G.T. and I have been bass fishing of late, and I got the itch to visit a lake I had first fished with Dad when I was nine (that’s 55 years now!). Memories are a time machine, a conduit to an ealier self. Each summer during my childhood and adolescence included several trips to this 220+ acre state conservation lake. In those days, the forested campground would be a virtual tent city, peopled by refugees from urban insanities. Canvas cabin tents supported by aluminum tent poles (Dad, in best army fashion, always trenched ours against the threat of rain), moms cooking on the Coleman or over a fire, kids riding bikes, and dads fishing the lake. A ten-horse limit on motors assured relative peace and quiet on the water. Glorious days and nights on the lake, especially that night that my beautiful wife and I, young marrieds, not yet encumbered by the joys and responsibilities of parenthood, watched, spellbound, the Perseid meteor shower reflected in the still, black water, our boat tied to a submerged stump, the starry sky in this remote area so infinite that I felt vertiginous, like I was loosed from gravity’s grip, falling up and up. Then there was the time that Dad and his father returned to our campsite from fishing, a bass plug dangling from the lobe of Grandpa’s right ear like an oversized earring. Seems Dad caught him on a cast. A quick snip of the hook’s point and problem solved. Good populations of bass, crappie, catfish, and redear sunfish kept the angling interesting and varied. But, alas, as the lake entered its middle age, a newer, larger competitor arose, and the lake’s slow, steady decline began. Over the ensuing couple decades, the number of anglers visiting the lake waned. In fact, it got to the point if I arrived on a weekday, I might sometimes be the only fisherman on the lake.
When I arrived at G.T.’s house early on Sunday morning, his gear stood anxious on the curb. Loading quickly, then fueling at McDonald’s, we shortened the two-hour drive with pleasant conversation. I was curious what we would find at the lake, since it had been six or more years since I had visited, and I knew from reading online that the campground from my youth had been closed due to disuse and vandalism. But another campground had been developed on the other side of the lake.
G.T. and I arrived about ten in the morning on a bluebird clear autumn day, pleasantly cool with a high in the upper 60s predicted. The newly renovated campground was a jewel, a grassy expanse interspersed with sparse treecover, each site with a new picnic table, firepit, and lanternpole. And no charge for camping!
I was surprised to find four other campsites occupied–not exactly a crowd, but were not alone. Quickly we erected the popup and prepared to fish.
Regulations now prohibit using one’s own boat and permit only electric motors. Fortunately, very serviceable flat-bottomed boats are provided (again free of charge). Due to the size of the lake, keeping a good charge on the battery is essential to avoid a long row back to shore, invariably it seems with the prairie wind in your face.. We chose a boat, loaded the equipment and the trolling motor and battery, and headed for the nearest cove, the lake’s waves slapping pleasantly against the boat’s hull. The lake’s shore is almost completely forested, and the trees were resplendent with the subdued palette of late fall. I attached a bluegill popper to my tenkara rod, and G.T. chose a Slider plastic jig for his spinning rod, and we began casting to shore. It didn’t take long for some large bluegill to discover the popper, their tugging so out of proportion to their size.
I was having a lot of fun with my tenkara/popper rig, but I noticed G.T. catching a couple small bass on his spinning rod and Slider jig. Good for him, that is until he kept it up, and I had yet to hook a bass. Soon I was enumerating in my mind all G.T.’s shortcomings, as we are prone to do when someone else is catching fish and we are not. Then I saw it–a spare spinning rod that G.T. had brought along, laying in the bottom of the boat. Hmmm, this presented a dilemma. Could I, the tenkara ambassador, compromise my principles by using a spinning rod? Hell, yes!, if it means catching some bass. Faster than you can say sakasa kebari, I had one of those magic jigs tied to his rod and was soon hauling in some largemouth myself. What a blast!
Success with the bass continued for sometime. When I was a bit sated, I tied a marabou jig onto the tenkara rod and hooked a nice crappie, feeling a bit more vindicated. Soon the daylight began to flee the dusk, and G.T. and I motored back to the campground for dinner: smoked ribs, fire-roasted vegetables, and beer. Then a campfire, a great catalyst for quiet conversation and silent contemplation. A half moon ascended the clear night sky, bright enough to cast tree shadows.
Like the embers of the fire, eventually our conversation ebbed, and we retired to the camper. With no electricity at this campground and lows forecast for the 30s, G.T. and I readied our beds for a cold night. G.T. had his new Coleman 20 degree bag and I loaned him a blanket also; I employed two sleeping bags, a sleeping bag liner, and a blanket. I slept like a baby in the womb. “Howdya sleep?” I queried G.T. “Froze my ass off!” the reply. (He returned the bag to Cabela’s as soon as we got home). I got the coffee perking, fried bacon and eggs, and soon the cold night was forgotten and we were headed out on the lake again. A fantastic sunrise greeted us.
Another great morning of fishing, joking, and savoring the cool autumn air. Then time to pack up and go. I couldn’t resist the temptation to check out the old, now closed, campground. What I found saddened me a bit, for Nature was well along in the process of reclaiming it, the old roads now just discernible. Of course, the only constant is change.
I need to take my Iwana to Spring Creek again and catch some trout.