Like a dollop of syrup hitting cold water, the certainty that I will never be a sport fisherman crystallizes in my heart. I know that this perfect day of fishing at Otter Lake will be a one-time experience. One moment among so many delightful ones does it.
Not as we glide away from the pier, Elmer and I, with Dillon, our fishing guide, the air fresh and still, the lake surface a glistening portal into a parallel universe below.
Not as the boat cuts through the stillness like a figure skater tracing a proud spiral on a zambonied ice surface.
Not when, having landed and released three pike, I reel in a worthy walleye for lunch.
Not as the eagles and the ospreys soar overhead, their concentrated power reminiscent of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “The Windhover”, “striding high there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing in his ecstasy.”
Not when the pelicans unfurl their wings for take-off on their diamond runway.
Not as I learn to troll with a lure going into the current, and to jig with a minnow impaled on a weighted hook.
Not as I savor the shore lunch on a small island. Dillon fries up fresh walleye drenched in the chef’s secret mixture, and a skillet of fried potatoes and onions.
Not even as I listen to three walleye thrash about the ice, suffocating in their plastic tomb.
After lunch, though, as we play catch and release, I know the jig is up.
“This will only take a second,” I console the walleye, as Dillon extricates each hook with pliers. “After the photo, back in the water.”
The walleye’s gills open like a Japanese fan as he gasps for life. I am clumsy. I’ve never held a fish fighting for its life before. I drop it. The walleye thrashes in the bottom of the boat. But I want the picture. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” I repeat, addressing Dillon or the walleye, maybe both. My desire for the photo overrides any fear that I am causing this fish unimaginable suffering. This time, I hold on to the fish. Elmer snaps the photo—three of them. I stare at the fish’s widening gills. At last, I can release him. But the walleye squirms out of my grip again. I am beside myself. This time, I rescue him from the bottom, and manage to throw him into the water.
I can’t do it. Six mutilated pike and walleye swim about Otter Lake with gashes in their mouths, contusions on their bodies, and lures still attached like gruesome piercings, because of me.
For food, maybe. Just for sport? Not ever again.