7:00 a.m. is too early during the school year to get up, and I have to struggle to get them out of bed by 7:15, so they can make it to school on time by 8:00. But 6:00 a.m. during the summer isn't too early to go hunt for large bass; and 5:00 a.m., as the sun is just lighting up the horizon, isn't too early for trout, bass or pike when we are on vacation. (5:30 if we are at the beach, fishing for specks, pups or flounder.)
Well Parke is home from college now, and he has become bound and determined to learn the lakes around Suffolk while he was looking for work. After all, Suffolk is known for its fishing in its many lakes. I told him he can fish from 6 - 9 a.m. or p.m., but from 9 to 6 he needs to be hitting the streets. If only fishing could pay him, he'd be rich.
We've lived in Suffolk for over 17 years, and the biggest large mouth bass I've caught around here is maybe 4 pounds. The biggest one I've ever caught is just over 5, when I was growing up in Delaware. Truth of the matter is, I just don't target largemouth, or any fresh water fish as much, since I mostly kayak fish in the brackish rivers, but I certainly don't turn it down when given the chance. Still, I don't have the time a kid does.
Parke has gotten up early several times, and one morning while I was on my way to work, I received this photo text:
|a nice, healthy 6.5# largemouth bass caught in one of Suffolk's wonderful lakes.|
A week or so later, I'm on my way to work and I get this text photo:
|Just to show the first fish wasn't luck or a fluke, the next week Parke caught this 5 pounder.|
I smiled, as it was the first time in almost 20 years of his life that he has felt confident enough to offer me fishing advice. I told him I would happily accompany him sometime when I can do it. I look forward to him teaching me how to fish (these lakes, at least).... After all, isn't the role of a parent to prepare your child in such a way that they excel and exceed what you have accomplished? I'll say it again.... "Oh, if only he could get paid (well) for being a good fisherman!"
Fast forward another week, and Parke, Sheldon and I were on our way up to the Finger Lakes region of New York (north of Ithaca on Cayuga Lake) to visit family, and stay at my Uncle Bob's cottage for a long weekend. (Clayton still had school, so he stayed with Susan) Sheldon had wanted to bring along a friend, because she was afraid she would be bored, or left alone while Parke and I did things together. I assured her that wouldn't be the case. That Parke and I would be spending the time with her, and we would all revert back to being 12 years old, again. Even Old Uncle Ted, who was planning on joining us the next day. Fishing, exploring, boating. It would be good, clean, electronics-free quality time with each other. Besides, I said, she doesn't get to spend as much time with Parke as she used to, with him in college, and her so busy. She was skeptical, but relented.
With a kayak on top of my SUV, we stopped at my brother's in PA for the night, half way there. The next morning we were on the wonderful (sarcasm alert) Pennsylvania Turnpike, heading past Scranton-Wilkes Barre, and the Poconos. After a brief stop for some fireworks, we hit the New York border and headed over to Binghampton. As we went west of there, we crossed the Susquehanna River, several times, each time it getting a little narrower as we headed north. I asked the kids if they knew where this river ended up. They didn't. (After all, school was out, why know any geography.) They were both surprised when I told them it was the headwater of our own Chesapeake Bay, and water here would one day come into the Atlantic by Virginia Beach. We had traveled 500 miles almost due north, and were still in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
As we drove into Ithaca, the memories flooded back for all of us.... And then as we headed up north towards the western shore of Cayuga, we stopped at Taughannock Falls State Park, to see how the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi was doing since we'd last been here. It was still there....
We had already laid in place the terms of the fishing contest we were to have. Panfish (perch, bluegills, rockbass) and any undersize bass or trout was worth 1 point. "Legal" bass were worth 10 points, and a "legal" trout would be worth 20. When I caught the first fish (a nice perch) after a half hour of fishing, I regretted that we hadn't had another bonus for whomever caught the first fish of the weekend. Oh well, I was on the board.
It wasn't long after that when Sheldon lowered her rod tip, and successfully brought in a bigger perch. She held it up with pride. She was on the board, too.
|Sheldon's first fish was one of the larger perch we saw this weekend. And she handled it beautifully on her ultralight tackle. No prissy girl here -- until she went shopping with Grandma the next day.... But then she was back for more.|
The next morning, around 5 a.m., I awoke and silently went down to the lake. I caught a couple fish, and knowing I'd have to prove it, I took this photo:
|One of a few panfish I caught before the kids joined me. I had 7 points by then....|
When Ted arrived before 10 a.m. (he had left Philly before 6 to beat the traffic), we knew it was on! He came and fished from the dock for a while like the rest of us, but when Sheldon decided to join Grandma for some shopping after our cousins left, Ted and Parke decided to hit the rowboat, while I hit my kayak. I headed north, while Parke and Ted lagged behind. The advantage of being in a boat (plastic or aluminum) and moving from dock to dock allowed us all to catch far more fish, and it is not an exaggeration to say that Parke and I each had over 30 points within an hour or so. The highlight for me was a nice little small mouth, less than an inch from being legal size, but putting up a valiant, jumping fight, none-the-less. I forgot my camera, so there were no pictures of it, but I did make sure Parke and Ted saw it.
When we went back to the dock, we shared our stories, and Ted said how impressed he was with Parke's fishing technique. "He was catching six fish for every one I caught. He has really become quite the fisherman." (Oh, if there was only some money in it for him....)
Realizing that perch are an especially tasty panfish, we decided to go back out and catch a bunch more for dinner one night. (I don't ever recall seeing and catching as many perch as we did this weekend.) another jaunt out for each of us, and another stringer of fish yielded almost enough for dinner. We would catch the rest on Saturday. (We were going out to dinner on Friday.)
|Parke had been the "rower" when they left, but when he started outfishing his uncle, Ted was relegated to being the oarsman. A nice stringer of perch is waiting to be cleaned by the former professional fish cleaner (Parke.)|
|There wasn't too much meat on this fish (anymore). Come to think of it, it probably didn't put up much of a fight, either. The question is, how did it bite Ted's lure....|
Earlier in the day, meanwhile, on the "big fish" front, Parke had accidentally snagged a "sawbelly", a small, shad-like baitfish that was schooling near the dock. I put a hook through its dorsal area, and cast it out with a bobber, on a separate rod. And we watched, and waited. The water of Cayuga is crystal clear, allowing remarkable visibility for 15 feet or more. When we saw a three foot long northern pike cruising by, and then get "animated" in front of the dock, we hoped he would see the sawbelly. Knowing pike are territorial, we knew he wouldn't just "cruise by" and leave, the way trout will. So we just waited.
While I was changing the lure on another rod, the sawbelly went down, and the bobber did, too. Parke picked up the rod, set the hook and yelled, "It's the pike!" A few seconds later, "SNAP", the line broke, as the drag had been set too tightly on that rod for that fish. We were all disappointed, and quickly checked the drags on all of the remaining rods. Oh well, live and learn.
While we were baitfishing with earthworms and minnows, Ted and Parke each started catching a fish I don't ever recall catching up there prior to this year, Bullhead catfish. A decent fight, but a bait stealer, otherwise. Fat ones, they were....
|Holding one of the several bullheads we caught, Parke has grown up loving this lake....|
|He's only grown a little bit, since a dozen years ago, when he caught this little laker....|
|Unless you are Ted and Sheldon. Then you just see the rain as an opportunity to catch up on your fishing....|
As Sunday morning grew later, I had Ted take a photo of Sheldon and me that we've taken every time we've gone to the cottage. I don't seem to change too much, but Sheldon has grown up before my eyes....
|Five of the years' worth of photos of Sheldon and me at one of our favorite places in the world.... I have to reach up more now, and she has to bend down more. Oh where did my little girl go?|
I took off my t-shirt, and walked into the water, never stopping, lest I change my mind. When I was up to my waist, I took the plunge and dove in. WHOO HOO! I yelled. It was invigorating, and I was definitely, awake, now. I swam around for a few minutes, "washed my hair", dove and swam again, and then got out and into the 70 degree air --which felt amazingly warm to me all of the sudden. I got my towel, went back to the cottage, and changed to pack and hit the road.
When the truck was loaded up, I went down to the dock one more time where Parke was staring off into space, skimming an occasional smooth stone on the flat surface of the water. His eyes were misty. I knew what he was thinking. I walked over to him and put my arm around him.
"Parke, I promise you it won't be five or six years before we come back here, again," I said. "In fact, I don't know why we can't come back next year. We'll see if we can't start coming up here more regularly, again. We'll make a point of it."
That seemed to ease his melancholy sadness of leaving one of his favorite places, knowing he may be back next June. We said our goodbyes, and rode back to Ted's, stopping at the family cemetery first, to pay our respects to those gone on before us. The next morning, we drove the rest of the way back to Virginia, across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, and back to Suffolk. As we were crossing the bay, however, I did wonder how much earlier some of that water had been in upstate New York, coursing down the Susquehanna. And the thought occurred to me that it's all connected. Just like the many generations that have enjoyed Uncle Bob's cottage. We are so grateful for the opportunities we get to go there.
Perhaps the greatest compliment came the next day, when "GiGi", my mother-in-law, asked Sheldon about her trip to Cayuga. GiGi later told me the conversation.
"GiGi," she said, "It is so beautiful and peaceful up there, I just love it! I could live there forever."
Coming from a Southern girl, to her Southern grandmother, about someplace in the North, I can think of no greater compliment for a region. And I would have to agree....
We all look forward to our return across the Mason-Dixon Line, to Cayuga. Until next time,
Epilogue: It's now Father's Day weekend, and I got a text message from Ted, who took his daughters back to the cottage this weekend. He sent me a text photo of this early morning catch:
Happy Father's Day, everyone. Go create a memory, Dad, by acting like a kid again, with your kids.... You'll never regret it.
POSTSCRIPT: Today is the Summer Solstice. Spring is over, and summer is here. I got home from work, and Parke asked if I wanted to go fishing with him on the lake. He would be my guide, as I mentioned earlier. I took him up on it. The lake was beautiful, and he showed me many promising spots where we threw spinner baits, rapalas and buzz baits. At one of the first trees lying across the water that we came across, we stopped to fish the wonderful cover it provided. On his second or third cast, Parke hooked a fish, and wasn't sure what he had. He said it felt like a 3 or 4 pound large mouth, but wasn't fighting like one. It didn't feel like a pike, either. Finally after a minute or two it came to the surface: It was a nice, healthy 16" striped bass.
Maybe the recent full moon slowed the fishing down tonight, but I didn't care too much. It was a wonderful way to spend the evening -- kayaking and fishing with my son, acting like kids again. It's Summer time! Woo Hoo!