His face wore a blank expression, but you could tell he was hiding disdain. He was looking down on us both figuratively and literally. He looked down because he sat on a swivel chair that rode atop a metal stem inserted in the tall open deck of his Lund fishing boat, the remote control for a small electric motor in one hand, and a casting rod rigged with an elaborate contraption of hooks, weights, jigs, and a tiny live minnow trying to swim as fast as possible through the air in which it was suspended. He wore a camouflage hat, and his enormous frame was covered by a camouflage jacket, a camouflage vest, and camouflage rain pants, offset with oversize but somehow stylish green rubber boots.
What he was looking down on was a skinny long haired mustached academic and a small wiry girl child who were busy rigging up French lures to their lightweight spinning tackle. In a canoe.
The lake was ice cold … dangerously cold if you fell in, but the dad/daughter combo risked taking the canoe out just to the edge of a marshy area from which protruded countless brown stalks left over from last year’s lush growth. From here, if they did fall in, it would be a simple matter to walk the canoe back along a sandbar that ran out from near the field research station’s dock. They would have cold toes but they would not die of hypothermia. Getting fully dumped into the deep part of the lake would be death in a minute or two, and such a death would come to a half dozen Minnesotans that year, but this close to shore, they were safe enough.
This particular lake was extra cold that year, Dad/Daughter would later find out as they learned such things about their new home in the Upper Midwest. Great slabs of ice rested along the downwind shores in the funny shaped body of water designated as Itasca, the source of the Mississippi. This was not really a fishing trip, but rather, a trip up from the Twin Cities to a conference at the University’s research station, but Dad/Daughter had prepared for the possibility of tossing in a line, having heard that the fishing was pretty good in Minnesota.
And now, under the purposefully blank stare of the man so well camouflaged … so the fish would think he was a tree covered island? … Dad/Daughter threw their first casts in the general direction of the dead brown stems.
This 28 inch northern pike must have been waiting since ice-out for something tasty to come along, and the yellow Number 4 Mepps spinner bait was the perfect enticement. Just as Dad was bringing that fish along side the boat and releasing it…
A 32 inch Northern hit daughter’s yellow Aguilla spinner and nearly dragged her out of the canoe. But the fish was landed and released after a great deal of giggling and screaming. And then …
Bam! A 2-pound red-eyed rock bass …
Bam! A small Northern …
Bam! A really big Northern …
Bam! Something never quite seen but big enough to bend the pole in half and move the boat about two feet sideways, strengthening out the hook and swimming off to find something good to eat elsewhere.
That was probably a Muskie. And when the Muskie swims through, things tend to go quiet. Which was fine, because Dad/Daughter had had enough.
And when Dad/Daughter glanced up to see if there would be a reaction from Big Tree Island Man, he was gone. And for the rest of the day he in his boat and thirty or forty other boats with similar men, most in camo, some in pairs or triplets, fished these waters with their complex rigs, minnows, and live leeches, from their $30,000 boats. Back and forth and back and forth across the lake.
But no one seemed to catch a thing.
Later, Dad/Daughter would learn of their sacrilege. They had blundered out on the lake on The Opener. Fishing Opener is the first day walleye (and some other fish) can be angled from most lakes in Minnesota. It is usually on Mother’s Day weekend. It is the single biggest migration of the year, and more boats will be on the lakes than any other day with the possible exception of the Fourth of July. And most of the boats will be operated by big men in camo with complex rigs designed to catch the walleye.
And some years, the walleye are ready to feed and be caught. Some years they are not.
Dad has fished on The Opener almost every year for 12 years. He has yet to catch a walleye worth talking about. But the northerns … well, that’s another story.
Oh … and up in the Lake Region … always start out by throwing a yellow bait.