It was close to sunup on the Copper Sea. Fog was so thick you could move it with your hands. “I reckon we can hit it with a compass reading”.
I wiped the moisture from my beard and just gave Darnell a look that showed my doubts. We sat in the idling boat, fog bound, slowly approaching the no wake buoy that I could not see. “Head dead center 120 degrees when you hit the buoy. Jest idle along till you can see the notch in Billy Goat”.
Well, I figgered hitting something and drowning beat just sitting in the fog so I told Darnell to get me pointed 120 degrees. He had the compass, I assumed. “Come right a scoche…little more. That’s it. Dead on 120.” So, off we went, putting along heading not quite just past east.
I could see about three feet in front of the boat and thought, as slow as we were going, if I hit something, it might not do much damage.
Then, for no reason, breeze, I guess, the fog lifted about two feet off the water and I could see quite a ways as long as I didn’t look up. If I kept my eyes on the bow and the water, I could see a fair distance. So, I gave Old Red a dose of Exxon and off we went.
Dead on at 120 magnetic or whatever, in two minutes, I saw the notch in Billy Goat in the clearing fog and we were there. And dang if there wasn’t a double rainbow just to the right. I eased on in and cut the deep breather. It felt good to slow down cause fog, now heavy again, is cold in the early spring. I took the bow and the trolling motor and in we went.
“What you throwin to start?”
I allowed I had an eighth-ounce brown fly with black U-2 on number one, a silver Zara Puppy on two and a jerk bait in shad color on three.
Darnell nodded. “Me, I’m thowin a black Whirly-Bee and a brown slider and that’s all I’ll need.” Darnell was somewhat addicted to sliders and he could make them produce, too.
Boat’s in 22, throwin into about eight and it is hangy, I informed Darnell. I knew, right between us and the bank, there was a big rock pile and if you let your bait sink too far, it was gone. I could see the bush, the one standing off the bank. I reckon it was growing out of the top of a rock. Sometimes it had a fish under it.
My jig hit on the left side, Darnell’s slider on the right. I twitched it out and let it sink for a two-count. Then, I slowly lifted the rod tip, just enough so as to make the pork rind flutter. Tap.
I set the hook like I meant it and at the same instant, heard Darnell grunt and say, “Good un.” A double on the first cast is the way to start a smallmouth day. I could see Darnell in the back of the boat and could tell he was working as hard as I was. I got mine to the net first and then, quickly swooped up Darnell’s fish.
Twin smallmouth at 2.5-pounds each. We grinned. This was before the days of that high five stuff. You didn’t need to bump fists or slap hands to know things were going good. Before they started all that girly stuff on TV, you just grinned at each other and went back to doin whatever you had been doin.
Down the bank and around the back of the cove and out the north bank. Cast in tight, swim it out and let it sink. When you felt something, set the hook. Sometimes it was a fish. As the sun burned away the fog, a barred owl gargled and coughed. A gobbler talked back to him and a murder of crows navigated and complained above the lifting fog. As the sky cleared, we changed from dark baits to light ones. I went with a white fly and yellow rind. Darnell, he tied on a chartreuse Whirly-Bee and the catching continued.
When we finished the bank, I took a heading of 240 degrees and crossed the Copper Sea. The sun had burned most of the fog away and it was plumb coppery. Into the mouth of Rattlesnake, we went and took a long glide to the left bank.
Crappie trees, lots of them and perfect for white, 1/16-ounce Slap Happys. Eight is what we figured. We needed eight for supper that night. “Here’s number one.” Darnell slung a more than decent crappie over the side and insulted me by putting three more just like him in the box. “I got mines. You must not be hungry.”
Later that afternoon, before we went back out for the dusk tour of smallmouth, we filleted 22. I got my share of them, too.
You could have a day like that on the Copper Sea if you took a bearing of 120 and held steady. But for sure, you have to trust your compass. I have often wondered how a man, who could neither read nor write, could read a compass. Never occurred to me to ask Darnell how he knew to go 120 degrees and not just head east.
Never occurred to me to ask, did he even have a compass?
Contact John L. Sloan at -- firstname.lastname@example.org