“Open For Business” – that’s the call from the fishing outfitter at Wheaton’s Lodge. Patrick has been chomping at the bit to open up and start fishing and frying. The Lodge has lost half their season so far from the pandemic and need the bass fishermen back on the water. Wheaton’s is one of the oldest camps on East Grand Lake. It has been in the same family for years and only recently was taken over by a young, adventurous couple who cater to an avid angling clientele. Fishermen come from both coasts and in between for the small-mouth bass—the best water in the Northeast. The accommodations are modest, uninsulated wood frame cabins with stoves for warmth. The old-fashioned, heavy wool blankets on the beds are like a flashback to childhood. Breakfast in the rustic dining room starts before daybreak and the early risers are treated to heavenly homemade pancakes followed by coffee on the dock, where it tastes best. Wheaton’s was my savior when I first went north in 2017 to open my new camp, after my wife passed away. Patrick and his wife, Sandy, the new proprietors, were welcoming, home-grown people preparing home-grown food for their guests. They soon felt like family. I was alone but never felt that way, meeting interesting fellow fishermen from around the country, one a widower like me, still grieving and seeking solace in nature.
My mind was soon off the sadness and on the water with the Lodge fishing guide, Andy, in his native East Grand canoe. It was the first of many outings with Andy, who has good fishing instincts and extensive knowledge of the local waters. Andy and I fish various lakes in the area, none of which have more than a few boats within earshot. Since the Lodge is only a short boat ride from my camp, I have the best of both worlds. So today I answer Patrick’s call and make my way to Wheaton’s to do some fishing with Andy—the first outing of the season since the shutdown. We quickly fall back into our old routine. Andy pulls the canoe off his trailer, and it drops into the water with a delicate splash. We slide into the make-shift upholstered seats– fashioned from the discards of Andy’s retired ’88 Camry–and push off into the waveless East Grand Lake. A lone eagle circles above and stress evaporates like the morning fog. There is no cell service out on the water, which is somehow more freeing than just turning off the phone. I put away my watch, so other than the sun’s position, I am purposely oblivious to my time on the water. We have the most luck on the Canadian side of the lake and spend most of the day there. Seems the bass prefer the Canadian accent. I stand with my fly rod, looking for large, submerged boulders where the bass congregate. Fishing for bass is for me a lot like trout fishing, stripping the line back and forth until I feel a strong tug. The ensuing tussle with the fish is what it’s all about. Sometimes I use a 3-weight rod to get more play time. The jump out of the water is the next thrill. I release before the fish reaches the net to avoid damaging the fins. Catch and release is my motto. I only bring into the canoe the fish that are wounded from inhaling the fly.
Midday, lunch on shore is bass filets fried in cornmeal over an open fire –my gosh– boiled potatoes, coffee made from lake water with an egg in the kettle to keep the grounds down, and homemade berry pie. A meal fit for a king fisherman. The ride home is anticlimactic. Returning to an empty cabin isn’t too much fun but I always have a book to fall into and my jazz cds. Tomorrow my old pal Greg is taking me to his new secret spot for brook trout. We will drive deep into the wilderness carrying a light canoe to a small pond filled with 16-inch mammoths. I feel fortunate. I am 80-years young, and though it seems the decades have flown, I now measure time by the length of the fish on the end of my line.