When I was a lad, we were one of two families living year-round on the lake. Some summer folks from town had their weekend-only cottages in clusters; between the clusters were large trees that passing storms had pushed into the water, and lily pad farms where the broad leaves and deep grasses hid lunker Chain Pickerel.
Great Blue Herons came from a near-the-lake rookery to wade among the pads until they found a likely spot, then stand absolutely motionless, like a Marine guarding the west door of the White House, until some hapless frog or minnow happened by. Then, with a flashing of stabbing, Mr. or Ms. Heron dined.
Herons were my first wildlife photography teachers. They are extremely camera-shy birds. I could slip the rowboat within range and they would stand as though posing – until I picked up the camera. Off they flew – often not far, but just out of camera range. I learned to row – or later, with a canoe, paddle – quietly, causing as little disturbance as possible, then drift – not straight toward my subject, but ever closer.
Eventually, I got some pretty nice pictures.
In later years, one of my favorite fishing spots was Clam Lagoon, on an island in the Aleutians. I could stand on a bridge at the entrance to the lagoon, and watch as a sea otter floated on its back, placed a rock on its chest, and smashed clams open.
The incoming tide swept under the bridge and into the lagoon like a stream from a hose pointed sideways at the side of a child’s swimming pool. On an incoming tide, the flow swirled to carve a channel around the circumference of the vessel, into which Dolly Varden, an ocean trout, entered the lagoon to spawn.
Fishermen gathered in squadrons, attacking the water with large pieces of steel as they attempted to hook a Dolly. The secret, of course, was a smaller lure that didn’t splash into the water, and to move down-current to where the boiler-plate squad was not. One could hook a fish and the squad would descend like a flock of F-35s targeting an ISIS lair. But by the time they arrived, the prey was gone, and the savvy fisher would had slipped up or down-stream to catch another passing trout unmolested by splashing chunks of steel
Across the years, I have learned much about wild things and human interaction, things such as why it iss OK to fish, but not kill a deer, on Sunday. And why, come to think on it, harvesting fish is called fishing, but harvesting deer isn’t called deering. Or why birding has nothing to do with harvesting.
And why catch-and-release is considered sport. No judgment from me about people who follow that rule. I understand their intent. But if I’ve gone through “playing” a bragging-size fish to exhaustion, it seems only respectful and fair to eat it.
I hate that many of our waters have become so poisoned that our governments caution us to refrain from eating what we catch.
Like the togue dad hooked one day, and took at least an hour to get it in the boat. It turned out to be a quarter inch short of the record for that lake. I cleaned it, Mom baked it, and it tasted especially good with fresh corn on the cob and a plateful of hand-squooshed biscuits.
A great morning on the lake, and a great evening at dinner. What’s not to like about fishing season?