by Kurt Zuelsdorf
The month of May brings the freshness of spring, the newness of life, and the excitement of another fishing season. But his dry sense of humor crashed when he realized that we were not alone in the wilderness.
We arrived at the boat ramp of Lake Emily on the eve of another fishing season. Anglers scrambled to re-spool their fishing reels and prepare their boats for what was predicted to be another "good" year. We unloaded the camping gear from Peter's 1969 Scout and removed a small boat from the top carrier. Lake Emily was ruled a "non-combustible" lake. Gasoline motors weren't allowed. On this trip our craft was propelled by manpower - a set of oars that we pulled out of the trash just one week earlier.
I rigged the Coleman stove on a branch of a gigantic Oak. Peter built a small fire. We sipped a few Brandy Old' Fashions and talked about last year's successes and the plans for this year's top water assault. We played show and tell with our new lures and teased each other about the secret lure that would surely win the bragging rights of this trip’s competition. One by one we fondled our favorite plugs, knowing that the other was holding out on his best bet until daybreak. I laughed wildly at Peter's dry, descriptive humor -- a combination of common sense and creative verbiage -- making us best of friends for the summers leading up to high school graduation. I especially enjoyed the times when he laughed at his own expense.
One particular incident sparked humor on every occasion. We were fishing on the same lake when suddenly Peter's bowels flared up. We were anchored in the middle of the lake -- 20 minutes rowing time to the nearest outhouse. With no time to spare he stripped down to his underwear and jumped overboard. His body evacuated and he gasped in relief. When he turned to investigate his work he discovered one of the biggest turds ever seen. Nearly the size of his forearm the "log” bobbed and drifted away from our boat. We glanced at it from time to time in between casts to see if we could still see it, and of course we always could. We thought the incident was over until a fellow boater dropped anchored down wind. Within minutes the torpedo-like turd slammed into the hull of the neighboring vessel. The waves continued to lap against his boat as we pulled anchor -- we couldn't stand it a second longer, we had to leave our favorite "honey-hole" to save face.
Our tears of laughter began to subside around midnight when we were drawn to the water's edge by the sound of fish jumping. A fresh batch of Mayflies danced on the lake in the full moon light. They tickled the calm surface with their dainty legs and wings. The water was alive with giggling ripples that lured the big Bass into a feeding frenzy. The fish were everywhere breaking the surface and free jumping into the night sky to retrieve their share of the hatch.
Within minutes our boat was in the water and loaded down with gear. I snapped the oars into the locks and Peter launched us from shore. The amount of boat (freeboard) that was above the water line was only about 5 inches, which left us no room for shenanigans or horseplay. I rowed toward the center of the lake while Peter knotted a Hoola Popper, his favorite warm-up plug. We couldn't move fast enough to fling the first cast.
I asked Peter to use the lantern so he could see what he was doing. I didn't think he‘d bite at such an obvious trick, but he moved the lantern close to his face and flipped the switch. Instantly the Mayflies were drawn in by the thousands. Peter's head and face were completely covered with the crawling creatures. He panicked. His arms thrashed wildly and he dropped the light into the bottom of the boat. His weight shifted and we tipped, letting enough water into the bottom of the boat to cover our feet. The flies came in by the bucketful's. Our airways choked with flies. I screamed at Peter to shut the light off before he swamped us, but he was too busy trying to catch his breath to acknowledge me. When he found the switch, all went dark. I began laughing hysterically about the ignorance of the act. I didn't think he'd take it personally. I was wrong. "Let's move to a different spot." He demanded.
With oars readied I began working toward the "hot spot". I rowed myself into lather and made very little progress. The harder I rowed the heavier the boat felt. Peter tried coaching me on the proper technique of rowing and he prodded me to move faster, so I did. Thirty minutes later I covered a quarter of a mile and I was exhausted. Peter's belly busted with laughter when he retrieved the anchor that he'd slid into the water before we changed positions. It had a one hundred pound ball of duckweeds clinging to it! I couldn't believe my eyes, then we both slid into a laughing jag that could be heard clear across the lake.
We threw a few baits and even tried to free-line a Mayfly, but nothing could compete with Mother Nature's version, so we headed toward camp. When we reached the shore I was exhausted from the midnight workout, so I convinced Peter to call it a night.
We stretched out in the back of his Scout and listened to the radio play songs from John Cougar Melloncamp until the clock sounded 2 am. When Peter sat up to adjust his sleeping bag something startled him. "Holy shit," he exclaimed. "There's someone out there!"
"Shut up and go to sleep. There's no one out here but us." I argued
"I saw someone! He ran across the parking lot. He was wearing a white suit." His eyes strained to find movement.
I sat up to take a look and was jolted by the presence of a big feral cat that jumped up onto the hood of the Scout. His yellow eyes glowed in the moonlight and his gleaming white teeth drooled as he hissed at us through the windshield. I jerked the covers over my head. I refused to believe that someone was stalking us.
I told him that if he gathered all the camping and fishing gear we'd leave. After all I wasn't going outside with someone or something wondering about, yet we couldn't leave our stuff behind.
The truck door flung open in a flash and equipment began filling the back of the truck. "What about the boat?" he asked. I was being pelted by fishing rods, oars, tackle boxes, a stove and the live nightcrawlers that spilled when the top popped off the coffee container and dumped them on my legs. "OK. Screw the boat! Let's get out of here fast."
We headed for Fox Lake, a small town about 7 miles away. Peter was visibly shaken up as he continued to check his rear view mirror and chew his fingernails like a woodchuck.
We tried to get some sleep in the parking lot of the local Catholic Church. It seemed a safe sanctuary to spend a night for free.
We listened to the radio and drifted in and out of a light sleep. Just then, a news flash came across the wire warning the local residents to be on the lookout for a dangerous convict that escaped from the local prison. Our hearts leapt into our throats as he described the man's prison issue clothing and the position that he was last seen. The DJ scornfully added that he was considered armed and dangerous and no one should try to apprehend him.
Daylight broke about an hour later and we headed back to the lake to get our boat. When we turned onto the narrow drive that lead to the lake we were met by a barrage of police cars all heading in the opposite direction.
They updated the report with a capture. They said he was apprehended while trying to make his get away in a small boat on Lake Emily! We stared at each other slack-jawed, and then looked into the back seat and discovered…we had the oars! Silence in the truck was deafening. Then a Mayfly circled Peter's head and came in for a soft landing on the bridge of his nose.
That was the last time I saw Peter Grimes. He left for a big city college that fall and I guess fishing lost its charm. As for me, when the April showers bring May flowers in the upper Midwest, my blood boils with the memories of past trips. And when the Mayflies dance on the ponds in the full moon light I can still hear Peter laughing somewhere in the buzz of their tiny wings.
Kurt Zuelsdorf. Writer, Urban Tracker, Outdoor Enthusiast at Kayak Nature Adventures kayak and sup rentals