For two days the Island Falls Fishing Fleet had scoured the cove of Pleasant Lake in search of salmon, trout, bass, perch, heck, even a freaking minnow would have been a triumph as the hours stretched on.
There had been bites among the flotilla of kayaks, canoes, and one paddleboard and a witness confirmed at least two ‘fish on’ moments but the intrepid crews were unable to reel the big one in.
The boys (and one awesome little sister) fished with floaters, jigs, spinners, sinkers, worms, nets but mostly with undaunted optimism and perseverance. They shared boats, and equipment and tangled their lines with uncommon skill and tenacity.
Sunburned, thirsty, hungry, tired, they fished on… pausing only for the occasional nerf gun battle, float jump, hot dog, burger, rib, wing, chip, beer-can chicken, carrot, or s’mores…lots of s’mores. Fishermen need s’mores.
This was not just any weekend up ta’ camp. Two of the boys were turning 11 in the coming days. They have been best friends since they met in Montessori at age four. They formed part of a core group of eight young lads who had been together since kindergarten. Some of them played hockey together, some played basketball, or baseball, they all played soccer. They learned how to swim together, they learned how to bike together, and now they were fishing together. Two of them will be moving away at the end of the summer but they’ve added a transfer to the group. Add to this armada four younger siblings and a formidable force of thirteen continuously plunged out into the frigid waters in search of the elusive inhabitants of the deep.
The fish had been sighted. A particularly bold bass that came to be called Fred, or Jeff depending on who you asked, had been teasing the fleet for days by darting out from under the dock just as a lure was pulled up or swimming swiftly toward a snorkler and then darting off at the last moment.
Several boys claimed near misses. There were confirmed reports of “Fish on! Fish on!” as their hero Jeremy Wade would say, but alas, the big one continued to throw the lure before it could be reeled in.
The worst were the moments when the perch rose to feast on bugs in the twilight and there wasn’t a fly reel in sight. Meantime, two of the youngest siblings teased the lads with buckets full of tadpoles.
No, it was not until the final hours that the Event occurred.
A cry rose from the middle of the cove.
“We got Fred!”
“His name is Jeff!”
Regardless, from the bend of the pole, two boys in a canoe had latched on to a big one and thus, like Ahab and his whale, the fight was on. Let it be known that the boy holding the rod had only arrived that morning (having been camping with his family at Isle au Haut for a few days) and thus, perhaps, was unscathed by the curse of Fred or Jeff. Let is also be known that he plays goalie for his hockey team and so knows that when you have a puck trapped under your pads you don’t let up no matter how many whacks you take from the opposing team and hope for some help from your teammate for no one man was going to bring this beast in alone. Thus, the fight was joined even as the cry rose that, maybe, just maybe, the great quest was about to be fulfilled.
Like the last ten seconds of a championship game with an extra attacker on the ice the crowd cheered with encouragement even as their blood curdled with tension. The boy pulled, his boatmate rowed, and finally, the leviathan was pulled from the depths. It was a bass, a BIG bass, much bigger than Fred or Jeff. His is name would be legend. His name would be…Randy! (No idea why his name was Randy but that’s his name.)
Now, as our intrepid crew quickly found out, it’s one thing to pull a monster bass out of a lake, it’s quite another to try to get the beast off the hook to either be released or brought in for a late lunch. Randy had a lot of fight left in him and was not afraid to use his spine to show it. Blood soon flowed.
Unfortunately, the blood was flowing from the kid with the paddle and so the canoe began to drift deeper into the cove.
With speed and camaraderie that would make the U.S. Coast Guard proud, a rescue mission was immediately launched. The leader of the mission set off in a kayak, heedless that it had been tied to another kayak. Meanwhile, a squadron of life-jacketed frogmen leapt from the dock. More rescuers, on the paddle-board, as well as three more kayaks joined the ranks.
Meantime, it was decided by the parents lounging contentedly by the fire enjoying a cold beverage that someone above the age of 11 ought to, perhaps, help out…eventually. As I’d been dutifully untangling line for much of the afternoon and thus was named “Fishery Expert” I was nominated. I also happened to be the one adult not sitting down with a cold beverage at that moment which may have contributed to my posting.
As it happened, the canoe was drifting towards the shore a few camps down and there was a relatively easy trail that could be used to get to them. Which turned out to be a good thing as Randy soon claimed another victim.
The boy with double kayaks had come aside the two boys battling the fish and in his attempt to help release Randy had also been spiked which allowed Randy to attempt a getaway. Much to his chagrin, however, while he’d gotten back in the water he was still on the hook.
And so, I came upon two boys holding bleeding hands and one boy still holding onto his rod even as the flotilla moved in to do whatever the heck a dozen kids age 7-11 were going to do.
I got hold of the line and pulled Randy in. He was an impressive fish with a treble stuck pretty far down his gullet.
The nice thing about a bass is that if you get a good hold on their lower lip with either your hand or those fish pinchers they’re fairly cooperative. They’ll wait patiently for you to get the hook out , take a picture and set them on their way. Indeed, they look quite put out should you have the effrontery to keep them, clean them and fry them up. They’re so offended they decide not to really taste that good.
Amidst the reeling, spiking, paddling, swimming a great debate had erupted as to the eventual fate of Jeff/Fred/Randy. A good portion of the fleet were looking for two days worth of pent up revenge as well as a quick meal. Another contingent pleaded for the creature’s life for both compassionate and competitive reasons. One doesn’t smite a foe of such stature and grit as Randy lightly. All the kids were athletes who respected the opposition.
Ultimately, I gripped Randy by his lip and extracted the hook using a pair of forceps provided by the bleeding helmsmen and held him up for all to see. I left it up to the boy who had caught him…okay, I might have suggested releasing Randy for some of the above mentioned reasons but also for a very selfish one…I’m pretty sure the title of “Fish Expert” also came with the less lofty duty of “Fish Cleaner” which at that point of the weekend, I was not looking forward to.
And so, with a nod and a wide smile by the conqueror, Randy was released to tease, torture and torment the next wave of young fishermen. He was tired but swam off with the dignity befitting such a fighter. If he had hands, he and the boys might have gone down the line like they do after a Stanley Cup series.
Now, of course, we had to get back. There were still two bleeding kids, two kayaks, one canoe and one paddle.
I climbed into the canoe, one of the boys grabbed onto one of the kayaks and we began our trek back through the jellyfish swarm of rescuers in their multi-colored life-jackets. We made it back to camp for first-aid, fish tales, cold beverages and some more s’mores.
In the days and years to come, the legend of Randy (or it might have been Jeff/Fred) shall grow even as the memory of that weekend reduces down to a handful of moments. Soon, too soon, this summer will come to an end. Two of the boys will move south, the rest will enter middle-school. Girls will enter the picture. Interests will further widen. Life will happen. Eventually, more of them will move away and some won’t.
We, who sink further into our chairs with our cold beverages, can only hope that they will come together again some double-birthday weekend many years from now to gather around a campfire. One of them will say, “You remember that fish?”
“It was Fred.”
“It was Randy.”
“That’s right. Randy! He was a heck of a fish.”
They will raise their cups to a memory of brotherhood and eternal Maine summer.
And somewhere, down in the depths, Randy will raise a fin.