Spring brings hope, distractions

OUTDOORS

March 22, 1994|By PETER BAKER

During the afternoon, the equators of the sun and earth would for an instant align perfectly and a heartbeat later astronomical winter would have passed into astronomical spring. But early Sunday, the approach of the vernal equinox aside, it was cold on the walk down to the stream.

Standing water in the fields along the tree line or puddled along the path was skimmed with ice. The upper tree limbs, already exposed to first light, were dripping the last of a thin frost, and the day held promise.

The forecast was for sunny skies and temperatures ranging through the 50s, and it seemed wise to be along the water early, before the streamsides filled with fishermen and the late-winter hunt for yellow perch changed to the bedlam of spring.

In the first 45 minutes two yellow perch (too small) and a 10-inch pickerel (too small -- and out of season) had taken a small, silver Mepps spinner and been released.

During the winter, large and small trees had been toppled, new channels had been cut and given blow-downs or undercut banks that always had held fish were now barren or nonexistent.

And after a while one began to think that the yellow perch run had been greatly exaggerated. In fact, by 8:30 or so, a seat had been found on a hump of almost dry ground, the spinner had been put away, a piece of worm had been threaded on a hook and cast out beneath a bobber.

On the last morning of winter, it seemed enough to sit and wait to see what might happen by.

Mallards, a pair of males, wheeled down through the tree limbs, locked up and landed downstream. A tree limb far across the creek, one among many thousands swaying in a rising wind, cracked loudly and fell.

The bobber went under and the hook was set in the mouth of a yellow perch (too small).

And there were foot steps and voices in the woods, the first of a dozen or so fishermen who came singly or in groups to streamside through the morning.

One among the voices that came down to the stream was loudest, a robust guy called Charlie by his friends. Charlie had a ++ handful of rods and quickly went about the business of baiting the hooks and bobbers on several of them, laying casts indiscriminately about the stream.

It was almost immediately obvious that Charlie considered himself the fisherman in his group. (If it were a pickup game of basketball, Charlie would be the guy shooting and missing three-pointers while a teammate had repeatedly struggled to be free under the basket.)

While the others in his party went about the business of setting up, Charlie was on his way up and down the streamside, asking who had caught what and when and with what and all the while casting and retrieving a crankbait, snagging limbs and weeds and dredging up the stubble of submerged vegetation.

"Catching anything yet?" Charlie would ask, and whip out a cast. "Nothing yet, huh? Well, if it's there, we'll get it soon enough."

And then Charlie would be gone on to the next fishermen, crashing through the brush and clearing debris from the hooks of his crankbait.

The mallards, of course, were long gone. If there were limbs falling in the distance, there was no one around who could hear them over Charlie's roar.

If a perch had taken one of the baits beneath Charlie's bobbers, he would not have been there to see it. Charlie was too busy stomping and jawing along the streamside trail.

But then a funny thing happened to Charlie. Charlie was upstream talking with two friends, wondering whether there ever would be any yellow perch in this creek, and casting the crankbait toward the base of a large stump half washed out during the winter.

"Got one! Yeah, got one!" Charlie yelled, as the fish took line from the reel.

As Charlie worked his way downstream behind the fish, passing his rod around tree trunks and holding it high above the bramble along the banks, the rod would bow deeply and then snap back as the line jerked away from a drag probably left untended during many winters.

And as Charlie passed several of the many fishermen he had buttonholed earlier, his consternation brought more than a few smiles. Drag jerking, fish swimming and Charlie trying to turn what was probably a foul-hooked carp before he had to pass his rod around another tree.

After 30 or so yards, Charlie's line came up tight against a tree trunk fallen across the stream, the line snapped and the carp swam away.

Charlie, the fisherman, was silent.

But from across the creek tree limbs could be heard rattling in the wind, and from upstream there was the muffled sound of laughter.

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