by Doug Engel
Summer, and Dad rented a cottage at a small mud-bottomed lake in farm country. It was a treat for us kids, a reprieve from the heat of the city. Mom continued as chief cook and bottle washer, even on vacation. Dad came and went, a salesman scouring the countryside for farm homes in need of roofing and siding. Summer was not a time to relax; it was a time to make every minute count.
My attention was on the lake, the point and The Dock where a dandy rowboat nodded at the end of its painter. The Dock was simple, made of stakes driven in the mud and planks on cross members, no paint, and no fancy brass hardware. I’d have spent my whole summer on The Dock if someone brought me an occasional peanut butter and jam sandwich.
I’m sure Dad, a devout fisherman, chose this run-of-the-mill lake as it came complete with a ‘point’. Without a point you can’t troll down to the point or say, “Just off the point is a good bullhead hole.” After supper, when the evening shadows started eating up the daylight, Dad headed for The Dock with me, his oarsman, right behind him. Brother John came along to hold down the bow, keep the anchor rope coiled, and hand out cookies. As lights began to come on in the cottages we headed for the point and the possibility of a ‘big one’.
Once on the lake Dad picked a stretch of reed bed, set himself in the stern “to handle the rods” and have a smoke. We trolled along the edge of the reeds, bright red and white spoons burbling along behind as we teased and enticed the slim pickerel or mighty pike. John wet a line from the bow seat and did his best to wrap it around an oar.
If fish were feeding among the lily pads, we let the boat drift while Dad and I cast plugs in among the weeds, wiggling and popping them back to the boat for another cast. My fair to middlin’ casting with the old singer reel and a steady thumb didn’t catch anything, but I got better as the evening progressed. The time spent with Dad on the lake, drifting along, plugging into the weeds is now a treasured memory. I whined a lot about pulling on the oars while we trolled to the point for the big ones, but I didn’t have any trouble falling asleep after a cool, damp evening on the lake.
Nights when an overcast made the water dark we knew others were either heading for the point or working back along the reed bed. Lights from fishermen baiting their hooks or changing plugs flashed across the water for a brief moment and disappeared. The soft whir of a reel and a ‘plunk’ as a plug dropped in among the pads sounded very different than when a novice cast a spoon that landed with a splash. Dad sometimes could slip a spoon into the water with just the hum of his reel in the night. My job then was to be sure the oars also slipped quietly in and out as we worked our way along the edge of the reeds. We knew it was time to drift back from the point when we began to hear the soft putt-putt of a small outboard barely pushing a fisherman and his trolls around the end of the point, too crowded.
Early in the day, before Dad left for work, we fished for the frying pan. We’d row out to the shallows in the lee of the point where bullheads nested. There even John and I could count on a stringer full of sunfish and rock bass. Dad especially relished those pan fish fried up with butter, onions and new, thin-sliced potatoes.
©2005 Doug Engel Used by permission.