I gave up freshwater angling around home years ago. It just wasn’t productive. Fortunately, I was spending winters in Florida then and could fish the Gulf shallows from my kayak or the beach. That gave out, too, when aging ended the seasonal pilgrimage. Recently, I’ve made brief trips to Virginia, Tennessee, and Wisconsin to keep my hand in without overdoing it, and I’ve just returned from a four-day visit to a private lake right here in Indiana. Called Lake Wasatch and located southwest of Indy near Poland, it’s a 50-acre stream impoundment within a 250-acre resort surrounded by a privately owned forest managed for harvesting timber. On one side of the lake there are nine rental cabins, each with a dock and rowboat. The shoreline on the other side is all natural, with lots of aquatic weeds and downed timber.
Check-in on the first day was at 4:00 p.m. or later. We arrived about 4:30, and I was soon on the water in one of several canoes available for guest use. I sold my kayak in Florida toward the end of our final winter there. Getting it on and off the car and to and from the water single-handed had become difficult, as had getting my carcass in and out of it from a dock or from the water if it was more than calf deep. I wondered how I’d fare trying to enter and exit the canoe. I first considered stepping in from the bank with the canoe parallel to and pulled up tight against it. That might have worked had there been a sapling or a post positioned just so to give me a steadying handhold while I got aboard. (There wasn’t.) Instead, I sat on the dock with the canoe parallel to and against it, with my left foot in the canoe on one side of the keel and my right foot in on the other side. Then I threw myself onto the canoe seat with a twisting motion and hoped I’d land squarely enough to avoid turning the canoe over. It worked every time. To exit, I leaned forward far enough to reach a thwart, and with my left hand on it and my right on the dock I could elevate myself enough to reverse the twist and throw my backside up on the dock. The thrust of my feet against the hull kicked the canoe away from the dock, of course, but enough of my fanny found wood to keep me from sliding off the dock and into the water. That procedure was also reliable. Now for the fishing. It was so fast that I must have been casting to concentrations of fall spawners. I took both a 9-foot, 5-weight fly rod and a 6-foot ultralight spin rod. I opened with the fly rod, and it worked so well that I seldom switched to the U.L. spinner. After tearing up two crossover poppers (small enough for panfish, but large enough to attract a few bass), I had to resort to a foam popper I cooked up long ago but never fished much. It worked as well as the store-bought hard poppers, which may be more evidence that I was throwing it to spawners.
My first outing didn’t last long. I fished until the light started to fade and then headed back to the dock. I had brought my own canoe paddle that stands in the corner of our utility room to remind me of my salad days. Using it in preference to the one supplied with the canoe, I felt again as I always did that the canoe was an extension of my body. The evening-flat water allowed me to slip along with a J-stroke that didn’t disturb the surface. My paddle blade stayed submerged. On the morning of our first full day at the lake, I launched at about 7:30 and returned to the scene of the previous evening’s success. The #6 Sneaky Pete popper on my fly rod was put back to work and continued to entice fish after fish. Besides bluegill, the combo accounted for longear sunfish, redears (shellcrackers), and several small bass. The lake holds crappie, but I didn’t hook any. I tired after about two hours and returned to the cabin while I still had enough juice for the paddle. I hadn’t counted, but I’m pretty sure I’d caught and released at least 30 fish, half or more of which were chunky bluegills.
It was time for lunch. We drove west through Poland and then north to Brazil and ate at the Family Table. Back at the cabin, I retrieved the fly rod from the canoe and began casting from the dock. Pretty soon I was into a bluegill on every third or fourth fling. I probably released another dozen or more before deciding to rest. That evening I went out on the water again with much the same result as the night before. On our second full day I got a slower start and found to my dismay that I couldn’t buy a fish. After fooling around for more than an hour, with only one bass and one bluegill to my credit, I decided to give it up. The wind rose at about that time and was dead set against my paddling back across the lake in a straight line. The canoe no longer felt like a part of me. It had become an adversary, and I struggled to bend its course to my will. I was pooped by the time I reached the dock. Had a front come through to spoil my pleasure? After a while, we drove west again to Poland and had lunch at Cook’s Corner. (How many travelers can truthfully say they had lunch in Brazil one day and Poland the next?) The proprietors were also our resort’s caretakers. Their mother was on hand to take orders for pies she would bake that evening. We couldn’t resist reserving one of coconut cream.
Returning to the cabin, I noticed that our dock and cove were in a wind shadow, so I hauled the fly rod back out of the canoe and began to beat the water on both sides of the dock. To my amazement, the fish hammered my popper with nearly the same gusto they had shown the previous afternoon. Encouraged, I got back in the canoe and fished along the lake’s dam before proceeding to the natural shoreline. The dam produced a couple ‘gills, but I didn’t encounter much action until I was into the weeds and deadfalls again. I fished productively until dusk. The wind had eased, allowing me a pleasant paddle to the cabin, and I believed once more that the canoe was my bosom pal. Although we had to check out by 11:00 the next morning, I might have fished from the canoe before leaving despite being worn and sore after two full days’ worth. But when I woke on departure day it was raining. Maybe an evil front had in fact descended on the lake the previous morning to put the fish down. Anyway, we breakfasted in Poland and picked up our pie (long gone but not forgotten.) Our drive home was uneventful. There, I fired up the computer and ordered another fly rod on the off chance that next season will offer opportunities for fishy travel that would be facilitated greatly if I had a 4-piece 9-footer that could be squeezed into my duffel. My 3-piece with its longer sections just doesn’t fit!