Friday, June 1, 2012

The Fishing Trip of the Single Fish

File:Pose lake Minnesota.jpg 

Oh, the water,
Oh, the water,
So clear, and blue, and free.
"Captain," Abigail Washburn

It was summer, and I was in high school, so it was time for a men's family fishing trip to the Boundary Waters. The year in question, we abandoned the wimpy accommodations of motor boats and cabins used on fishing trips of previous years, and instead opted to use only canoes and tents. We would portage our canoes over several miles of trail from our cars to the water line, and then paddle out several miles to a remote island, where we would set up camp and live together for a week.

If that sounds like a set up for a story about a really terrible fishing trip, then too bad: this fishing trip was rad.

Few things are as beautiful as a wilderness undisturbed by human noise. Out where we were, there were no cabins, no roads, not even boats with motors. Just a few men and their canoes. And we reveled in it, waking early each day to a simple breakfast of, well not much (we hoped to do a lot of fish catching and fish eating this trip, but we managed to catch almost nothing for most of it; I think the adults were at least moderately concerned, but I sure didn't notice) and heading out on the water to fish and seek nature's unseen loveliness in glorious, glorious quiet.

We'd head out in a group to some location and then spread our various canoes around to see what could be seen and fish what could be fished (in the latter case: very little). At one point, Dad and I decided to pull our canoe up to some rocks and fish from shore. Though we'd both been canoeing a fair amount in our lives, this day we made the classic rookie canoeing mistake: as we approached the shore, we both leaned over at the same time to grab the rock and bring ourselves closer. Now, a canoe will not tolerate both riders leaning hard in the same direction, and ours was no exception. It rolled right over with me still in it. Dad, ever nimble, hopped on shore just in time. For whatever reason, I remember being less concerned that I had gotten wet and more annoyed that Dad had made a clean getaway. Didn't seem fair.

At any rate, we had a great time that week. The Boundary Waters were incredible. We were there in a week of perfect weather: no rain, few clouds, and often not even any wind. There were evenings when we took our canoes out after dinner, just to ride and to see, and the lakes were so smooth because of the lack of wind, you saw the exact reflection of the sky and tree line, undisturbed. It was like canoeing on the sky, Dad said. One night, my uncle and cousin paddled out across the lake from us, several hundred yards distant and just visible from the camp site. I went down to the shore to get some water, and I heard them speaking to each other, as if they were right next to me. The water was so smooth, and the evening so still, that the sound of a voice traveled much, much farther than it ought to have. I called down the other guys from the camp, and we had a conversation with these two men across almost a mile of water. I've never done anything like it, before or since.

We continued to catch few fish throughout the week, and as the end of the trip approached, I still hadn't caught a single fish. I went out for my last bout of fishing with Ray, a friend of my uncle's, who paddled the canoe around the island while I trawled with a big lure. It was kind of Ray to set out just to help me catch something, but I didn't have high hopes. I've never been much of a fisherman, at least, I've never been a fisherman who catches many fish, which is not all fishing is, mind. But if you don't catch something every once in a while, fishing is just sitting. And I'm primarily good at the sitting part of fishing.

So I was surprised to suddenly catch a fish. It was a monster, the biggest I've ever caught by far, and I think the biggest on the trip. It was a spectacular, big, pretty muskellunge, almost three feet long. We let it go afterwards--muskies aren't great eating--but I was very proud. I don't think I've bothered trying to catch a fish since that one.

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