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home : outdoors : fishing February 5, 2016

7/20/2012 4:47:00 AM
My lucky shirt
Chris takes a break from his squirrelly trolling motor to take a few casts.Craig Turk photograph 

Chris takes a break from his squirrelly trolling motor to take a few casts.

Craig Turk photograph 

Craig Turk
Outdoors Writer/Photographer

“You can’t wear that. It’s disreputable,” my wife, Cheryl, said.

But it’s my lucky shirt she was referring to. Well, perhaps it’s lucky. I do wear it fishing quite a bit, and there was that time I caught fish. And I was going fishing.

The shirt of contention was a sleeveless, purple beauty that has been a part of my life for a long time. Not quite as long as Cheryl, though, who probably purchased it in the first place – back in the 1990s. If it is “disreputable” I’ll argue that she can shoulder the blame.

Why would one buy a shirt that would eventually wear so much that its elbows blow out – thus requiring removal of the sleeves – in fewer than 20 years?

I don’t even remember if the shirt was originally purple. It may have been blue; maybe even white. I like it because it’s comfortable and has two pockets. The one that still buttons holds my cell phone; the other, whatever I need to store temporarily.

Referring to the shirt as a vest might help, but few vests have ragged threads encompassing the armholes.

Instead, this shirt, and the small arsenal of others like it that I own, are more crudely referred to as “beer-drinking smocks” or “Yooper tank-tops” by those I know. No offense to those residing in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula intended. Though I’m a lifelong resident of northern Wisconsin, I have Yooper blood in my veins.

I’m not generally superstitious, but I wondered if Cheryl’s admonishment of my apparel was about to jinx my efforts on the water. Maybe I’d be self-conscious and allow it to affect my prowess in the pursuit of fish.

My brother, Chris, met with me to go fishing, and scarcely seemed to notice the shirt until I brought up Cheryl’s mini-rant on the subject.

“The shirt looks like you’re going fishing,” he said insightfully.

Of course, Chris has been known to don a beer-drinking smock from time to time. In fact, I’d say he may be the one who inspired me to continue to utilize my elbow-blown shirts by simply removing the sleeves.

Despite claims by some that my fashion sense was inspired by Larry the Cable Guy, it’s simply untrue. His shirts are generally flannel, and I’ll argue that a lighter cotton garment is more suitable.

I kept the lucky shirt on, fairly certain that it would have followed on its own had I not, even if just to escape attempts by a certain party to reduce it to a chew-toy for the dog.

So, we went fishing. Chris, the lucky shirt, and I.

Of course, we stopped for bait and some snacks, so there I was, in public, in my disreputable shirt. I was not shunned, and no scowls of distaste did I see. No more so than usual anyway.

Our collection of bait, tackle and snacks were selected. Chris was warned by one of the proprietors of the bait shop to not buy the inexpensive beef and cheese sticks he had selected, but he did so anyway.

We ventured to the landing on Lake Tomahawk. There, we completed a survey on aquatic invasive species which included a test where the participants identify Eurasian watermilfoil out of a selection of plants placed in little bowls. The test went poorly for Chris. Maybe the close proximity to my shirt was having an effect.

Venturing out on a dock, I could hear a spinning starter and smell of gasoline. A couple of young guys hopeful of fishing were instead dock-side, studying the innards of a stubborn outboard. Whatever self-conscious bad luck my wife’s distaste for my shirt had caused may have reached the lake ahead of me.

I stopped short of apologizing to the unfortunate would-be anglers, guessing I would just sound like some kind of weirdo. The shirt itself could probably convey that information on its own anyway.

I’m sure those dock-side mechanics were grateful for yet another wake setting their disabled craft bobbing when we departed the landing. It gets so boring working on equipment that remains still.

Chris’s boat started smoothly and ran nice, and the wind caressed my sleeveless self. I could scarcely think that any sort of negativity was attached to my lucky shirt right then.

“Look at that plug. I don’t like the way it fit,” Chris said shortly after departure.

Oh yeah. Chris had to buy a new drain plug for his boat after the former one disintegrated and he super-glued it into the drain hole.

I looked cautiously over my shoulder, picturing a certain “Three Stooges” episode in which the Stooges were drilling holes in the bottom of their boat to let out the water coming in from a leak. “Man! We don’t even have a drill on board,” I thought. Wait. Would that even work? I’m no expert on physical law, but I don’t think it would.

The plug seemed secure. Unlike a certain someone in a ragged purple shirt. 

We anchored near an island to organize our gear and try a few casts. Chris had just purchased a hefty anchor from the bait shop. It was in hopes of not being set adrift on steep-sloping shores, but also as a replacement for the one lost on the same trip that saw his drain plug become a construction of super-glue and prayers. 

We fished for a bit along the steep-dropping shore of the island we had selected for the sake of the shade it provided. A little smallie (sounds redundant, doesn’t it?) and little largemouth wore the dunce cap here, accepting our half-hearted offerings. Chris would propel us around for some position fishing as soon as we were set.

On the same trip that had resulted in the disintegration of his former boat plug and the loss of his anchor, Chris had also lost much of his trolling motor prop because of a mean-spirited rock bar. He had tried to save it, yanking the motor quickly aboard, only to have said prop shattered by the gunwale.

The new prop he had just purchased wasn’t exactly the same, but readily attached anyway.

“This thing’s squirrelly,” Chris said as he piloted me toward some predestined meeting with a prize fish. Zig-zagging through the water, with the boat shaking like a dog looking at a steak just out of reach, we motored into various positions and fished.

Rock bass assaulted our jigs-and-whatever we tipped them with, with an occasional bluegill unfortunate enough to wrap its tiny mouth around our offerings coming aboard as well. There were a few bass, but they remained stubbornly small. Bigger baits didn’t produce bigger fish either.

We flailed around various islands and drop-offs, hooking the occasional foolish fish.

“What about those humps?” Chris wondered, referring to some mid-lake humps we had fished in the past with relative success.

I contemplatively rubbed my purple smock and replied with a resounding, “Huh.” Off we went. 

A purple sunset was evident in the western sky as we motored toward the humps. Purple is a lucky color, right?

We anchored atop one of the humps, and soon saw action – saw, not partook therein. Smallies were cresting all over, blasting through schools of fry with open mouths.

“Nice!” I thought, recalling many times when such a sight led to great action. Usually, smallmouths enjoying a binge such as this are quite cooperative for anglers, at least in my experience. We employed our best tactic – casting baits at evident fish.

Chris started eating some of the meat-cheese snacks he was warned not to buy.

“How are they?” I asked.

“About what I expected. Like something out of a C-ration. Edible,” he said. “Hmm. The little crunchy things in the cheese aren’t the greatest.”

A moment later, the snack lost its “edible” status. As it turns out, the crunchy cheese was not suitable as chum either.

No matter what we threw out there, the bass continued to dine only on the evident fry. Really? Usually bass shooting through clouds of fry are also content with whatever other food comes their way. The purple smock and its ill-advised venture into the eyes of the public had tainted everything.

We moseyed toward the landing after catching a single rock bass off the hump. We stopped at one more weed edge as daylight waned, where a couple of rock bass and bluegills chewed on our offerings.

We could call it a good action night. After all, plenty of rock bass bit. Plus, the crunchy cheese was entertaining. Maybe more so for me than for Chris.

I can report that no fish were harmed in the making of this story, despite their close encounters with the shirt. 

Maybe it’s still a lucky shirt after all. It certainly felt more like a lucky shirt when we departed under the comforting cloak of darkness and I was relatively certain that no critical eyes fell upon me. 

Upon my arrival home I slipped into something less comfortable and hid my lucky shirt. 

Good luck finding it, Cheryl.

Craig Turk may be reached at cturk@lakelandtimes.com

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