Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
One of the things I had come to realize about Annette was that she was a writer. I mean, a compulsive writer, who just lived to get words on paper. She had this tiny little typewriter, a Hermes or something, and if things got slow around the snack bar she’d pull it out and start pounding the keys. “What are you writing?” I asked one time.
“Oh, a novel,” she told me. “It’s a piece of shit, but at least I can work on my technique a little. I usually write this stuff, let it sit for a while, and then read it over before I throw it away.”
“It seems like that’s a lot of work for nothing.”
“Well, not for nothing,” she replied. “Someone told me one time that a novelist pretty much has to write a million words, mostly shit, before they get something worth the effort, and I’m just working on that first million words.”
“I read a lot,” I told her. “I may not be a college student or anything, but I’m a pretty good judge of what’s shit and what’s not. If you’d like me to read some of your stuff some time, I’d be glad to.”
“Maybe sometime,” she said. “Not this. Like I said, it’s a piece of shit, and it’s kind of girl shit at that. Too goopy and fakey, but I figure I might as well finish it, if I can before it makes me barf. I made a lot of mistakes in this one that I don’t plan on making again.”
That came later. On that first evening Annette was waiting in my room when I came back from turning off the sign She was wearing a big, floppy T-shirt, with, as it proved, nothing under it. At first she seemed a little bit shy about the whole thing, but soon we got into the swing of things, and it proved that Susie had been right: Annette liked it hard and fast and also seemed to like being told what to do. She sure wasn’t shy about it when she got into bed, and she also was rather loud. I will say that she fairly well wore me out, and I was still pretty well beat to shit in the morning. It was fun, but definitely a different kind of fun than I’d had with Susie the night before, or over the last few weeks with Debby. Like Susie, she said and I agreed that we’d have to do it again some time.
I was a little surprised to be left alone the next night, but both the DeRuyter girls came to me over the course of the day and told me that they thought I needed a break. They were right, I did. The sleep was welcome. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed being with the girls, each one of them, but I was beginning to learn that it was possible to overdo it.
I felt pretty fresh the next morning as I helped Debby deal with the breakfast rush. It felt like I was starting to get better at the short-order cooking, though I could still see I had a lot to learn. I was a little surprised to see Barb walk into the kitchen, bringing Nate with her. “Hey, Jake,” she said, “Nate wants to have a word with you.”
“Sure,” I said, rinsing my hands off. “What do you have in mind?”
“Barb has told me that you’d like to go out with me sometime,” he replied. “Today would be a good day to do it. Rachel is in school, and I’ve got a boatload of rookies I’m going to have to keep an eye on.”
“Remember, when you’re talking about rookies, you’re including me,” I shook my head. “I’ve only been on whaleboats and other small boats a dozen times or so, and that was just riding along. I’ve never had anything to do with running one.”
“No big deal,” he said. “You can handle lines, I know that. I can take the boat out, give you a quick lesson on running it, and let you steer it when we get out to where we’re fishing. There’s not really a whole hell of a lot to it, and that’ll let me work with the customers.”
I knew I had stuff to do around the Channel Stop and started to say that, but Barb beat me to it. “You might as well do it. We’re not going to be busy today, and the girls can handle anything that comes up. Besides, you haven’t had a day off since you’ve been here. You need a break from it, and this will help Nate out, too.”
“Fine with me,” I told her. Really, I didn’t need very much to talk me into it. “I’ve been wanting to see how this works, anyway.”
“You’ll probably want a jacket,” Nate told me. “It can get a little cool out on the water, and you’re going to be out in the breeze.”
A few minutes later Nate and the fishing group had finished their breakfast. I’d slipped back to my room and put on a flannel shirt to go over the T-shirt I’d been wearing in the kitchen. I was carrying my old Navy pea jacket, one of the few things from my Navy stuff that I’d bothered to pack up when I’d rushed out of the house, now close to a month before. I grabbed the cooler full of sandwiches and stuff for lunch and followed Nate and the group down to the Chinook III.
Nate climbed to the flying bridge and got the boat going. When he was ready, he told me to cast off the lines and get aboard. I stepped across onto the boat, and could hear him rev up the engine as I went to coil up the mooring lines. I didn’t know what else to do, so I just climbed up to the flying bridge to be with him. The boat wasn’t at much more than an idle as we went slowly down the channel toward the big lake.
“I forgot to ask,” Nate shook his head. “You don’t have a problem with seasickness, do you?”
“I’m really not sure,” I told him. “On something like the Kennedy it’s got to be blowing like hell before it’ll roll any at all. The Morton could roll around a bit, but it was still a pretty smooth ride most of the time. I doubt this is going to be anything like that stable.”
“Well, no,” he said, turned the wheel slightly to keep in the channel. “But this is a pretty easy-riding boat, and since this is a bunch of first-timers we have with us, we’re not going to be running in cross seas any more than we have to. That should smooth things out.”
We went around a bend in the channel and I could see the jetties in front of me with the big lake just beyond. I know it sounds strange, but in nearly a month of working at the Channel Stop I’d hardly been off the property, except for taking Debby into Hughesville a couple times, and I’d never been down the channel far enough to see this. The jetties were long ridges of large stones with just a narrow channel between them, One of the jetties had a small automatic light at the end. “This isn’t much of a problem right now,” he said absently, “but this place can be tricky to get into on a stormy night.”
“Yeah, I can imagine.”
Nate kept the boat in the center of the narrow channel, still pretty much at idling speed, but once we’d put the breakwaters behind us, he opened the boat up and changed course a little. “Gonna head back out where I was yesterday,” he said. “I found a few fish out there, but got the impression there were more right around there somewhere. OK, I’m going to let you try steering it. We’re going this direction, on a compass course of about 045 degrees. You’re not going to have to worry about the throttles for a while, and I’ll come up when we have to change. At this point about all you have to worry about will be the wheel and the compass.”
“OK, if you say so,” I replied tentatively as I took the wheel.
“Don’t worry about it,” he grinned. “Rachel was doing this when she was so little she could hardly see over the coaming. It’s a lot like driving a car, you don’t make any big wheel movements when you’re at speed. Just small corrections are all that’s needed.”
After two or three minutes I was a little more comfortable with just steering the boat like that. “OK, I’d better get down and get started rigging, I’m way the hell behind,” he said. “Just keep this course and watch out for stuff in the water, though there shouldn’t be much of anything. If you do see something, steer as little as you can to miss it, but keep it on more or less this course. I don’t expect to see much in the way of other boats out here for a while, but I’ll keep an eye out. Just yell if you need me to come up and help out.”
“I guess I can handle that,” I told him.
“Good enough,” he said, and headed down the ladder to the cockpit, where the customers were lounging around.
I felt a little nervous being up there by myself – after all, it was the first time I’d done anything like this – so I more or less ignored whatever was happening down in the cockpit. I concentrated on keeping the boat on course and looking around for whatever might be out there. This wasn’t the first time I’d done something like that, since I’d occasionally stood a lookout watch on the Morton. It took a lot of my attention at first, but I soon got a little more used to it, and keeping the boat on course quickly became fairly simple.
I got a little chilly after a while and pulled on the pea jacket as I steered the boat. I don’t know how much time passed, but it was a while before Nate came back up to the flying bridge. “I’m starting to get a few hits on the fish finder,” he reported. “So maybe we ought to get started. I want to get these folks used to the system before we get real serious, so this is as good a place as any.” He backed the throttles off to a near-idling speed, then took the wheel and steered us downwind. All of a sudden, the chill breeze died out and it became just about a dead calm on the boat, since we were going a little less than the speed of the wind.
“OK, just hold this course,” he said. “Eventually we’ll want to turn, but I’ll tell you when. When you turn, make it real, real gentle or we’re going to tangle some lines. If you hear someone yell ‘Fish on,’ just cut the throttles all the way back. You might as well take some time to look back and watch what we’re doing. I know it’s harder to hold a course when you’re looking backward, but you’ll have the wake to guide you.”
“I think I can handle that,” I said, a little unsure but figuring that it couldn’t be that hard.
“It’ll actually be pretty easy today,” he said, almost reading my mind. “It’s a hell of a lot harder when it’s rough and blowing. That’s why this is going to be a good day to break you in. Like before, call out if you have any problems, but try not to. I’m going to be busy as hell for the next few minutes.”
After the fast run we’d been making, it seemed like the boat was just wallowing along over the tiny waves – it was almost but not quite a flat calm out there. It soon got warm enough that I pulled the pea jacket off and spent a little time checking out what was going on in the cockpit.
I might as well spend a little time right now explaining what we were doing, rather than try to tell it piece by piece. At that time of year the fish we were going for, lake trout and the various kinds of salmon that had been planted in the lakes, tended to be down pretty deep. They tended to stay in the same temperature zone, so stayed about the same depth, and we could pick them up on the fish finder. The problem was to get the spoons we used for lures down to them, and for this we used downriggers. These are a kind of winch – ours were electric – that had a steel cable attached to a large weight, about twelve or fifteen pounds, called a “bomb.” The fishing lines from the rods and reels in holders on the back deck were run through clips on the downrigger line, but a hit from a fish would pull the line out of the clip, which worked something like a clothes pin. Since the downrigger could be run out to an exact depth, the lures would be reliably down where they were needed.
I don’t remember for sure, but given the time of year and the size of the group we probably had four rods in the holders, and four downriggers working, one on booms on each side of the boat and two on the stern. It was usually no great trick to tell if a fish was on, since the rod in its holder would go slack, then start bumping around. The clips didn’t always hold the line, so there was a lot of pulling the downrigger bombs up and down and re-rigging, changing tackle, and so on. When a fish was on, the other fish lines and downriggers had to be brought up to keep from tangling lines.
I might as well say now that it wasn’t always done that way. Especially later in the year when the fish were nearer the surface we’d just troll near the surface. Sometimes we might have as many as eight lines out, two on each boom, two on the stern, and two rigged to “planer boards” that took the lines well away from the boat. The planer boards were a pain in the neck, and we usually tried to not make anything more than the most minor turns without bringing them in.
But right then everything was new to me, and I was almost as mystified as the customers, apparently none of whom had any experience with this kind of fishing. About all I can say is that after a while things seemed to be under control down in the cockpit. I suppose about an hour went by before a rod showed signs of activity, and I heard Nate yell, “Fish on!” At least I remembered what to do; I cut the throttles, and turned to watch the customer fight the fish while Nate and the other customers pulled in the downriggers and other lines.
It was a lively one, and it took a few minutes to bring in close enough to the boat for Nate to get it in a big landing net. It proved to be a lake trout – I couldn’t have told the difference at the time – and it must have been big enough to keep, since it went into a fish well on the boat. There were some congratulations all around, and the crowd was in a good mood.
Nate climbed back up to the flying bridge. “Not a bad one,” he reported. “A couple more like that and they’re going to be a bunch of happy campers. We might as well get going again on the same course, but we’re going to turn after a while. You remember where the tachometers were running?”
I told him I did, and he watched as I powered the boat back up and got it back on course.
“You’re doing OK,” he said. “It’s not like it’s a big trick or anything. When we’ve got a fish on, keep an eye on what’s going on, and if it starts to get around to the side of the boat, just crack the throttle open enough to give us a little steerageway and turn the stern toward it, then idle back down. We didn’t get to the point where it was needed this time, but we got close.”
“Yell if you need me to turn,” I told him.
“Oh, don’t worry, I will,” he said. “Don’t worry about it, you’re new, you have to learn this shit. There’s a hell of a lot more to it than this, but you’re doing OK for your first time. The customers know I’ve got a green hand up here, but they don’t know just how green. Now I’d better get back down and get everything rigged out again.”
While I was paying attention to running the boat, I also tried to monitor what was going on down in the cockpit. It seemed to go a little more easily this time; a couple of the customers had some idea of what was going on, and were helping out. In a matter of minutes all the lines were back out and we were back under way.
We ran on for maybe another hour before Nate came back up to the flying bridge. “I haven’t had a hit on the fish finder for the last fifteen minutes,” he said. “Wherever the hell they are, they ain’t here. I suppose we’d better come about and head back the other way. Just keep the turn real gentle, like I said.”
Just then a rod went off, and the cry of “fish on” came up from the cockpit.
“Shit, make a liar out of me, would you,” Nate snorted and scuttled back down the ladder as I cut the throttles.
This fish put up a lot more of a fight, or maybe the guy on the rod wasn’t quite as good at handling it. Nate had to give him a lot of coaching, and a couple times the fish got way around to the side. Guessing that it was better to be safe, and knowing that Nate was busy, a couple times I had to power up the boat enough to turn the stern toward the fish without him telling me to.
It took a while to get the fish on board. Once Nate got it in the net and brought into the cockpit, I could see that it was a big one – a Chinook salmon, I was later to find out. “Jeez, would you look at the size of that thing,” I heard someone say from the cockpit. There were some photos taken, and there was one real happy customer down there.
“Hey, Jake,” I heard Nate call up to me. “Forget what I said about turning around. Let’s stay on this course a little while longer.”
I got the boat back on course and powered it up a little while Nate and the customers got the gear out again. After a few minutes things settled down, and Nate got into the cooler and broke out the sandwiches, handing one up to me. It tasted pretty damn good as I ate it while sitting up there steering the boat.
We didn’t get any more attention from the fish in the next half hour or so, and eventually Nate came partway up the ladder and told me to turn it around. “Just take it real gentle,” he said. “If it takes ten minutes, that’ll be fine.” I made a turn that was so slight that it took at least that, but after a while we were heading back into the wind, and more or less back toward home.
It had warmed up considerably, and since we were now heading into the wind the cool breeze felt comfortable up there on the flying bridge. We cruised on for probably another hour without any more hits, and then all of a sudden we got into a pretty good patch; in less than an hour we landed three fish, one coho salmon and another Chinook, along with a smallish lake trout. “This one’s not real big,” Nate yelled up to me. “But it’s a keeper, and I’ll bet Debby can make a real fine dinner out of it. You want to keep it?”
“Yeah, sure,” I told him. “Debby has been saying she’s been wanting some deep-fried lake trout.” That one didn’t go into the live well; once Nate got all the lines fishing again, he gutted it and filleted it, then put it on ice from the cold drink cooler.
It was getting late in the afternoon before everyone seemed to have enough. All four of the customers had pretty good sized keepers, and at least one – the second fish we caught – seemed to be destined to be mounted, rather than eaten. The shore was still just a fuzzy green line off in the distance, but Nate yelled up to me to change course to take us in, and told me to go ahead and open it up. He stayed down in the cockpit, putting gear away and making stuff shipshape along with talking with the customers a bit, but as the shore got a lot more distinct he climbed back up to the flying bridge again.
He had me change course a little to head toward the breakwaters, which I was beginning to be able to pick out of the horizon. “Not a bad day,” he said. “We have some happy customers, and that’s what we’re looking for, especially with people who haven’t done this before. I’ll tell you what, these folks are going to be coming back sooner or later.”
“Yeah, it looked like they had a good time,” I told him, keeping my eye on where I had the boat heading.
“So, did you have a good time yourself?”
“Pretty much,” I told him. “It got a little slow there at times, but it was a nice break from work.”
“Would you like to do it again?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said. “I can see that there’s a lot to learn.”
“I don’t want to borrow you from Barb too much,” he said. “There’s things you have to do for her, but now that Susie and Annette are back home I think I can grab you on a slow day once in a while. It’ll depend on the customers some, too. I’d really rather have a hand with me than go by myself since I can concentrate on the fishing more. It won’t be long before Rachel is out of school, and she’ll be able to go with me. That’ll make life a lot easier, but I’d like to have you come along with us some time so you can get some idea of how to handle the fishing.”
“Sure, I’d like to do that whenever you can work it out.”
“Good enough,” he said. “You up for taking it in if I coach you?”
“So long as you don’t think I’m going to break anything.”
“I doubt you are. You seem to be pretty careful about what you’re doing, and I’ll be looking forward to taking you out with me again.”
True to his word, Nate let me take the Chinook III between the jetties and up the channel. It was really pretty straightforward, but I could see what he was talking about that it could be a handful in a storm with big waves tossing us around. I wouldn’t have wanted to try it then, that was for sure.
As we got close to the dock at the Channel Stop, Nate took over the wheel, and told me that he was just going to lay us alongside long enough for me to hop onto the dock with the cooler and my jacket. He made it look smooth; he only had the boat up against the old rubber tires that were used as fenders long enough for me to get off. I was on the dock before I realized that Susie was there, working on a flower bed that lent a little color to the area. “So, how did it go?” she asked without standing up.
“Pretty fun,” I said, as Nate put the boat into reverse and backed away from the dock. I gave the customers a wave; they waved back as I added, “I guess I’m going out with them again sometime.”