The Rooster Tail spinner with a pork rind chaser softly breaks the water’s surface. Keeping the fishing line taut, I carefully work the lure downstream along a deep cut bank with overhanging willow bushes. The gentle, tranquil scene is violently broken with a slamming jolt on the line doubling over my fishing rod and reversing the direction of line travel. Line pealing from my fishing reel drag, the powerful fish speeds upstream in the deep water. I hold on tight, nervously anticipating a change in the fish’s momentum. It comes. The fish does a body roll, shoots across to the shallow side of the stream, rolls again, and makes a beeline back downstream directly at us. I frantically reel line in as fast as I can as the large torpedo-shaped V-pattern wake closes the distance. I excitedly say to my little brother, John. “With 4-lb test line, no steel leader, we only have one chance. As soon as the fish passes us I’ll turn him and you have to net him fast!” John, like a battle-bonded soldier, stands by my side head to shoulder in the cold dark water.
The large Northern Pike passes just feet from my left leg. I spin around and pull back hard on the ultra-lite fishing rod. The pike loses its forward momentum, turns its long, 3-foot body, and lifts its shaking head out of the water, revealing long rows of intimidating teeth. “Now!” I shout to John. But the net doesn’t come. I look for my brother and find him standing on the bank. He shouts back at me. “That thing’s a shark!”
As my Dad taught me, I now teach my brother. Up three hours before sunrise, drive an hour, paddle downstream for 45 minutes in the twilight, hop in the water, tether the 17-foot Drummond canoe to my waist, and fish upstream as the sun breaks the horizon. This is fishing up close and personal, no physical separation from the water or the river creatures. We wore old jeans and tennis shoes. The life and rhythm of the river revealed through all of our senses.
The air warmer, the sun higher, I watch my now confident brother (yes, he did eventually net the large pike) skillfully catch one rock bass after another in a sweet little fishing hole he found. He’s not the only fisherman that knows about this fishing hole. A Belted Kingfisher flies over on its daily river patrol giving a loud, rattling call, perhaps in protest of John’s presence.
“Dave, what is this fish?” I wade over to examine John’s catch. “That’s a Longear Sunfish,” I explain. This one’s a large (about four inch) breeding male given its iridescent green on the back and bright orange on the belly. The Longear Sunfish’s most distinguishing feature is its elongated gill cover or “long ear.” It’s one of the most beautiful sunfishes due to its dazzling array of colors. The fish prefers clear stream waters. According to the WI DNR, the Longear Sunfish is a threatened species. It can’t tolerate cloudy water caused by topsoil erosion, for example.
I gently shake the damsel fly off the tip of my fishing rod and send the Rooster Tail spinner flying again in a graceful arch. Immediately after the spinner plops through the water’s surface, it comes exploding back out propelled three feet high by a Smallmouth Bass. The bass does a series of acrobatic aerial dances before I gently land him with the fishing net.
Driving home, John asleep in the warm car, I wonder what the future holds for our little wild river. Will she forever hold the mystery, excitement and discovery that bonded two brothers today?