By Dave Anderson
My wife and I often talk about the fact that we lead double lives, she is an elementary school teacher, and it’s kind of odd that I will never experience her classroom persona. In the same way, she will never experience my true fishing personality—sure, we’ve fished together, but my focus is on her, I am not concentrating on catching; my mind isn’t working as an angler, it’s working as a husband. And you can bet that she’s never going to swim to a rock on a new moon night!
Lila, my three year old daughter, on the other hand, sees another side of me that really no one else sees. She’s so innocent and up for anything that she sees the version of ‘me’ that is as close to the ‘alone’ me as anyone will ever get. I think (hope) that everyone has that person in their head that whispers things that could never be said out loud, sings silly—often crude—parody lyrics over familiar songs on the radio, has a certain pride for the smell and timbre of their own farts… that sort of thing. Her innocence and aptitude bring out the narrator in me and instead of just walking the beach, trudging through the woods, silently enjoying the site of a pair of sharp-shinned hawks or picking up an arrowhead, I find myself speaking almost everything I see for her benefit.
This has led to many silent victories of pride, “Daddy, shhh, hear that? That’s a blue jay!” “Look a deer scrape.” “I heard an owl!” “Is that a turkey vulture...?” Or the one that rocks me to the core, “Daddy, I think I got one!”
Its late-January so there haven’t been as many true excursions lately, but we still make regular drives to the ocean. Wintertime is THE time to scout private neighborhoods for fishing spots and places to park because most of the people are wintering in one of their other houses. However, I’ve learned the hard way that—even in the winter—you can’t stay too long, or else that one year-round resident will assume you’re casing the hood and the cops will pull you over. Been there.
If you’ve followed this blog or our social media for more than a few weeks you might remember the montage of ‘private property’ signs I posted, Lila was with me the day I shot most of those pics and was having a ball making all these frequent stops and looking at all of the colors and shapes of the signs. And because of that comfort level that she brings, I must have been speaking in very… let’s call it honest tones about my feelings regarding the people that believe they own the view, the water and the beaches. Along with the gasoline fueled anger they feel when someone dares to set foot inside their field of vision and the borderline orgasmic satisfaction they feel when they succeed in ousting a trespasser.
I walked into the house yesterday, I had been working outside for a few hours and I came into the living room to find the floor divided down the middle by a makeshift fence of laundry baskets, pillows, the coffee table, a couple small chairs, blankets and few large toys. Lila, who has been obsessed with walking around in just underwear and a t-shirt lately, declared loudly in her Moana undies and her ‘Star Gazer’ t-shirt, “This is private property!” She gestured in a wide circle giving notice that both sides of the fence were private.
I laughed and asked, “Who owns that side?” I pointed to the other side of the room.
“A farmer,” She barked, “and his dog has been pooping on my side so I had to put up a fence!”
My wife looked at me flatly as I smiled. In weird way, I felt proud of her for having such a solid grasp on how private property works. But in the same breath I felt a little embarrassed, with all of the crazy things going on in this world and all of the lessons I still have to teach her, my beef with the ornery owners of private land has been heard, processed and internalized… and she can’t even tie her shoes.
I don’t know if this calls my parenting skills into question, I don’t know if I really care. One thing I can hang my hat on for now is that I know she will not be leashed to a phone or video game, at least not for many years, because I won’t allow it. I believe that the people who have stayed connected to nature and the outdoors throughout their lives are among the most well-adjusted people on the planet. My connection is so strong that it almost feels like unconditional love. And you can bet that I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure she has every resource and opportunity to make and nurture her connections; in my mind there is virtually nothing more important.
By Dave Anderson
Nighttime is my time. I love fishing at any time, but I feel the most at home in darkness. When color is removed from your field of view you perceive the landscape using different senses; on one hand your eyes begin to hone in on nuance, picking up the subtle color changes of a gentle rise on the surface or the dark stain of a recent break. The black expanse of a grove of pines is given depth when your hearing fills in the blanks. Hollows gape and echo in a light wind, pine needles soften while leaves hiss – almost ring – in the breeze. When you really tune in and your subconscious takes over you may find that your mind is practically on fire, processing sound, using sight only on an ‘as needed’ basis. It’s these times when your mind takes the wheel that it is easiest to believe that we only use a tiny fraction of our brain’s potential.
Winter is a tough season for the night angler—unless you target holdover striped bass exclusively or maybe, walleye. For those of us that hunt trout and freshwater bass, the hits become fewer and the chances of blowing that opportunity become much more likely—complacency comes easy in the third hitless hour with your fingers frozen in the positions of holding a rod and reel.
I covered a lot more ground than usual last night, more than I ever had in this particular pond and I only had one solid hit and two nudges to show for it. Maybe it was the fact that it was a Sunday night, after a weekend of increased fishing pressure, or maybe it was the cooling waters and threatening stare of the super moon foreshadowing the whiteness of the coming winter. A light wind rose from the west, I wished I had worn one more layer.
I turned around after covering, what Google Earth tells me was, almost exactly one mile of prime shoreline (it felt like twice that!) and began walking back toward the car. As I rounded a shallow bend in the shore I heard the low calls of a pair of owls in the trees. When you spend a lot of time outside in the quiet darkness you learn that owls all have a unique call, not to the species but to the individual. These two were keeping a good rhythm going one of them was low and somber, with drawn out annunciations, Hooo-Hooo-H-Hoo-Hoo, the other was playing for style points with a much faster and complex call, Hoo-H-H-H-Hooo-H-Hoo-Hoo. Each one replicated to a tee during each round, each one sung in a “woe-is-me” minor key.
My mind snapped to a conversation I had with my friend Keith’s wife, Lauren. She works for the Audubon Society and conducts regular owl walks for groups of bird enthusiasts. I could hear her voice in my head telling me that owls can be brought in by playing—or in some cases—vocally imitating their calls. She uses an iPod and speakers to broadcast actual recordings of owl calls and they come to investigate—almost—without exception. Since I had a captive audience that was, clearly, feeling the night vibe and comforting each other with the dialogue of mated pair. I cupped a hand to my mouth and did my best to throw my own vocal stylings into the mix.
The pair went silent. The light wind seemed to bend with their confusion as a deafening silence crossed the pond like a sudden gust of wind. Their calls cautiously resumed as I did my best to move quietly along the gravelly bank. I called again, they called back—in sequence. I called again and the first owl rushed to fill the space at the end of my phrase, the other followed. I took a few more steps and called out, again the space right at the end of my phrase was filled. It was starting to feel like a competition. For a split second I felt a flutter of nervous excitement blooming in my chest—an osprey once tried to attack me… in the dark I might never see them coming! I weighed the risks and called again—they called back quickly and, once again, in sequence.
This continued with intermittent steps until I could tell I was right below the second caller. Hidden by the blackness of a tall, gangly pine I heard the call. I don’t know why, but I assumed that this owl was the female—low and somber, not as brash and braggadocios as Mr. Style Points. She called, I called back and she took to the air, crossing the clouded corridor of the full moon as she flew, I watched the black dart, soar across the pond and settle into the treeline. I pulled my camera, knowing (hoping) that he would follow her—he didn’t. I called again. I heard the snap and rustle of the foliage as he dropped into an iron cross and glided slowly through the same lane, I snapped the best shot I could. His slow movement sent a message of warning as he surveyed the area before crossing the water to join his mate.
I could hear them consoling each other for the rest of the night, the rhythm and phrasing unchanged. Even after taking several casts on the way back, in some of the most productive spots in the pond, there was not a fish to be had. The owl encounter made my night. It’s the incidentals that make fishing what it is to me. I have already shared this story with my wife and daughter and I will tell it many more times in my life. If I had caught a fish, I would most likely forget that fish within a few years, but this owl encounter will stick with me forever.
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