This weekend, while waiting for the lakes to freeze to a point where I felt comfortable (next weekend, most likely) and watching another batch of shovel-worthy snow accumulate, I found myself wandering around the house, finishing out hunting-season-delayed honey-dos. One task on my list was cleaning the accumulation of magnetic letters, address labels and other items that had piled up in that limbo of the refrigerator top. As I sneezed my way through the dust and sorted a variety of flotsam and jetsam of daily life that had washed up on the white metallic shore of modernity, I nearly swept an old Polaroid picture into the trash bin I held adjacent to the appliance.
It teetered on the edge of destruction, but I snapped it up before it could fall in with the collected items because, while they had some value that saved them from the recycler at the time they were received, now there simply wasn’t much going for them. In the faded cellophane photo with white trim were three fishing buddies from a mid-July day in 2003 on Lake Ashtabula with half a dozen eater walleyes in hand, posing for the camera. The story of how the photo arrived at my house from my mom came back, and I could almost hear her telling it to me again.
“They were cleaning off the old wall at the back of the store at Mel Rieman’s, and somebody dropped it off on my desk at work,” she had mentioned a year or two ago when she brought the photo to my home some 300 miles from where it had hung on the shores of my home water.
At right, my schoolmate and lifting buddy Cody hoisted three fish on the stringer. Wiry and tan from summer work on the farm, he added the extra rod to our boat that particular sunny Saturday on a break from his usual duties. In the middle, my regular partner-in-fish, Holmes, held up a pair of walleyes while giving his usual stoic glare into the lens. Fishing has always been fun for him, he just doesn’t like to let on how much fun. I always told him that smiling pictures help me move more newspapers, but my sales pitch, even these days when we get together, is ineffective at best.
I stood at left in the 13 year-old photo, with two of the smaller keepers in hand. My bleached blonde hair a long-lost hallmark of my younger days, but my cheek-to-cheek grin is one that I’ve always retained for moments of success like that particular day where we drifted over the same rocky outcropping and gravel downwash along the western shores of Lake Ashtabula.
It was a time in my life where I was sure I knew it all – about living and fishing – but would soon learn that I didn’t know more than anyone else, and eventually, it became okay to realize that every day was an educational experience. Whether we ended up with a number of fish in the livewell, or a couple of small ones that went back in the water, the photograph reminded me that each day on the water was a sunny day like that one preserved on top of the fridge, regardless if it was ice fishing in the chill of winter or soaking up the sideways spray of a spring storm.
Beyond the bumps on the bottom that signaled the take from the perch and walleyes that morning, and the tick-tick-ticking against the rocks and gravel, I don’t remember much about the quick trip that was captured on the tackle shop’s wall of fame. I had to get home to do a radio interview, or take the dog to the vet, or something along those lines, but the partial morning we did spend on the water – which was almost forgotten, and nearly lost to the trash bin – was instead preserved with some double-sided tape on the side of my lure making desk, to remind me of that successful sunny day, and provide the continuing hope of many more to come…in our outdoors.