On The Water

Thirty minutes before sun-up the air is cool and crisp as over one hundred boats sit idle on the water. All is quiet. You can just hear the faint whispers coming from nearby boats as anticipation of the day grows. The water is dark and foreboding with no reflection cast in the low light conditions. As you look out at the lake the water is like glass with no hint of breeze in the air. Everything is calm and serene and at peace.

Then as one, the contestants stand as the Star Spangled Banner begins to play. The music is reflecting off the water as thoughts reflect on the freedoms that we are allowed and the pride that develops in the words of the song. Hats are placed on chests as a sign of respect for those who sacrificed so we could have the freedom to be there today. As the song ends they sit down and prepare. Hats are pulled down snug, goggles are put in place, coats are zipped up, life jackets are adjusted and tightened and maps are stowed. They are ready. Engines begin coming to life. A few at first and then more in a chorus that quickly fills the air with a feeling of excitement and sound. The official time is called as the first boat takes position. The endless days of preparation are over. The fine-tuning of equipment completed. All available knowledge accessed and stored. Game plans set. The time to be nervous is past. With one word the playing field has been leveled and the clock has started ticking. The word to the first boat is simply “go”.

The big engine comes to life and the boat accelerates quickly. Like a rocket shooting off into the sky, the boat heads off into morning in a blaze of speed, its wake leaving a trail to its passing. One boat after the other follows the path but all have different destinations. As you and your partner for the day await your turn to go, you quickly go over the game plan in your head one last time. You are excited and nervous as you move into place. Then your boat number is called. All time for preparation and being nervous are gone as your foot pushes down on the accelerator and you blast off into the approaching dawn.

The boat quickly accelerates. Passing forty, fifty and finally settling into a constant pace at sixty-five miles per hour as you steer for calm water and the starting destination for the day. You can hear and feel the rumble generated from the powerful two hundred horse power engine that is pushing you forward across the water. As the boat cuts through the cool air like a knife, you feel the wind pushing against your clothing searching for exposed skin that will quickly grow cold if not covered. This is called “running” and as you make the “run” to the first of many spots you will visit throughout the day, a sense of calm will often come over you. A sense of focus, that for those few moments, everything is as it should be, everything is right.

You reach your first spot, a protected cove off of the main lake. You let up on the accelerator and start shedding speed. And then you let off completely and let the momentum carry the boat the remaining distance. Here noise is not allowed. Stealth is required. You shed your coat and life jacket as you move to the front of the boat to drop the trolling motor into place. You use the quite electric motor to move the boat the final distance into the cove. As you bring the boat into position you reach down to pick up a fishing rod that you feel has the best artificial lure tied on for the area you are fishing. Your partner moves to the back deck and does the same.

The first cast of the day is always exhilarating and full of hope. The fishing rod you choose has a top water plug, a Zara Spook tied onto the end of the line. You make your cast and watch the plug fly across the water and land softly five yards beyond a submerged bush near shore. You slowly work the lure by the bush, making the lure dance softly in a side- to-side motion, imitating a wounded baitfish. You are ready for the tiniest strike from a fish. Wanting that first cast to produce a fish in the worst way. But, nothing happens. One of a thousand casts during the day that will produce the same result. You make the same cast but to the other side of the bush. You slowly work the lure back to the bush as you fall into a rhythm of movement. Something inside you tells you to stop working the lure. You let the lure just set, as you watch the ripples slowly fade. All of the sudden there is a tremendous explosion by the bush. Where your lure had just sat, there now is only a swirling spot of churning water. You reel in some of the slack line until you feel the powerful fish on the end of the line and quickly sweep the rod to the side. “Fish on”, you yell towards the back of the boat, “get the net”. And the fight begins. The fish is strong and quickly dives for deep water. You ease up on the drag and slowly work the fish back to the boat. The big fish quickly turns and heads for the surface. You push the rod tip down into the water, but you cannot stop the fish from exploding to the surface. Thankfully the fish stays on and you regain control of the battle. As you draw it close your partner slips the net under the fish and hauls it into the boat, a small “thank you” escapes from your lips. You reach in and lift the 7 lb. largemouth out of the net and bask in the feeling of what has just transpired. You place it gently in the live-well and close the lid. The day has just begun, but the memory will last a lifetime.