Wednesday, October 5, 2022
Trees of a wild uninterrupted forest lined the canal. The slow crawl of our forty plus foot boat made way to a surprising clip once we entered the spaces between the piers. I was surprised at the woods. This bay was well-known as a touristy, artsy vacation spot. I had expected homes, taverns, socks and estates.
By eyesight, looking through the eye of the canal, I would have sworn we would be fishing off the edge of the earth. There seemed to be nothing beyond the gap between the shores of the canal.
The safe harbor showed itself to me. The coast guard station stood ready, at attention. the boat clipped a bit more quickly. The piers outlined the final edges of the harbor. To the south, a simple beacon st the end of a concrete pier. I smiled at the sight of its angled sides. It was the type of pier as was Manitowoc. My father would caution me not to walk close to the edge. I never realized how closely he watched over me.
To the north, a catwalk still adorned the pier. From shore to the lighthouse, the metal structure stood. I had not seen one for years but again the sight of it was another reminder of my fishing days with my father. With the visit from my great uncle Ray who could place a worm on the end of a hook even with his mechanical hand. I would watch him deftly attach night crawler after night crawler for me. In the seconds it took our boat to pass, I could still see Uncle Ray smile.
Normally I feel hesitation but there was no time. As soon as we entered open water, poles were readied with the largest spoon baits I had ever seen. I asked stupid questions to which the captain and guide answered with the kindest grace and knowledge.
And we turned north, parallel to the shore. The first fish was not mine to take but the second one was.
I really had no clue. “What do I do if I catch one?”
“I’ll help you. I’ll tell you what to do. But to keep him, you will have to kiss him.”
The sun peeked through the gray clouds. The sky seemed to hang low like heavy sheers one might have draped in front picture windows in the 1960s. Nostalgic skies. But I could not day dream as the pole tapped it’s tip toward the waters surface.
“You’re up!” They sang to me.
Grabbing the pole, I could feel the heaviness of the line’s drag. We were deep or at least what I would think would be deep. At times I could feel the line swish side to side.
“That’s his head shaking.”
And then there was nothing. No movement in the line, just a heaviness. I’d I had not been a mile from shore, I would have believed I snagged a log or trash or wrapped the line around a submerged rock.
“It feels like a snag. Did I lose him?”
“No,” the guide answered. “Just hold the line tight, hold the rod up and reel when you can.”
I did so. The boat bobbed up and down. I held on. I became grateful for the minutes in which the fish paused. When I could repeat the reeling, I did. The line squealed then clicked madly as the fish dove deeper.
Then he stopped. All I could feel was the rocking of the boat. I was grateful for the pause of the fish. I leaned back in the rod rack to rest but the rod tip awakened with a tap. I pressed the handle into my abdomen, then reeled while pulling up.
The fish’s movement stopped. I began to ask the same question but the guide answered, “just keep doing what you are doing.”
I reeled, then pulled. The waves rocked the boat. I could see the line at the point at which it entered the water. He had risen up. “It’s a big one,” my family cheered. I felt warmed as I thought they were being unnecessarily optimistic and kind.
No. No, kindness has nothing to do with the fish. I pulled. Then I saw it. They weren’t kidding. I saw a fin cut the surface behind the line. My eye darted from line to fin as I tried to understand.
A fin. I saw a fin. The fish and I. I and the lake. My family and memories. And…
Seconds later my reverie was snapped by the reality of that fin coming closer to me. Someone had grabbed the landing net as the guide told me to keep doing what I was doing.
I had no idea what I was doing but I kept doing it.
The net dipped down. My line eased for the first time. He was a beautiful, large chinook salmon. I felt badly as he lie in the boat. The guide reminded me that he is probably three years old in a four year lifespan.
(I am hoping that is a fishing truth).
I know he kidded me about the fish kissing, but I could not help doing so. I thanked G-d for this wonderful twenty-ish pound salmon.
We caught more fish that afternoon but none rivaled the size of mine. He was a magnificent creature.
We pulled up our lines earlier than anticipated as we caught our fish and family grew tired. The captain talked about the boat, it’s efficrnicies and the redo he had undergone a few years earlier.
As we turned toward shore, right outside the piers, he ran the engines hard. “Papa,” I whispered. I remembered the stories of my father sailing boats from Chicago to Sturgeon Bay for their owners.
Again I was snapped back to reality. As we turned toward the shore, the guide replaced a rod with a fish cleaning board braced in the holder. Seagulls seemed to recognize the process. The flock squawked as he filetted. The innards he flung to them, testing and playing to see them catch the treat mid flight.
I wanted to catch soght of the red lighthouse. When the engines slowed, I wonder if we were close.
If you ever have a chance to fish, please do so.
Love always, ss.