In winter, I spend a ridiculous amount of my time thinking about fishing in the summer. This habit goes back to when I was a kid sitting in class daydreaming about canoeing across Canada on waters that had never been fished and were full of hungry behemoths. I assumed by the time I reached manhood I would figure out how to do it professionally.
When I was 17, about to be booted out of high school and facing the prospects of college or the draft, I stopped in one day to see Bob Summers, who’s renowned for the fine bamboo fly rods he builds by hand in Traverse City. I asked him if he had any idea how a promising young man could earn his living as a fisherman without having to work very hard at it. He had an idea. I could recruit a team of elderly people who were bored and would work for next to nothing and teach them to tie artificial flies. Each would specialize in one part of the fly — body, wings, tail or hackle — and be placed in an assembly line for maximum efficiency and profits. Then I could go fishing all day while the money poured in.
So, I went to college. Quit when it got too difficult. Went to a different college. Quit again. Went to a third college, and that time it stuck. After a few years, I stepped into the world with a diploma in hand and said, “Now what?”
It occurred to me that I might have stumbled on water that had never been fished.
As so often when facing difficult decisions, I went fishing. At one point, I found myself in the U.P., dragging my canoe through a tag alder swamp that apparently stretched from one end of the peninsula to the other. I was following directions I’d gotten from a guy I met across the pump at a gas station, but when I finally busted into the open, the pond before me didn’t appear to be the one he had described. He had mentioned something about an island, and this pond had none. It occurred to me that I might have stumbled on water that had never been fished.
It was maybe 5 acres, hemmed around by tamaracks, with water so dark from tannin that the blade of my paddle disappeared a foot below the surface. And it was filled with brook trout. They attacked my artificial flies as if they had never seen such succulent baubles. What a discovery! My boyhood dreams had come true. I fished until dark, dragged my canoe through the alders to my car and set out in search of a paved road.
When I returned the next summer to fish the pond, I couldn’t find it. Searched and searched. Found plenty of tag alder swamps, but no pond. All these years later, I’m still searching.
But I’m fine with that. I’m just glad to live in a place where it’s still possible to lose a lake.
Jerry Dennis is the author of many books, including “The River Home” and “The Living Great Lakes.”