A well known outdoor writer whom I idolize, Gordon MacQuarrie, once titled one of his stories “Now in June.” I think of this line every year when June rolls around because there is so much to do.
Mr. MacQuarrie gives eloquent discourse on the dilemma of house chores like screen windows needing washing, gardens needing tilling, lawns needing mowing, etc. But the story starts when the depths of the lake are calling to his outdoor soul.
Bass are coming off of their spawning beds and striking viciously and trout and salmon are at their true fighting weight.
I often spend my mornings on the lake with my friend, Chris Thayer, and his UVM school chum, Jimmy Groves from Manchester. We meet in the pre-dawn darkness and trailer his boat to the Converse Bay access, then launch as the pale green and blue dawn begins to crest Pease Mountain.
The wake of the boat throws spray into the sunlight and forms rainbows over the gunwhales.
Heading toward Split Rock we careen across the glass surface, the wind rushing through our hair.
Arriving at Split Rock, Chris rapidly throttles down and the boat’s bow plows into the surface. We attach lures with funny names that only a lake fishermen could appreciate. Names like “Sausage and Gravy”, “Michael Jackson”, and “Cop Car.” We lower the downriggers to 14’, then attach cheaters that will follow the arc of the line to the center and wiggle back and forth like a crippled smelt six feet behind the bowed line.
Jimmy is at the wheel and adjusts the speed to a palatable 2.6 mph. The motor hums quietly and we go about pouring the first coffee of the day. The sun is rising over the mountain now and painting a swath of gold across the lake like a wide paintbrush on a textured canvas.
We are lost in reverie when one of the rods springs up toward the blue sky. “Fish On!” we all yell at the same time. Who’s up? We haven’t settled that yet!
Chris grabs the rod and sets the hook. The fish rockets out of the water 80’ behind the boat. Its silvery skin glistens in the sunlight. It is clearly two feet above the surface and giving us a show. “Did you see that?” I shout. “That’s a nice salmon!” Jimmy belts out.
Chris hands the rod off to Jimmy to fight the beautiful salmonid.
He jumps again and Jimmy bows to the fish, loosening the taught line that connects the two. The bow is a technical piece of fishermenship that allows the fish to thrust itself from side to side without ripping the lure out of his mouth. To me, the bow is an act of respect for this prized piscatorial presence.
He jumps twice more and makes several runs which cause the reel to whine, like when we used to put straws inside the spokes of our bicycle wheels. The faster the wheel spins the louder the whine.
After a long three minute battle the fish tires and comes to the stern.
Chris deftly slides the net under him and Jimmy lifts the rod to accommodate.
Soon the fish is in the boat and we are admiring its massive size.
“He’ll go eight pounds I bet!” says Jimmy as he holds the fish for a picture. “This here is a Derby Dog for sure! Let’s run him to the weigh station quick!”
Later that day, we learn that the 7.98 pound salmon brings in enough points to take a fourth place finish in the Rotary Derby and pays out a nice prize.
Now let me tell you about the one that got away!