Before we loaded up the boat, I went through our checklist to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything:
• Fishing licenses
• Fishing hat
• Tackle box
• 2007-2008 Guide to Wisconsin Hook and Line Fishing Regulations
It was late afternoon on a calm, cool Saturday – the perfect setting for our fishing expedition. As we all piled into the boat, I remarked at how much bigger it was than I had expected. Whenever I had gone fishing as a kid, we were in tiny boats that felt like they were going to tip over if you weren’t perfectly centered on your metal bench seat. This boat had built-in cushy spinning captain’s chairs and deep hidden compartments and a fancy motor that you didn’t have to pull like a lawnmower to start.
“I want to catch a walleye. Or some perch,” I said.
“Oh, you will. But first I’m going to take us for a spin around the lake,” Dee said, smiling.
As we pushed off the dock, Dee-Dee told us to hang on because she was going to show us what her dad’s new boat could do.
“Have you ever driven this before?”
“Not myself, but I’ve watched my sister do it a ton of times. Don’t worry.”
I pulled my fishing hat down tight so it wouldn’t blow away, grabbed hold of my life preserver, and hung on as Dee sped across the lake. We caught some air as we circled around and drove across our own wake. The wind and the spray were freezing, but I loved it.
Dee-Dee yelled over the sound of the motor, “Okay – here’s the thing. I need you two to make sure we don’t lose sight of our cabin.”
“Uh, okay, I have no idea where it is.”
“Isn’t that it way over there… with the green dock?”
“Good. Okay, Natasha’s in charge of knowing where the cabin is. Jenny, you’re in charge of dropping the anchor. I think we should head over there by those trees. My brother had some really good luck fishing there the last time.”
Nat watched the depth indicator and shouted out our stats, “34 feet… 29 feet… 20 feet… 15 feet. 15 feet, Dee! How’s that?”
“Perfect. Drop anchor, Jen!”
Dee gave Natasha a quick lesson in casting while I pulled out the first container of night crawlers. They were particularly squirmy, and I immediately wished I had added “wet wipes” to my checklist as I tried to hook my worm while eliciting minimal ooze.
When it was Nat’s turn to worm up, she first asked if Dee would do it for her, but Dee-Dee had adopted a tough-love approach to fishing and refused to help Nat out. I laughed as I watched Natasha try to bait her hook by laying the worm on the side of the boat and quickly stabbing at it with the hook.
“Okay, I don’t think I can do this, you guys. It keeps wrapping around my fingers.”
Dee-Dee just kept casting and said, “You can do it, Nat. I know you can.”
“Ohmigod I just got a bite! Did you see that? I just got a bite!”
I reeled my pole in and saw that half my worm was gone.
“See! I told you we picked a good spot!”
A minute later, I saw the tip of Dee’s pole drop down as she started reeling in the first fish of the day.
“I got a fish! I got one!”
I pulled my pole out of the water, grabbed my camera, and completely ignored Dee’s requests for help as I feverishly snapped photos.
“Oh crap. I can’t get the hook out. Jen – help me get the hook out. He’s dying. He’s gonna die! Pull his mouth open. Pull it open!”
I removed the hook with minimal aesthetic damage, and Dee immediately dropped the fish back in the water.
“What was that? What kind of fish was it?”
“I think it was a walleye*. Did you see his huge teeth? He had a ton of teeth!”
“I’m glad you mentioned that AFTER you told me to pull his mouth open!”
To celebrate the first fish, we all cracked open some beers and quickly dropped our lines in again. Natasha had gotten the hang of casting, but still was not happy with hooking the worms. We had clearly found a school of hungry fish, because shortly after Dee-Dee’s first catch, I caught my first fish, then Dee caught another, then Nat lost her worm, then I caught another, then Dee caught another, then Nat lost her worm. When Natasha finally did catch her first fish, it leapt off the hook into Dee’s arms, where she cradled it momentarily before throwing it about ten feet straight into the air after it regurgitated an entire worm onto her sweatshirt.
I started to cast my pole a little closer to a fallen-down tree, which led me to the first of four snags that lost me my hook each time. At one point, I wasn’t quite sure if I had a bite or not, until I reeled in my pole to find that I had caught the first crayfish of the day. I would also catch the second and the third, and really, the only crayfish of our trip.
The fish were biting so well, in fact, that we started to worry about our worm supply. We bought four dozen, but had quickly plowed through the first 24. These were crafty fish, and I was certain they were employing the crayfish to snip off the worms for a share of the profits.
I lifted my hat up, wiped my brow and said, “Guys, I really hate to say this, but I think we’re going to have to start splitting the worms.”
“Are we really running out?”
“Well, you know what you have to do, Jen.”
“I know, I know. So do I have to pinch them in half, or is there a better way? Don’t you have some scissors in that tackle box?”
”My brother and I always just pull them in half. Just pull on them.”
I wanted so desperately to not be grossed out by splitting the worms in half, but I knew that was not a realistic goal. I grabbed the first worm I saw, held him tightly and pulled, but nothing happened. It just left me with a coating of slime all over my hands and a tightening in my throat. I knew that I was going to have to pinch it in half, so I looked away, pinched it as quickly as I could, and then shook off a full body shiver when green goo squirted all over my thumbs.
“Ohmigod ohmigod ohmigod. That was so disgusting! I have guts all over me. It bled. It bled. You are totally doing the next one, Dee.”
We traded off splitting the worms, until finally Natasha needed one of her own. We were on a strict cut-your-own-worm policy, so she headed over the bucket, grabbed a fat worm, snapped him in half and said, “Huh. That wasn’t so bad. You just can’t look at it. That was way better than hooking them.”
I looked at her in stunned silence.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. It took you twenty minutes to bait your hook, but you just cut that thing in two and it didn’t bother you? Nat, seriously – I will bait your hooks and unhook your fish from now until eternity if you will split the worms for me.”
It was at that moment that I knew that our idea to start a commune in northern Wisconsin would be a success. We all brought our special skills to the team – Nat was the worm-splitter, Dee and I were hook-baiters, Dee was the fish-holder, and I was the fish-unhooker. It was a sort of survivalist assembly line that would have made Henry Ford weep tears of joy.
After catching about twenty fish, we decided to try a new location and work our way closer to the cabin since it was starting to get close to dinner time. I pulled up the anchor, we all reeled in our poles, and Dee started up the motor. Or rather, she tried to start up the motor, but when she turned the key, the only thing we heard was a low rrerr rrerr rrerr sound, like a car in the middle of winter.
She fiddled with a few of the settings on the motor, flipped a few switches, but still no motor.
“Oh you have got to be frickin’ kidding me, Dee! Can you really not get it started?”
“Shit. Okay, I didn’t do anything different when I started the boat, did I? I think I just had these two dots lined up here, and then I turned the key, right?”
“How do I know? I was in the front of the boat!”
She tried for about ten more minutes – unsuccessfully – to get the motor started, at which point we began reviewing our options:
“All right, maybe one of us could swim the boat in to shore. Did anyone wear a suit? I just have my top on.”
“I just have my bottom on,” said Nat.
“Well someone’s gonna have to swim in the nude because I’m not sitting on this boat all night.”
Dee-Dee then suggested that if we got close enough to shore, she could just walk us in.
“Or we could always paddle. See if there’s an oar in there – I know my dad has an oar in one of these compartments.”
“One oar? What the hell good is one oar gonna do us? Look at the size of this boat! Do you have any idea how long it’s going to take us to row it in with one oar? Here’s an idea – Nat – wave down that boat over there and see if they can tell us how to start the motor.”
Natasha started waving her arms at a passing boat when Dee shout-whispered, “DON’T WAVE AT THEM! They could be crazy!”
“Dee, you’re not worried about them being crazy, are you? You’re just embarrassed that we’re stranded in your dad’s fancy new boat.”
“So you’d rather we all die in this boat than risk your reputation as a master outdoorswoman? You and your damn pride are gonna get us killed, Dee!”
Nat chimed in, “Yeah… why are you so prideful?”
“You’re so full of pride! Pridefulness is a sin!”
At that point, we all burst into hysterical laughter and I said, “Fine! Give me the damn oar. But just so you know – we’re not done fishing! Natasha did not split those last eight worms in half for nothing. We’re going to fish and row our way back in.”
Rowing this boat back in required a masterful display of teamwork – two strokes on the left, a smooth handoff, then three on the right, then four short bursts on the left, pass the oar, two long strokes on the right, and so on, all while monitoring the depth to make sure we didn’t run into the rocks.
“We need a work song. Who knows a working song?”
“Michael row the boat ashore, Hallelujah…”
“I was thinking of something more like, I’m working on the chain gang, chain gang, chain gang…”
By the time we finally made it into the cabin, I was covered in worm guts and fish blood, and my arms and lower back were burning from all the rowing.
“Okay, as soon as I get done washing worm slime off me, we need to prepare our feast!”
“And maybe there will be something good on TV – we totally deserve some wine and a good movie tonight!”
“But first you have to call your dad to find out what we did wrong.”
“Dee – what if we screwed something up, or drained the battery? You can’t not tell him.”
“I’m not telling him. I’ll ask my sister – she’ll know.**”
“But I do know what to get my dad for his birthday.”
*It was a rock bass.
**We didn’t have it in neutral.
Up Next: Chapter Two – The Morning
Filed under: Call of the Wild on August 27th, 2007 | 12 Comments »