Monday, September 12, 2011
Ball bustin' for Pend Oreille bronzebacks
Calvin Fuller and Sam Wike heading to bass country on Pend Oreille/Bartholdt
SANDPOINT—We’re on the water, but barely. We are over the water, hovering, but not even that.
The engine is hollering.
The flesh on our faces is contorted. We are looking ahead into a wind wrought by our progress.
We are flat-ass flying.
The 17-give-or-take-a-foot skiff we are in, the three of us, is mostly out of the water. Occasionally the fiberglass hull skips and skims the surface of Lake Pend Oreille while the boat’s tail, and its stern and transom, bump the aqua velva blue as the big engine shoots spray behind us like a fat-cheeked kid making like a soda fountain.
“This thing does pretty good,” the guy at the console, my unpaid and unrequited guide for the day shouts into the wind and I can almost see the bubble that carries his voice form and then catch wind and swish away behind him and out over the motor and the lake like a vocal rooster tail, like a Chinese poem partly scribbled, like a paper flag torn away in a gale, or this summer morning in general.
We are heading to Bottle Bay Resort because the gas gauge says empty and we know we need more fuel than what’s in reserve to fish the many places that bass frequent on this massive gouge of a lake that sports more than 100 miles of shoreline and dives to more than 1,000 feet in places.
It isn’t 8 a.m. yet.
Many habitants of the lake haven’t had their first cup of coffee.
They have not yet sniffered the lake air, heard the spiraling laugh of the osprey or watched bumblebees dance on the rusty lilies at their front steps dappled in morning sun.
We have been at this since daybreak.
Casting over sand bars, throwing streamers into the maw of creeks, drifting, idling the electric motor into weedy bays, slamming fur and feathers into the pond water and watching bass wheel out of the murk, bronze backed, mouths agape, to bend fly rods, or leave only a bulge in the water like an air bubble subsurface boiling.
Calvin Fuller is at the wheel. He is not a guide, does not claim to be and is not paid to be. He is not paid.
Fuller is however a former sporting goods store owner, who now operates a fly fishing shop for Big R – Yes, the farm and ranch supply store – but with a twist.
The twist, in part, is this.
It is us freewheeling across the big lake, it is the fly rods and fly gear poking toward the bow on the front casting platform, it is the fuzzy bunny tail, barbell eye, and sometimes double hooked streamers that lie randomly around the boat teasing the wind until it deftly catches one of the lures and tosses it overboard as Calvin, or Sam Wike, the marketing guy at Big R, flail a hand in an attempt to catch the overboard lure as the boat keeps rocketing toward the gas pumps at Bottle Bay.
The flies stuck into the outdoor carpeting of the seats are not #18 PMDs, paraduns or sparsely hackled renegades meant to be supped by truculent trout.
These resemble lures.
The hooks are #4.
The difference is akin to a pancake spare and the 6-foot tire of a Terex dump truck.
Yet, the lures, white, black and green, fuzzy, furry or feathery, one at a time lift from the boat into the air and sail over the water, past outstretched hands, like hand tools gone Mardis gras.
Wike smiles as if to shrug,
There is more where they came from.
The twist is that neither Calvin, nor Sam, nor me for that matter are here on a barbed-wire testing mission. We are not field-testing Concho ranch boots, or the latest Carhartt fleece collared work coat.
We are not even field testing fly gear for that matter, except, it must be said, Wike has brought along a bunch of streamers that a guy in the Great Falls, Montana Big R shop uses to catch brown trout on the Missouri, and Wike’s savvy and fly fishing charisma have been pricked. Interest has been piqued. Wike has asked himself the inevitable question: Will these things catch bass?
So he hands them around, and we throw them at banks, lily pad fields and rip rap.
The twist I mentioned earlier lies in a contradiction that I have not yet assailed:
Farm and ranch stores seem to engender a certain tropism.
They almost drip the notion that fishing entails worms and cane poles in a Texas tank. Or, at the cutting edge, an ugly old spin rod plunking a hula popper plug as the poor-whills ponder posterity and night, like a C note, vibrates through the thorn brush.
This Big R ain’t that.
This is sort of a North Idaho Big R with a sporting goods section crowding rows of pig feed, and burly trophy elk mounts bugling over the herbicide aisle.
The fly shop here rivals many I've seen in towns known for their micro brews (Sandpoint has its own versions of those) and glossy photos in Outside magazine.
When we slide into Bottle Bay under the gaze of waterfront mansions a man in light shorts and Tevas tells us the place has no fuel.
Let us not dismay.
The fuel gauge is buzzing now like a gull with a craw full of oversize herring.
Fuller keeps the grin and the boat is gunned north and west this time toward Sandpoint’s docks.
We make it there, fuel up, then fish into town. The electric motor's battery is almost gone, and the big 115 hp is asking for oil. We slip quietly through shadows of the highway and railroad bridges that carry commerce to this North Idaho town until we get to the dock a half block from Main Street.
We reel in under a willow whose leaves lick the water.
Stepping onto the dock, we shake off the morning.
Then head to MickDuff’s Brewing Company for a soup, sandwich and maybe a beer.
There's more fishing to be done.
For now, it must wait.
Ralph Bartholdt wrote about fly fishing on lake Pend Oreille in the September issue of Northwest Sportsman Magazine
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