I was at the end of one of the worst fishing trips I have ever had — a week of awful weather, starting with 96-degree temperatures, high humidity, a horrific thunderstorm and damaging winds. It ended with a bone chilling 48-degree night. Sometimes northern Wisconsin can drive a man to drink.
Sick of the weather, I was more than ready to come home. I got up early and packed the car for a quick getaway. I threw my rods in the back seat, bemoaning the fact that they had hardly seen any use, and readied myself for a rapid goodbye and an escape from the fickle north woods.
That's when I noticed the sun.
It was peeking out from behind a cloud, and it made me pause for a moment. Like a blind man who can suddenly see, I looked around in amazement and realized that the weather had calmed. It was 70 degrees and breezy at 9 a.m. — the first good day all week.
I looked at my dad, who had come to say goodbye to his youngest son. He's in his eighties, and the years have weathered his thin frame. His spirit, however, is unbowed. He looked over at me, and I knew what he was thinking.
Let's go fishing.
I glanced at my watch and realized I didn't have to be on the road for two hours — plenty of time for a quick fishing trip. Who knows? Maybe my angling luck would change along with the weather.
We headed down to the water, grabbed some rods out of the boathouse, and set sail for the opposite end of the lake. It was one of those August days that come along every two or three years. The water glistened. The forest was alive. A slight breeze from the west rippled the surface of the lake. I slowed the boat as a loon dove ahead of us and marveled as an eagle soared high above, its white head brilliant against the blue sky. Everything seemed in perfect focus. Every color was a perfect hue.
I cut the outboard and we drifted to a stop. The old man was ready with a cast, sending his lure out in a perfect arc, as he has done 10 million times or more in his long angling life. I followed with my own cast and, mere minutes after our mutual inspiration, we were fishing. More than this, we were fishing together — father and son — on a gorgeous summer day.
It had been a special week for the old man — he had fished, probably for the first time in several years, with all three of his sons in the past seven days, though not at the same time. Here we were, slowly drifting in the breeze over a weedbed on the north end of the lake, casting plugs I'd gotten from a Finnish lure maker living in Estonia. We marveled at their action, and at how small the world had become.
We talked infrequently, chatting occasionally about our lures and how he had once caught a nice brown trout from the white dock in front of us. At one point, a 2-pound bass followed my dad's lure up the drop off only to slowly shy away as it saw the boat. He pointed wordlessly at it with his rod tip before tossing a lazy cast in its general direction. No strike was forthcoming on this or any other cast, as it turned out.
I've developed a terrible habit of over-photographing my fishing trips, a by-product of being a fishing blogger and outdoor writer. You never know when you're going to land that "fish of a thousand clicks," after all. As I watched my dad cast in the bright sunlight, it occurred to me that my father silhouetted against a brilliant sky would make a wonderful portrait. I readied my camera, steadied my hand, but never clicked the shutter. Maybe some images are too perfect and too pure to be captured by the ingenuity of man.
Instead, it was a scene I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Its brilliance and beauty will never fade. It will always be as I imagine it — a father and son fishing side-by-side on a beautiful summer day. Some day, when I am old like my father, it will be the stuff of dreams.
Perhaps if I am good and say my prayers, I'll find that heaven is a duplicate of this day on Wisconsin waters.
We went on casting for well over an hour, finally deciding to call it quits after I noticed the time had grown short. Wordlessly we trolled back towards the dock, lingering a couple of times to toss our lures into some inviting water.
As with all good things, our fishing trip eventually came to an end. I tied the boat to the dock and stepped out. My father followed.
Then, as we basked in the brilliance of an August Wisconsin day, we looked at each other, not wanting the moment to end.
Finally, the old man broke the silence.
"It would have been a shame," he said wistfully, "for that bass to have ruined such a perfect day fishing."