Memories with Richard Bleil
A decade. An entire decade. Ten years. Well, I guess you know if it was a decade, it means ten years, but still, to think on it now is just nuts. Are you on the edge of your seat? Are you wondering to yourself, “ten years of what?” Yeah, me neither.
Every year, in the summer, my family would pack up and head to Burt Lake to catch Walleye. Well, that’s not entirely true. We’d go to fish for Walleye, but catching them…well, that’s another story.
I’m not sure when we stopped. It seems logical that maybe we stopped going when my sister turned eighteen. Or I did. That means we started when I was somewhere around six or eight, but six seems too young. My memory is too clear, so it must have been when I was eight, don’t you think?
Burt Lake is in Michigan, near the northern tip of the lower peninsula. The first year we went up, we were greeted by millions, or perhaps billions, of flying insects. Whispy, with long tail protrusions and wings that folded straight up, they landed on everything. I distinctly remember mom refusing to get out of the car until dad went and found out what they were. The owner of the cabin we were renting said they were “June bugs”, but looking up June bugs, that’s not what they were. But they were harmless. They’d land on anything and everything and were so easy going that you could just pick them up by their wings. The problem was that they would land on the lake, and the fish would eat them, so they weren’t good for fishing. But they weren’t our biggest problem.
The first year, dad rented a rowboat, but no motor. I remember dad getting me up in the dark, I’m thinking about five in the morning, when all I really wanted to do was sleep. But the two of us would go out on the boat. The first time, I remember dad rowing away from the dock. He rowed continuously, rowing and rowing and rowing some more. The sun came up an hour or so later, and as we looked out at the lake, to our right, a man was wading out away from the shore and was about equidistant from the shore as us. That was pretty much the last year he decided to avoid renting a motor.
Having a motor didn’t help much. I know I’ve written that my family never did listen to me. One year, I had just cast my line when my dad started up the motor deciding to go to a different location. I asked him to wait as I pulled in my line as I began cranking frantically. Saying nothing, dad started moving as I kept frantically trying to reel in the line. Worse, then he decided that he had to turn, and the direction he turned put my line immediately behind the motor. And, yes, the line tangled and killed the motor. Of course, it was my fault, and I managed to catch an earful about how I should have just left the line out. “Didn’t you ever hear of trolling?” No, I hadn’t. Usually, fathers teach sons about things like that, DAD.
And for ten years, we had the worst record of catching anything in the history of all of Michigan. It’s not like we caught nothing, though, but the only person to catch anything was my mother. Can you imagine how happy dad was that mom could out fish him, especially in the ‘70’s. But her luck wasn’t significantly better. The first thing that she caught was actually a tiny little clam. It had grabbed ahold of her hook at the curve, below the sharp part, and was just going along for the ride. Dad pulled him off, and he spit at dad. Excitement over, dad put it back in the lake.
In ten years, the only walleye (or fish of any kind) that we caught was, again, my mom. That walleye was big enough to take home and eat, and it happened in our very last year at the lake. I wonder if that was the last straw. Prior to that catch, dad always insisted on using artificial lures. He didn’t like getting his hands slimy and dirty with worms or other live bait, and I’m guessing that’s why we never caught anything. Now, I know that fish have sensitive noses, and if they smell lotion or other human scents, they won’t take the bait. I suspect that’s what happened. Finally, in our tenth year, mom decided that she was going to try live bait (damnit) and found a nice juicy worm. On the lake, she baited her hook, and very quickly pulled in an impressive walleye. The first, and last, in our decade of effort.