watches twenty years ago.
Fishing in the morning is much different than in the late afternoon when the sky pulls ruby wisps and lavender swaths across the horizon. In the afternoon the frogs along the shore begin their belching chorus and the dragonflies attack the mosquitoes in a silent aerial war that is alleviated only by a welcome breeze. Ice fishing is another matter. One of my uncles told a great story about chainsawing a hole in the ice but it was too small to pull in the musky he claimed he caught. He came stomping red-faced into the cabin and finished cooking us a delicious venison stew and gulping down beer because he didn’t think anyone believed him about the large musky. Hell, we believed him. Up here in the northwoods there is a popular saying: “I don’t exaggerate, I just remember big.”
Being literary minded, I often throw out such morsels as: “Moby Dick escaped my hook today.” Or “Remember that big white shark in Jaws? Well the northern I lost this morning was that big!” Just this summer a fellow fisherman said to me: “I lost the biggest bass I’ve seen an hour ago! He flipped right off the hook!” The act of fishing is equally important as catching a fish. A solid boat, a good reel, enough hooks and lures and fair weather is all a fisherman needs to have a great day. Anything else, like catching a fish, is icing on the cake. Who among us cannot recall the afternoon when you suddenly catch a glimpse of “the big one” gliding past your boat, a leviathan’s silhouette ignoring your hook’s jiggle with a haughty arrogance.
The call of the faraway lands is always present in my soul. I cannot tramp the concrete jungle of Chicagoland without keeping an image of some sky-blue lake twinkling like an oasis in the back of my mind. The lure of the northwoods is an enticement that I happily embrace. Even being stuck in a damp cabin on a rainy day is a pleasure, because here in the far country the benefits of feeling alive manifest themselves in every shade the sky chooses. The whispering pines and eagle’s silhouette are all I need as a bromide against the intrusion of an increasingly idiotic society.
So it is that every spring I prepare the first of several trips to Camp McNulty. I pack up my guns, fishing gear, extra clothing and a good hat or two before making the trek north. And, folks, I know that you won’t believe me, but I swear it’s true, the fish I catch are going to be epic!
|This is a gag photo so don't get your pantyhose in a knot|
Text and photos copyright ©2015 by Thomas McNulty