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From the Mouth of the River

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Are there fish in that lake?

My wife Lovie was standing in the dining room, looking out at her garden. Two feet of hard packed snow covers everything in sight. Her arms are full of garden catalogs that started coming long before Christmas. She’s been drooling on them so much half the pages are stuck together. But I recall how good those vine-ripe tomatoes tasted last summer and her homemade catsup and salsa that we’ve been enjoying all winter and I don’t want to disillusion her by reminding her that it’s still three months until she can plant her garden. If it wasn’t for that one-eyed ground hog seeing his shadow along with Valentines Day, February would be a wasted winter month.

Well, okay, it’s at least that time of year when a young man’s fancy turns to love and a young girl’s fancy turns his head. Of course, older womens’ fancy turns to flowers and gardening and older mens’ fancy turns to walleye fishing. Which reminds me, I just got back from Troy, Montana last night where I was ice fishing and tonight we’re having red band rainbow trout for dinner.

I went fishing with Clifford Dare and some of his cronies who were out on work release. We went up north of town to a secret lake that every one knows about, where we had 16 to 19 inches of ice and fish to match. What made the day, off course, was the camaraderie among friends and all the lies that were told, one of which was about there being fish in this lake. “I know they were there because I saw someone catch one,” Cliff said. However, our party of five was just torturing small worms by water boarding them in ice water.

It was obviously the best day I’ve spent on a lake this year. Not a breath of air blowing and the sun was shining bright and warm. Many gallons of coffee were consumed as well as dozens of sweet rolls, after which it was decided maybe we should fish. After several motorized ice augers were fired up the lake looked like a Chinese checkerboard. Holes were everywhere. Everyone set two poles and then sat back taking turns telling lies and waiting on the fish to come see what all the laughter was about. One self-proclaimed professional ice fisherman, who’s alias was Billy, raised his bait from the icy water and gave it specific instructions to catch only the nicest, plumpest rainbows or he would continue water boarding it throughout the day.

“I just received these gourmet worms in the mail yesterday,” he said. “Twelve dozen. A gross of the best red worms known to man. These are not your everyday night crawlers, no sir. These are gourmet garden worms. I’ll sell you one for a dollar,” he offered, holding up one to show us how well they wiggled.

 “‘at’s a lively little bugger,” I said, “but I think I’ll stick to these night crawlers. I wouldn’t want to spoil these fish by offering them something they’re not used to. Next thing ya know they’d be wanting everyone to use them gourmet worms.”

It was just before noon when this stranger showed up in an SUV, with out-of-state license plates. He unloaded an ice fishing sled and filled it with all the latest in ice fishing gear from Cabelas. Dressed in the latest fashion from a Michigan ice fishing catalog, he approached us.

 “Good afternoon, gents,” he said. “Where would you recommend I start to fish?”

What he got was five different answers with everyone pointing in different directions while simultaneously saying, “Over there.”

Looking a bit bewildered he moved off up the lake a couple hundred feet or so. From his sled he pulled a new Yo-Mama-Honda ice auger. It was a deluxe, self-starting, stand-by-its-own-self drilling machine. Dirt, by far the biggest man in our fishing group, who was built like a whisky barrel with the same odor about him, pointed out to Hey you (the new guy) that he was drilling too close to the shore. The ice was 19 inches deep and the shore tapered off very shallow. Of course, Hey you didn’t hear Dirt yelling at him over the sound of the screaming ice auger until it hit solid rock bottom, at which time Hey you gave his best impression of a helicopter lifting off. The latest safety switch for the new auger would have worked great if it hadn’t still been in the box with the instructions. When Hey you hit the end of his arms his gloves slipped off, releasing him like a sling shot. The long skid marks on the ice later stepped off to be over a hundred feet.

 “Hey, you, all right?” Dirt shouted.

The new guy nodded as he got to his feet and stretched his back.

 “He seems taller to me,” said Cliff.

 “Well, one thing’s for sure.  He won’t have to bend over to tie his shoes any more. Look at how long his arms are!” I exclaimed.

 The new guy proceeded to load up all his fishing gear and haul it farther out onto the lake, all the while talking to himself and looking warily over his shoulder at us. After hooking the safety lanyard to his auger, he drilled two more holes.

  “Why would he fish clear over there?” Dirt asked. “If that was such a good place to fish we’d be fishing there.”

 While the new guy was baiting his second line the first one he set went off. The rod was churning wildly when he pulled a huge trout up through the ice.

 “I was told by Fish and Game there was fish that big in this lake,” I said. “But who would believe those guys? That’s a nice fish!”

 “Well, it’s obvious to me he’s using gourmet worms,” said Billy, “so the price is going up. If you want some for two bucks this is your last chance.“

 “It’s not his bait,” I said, “it’s the location. Maybe we should go over and introduce ourselves. You know, welcome him to the neighborhood.”

About that time his other pole tripped and he had caught his second fish which was even bigger than the first. The sight of that fish triggered a stampede that looked like a herd of oversized penguins dressed in Carhart overalls charging towards him. Open coats were waving like capes, and fishing poles were flailing about popping frozen worms off the ends of the lines. Since none of us were used to moving, let alone running, very fast, our faces became reddened and contorted with pain. Strange animal-like sounds erupted from winded lungs as we tried to communicate our surprise and joy for our new friend’s good fortune. I don’t think he quite got the message.

“Hey, you,” Dirt gasped, as the newcomer skittered across the lake towards his SUV, screaming and scattering his fishing gear en route.

“Well ain’t that the most unsociable guy you ever seen? I wonder what got into him?” Billy asked.

“Maybe he just ain’t use ta’ people being all this friendly where he came from,” said Dirt.

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Boots Reynolds Boots Reynolds The "internationally-renowned cowboy artist" Boots Reynolds has moved his comedic interpretation of life into the writing field with his regular column in the River Journal - From the Mouth of the River.

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fishing, Clifford Dare

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