Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to observe it close up. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics of photography to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

Prairie Sunrise

Prairie Sunrise
Prairie Sunrise

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Red-Letter Days - Canoe Fishing

I found it intriguing to watch as the operator of a large, late model bass boat zipped full speed from one side of the cove to the other. With each stop he might have stayed two or three minutes, maybe five at most, before he fired up the hundred-fifty plus horsepower outboard motor and flew back across the two hundred yard wide stretch of open water. He was fishing, that I could determine, but he seemed so impatient that I would venture a guess that he did not catch anything, at least I never saw him pull anything in. He appeared more intent in speeding around for the sake of speeding around than anything else. In contrast to his neurotic boating behavior, I drifted along with the gentle breeze in my light weight canoe and managed to catch several scrappy bass during that same stretch of time. After maybe thirty minutes of changing locations, out of frustration I would imagine, he finally fired up the over-powered vessel and zoomed away throwing out a giant rooster-tail behind his boat having never caught a single fish from that twenty-thousand dollar fishing rig.
Bass boats are marvelous contraptions with all of their high tech gear and comfortable seats and powerful motors. Flying off down a lake at sixty miles per hour certainly would provide a thrilling adventure for most anyone, but, I don’t know, they seem like an overly expensive and cumbersome way to go fishing. Oddly enough, even if I could afford one, I wouldn’t buy one. Maybe it’s just my temperament, but I prefer slower paced, smaller water, style of fishing and there is no better way to pursue those desires than fishing from a canoe.
I was first introduced to this unique way of fishing probably close to forty years ago now when my old friend Ralph took me with him in his venerable seventeen foot, Grumman aluminum canoe. Even then that old canoe had seen better days, but it was practically indestructible. It no longer had much shine to it and there were so many dents scatter down its length it looked like something from a demolition derby. But, it was stable and solid, and except for a popped rivet or two, it didn’t leak too much.
I was immediately struck by the simplicity of the craft and its closeness to the surface of the water provided a unique perspective to the environment. It was a simple matter to reach down and pluck a bass out of the water by hand. I don’t remember how many fish we hooked that day, but by the time we pulled out I was hooked on canoe fishing. Before long I was able to purchase my own second hand one, a Coleman, not exactly top of the line, but functional and after all, it was only meant as a temporary solution until I could afford to buy a real canoe.  

What I discovered was that temporary solutions tend to turn into permanent ones for those of us who must function within limited resources. Actually I used that canoe for a couple of years then sold it and ended up purchasing another slightly newer Coleman. It was the second one that proved to be long-lived and I drug that vessel all over the place and eventually wore it out.

It wasn’t much of a canoe by the standards of modern designs, but it served its purpose and provided countless hours of great fishing and floating. My good friend Rocky eventually purchased his own Coleman a few years later and so our fleet of low riders began to grow. Another fishing buddy Curt did the same and before long my brother did as well. Between the five of us we had five canoes, a collection of fifteen and seventeen foot models. We looked rather rag-tag at times, but we didn’t care, the results far out-weighed the lack of finesse. Rocky eventually stumbled into a bargain and was able to purchase a somewhat heavily used, but still functional Old Town Tripper. It provided an immediate and much needed upgrade to the quality of our fleet.
Old Beggs Lake, an old impoundment built back in the late 1920’s that sprawled for about twenty acres, became our favorite rendezvous as it was close and not heavily used. A number of good sized wall hanger bass greeted us on occasion along with smaller ones too numerous to count, but what was most important was the time spent getting away. It was a great place to be alone with your thoughts. 
March 12th 1978 was a Beggs Lake red-letter day, the day I felt like I had graduated to become a real fisherman. Spring came early that season after an unusually difficult, cold and snowy winter. The first breath of the new season embraced the landscape and the first signs of green were beginning to appear. I left early that morning and arrived just after sunup after having been greeted by the pastel and bold explosions of sunrise.

The air was cool at first and a light jacket was in order, but grew warmer as the morning progressed. The first hour or so I managed to catch a couple small ten inch bass along with a bluegill or two. It felt good to once again feel the tug on the fishing line. Eventually, I drifted over near where a large tree limb had blown down during the winter and extended well out into the water from the grassy edge. I was using a mid-sized, black and yellow spinner bait and cast the line next to the exposed branches.
Upon the first couple retrieval cranks the line grew heavy and I thought it had hung up on a hidden limb. When I pulled on the rod, what was on the other end pulled back and I realized that a fat bass was attached. The light weight rod bent almost double with line peeling off the spool and the gears of the spinning reel screamed in protest. It took a few moments but I managed to pull the big ole gal alongside the canoe and lifted her into the air. That’s one of the great pleasures of canoe fishing, being so close down to the action, seeing, hearing, and in some cases tasting the result of the spoils. She went about four and half pounds.  In hindsight I should have released her, but I strung her up for safe keeping and let her swim alongside the canoe.
Two casts later I tossed my line along the other side of the downed limb more toward a small inlet. I barely started the retrieval when the line grew heavy again…another larger bass had grabbed hold and the fight was on. I thought for sure my line or the rod would break, but both of them held and I again lifted another trophy into the air. This one went closer to five pounds. A red letter day for sure. Later, when I showed my catch to my old friend Ralph, a grin arched across his face as wide as those fish were long, exposing his tobacco stained teeth.
“Boy, boy,” he kept saying over and over. “When are we going?”
We were on the water that next Saturday morning before I had to go to work.
Canoe fishing became a part of me after that, and continued to provide an important outlet during sometimes difficult and challenging times. Not sure what I would have done had I not been able to pursue life through that avenue. Important life lessons were learned through the venue of fishing and Old Beggs Lake is where I learned an important axiom; there is more to fishing than catching fish.
Many years later after countless miles of use, I retired the old Coleman before moving to Kentucky and a new life. Once established in the new home and job, I was able to purchase a real canoe, an Old Town Camper model, and she is a beauty. I never realized just how much difference there could be until I first pushed off the bank in the new Old Town and began to paddle across the calm waters of a mirrored surface lake. She glides like being on angel’s wings and has a look about her that defines the classic profile of what a canoe should be.


Nothing could ever replace the icon of time of Old Beggs Lake and the memories made there, but I have found another location that is somewhat larger and maybe a little tougher to fish, but in its own right it is a perfect spot for canoe fishing. It’s called Shanty Hollow, but that is another story I’ll share another time.
For now I am encouraged to remember old times from the past. Oddly enough, there are days I feel like I’ve lost my identity. Circumstances often prevent me from getting out as much as I would like, either that, or I’m just getting older and find it more difficult to do so. It is a shame really to allow such things to happen. Yet on those days when I can drift on silent canoe wings, I remember once again why those days were so important. I am haunted by those memories and long to discover them anew. 


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