C.W. Gusewelle

Fellowship at the lake, even with the finned

C.W. Gusewelle at the lake near his cabin in May 2007.
C.W. Gusewelle at the lake near his cabin in May 2007. dpulliam@kcstar.com

Originally published on June 24, 2007.

It was a day of utter perfection, uncommon in this disordered time of year.

The lake was mirror-still, its surface broken only by the splashes of rising fish. On the wooded hillsides that flank the little valley, oaks whose new foliage had been shriveled by an untimely April freeze were recovered now and in full leaf.

Across a distance of most of a mile could be heard the machine hum from a field where a neighbor was windrowing hay.

Nearer was the music of birdsong and the chatter of squirrels.

The trip with my daughter was a hurried one — a midday drive to the farm, lunch at a favorite restaurant, then a few hours, too few, in the boat together.

A month from now, or maybe sooner, the July sun will be punishing. But on this day it was just pleasantly warm. And as the light began to soften, reflections of the shoreline trees were like bright brush strokes against the dark background of the water.

The daughter is a wonderful fisherperson, as is her sister. Their training began at ages 4 and 5, casting with beginner rods at the decorative pool in the median of the boulevard just a couple of blocks from home.

A bit later they graduated to fly rods, angling for sunfish in our little Ozarks cabin pond and brook trout in several of the small freshets that tumble down steep valleys in the front range of the Rockies.

One September there was a trip for silver salmon in the tributaries of Alaska’s Yentna River. And another, the following June, for king salmon in those same waters.

But it is the farm lake that commands our passion now. It was constructed seven years ago, in a place where two streams descend through forested hollows to join and make a Y.

I love that particular corner of the world. There was a spring seeping out of one hillside where it’s said settlers passing through paused to camp. And alongside the meeting of the streams there ran a path that I walked a hundred times, at least, with country folk who were my friends.

Gone now — those friends, the spring, the streams, all of that. I dreamed the lake nearly 30 years before I built it, not wanting to drown the memories.

But I’ve no regrets, for the memories have endured. And the lake is more beautiful in reality than it was in my imagining. It has become a fishery beyond my wildest hopes.

A friend came from Kentucky to fish with me, and will be coming again late this week. We spent the latter part of an afternoon and a few hours the next morning, and between us caught 100 largemouth bass — returning 94 to the water and cleaning six for him to take home.

This recent trip with my daughter was a shorter outing. But in the prime hour of early evening, just as the sun dropped behind the trees, she took three splendid fish: a bass of more than 6 pounds, another of 7, and a bluegill so large I couldn’t get my hand around it.

There were other fish — a good many of them. But those three were the special ones.

“Did you name them?” my wife asked. “Or were they ones with names already?” By now, she says, some of them have been hooked and released so many times we must recognize them on sight.

The principal function of a fish, as she sees it, is to be eaten. And I understand that. I eat them, too — the ones of ordinary size.

But the exceptional ones, I put back uninjured, perhaps to be caught another day. Because to me, reasonable or not, a great fish alive in the water is more splendid than a fish on a platter or on a wall.

And it seems wrong, somehow, to butcher and fry a creature you know as Bob or Ernest or Frank.

Gone now — those friends, the spring, the streams, all of that. I dreamed the lake nearly 30 years before I built it, not wanting to drown the memories.

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