Fishing off a dock in the bay
By: By Darrell Pendergrass, For The Superior Telegram, Superior Telegram
Nearly every adult angler who dangles a line from a boat or canoe started out as a child fishing from a dock; the dock being where all future deep water fishermen cut their teeth.
As a kid whose father was afflicted with a serious case of the “fishing bug,” I too found myself angling from docks as a child, a cheap Zepco spin casting rod in hand. Whether we were on Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota, Lake of the Woods in Minnesota, or Rainy Lake in Ontario, Canada, often Dad would pull up anchor and head out alone, leaving me back in camp. After he’d leave, I went fishing from the shoreline with the other kids like me, campground children willing to drift away together to try their luck at catching pan fish – often congregating on the docks and piers located near boat landings.
We didn’t actually know each other, we campground kids. But as sun-browned boys and girls, clad in cutoff jean shorts, we had more in common than just our unkempt hair and freckled faces. Our fishing fathers and uncles had left us back on shore, motoring out to deeper waters not because they didn’t care for us, but because there comes a time in every angler’s life when he can no longer stand the line snarls, un-baited hooks and tackle-box fidgeting of children. Even when they’re his own. We were those kids.
But we didn’t care. Lowering hooked night crawlers down through the boards of old docks to the bluegills that could be seen as we pressed our dirty faces to the wood, we didn’t think about our misfortune. We didn’t dwell on the fact our blood relatives were catching walleye and lake trout while we were pursuing the smallest of fish. We just thought about catching fish. Any fish. The fish we could see below. Sliding our catches to the side of the dock before reaching under and grabbing their spiny blue bodies, we smiled the smiles of youth. We were fishermen – shoreline and dock fishermen, but still fishermen and the best of friends, if only for the weekend. That’s all that mattered.
Now, as a 40-something-year-old, I don’t have the opportunities to fish that I’d hoped to have. I have envisioned myself boating about on the bays of inland lakes, tossing spinners into the weeds for northern pike, jigging near reefs for walleye and bobbering about for bluegills. Making those dreams a reality doesn’t happen that often. When you’re a kid you have the time to fish but not the resources. As adults we have the resources but not the time.
But I keep a fishing pole in my car; I keep my bait in the refrigerator downstairs in the library where I work, and a couple of times a week I spend my lunch on the coal dock here in Washburn. My life has come full circle.
There are other men who cast out lines into Lake Superior from the coal dock, sitting in their cars and trucks listening to the radio with eyes trained on wave-tossed bobbers. Perhaps they fish with slip sinkers and their gaze is trained on the tip of a favorite rod. Whatever way they fish and however they angle, they’re the campground children I remember from long ago. I don’t know them personally, but we’re more alike than different.
So, a few days back I decided to drive out onto the coal dock again. I needed to fish. An older man was dozing quietly inside his car, still wearing his hat, oblivious to what could have been happening with his rod as it sat perched along the edge of the dock. It was cold out there. Sleet spit from the sky. The waves weren’t bad though. The wind was manageable. I’d fished in worse and I had an hour to spare. Might as well fish.
I pulled up at the end of the dock with the entire front of the structure to myself. I hiked up the collar of my sweater, jumped out and cast, my bait and slip bobber sailing along with the wind. I secured the rod in one of the many holders that are nailed on the dock before jumping back in the car. I didn’t, and I don’t, expect to catch fish off the coal dock. It’s more about just being out there, about taking a chance that luck is on your side. It’s the possibility, the “what if?” Come on, nobody really catches fish out here – do they? If you’re planning a night’s meal on what might be caught off the dock you had better be on a diet.
I looked up from my book and my bobber was gone. It had been just five minutes. My eyes went to the rod, which was bent like a horseshoe. Instantly the rod was in my hands as I set the hook hard. It held. I was on a fish. A fish! My gosh, a fish!
Reeling in line, I was squinting through my glasses as the rain and cold fogged them up, looking for the sight of what sort of fish had torpedoed my bait and bobber. My reddened hands could feel the chill in the air. Water ran down my neck. And I smiled like the boy I once was, on those summer vacation docks of long ago. The fish fought gallantly, holding deep and forcing me to work.
Eventually Lake Superior coughed up a 21-inch coho salmon; a silver beauty that I gladly accepted. Alone at the end of the coal dock I began laughing out loud. Throwing my hands up in the air, my heart racing, I couldn’t keep from grinning. I was dancing about like a fishing fool. The old man in the car kept sleeping.
Sure. It was just a fish, not even a particularly huge fish. But luck was with me on this day, and I was a kid again, with the messed up hair, not worrying about getting rained on or dirty or anything. Just like long ago.
On the dock.
For more work by Darrell Pendergrass, check out his blog at outtherewithdarrell.blogspot.com.