Why we built the dinghy

June 1, 2008

I hadn’t expected the fishing bug to hit as late as Labour Day, but Bet and I were anchored in Horseshoe Bay on the Big Rideau when it happened. She said something like, “Think there’d be a bass under that tree over there?” I was hooked.

Problem was that I didn’t have a fishing boat with me, just several unwieldy tons of old wooden cruiser swinging at anchor. My best casts from the bow produced nothing. The fish were under the trees, and I’d just have to go after them.

I set out along the tree-lined shore in an inner tube, towing a second tube for my stringer, with a woolen sock full of frogs attached. My prized heavy-duty bait-casting rod waved aloft and flippers supplied the power. The water seemed a little cool. With growing respect for the rig’s mobility, I worked a dead frog under the overhanging trees. The fish weren’t biting, though. I made my way down the shoreline all the way to the mouth of the bay and up the other side without a strike.

Finally I got to the two massive overhanging hemlocks that had prompted Bet’s comment in the first place. They looked good. The first tree yielded a strike. I set the hook, and in no time a two-pound bass was splashing alongside the tube.

This posed a problem: tree-dwelling bass don’t like sunlight. When hooked, most make a beeline for the largest bit of floating cover in reach. In this case, that object was my inner tube, with me at its centre. While a bass is not regarded as a fierce biter, it does have considerable sticking prowess because of its spiked dorsal fins. With no desire to turn my Speedo into a pin cushion, I had to fend the bass off with flippers until it learned to accept the lesser comfort of the trailing inner tube (which it perforated as soon as the nervous fish floated up into the shade).

Bubbling merrily, my little flotilla continued up the shoreline to the next tree. I was cold, but feeling pretty positive about tubing for bass.

Let me tell you a little about tree fishing: the best trees have water from one to four feet in depth under about a hundred square feet of shaded area. Often the branches come right down to the water, so the sidearm “frogging” cast involves skipping a bait across the surface of the water, through weeds and twigs, and hopefully into the waiting mouth of a large fish under the canopy. This is why such heavy tackle is used: you often have to muscle the bass out of whatever crud he can dig up under the tree.

On this trip I was winning, so I knew I’d find a fish under this tree. The cast was perfect. The dead frog made one skip and landed cleanly in an open spot in the weeds. Nothing. Wait him out. Still nothing. Go home? No. Wait. Still? Just wait.

WHAM! Some strike! Give him a few seconds. SET THE HOOK! HIT HIM TWICE MORE! Still on? Get him out of there!

I put my twin rubber stern drives on full ahead and tried to tow the heavy fish out of his lair. He must have taken a half-hitch around a stump, because he was holding his own pretty well and I was just churning up mud and weeds. I slackened for a second to see if he would ease up too, and then hit him with all of the backbone in the rod. Out he came, foaming the water and gobbling up the distance between us much more quickly than I’d have liked.

It was a large northern pike, an open-mouthed monster who seemed not at all pleased to make my acquaintance. Twice I had to parry the so-and-so’s rushes at my tube by sticking my flipper into his mouth and deflecting him. Then he circled. This startled the bass on the stringer, who forgot his training and again made a sortie toward my Speedo.

I couldn’t break the heavy line, the fish was solidly hooked, and I couldn’t even race from the scene because of the rocks and stumps around the tree. Most of my effort had to go into kicks with flippers to protect my vessel’s hull from the mutinous crew, but eventually we cleared the obstructions and I put the tube up on plane for the quarter-mile run to the mother ship.

As I neared the boat I roared to Bet, who, her mischief of the morning done, had retired to the salon to read a novel. She just shook her head when I handed her up the rod and sculled around to the stern. I swarmed up the swim ladder and back to the bow to take over fighting the fish from the more serene perspective of a captain aboard his ship with no fear of personal hull punctures.

Shortly I landed the respectable five-pound pike, photographed him and let him go. He’d earned it. The bass? Breakfast. The number two tube never recovered. That pike looked a lot bigger from an inner tube.

So that’s why we built the dinghy.

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