The land used to be pastureland, purchased by my father’s family in 1841 to graze dairy cows. In the early 1900s they converted it for recreation, building cottages along the banks of the river in sight of the rapids that existed before construction of the Seaway.
Two islands that were named for dad’s ancestors have been disappeared under the surface since the Authority raised the water levels for the shipping channel. A hazard to navigation buoy marks their presence.
My grandmother planted pine trees in the boggy land between the road and the river and they’ve grown tall in the decades and harbor deer and the occasional family of red foxes.
A nesting pair of bald eagles has made a home in the islands across the river and loons come in the spring before the boat traffic gets too heavy. Wild turkeys run on the islands too and when the great blue herons spread their wings overhead they look like flying dinosaurs.
The water is as clear as it has ever been and you can see the pike waiting in ambush or the bass hugging structure by the dozens or the giant carp or the chub schooling on the shoals like bonefish. Put in the time, you think, and they’ll be there. They’ve adapted and survived over the centuries but you can never shake the feeling that at any moment one doomed freighter can take it all away.
Once in a post I likened the darkened bars on the gill plates of a smallmouth bass to war paint.
In the last issue of The Drake, I wrote an essay about smallmouth bass where I described the “dark bands on the gill plates popping like war paint.”
Many times when you write for print it’s as if you send it out via pneumatic mail tube, never to be heard from again. So it was gratifying to get a package in the mail from an angler from Michigan named Jon Lee.
“That stuck with me,” he wrote of the line. “I paint fish and couldn’t get it out of my head so I painted it.”
Thanks Jon Lee, to me that’s about as cool as it gets.
The sun came out and the shallows warmed and fish moved into them. Others held fast in the current rips, poised for ambush, and still others patrolled the drop-offs or took cover in the newly thickening weeds. The fish hit the flies of those who were there and the pics are for those who could not be.
A descriptor, and a point in favor of the smallmouth bass.
We like them like we liked putting M-80s in things in middle school.
Hank iii wrote about being tattooed and branded. The smallmouth bass has its own kind of markings. If the aggressive take didn’t tell you, or immediate rise to the surface with a succession of jumps followed by the rod doubling over on a thrash to the bottom, the look on its face after landing should clue you in.
It’s saying, you and me are never going to be friends.
A quick wordless summation, complete with sunset cliche.
The North Country beckons. The big nasties are aligned in the fly box, ready to endure any sharp-toothed ambush tactics in the shallows. ZB touches down at Idlewild and we take to the interstate highway system. Boats will be launched, lines in the water, by the PM. This is the 12th Annual, attended by family and friends who roll from way back in the 20th Century. This is a good deal.
We got smallmouth, too.