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A Memorial Day to Remember

November 23, 2012

Both of us had the holiday weekend off, a rare occurrence, indeed. It loomed large with infinite possibilities…

At the top of our list was a camping trip to our favorite trout lake. Fishing for trout on Memorial Day weekend. We couldn’t think of anything better. It sounded good!

The three of us; Jim, Brandon and I, stashed our personal gear in the pick up camper and double-checked the boat for our tackle boxes and fishing rods. On a fishing trip, you can make a lot of things do double duty or simply do without. Maybe even make substitutions for many ‘necessities.’ But tackle boxes and fishing rods simply aren’t on that list. You just gotta have ‘em if you plan on catching fish. Huck Finn and MacGyver might disagree with me on that point, but they’re not here, so I’m standing firm on this one.

Jim made sure the mechanical stuff was working, and I saw to the food and beverages. He made sure the spare gas tank was full, and the tool box was stowed in the truck. I made sure the camper was well equipped from a culinary standpoint, and that we all had sleeping bags and pillows, towels, and the like.

Finally, we were off. In three short hours, we’d be hastily setting up camp and be in the boat trolling at trout speed shortly thereafter.

Today was warm and sunny. But the forecast for tomorrow wasn’t so promising. Temps were supposed to drop and there was a significant chance of precip…and if the temperature dropped low enough, we wouldn’t be looking at rain. So, armed with that knowledge, I made sure we packed our winter jackets, hats and long underwear. We had to be prepared for anything Mother Nature could throw at us.

And, despite a flat tire on the way, our spirits remained high…even when we nearly had to empty the camper to get at the high lift jack. Eventually, we just sent the kid in to tunnel his way through the gear until he came to the jack. He always was a good boy, and a willing participant in this predicament .

We were itching to start fishing. So, with our standard bet in place…a buck for the first keeper, keeper defined as minimum of 10 inches, we hit the water. It wasn’t so much about the money…it was the bragging rights that we coveted. In this family, hauling in the first fish was more important that getting the biggest or the most. The first fish was the icebreaker…the one that started the ball rolling, so it was trump.

Finally, we arrived at the lake, which, incidentally shall remain nameless. It’s part of the Fisherman’s Code. The unwritten part. The one that says: never, ever give out the name of your favorite trout lake. To anyone. It’s only when someone, say a trusted friend or relative perhaps, breaks the code (usually unintentionally) that word spreads of a special trout lake. At least that’s the way it is in our world.

We were sworn to secrecy when we were brought into the sacred brotherhood of fisher people who knew of this particular trout lake. And for a moment there, we thought we’d have to place our right hands on the Bible and swear an oath, or be driven in while blindfolded before we’d be granted access to the lake. Fact is, it was, and still is, that special.  God’s Country.

Our favorite campsite, a nice drive-through spot with a panoramic view of the lake, was occupied. Drat! But that wasn’t the end of the world…no big deal…unlike myself, Jim was a pro at backing the truck and trailer, so we weren’t limited in that respect. We moved on. And, by the time we got to the end of the drive, we were beginning to think we wouldn’t get a campsite at all. Did everyone hatch the same plan as we did?

But, finally, we were lucky enough to get the last site…number 12. We were tucked back away from the others and had a glimpse of the lake if we stood on the ’property line’ leaned to our left, and squinted through the cedars. And we were happy to camp there. An hour later, and we’d have been out of luck.

After quickly setting up camp we were in the boat, puttering away from the dock. Brandon and I were in an unspoken race to get a line in the water first. Not that we were competitive or anything, but the all important bragging rights were involved.

This little lake of ours was deep…the depth finder read more than a hundred sixty feet in some places. And there wasn’t a bad spot on it. We’d caught Rainbows and Splake just about anywhere. By the end of the summer, the mouth of the back bay would be narrowed by weeds, and a little tricky to get in to, but it was fine now.

We continued to troll at ‘trout-speed’ around the perimeter. But the fish weren’t cooperating. We didn’t even have a bite, much less a typical trout hit…they usually nailed the lure…just grabbed it and ran. But not so much today. And it was getting dark, so we had to get back to shore and make dinner while we still had daylight.

Saturday morning dawned dim and cold. And white. Snow white. White grass, white trees, white walking paths; even the dock was white, not to mention slippery. So, the weatherman was right. First time for everything, I guess.

But, optimistic by nature, we thought maybe the change in weather might trigger a change in the fishing action. We were willing to give it a try.

Soooo, not to be discouraged, we donned our long underwear, sweats and winter jackets, hats and finally, boots, and clambered into our Lund, brushing the snow off the seats and taking great care not to slip halfway between the dock and the boat.

And again, we raced to be the first to get a line wet. It just makes sense that a person has a far better chance of catching a fish if their line was actually in the water.

So there we were, trolling clockwise around the lake, as opposed to the counter-clockwise path we took yesterday. At about the halfway point, we noticed a marked drop in the temperature, and the snow, which had been light and lazy, began to fall in earnest. Soon, it became difficult to see the opposite shore of this little pond. No matter. We’d just put our hoods up, don our gloves and carry on. This was, after all, the kind of weather the fish bit the best in…oops, that’s the rule of thumb for Walleye, not Trout.

Trout don’t much care about the weather or the time of day. If they’re in the mood, they bite. And, if they didn’t bite on fish bait, we’d break out a can of corn, or a package of gummy bears, or whatever else we had in the cooler. With Trout, they were either biting or they weren’t not much rhyme or reason to it. None that I knew of anyway. You’d think they were members of a union, by the way they acted…one for all and all for one. There’s just no in-between with trout…they either bit or they didn’t. And they didn’t today.

So, we brought out the big guns. Cowbells. (And believe it or not, that’s the real name). Cowbells are a string of elliptically shaped silver spoons with a few colorful beads in between, just to make it pretty, strung on a hunk of wire about a foot long or so. You’re supposed to attach it to your line, then put your lure, a floating Rapala in our case, below the cowbells. Underwater, they were supposed fool the fish into thinking they were a school of minnows and naturally trigger a strike. Or so the experts said. But these trout weren’t fooled. These trout were smart. Probably because they are well schooled.

And like the Trout, cowbells either worked or they didn’t  Usually, fisher people don’t bring out the cowbells unless the fish aren’t biting because they’re pretty heavy to drag around behind a boat.

Trout can be finicky. And these guys were way beyond that. They were being downright stubborn and uncooperative.

But, we’re not quitters, so we soldiered on. We were determined to catch fish. Just one Rainbow. Or Splake. Either would do. When that happened, we could pack up and go someplace warm. And dry. Dry would be good, too.

In the meantime, we reached into the depths of our down-filled coat pockets in search of gloves. But every pocket was empty. Not one of us had anything to keep our trembling blue fingers warm.

So, we did the next best thing…like I said earlier, sometimes gear has to do double duty. And don’t laugh here…we dug into the emergency boat kit and pulled out socks to wear on our hands. Why, you ask, do we keep socks in our emergency kit?

Good question…and if memory serves, I think we put socks in there after the time we all got wet feet landing the boat. It was one of those things that made sense at the time and we‘d forgotten all about them…until now. Now, we were mighty thankful for hand socks! They looked a little goofy, but they were a definite improvement…Until one of us decided to change tackle.

Suffice it to say, those socks sustained irreparable damage in the process and gave their lives for the greater good. But not without a fight. Treble hooks and tube socks just don’t play well together.

You’d think one of us would have thought to remove our socks before swapping out our tackle, but we didn’t. Until right after we turned those socks into finger-less gloves, which kind of defeated the purpose, and sent us scampering for shore.

We decided to wait out the weather in the warmth of the camper. So, we hopped on the chair, which served as a step, (double duty, again) and crowded into the shelter. Jim lit the furnace, and soon we were eating chili and playing cribbage while we thawed out.

And we waited. The temp dropped. And dropped some more. At least the snow stopped falling.

That evening, we decided to pull up stakes right after breakfast and head for my brother’s house. We packed up all but the bare essentials, intending to hit the road early.

After a light meal of toast and coffee, we backed the truck up to the trailer. Once the trailer was hooked up, we’d be on our way. Except for one little glitch…

The trailer hitch wouldn’t open up to accept the ball. A problem we’d not ever encountered before. But, mechanical things malfunction from time to time. We just had to figure out how to fix it so we could return to civilization…and heat and indoor plumbing. All the things we take for granted and willingly sacrifice for some good fishing and sunshine. It‘s a totally different story, however, when the temps hover in the thirty’s and snow is falling. Then we want all the comforts of home.

Jim went off in search of the toolbox…which, incidentally was buried under a lot of other stuff, but he eventually was able to dislodge the high-lift jack from atop the box and wedge it out through a hole roughly half its size. Took him a while, though. And that didn’t do much for his disposition, either.

Given my spectacular ability to read this man, I’d correctly opted to keep my mouth firmly shut. Just as he does when our positions are reversed. We work well together that way. Maybe that’s why we’re still married.

So, he lugged the tools over to the trailer and assessed the situation. A hammer might do the trick, he thought. He pulled out the biggest one and began rapping on the hitch from beneath while I tried to hold it steady on our multi-purpose camper step…aka chair.

‘One more good rap outta do it‘, he mutters between profanities and clenched teeth.

And it did. That last rap knocked the tongue of the trailer clean off the chair and onto my right foot. That did it alright.

Picture this…me trying extricate my foot from under the loaded boat trailer. Jim acting quickly…some may say that he acted without thought for his own well-being. And I think that’s true. He just dropped the hammer, bent at the waist and yanked the trailer off my foot.

So there I am, hopping about on one foot trying to stem the tears of pain while he’s stuck in a hunched over position with excruciating low back pain. Totally unable to move.

Good thing that chair was handy…I was able to scoot it over, while hopping on one foot, and help him pivot back on his heels so he could sit and catch his breath. And try to straighten up, a task that proved to be easier said than done.

We stuck with our plan to go to my brother’s for two reasons…it was only about an hour away, as opposed to three hours to go home, and we knew they had ice packs for both my foot and Jim’s back. No sense in driving all the way home when we couldn’t get into the chiropractor until Tuesday.

All in all, we had a very memorable Memorial Day vacation. But for all the wrong reasons. I had three broken toes, and twenty-some years later, they remind me of that trip every time the weather changes. But I was lucky…another inch and I’d have had broken metatarsals, which were much more serious. Jim’s back was more serious than my broken toes, too, He missed a week or two of work, saw the chiropractor three times a week for several weeks, finally weaned down to two, and then one before he was able to function normally again.

On the upside, we learned a some valuable lessons. First, I found it really hard to hop up on the chair with broken toes and Jim couldn’t get into the camper at all. After we healed, we replaced the chair with real steps. Some things just shouldn’t be asked to do double duty. Our new steps were built out of treated lumber and could be easily secured to the bumper of the truck Then, we vowed to keep the jack and tools easily accessible, just in case. And finally, we purchased one of those wheeled kick-stand gadgets for the trailer that pivots down when you disconnect the boat from the truck. That proved to be a very handy device…highly recommended and worth every penny.

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