The consumptive outdoor pursuits are the ones I lean toward. You know the pursuits – they are those where one can take home something of value – such as meat.
Or perhaps something less edible.
My wife, Cheryl, is more into the gathering aspect of hunting and gathering (or catching and gathering, if you will) than I am, and is known to be distracted by edible plants even when edible meat is available.
Sometimes, even as we are hurrying to a boat landing to get in some fishing while daylight wanes, Cheryl will be distracted by berry brush on the roadside. Luckily, I do the driving, so the truck keeps going, despite the protests.
On the way back, in the dark, I might be compelled to stop so a few berries can be gathered under the glow of the truck headlights.
Despite the oppressive temperatures this year’s Fourth of July offered, Cheryl wanted to do something. So, of course, I pulled out all of the stops.
I packed a small cooler with a couple of beers and some bait, and threw a couple of fishing poles in the back of the truck.
What lady wouldn’t be impressed with my efforts?
We waited until the evening hours to depart. The air, however, was still hot and heavy; barely processable for human lungs. The ride with the truck windows down was about as refreshing as a political speech. A steady blast of hot air. Nonetheless, we ventured on.
We first stopped at a puddle of a lake, a pond really, and only containing fish, I’m sure, because somebody decided to throw them in there. While I took a few casts, Cheryl looked for berries.
I caught and released a few bass and bluegills, but Cheryl obtained something consumable – raspberries and blueberries. A bit early for raspberries, she said.
The next leg of our adventure took us to another small lake, though one that can justifiably be labeled as such – named and everything. Like with the first place, we had the spot to ourselves.
Unfortunately, there was evidence of others having been there shortly before. The boat landing looked as if a pinata full of cheese puffs, peanut shells, and cigarette butts had been beaten to pieces above it. A mashed styrofoam container coated with some sticky blue substance highlighted the scene.
I removed some of the trash for those who had left it, guessing that they weren’t planning to return for a clean-up. It’s a scene that’s way too common. Earlier this year at the same landing, I removed beer and soda cans and a bait container left on the shore near some forked sticks. Is it that difficult to take it?
But I digress.
The heavy air was calm when we arrived, and bluegills and small bass were all over the sandy shallows. These fish were eager feeders. For a few minutes, I fished.
Suddenly, the wind came up. It began blowing quite briskly, in fact. The air cooled quickly, some distant thunder rumbled, and rain began to fall.
It felt fantastically refreshing – like walking into one of those “beer caves” on a hot day.
The rain was not enough to force us back to the truck. I decided to open one of those beers and just enjoy the respite. I found a clean spot amidst the peanut shells and cheese puffs and sat down.
Cheryl tossed a floating jig and leech out as deep as she could while wading in knee-deep in the water. She’d retreat to shore and take a seat after each cast. I guess there were no ripe berries nearby, and she didn’t want to glean cheese puffs from the lake shore.
Cheryl had but two small bullheads to her fishing credit this year, so any action to come by would be welcome. She managed to land a couple of largemouth bass on the leeches.
These weren’t mighty beasts, but bass always make a good showing in the fight department. I conclude that pulling in bass, however small, is more fun than picking berries.
A few Independence Day fishing trips of more substance are in our past. Sometimes, we opted out of fireworks at the park, and instead enjoyed numerous displays from a distance while afloat and fishing.
One year, we chased crappies on a lake near Lake Tomahawk. The lake tends to produce smallish, but fairly numerous crappies that are fine for the fry-pan. A landing net is advisable for crappies with their soft mouths – a lesson that needs to be re-affirmed for me every so often. Including on July 4, 2003.
We were doing well, catching some eaters on crappie minnows suspended below bobbers. Of course, I hooked a giant slab of a crappie – especially for that particular lake – and attempted to simply haul it over the side of the boat, despite having a landing net well within reach.
The fish – perhaps 14 inches in length – dropped off just before it was aboard.
Cheryl looked at me and said, “What was that?”
“I thought it looked like a crappie. Why was it so big? Why didn’t you use the net? Why didn’t you have me net it for you?”
Cheryl hates to see the big one get away almost as much as she hates to pass berry brushes without stopping. I was none too pleased myself, but we got our crappie meal, caught a couple northerns, and stayed on the water past dusk to listen to the distant booms and watch the distant flashes of several towns’ fireworks.
Of course, bass fishing can provide furious action this time of year. We’ve caught many bass in the warm waters of July, but smallmouths in particular we’ve caught in huge numbers.
Usually, we fish bass for action, not food, and smallies can provide some of the best rod-bending action around.
In the mid-90s, Cheryl and I were fishing with her dad, Keith, on a beautiful lake that Keith had fished successfully during his youth. The lake, now well-developed along the private portions of its shore, turned out to not be a very productive fishing lake any more. But, at dark, one of the homeowners began setting off some very impressive and expensive looking fireworks.
We sat in the boat, enjoying the show. A pretty good “grand finale” after a night of catching stunted rock bass.
We must get hungry for fish around that first week in July. My records indicate a lot of panfish and trout pursuit. Not surprisingly, panfish can be caught in great numbers during the July heat. More surprisingly, we’ve done pretty well on rainbow and brook trout this time of year.
This year, we were more interested in getting out of the house than bringing fish home. Fishing and berry-picking were secondary to a desire to venture outdoors after a week spent indoors avoiding the heat. The sudden cooling blast was a pleasant surprise.
Relatively tired at the start of our tiny trip, Cheryl was exhausted at the end.
I didn’t even have to stop at any berry bushes on the way home.
Craig Turk may be reached at email@example.com