When my alarm woke me, I thought to myself I must be crazy. It was 3:30 a.m. Dark and cold. I had a ninety-minute drive that I wasn’t looking forward to.
Ahhh. The life of a fisherman is sometimes difficult to understand. Explaining it to someone else? Even harder.
There are moments, and 3:30 a.m. can trigger them, when even the most avid angler pauses to answer the question “why”? I’ve found it’s best not to dwell on that question too long. The real answer will come soon enough.
Breakfast is quick and simple. A couple slices of toast with peanut butter and jelly is more than adequate in the very early morning. A half glass of milk, fill the Yeti with coffee, out the driveway, and into the darkness I go.
I always find driving through the city at that early hour interesting. I mean, who is really up that early? Then I realize, between yawns urging me to go back to bed, that it’s me and maybe one or two others.
The coffee is still too hot to drink, meaning it will be a while until I can down some much-needed caffeine to ward off anticipated drowsiness. The highway cutting through the North Dakota prairie is a dark and lonely place during the early morning. Not even a hint of sunrise on the horizon.
I’m thinking about fishing as I down my first sip of coffee, reminding myself, maybe convincing myself, of the reason for getting out of bed so darned early. Looking at my insulated coveralls, waterproof gloves, and winter facemask lying on the seat next to me isn’t helping. They are more of a reminder of how silly this will sound when trying to explain it to someone else, presumably those well rested who have enjoyed a ham and cheese omelet while contemplating what they will do with the remainder of their Saturday.
Hmmm. The omelet sounds good. So does the extra sleep. So does a perfectly presented ribbon-tail worm in front of a big largemouth bass. Or may a football jig with a craw trailer. Wonder if a largemouth bass would go for an omelet? Bacon? The mind wanders easily early in the morning.
A few moments later I see the lights from the Milton R. Young power plant reflecting on the open water of Nelson Lake. It was time to forget the omelet business and remind myself why I got out of bed so early in the first place. Fishing.
Crazy, huh? Why not sleep in and fish later in the day you ask? Fair question. Sound logic indeed. However, you are addressing a fisherman, and I’ve found very few who can adequately answer that inquiry, especially when it comes from the well-rested.
Nevertheless, I’ll give it a try. I’m not trying to convince anyone. Myself perhaps, but no one else. I’m already infected with the fishing bug for which there is no cure that I’m aware of. Then again, I’m not searching for one either.
The short walk from the parking area to the boat ramp, in freezing temps, allows time to make sure zippers are up to the chin, a facemask is in place, and gloves are pulled on. It’s also when the fisherman knows that embarking on such adventures is one of the great appeals of the sport.
You see, cold weather and lack of sleep aside, it’s fun. I like catching fish as much as the next crazy fisherman but, to a greater extent, I’ve always been thoroughly captured by every moment on the water.
This day, still night actually, begins with the camaraderie of fellow fishermen whom I’ll soon be competing against. Then it’s followed by daylight beginning to creep over the horizon and the sound of outboard motors coming to life, some stubbornly in the cold air.
Minutes later the first rays of sunlight are obscured by a heavy fog on the water. It’s a beautiful scene, even if it means idle speed only for safe boat operation. Memorable. Part of the fishing experience.
Through the fog and still air comes the haunting call of a loon. Then an answer. Neither bird can be seen but they are on either side of the boat. Then it’s the unmistakable honking of Canada geese. They are sharing the water too.
Fish can be heard splashing on the water’s surface, an encouraging sound for eager anglers. Then the sun becomes visible, an orange orb pushing through the waning fog. It makes for a perfect scene in all ways. Any thoughts of why I got up so early, in the dark and cold, are gone. But I knew that would happen. Always does. The sights. The sounds. Other fishermen know that too.
It’s not long before the first largemouth bass bends a fishing rod and is lifted into the boat. Nice one too. A good start to an already wonderful day on the water.
An hour or so later the fog has disappeared, the sun dominates, and the temperature rises above freezing. It feels good to toss gloves onto the floor of the boat and swap out a hood for a baseball cap. There’s no longer ice forming on the eyelets of our fishing rods. Morning has broken. All part of the fishing experience that’s not worth trying to sell to anyone else. Most won’t buy it anyway.
That is the way fishing is, or can or should be. Fishing teaches a person to appreciate much more than hooking a big one or catching a limit. Each and every fishing trip is a full theatrical performance that is never duplicated. Always difficult to put into words, but stepping on that stage is a slice of life that never disappoints.