Thursday, September 13, 2012

Far side of the lake

Nightmare fisherman, they buy too much

Last week I went out fishing with my uncle. We planned it out ahead of time to have most of the late afternoon to be on the lake, and I had been anticipating it for a few weeks. Anticipating, because I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn some new tricks, add to my fishing repertoire, and of course, hide away in the woods.

As we zipped along county highways with boat trailer in tow, the sun bore down through the windshield at just the right temperature to keep the windows cracked, the fresh autumn air streaming in. We talked manly talk, sharing stories of hunting and camping trips, of times with old friends and relatives, of hard work and big dreams.

I would share with him my affinity for the notion of the frontier - that I would never want to feel so tied down I could never disappear. You know, pack up and move to the Yukon to build a cabin on the far side of a lake and live out my days. He nodded in reciprocation, with one of those little life advice tips you come to expect from these types of conversations, "Don't buy very much."


Upon arriving at the lake it was back to the present, back to business, and we unloaded the boat and gear in a rush of anticipation toward hauling in some walleye. In ten minutes we were unloaded, on the water, and heading across the lake. I smiled at the clouds as the rickety little craft cut gently through the water towards a spot marked on the GPS from a scouting trip the previous year.

Upon arrival, we rigged a few poles with a variety of baits and tackles to fish along the ridge of an underwater basin. He had experienced success with this strategy on other lakes and made a point of showing me how to re-create the steps with exacting precision. I followed all the instructions closely and couldn't wait to start pulling in monsters, but shortly after we had the ultimate walleye-harvesting flotilla operating at full capacity, another boat noisily motored into the area and pulled up prop not 30 yards away.

I looked over at the big, intruding fishing boat and saw three men, all in their mid-40s, wearing expensive outdoor clothing brands clearly ordered from catalogs. Immediately, I noticed an air about two of the men that seemed to scream arrogance, and of the third, I noticed only incompetence. Giant boat, overpowered motor, name brand clothing and gear, inconsiderate approach and distance (there was nobody else on the entire lake) - these guys were nightmare fishermen - tourists without regard for local people and the simplicity of our natural surroundings.

I looked at my uncle, his eyes fixed on the water off the right side, lips pursed, head shaking in an understated annoyance. He didn't look over at the boat of men shouting and laughing. He didn't acknowledge the fact we were set up perfect to drift directly into them in a few minutes. He didn't stop reeling in his jig; I copied.

As we fished in silence, my heart began to sink. I had high hopes for this afternoon, even if the fishing was poor, the weather and the conversation would be worth the afternoon trip. I was looking forward to the opportunity to learn some new tricks from a true master fisherman and enjoying getting away from people for awhile. Instead, we were now stuck next to a boat of yahoos with no regard for the quiet of the lake or other fishermen.

It wasn't long, and as planned, our boat was slowly drifting eastward, right into the path of the boisterous trio. The conversation in that boat became more and more audible, and soon it was even more clear the sort of folks we were dealing with. They sat upon a hulking mass of consumer products, cockfighting over who had the better gizmos and doo-dads. Their snickering discussions about so-and-so back at the office and the next truck everyone would buy were filled with surging undercurrents of petty insecurity and pre-packaged humor. Each wanted to be bigger and louder and more important than the other. It was time to go.

I pulled our lines and my uncle cranked on the tiny outboard rigged to the back of our boat. As we pulled away from the fishing spot, I couldn't help but glance back at the other boat. There I saw the three men staring holes into our backs, two of them, I swear, were grinning ear to ear like they'd just won a bet or some test of manhood. The former frustration swelling in my cheekbones rushed to the tips of my ears, and I hardly caught myself from stomping the deck as an instinctive reaction. Soon though, we were over a new spot, and I stood, balanced, and calmed myself.

Our discussion, at first, consisted of a good deal of venting over the attitudes we were just subjected to, then slowly morphed into more positive talk about the right way to treat other people. Soon enough, the focus was back onto fishing, even though the new spot was not as ideal as the first. We managed to do some drifting and pull in a few decent walleye in the couple hours we had left, then headed for shore.

Upon arriving at the boat landing, we found a rather interesting situation. The three men were there, one in the boat against the dock, the other two wandering aimlessly in circles, trying to get cell service on their phones. Apparently, someone had locked their keys in the truck, and with no service, they were officially stuck.

After landing against the other side of the dock and learning this, my initial reaction was to smile a little bit. I did feel bad that these guys were essentially stuck in the middle of nowhere, but the big heavy pride they couldn't swallow made it difficult not to rejoice just a little bit. Even though they would hardly look at us when talking, my uncle, without hesitating, offered to help, and soon even these knuckleheads were willing to accept some help.

With a scrap piece of wire, the back of a splitting maul, and a plastic wedge, my uncle worked at unlocking the vehicle. By prying at the top of the truck door with the wedge and the maul, he was able to lower the wire down to the lock. After several attempts at pulling on the lock with the hooked end of the wire, the door was finally unlocked, and the keys were retrieved.

To my amazement, two of the three men were almost completely impervious to reciprocating any sort of gratitude. The third seemed perhaps a little overwhelmed, but did say thanks before they backed the truck up to load their boat. Notice, they insisted on taking their boat out ahead of ours. In fact, after they had loaded everything up, the whole lot of them took off without the slightest bit of communication or farewell. So be it.

The sun was setting and the air was cooling rapidly, but now that our "friends" had departed, the lake seemed all the more peaceful - the way I had imagined it would be earlier in the day. Soon we were both laughing. We talked about coming back another time, about fishing the same spots again. My uncle suggested it because the best part about living here is the ability of the environment to award those who treat her well. I liked the idea because the best part about living here is the ability to disappear to the far side of the lake and live out the day.

“Life is really simple, but men insist on making it complicated.” - Confucius

See you out there,
A woodsman in training.

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