Open Season: If it seems to good to be true, it is - especially on fishing opener
As my grandfather, Vern Drechsel, skillfully played his first walleye of Minnesota's fishing opener into the awaiting landing net, it donned on me that something wasn't quite right.
I pondered this unnerving feeling, and took a long, panoramic view of our surroundings.
Dozens, maybe hundreds of boats silently bobbed atop the calm, clear waters of this central Minnesota lake. Some fishermen trolled, others jigged; but many jostled for position over a gradual mid-lake drop-off that disappeared into more than 25 feet of water.
The myriad of patient participants partook in gentle conversation, loud enough to hear but not to discern. Voices rose and fell like the gentle hum of an old AM radio.
Vern laughed as he and my wife, Erin, made small talk. He secured the walleye in one hand, while wrestling the hook out of its mouth with the other. Soon, the plump, 16-inch eater-size delicacy was splashing in our livewell, and awaiting company.
Looking skyward, I marveled at the brilliant horizon-to-horizon canvas of blue. Soft, cottony clouds thousands of feet high floated effortlessly on invisible currents of air. The brazen yellow sun sent temperature into the mid-70s.
Then it hit me - this was perfect, absolutely flawless. A walleye opener unlike any experienced in the history of openers, complete with good weather, friendly boaters and plenty of hungry fish eager to take the bait.
It was creepy.
There is something notably wrong with a fishing opener that goes off without a hitch. Where was the snow? The torrential rain? Where were the 30 mile-per-hour winds and six-foot white-caps? Where were the lock-jawed walleyes that wouldn't bite even if a minnow bumped them on the forehead?
My eyes flitted nervously about, waiting for the inevitable: a darkening cloud, a raindrop, a boat-swallowing tsunami.
I sighed. Maybe I was paranoid? Forget about this nonsense, I thought. Might as well enjoy myself and ingore that strange, tingling feeling that crawled up my spine.
Piloting the trolling motor toward shallower water, I carefully controlled the speed so our bait barely moved along the bottom. But as I fished, that creeping up my back persisted. Then, I began feeling it on my neck - then my arms. I flicked my ear as something tickled my lobe.
I heard a buzz - like the soft whine of a miniature dental drill heading for my eardrum.
What in the heck was going on? Annoyed, I looked for the culprit.
It was a trap. We were surrounded - engulfed - by bugs. Tiny flies swarmed out of the nearly mirror-like stillness of the lake and into the air. It was a plague of biblical proportions.
The bleach-white hat atop Erin's head was polka-dotted with tiny black spots. Grandpa's coat rippled as if alive, as hundreds of the small invertebrates participated in an orgy of self preservation.
In a rush of euphoria, my nervousness disappeared. That was close; I almost thought something was wrong with the day's almost sanitized flawlessness. But this fly hatch was just the reassurance needed to keep the string of imperfection going.
A gentle tap vibrated up my sensitive graphite fishing rod, and I opened the bail to release some line. Something peeled the loose coils from the surface into the aquatic darkness, and I waited for it to take the bait deeper into its mouth.
Closing the bail, the monofilament slowly grew taut. Lowering the rod tip toward the water, I waited for just the right moment, and then ripped my arm high forcing the rod into a sickled arc.
My fingers registered a noticeable weight, reassuring me the hook had driven home. All this happened while a multitude of winged pestilence worked their way into my ears, and eyes, and mouth.
Erin expertly netted the white-fleshed morsel and it soon joined a cousin in the livewell.
I blew a bug out of my nose and smiled. All was right with the world.
I felt much better.