Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Great Escape

Everything about my drive to the reservoir felt a little off, at least right until I was at the water’s edge. It had been more than four weeks since I had gone fishing or looked for artifacts or any of the other things I love do outside in springtime, but this has been far from a typical spring. In fact, it’s been batshit crazy.

I have been taking the quarantine seriously, not only for the wellbeing of my family but for others too. We have abided guidelines and sheltered-in-place since early March, only leaving for necessary shopping or to take walks, always with a goal of getting our kids exercise and fresh air while steering clear from people.

I’d be lying if I said fishing or other hobbies weren’t on my mind. This weekend I’ll miss a traditional spring camping trip for the first time in 25 years and it sucks, but feeling bad for myself about not being able to camp or fish during a global pandemic is pretty silly in the grand scheme of things. There are tens of thousands out there that are sick and dying, many more are out of work and wondering where their next paycheck will come from.

At the moment, my family is healthy and we have our jobs. That’s what’s important and what I’m most grateful for. That said, maintaining a healthy state of mind is important as well. With two parents working from home and juggling two little ones, our weekdays have been long and exhausting. Selfishly, I wanted to get out, alone, for a few hours. Tying flies, organizing tackle, purchasing gear online has helped scratch the itch, yet nothing can substitute for the real thing. I was going to fish, close to home, without coming near another soul.

It was a Sunday afternoon and I headed inland to a pristine body of water opened to fishing three weeks early thanks to an executive order by Connecticut’s governor. People were out soaking in the last of the day’s rays—hikers, anglers, cyclists. I drove the entire length of the reservoir scouting for dirt pull-offs without a vehicle. On my way back down, I found the one.

Loaded for bear with four rods, a backpack, and a bucket of shiners, I took a worn and familiar path to an opening in the tree line. The water level was as high as I’d ever seen it. While nice to have a drinking water supply at full pool, it dramatically cuts down on accessible spots with room for casting. I was lucky to have this sloped patch of dirt to myself and I camped there for the next three hours. 

There was still enough daylight to focus solely on trout when I first arrived. I set shiners under slip bobbers five and 10 feet below the surface and peppered the water around them with a metal spoon. A good and a bad thing happened soon after. I watched one of my bobbers disappear under the surface and I took a swing and missed. I was connected to the fish for just a second, yet long enough to feel heavy weight. I kicked myself for not giving it more time to eat. At the same time, I felt giddy that fish, maybe big trout, were feeding in the vicinity.

After the early takedown, things went quiet for a while. There was a little breeze on the main lake, but the protected area I was in was smooth as glass. A lone loon coasted into view. It didn’t make a ripple or a sound as it inched closer ever so slowly. They are such a beautiful and graceful bird. It was the closest I had been to a loon that I can remember.

When the sun started creeping below the trees behind me, it was time to shake things up. I slid the bobber stops quite a bit deeper and sounded the area in front of me. The depth in the sweet spot was about 25 feet or so. While the slip bobber system can be finicky at times, when things are working right, it’s a killer method for suspending bait off bottom. Just minutes after the change, one of my bobbers vanished. I scurried to the rod and set the hook to find something fighting back this time. The fish went ballistic and swam up to the surface almost immediately. After a spirited fight complete with acrobatics, it felt great to lip a healthy smallmouth bass from the net.

Without fully realizing it until the smallie swam off, it was well into magic hour—the span of time between day and night when special things seem to happen on the water. The fading daylight hung around for a while longer while the waxing gibbous rose high in the sky. It was a couple nights before the full pink moon and there was just enough light so I could watch my bobbers without squinting. But it was the sound, not sight, that I was most focused on. The chorus of peepers in the wetlands around me was deafening. So much so I had to record it on my phone for prosperity. Also notable was the lack of vehicles driving around the reservoir—usually they are constant and you can hear them coming from a mile away. I didn’t want to leave.

Magic hour wasn’t over yet. Before it got too dark to see, the other bobber went down. The few seconds it took me to get in position seemed long enough, so I set on the fish straight away and the weight against the bent rod felt substantial. This fight was different than the bass—longer with slow, strong runs and less headshakes, and nothing close to an aerial. It was my target species and I knew it instantly. A tense minute or two later, there were big gold and olive flashes in the shallows in front of me. The endgame must have been a sight to see—me balancing on a rock with the rod in my right hand guiding the fish into a long-handled net in my left. I knelt beside her curled in the mesh and fist-pumped in silence, gazing at my best walleye ever.

Old marble eyes taped out a hair over 24” and looked like it hadn’t missed many meals—trophy size by CT DEEP standards. I was so jacked up I could barely operate the self-timer on my phone, but managed a shot that will help me remember that evening forever. Walleye are the best eating freshwater fish around here, but this one had to go back and I took great joy watching it kick off strong. After losing some bruisers over the years, it seemed like a good omen to let one like that go.  

Walleye are one of the most popular gamefish in North America, though I gather that fishing for them is different in places like upstate New York, the Midwest, or Canada, where the sheer number of them make it an easier species to target. Here in Connecticut, every single walleye in our lakes and ponds is trucked here hundreds of miles from a commercial supplier. There is no spawning population and all walleye are stocked as six-inch fingerlings. It takes them three to four years of surviving the odds to reach the legal size of 18-inches. That’s why I consider them all special fish when they grow past keeper size.

The big moon allowed me to see my bobbers a little longer, long enough to catch a short yellow perch with eyes bigger than its stomach. It was now past the legal time to fish and I reeled in the lines and enjoyed a sip from my flask. I took my time packing up and hiking back to the truck, savoring the sounds of the spring night in the woods. As I drove home on a nearly empty Merritt Parkway, I replayed the trip over and over in my head. It had been many things. A reunion with a favorite spot. A solitary celebration of a personal best. A three-hour escape to clear my head and almost forget all that is going on in the world right now. It was perfect.


  1. Sounds like a great outing. Even in times like these we have things to be thankful for.

  2. You my friend, have the gift.
    Bringing smiles with the stroke of a key.
    So happy you and your family are doing well.
    My time is coming too, I can no longer wait, the river calls.
    God Bless.

    1. This comment was well received. Thank you very much. Enjoy your time on the river and stay well.

  3. Thanks so much for this post. You have no idea how much this helped me out. Keep up the awesome work here!
    Willamette River oversize sturgeon

  4. Such a meaningful post. I couldn't agree more with fishing being a good escape for the mind and soul. What a rewarding escape. Congrats on your pb!