Life’s pathway is often less than predictable. It can sometimes change in an instant, without warning. Whatever you had planned to do is subjected to one of Murphy’s Laws (I often wonder what life was like for Murphy anyway, must’ve been rough), and you end up doing something entirely different than what was on the schedule, in a completely different location. Sometimes you get a load of lemons, and the best thing you can do in that case is make lemonade.
Just such a thing happened to me recently while on vacation in search of mass quantities of bluegill filets. It’s been an October tradition for as long as I can remember and it is the time of year when the freezer gets filled back up with the makings for another year’s worth of fish fries. No one can turn down a crispy bluegill filet, at least no one I care to know anyway. So we were only part way through the “harvest”, as The Queen calls it, when business called me away on a critical mission. Murphy’s 3rd Law says that whatever it is you want to do, there is always something else that needs to be done first. Thanks Murph.
So I pulled up stakes and headed back to Michigan, lamenting the failure to replenish the inventory. A text message arrived on my cell phone from one of the guys (let’s call him Jeff, that way he can claim it wasn’t him even though his name IS Jeff) that I would be working with at my destination in the middle of the state. The message was simple and to the point. “Bring your waders and your rod.” Knowing that the job at hand would carry through the weekend, an early Saturday morning fishing expedition was a distinct possibility. I had no idea where he might intend to fish, and the mystery made the journey back to work considerably more bearable.
After a long Friday, I got Jeff to show me on the map where we might be headed the following morning. There was still some light left in the day so I drove there to familiarize myself with the route before trying to follow it in the pre-dawn darkness. It was a wise move. Every wrong turn that could be chosen was made; I would surely have been wandering the county had I not done this. But it was a great move for an entirely different reason.
October sunshine is as clear and bright as it gets, especially in the late afternoon. This mid-state topography reminded me a great deal of northern Illinois, only with a bit more roll to the hills. Fall colors just leapt from the trees at every turn, even the wrong ones, and I regretted that the text hadn’t also requested that I bring my good camera. When I arrived at my destination the autumn imagery got even better.
The great rivers that wander through the heart of our state are amazingly diverse bodies of water. Dammed in a number of places, they widen to provide expanses of recreational waters that offer numerous opportunities for outdoor fun. Below the dams the river returns to its more natural state. It was here that I would fish, amidst the riot of autumn colors and immediately below a hydro-electric power plant building that looked like a throwback to an earlier time.
Below the dam a variety of waters beckoned to me, some racing from below the spillway and some channeled into deeper slower stretches. I opted for a sinking minnow imitation and ran it through the deeper stretch. A few casts in and a sudden stop to my retrieve gave notice of something other than a snag on the other end. A northern pike of about 28 inches gave a spirited fight in the moving water. I wanted to explore more of the water available but the day was wearing short and I knew I’d be back in the morning.
With the first light of dawn it was apparent that the day would not be nearly as bright as the afternoon before. But the sunrise in the east found just enough clear air to peek out from below the deck of clouds and bring out the colors of the maples on the far bank, as though lit from within. A slight drizzle didn’t dampen our spirits in the slightest, and with it came a most remarkable sight. Suddenly the sky from one side of the dam to the other was graced with a rainbow so intensely colored it was almost fluorescent.
I was ripped from my reverie over this fantastic light by a solid strike on the jig I was tossing. A dandy smallmouth bass of about 16 inches did what every river smallmouth does, absolutely refuse to come in. Lacking a net I needed to back up into shallow water and lift the fish to hand. I held it up for Jeff to see and noted that it was a nice fish, although I thought that it should have been a steelhead rainbow trout considering what was in the sky over the dam.
My time this morning would be limited, but like every river I’ve ever fished I knew that I wanted more, every turn and riffle downstream beckoned. Each pocket can be probed extensively with whatever lures you have in your arsenal. If it doesn’t produce a fish you have more water around the next bend, and it might be even better there. You just have to try. There is something about being in the river, on foot, that is an experience unlike any other in fishing. Perhaps we will meet around one of those bends one day. As I like to say, “See you on the water.”