BOOT LAKE: FISHING
Much like Boot Lake itself, there was nothing inherently spectacular about the fish that resided in it. There were some pretty decent size bass (one legendary beast nicknamed "Old Fighter" by my grandfather), some interesting crappie, easy pickins sunfish, and the occasional rogue catfish. But the muskie were the most ominous sport fish on Boot Lake. My grandfather claimed the DNR ruined the lake by putting too many muskie in too small of a lake, hindering the otherwise healthy smallmouth population. I was awed by the razor teeth and prehistoric body of those huge fish, though. The record muskie on the lake was a taxidermist's dream and mounted on a plaque at Winter's Tavern. I had only scant opportunities to catch one, my 10 pound test no match for the yardstick-long fish, but my heart still pounds when I think about that truncated battle. I thought about the muskie always when I looked out at the lake but especially when I swam toward the lily pads in front of the beach. I was the one out of my element in a scrap should one occur.
Fishing in the evening was the best for a number of reasons. All through dinner I would think about pushing off from shore and gliding onto the calm, black water. Most evenings we had the lake to ourselves and we stretched the light for as long as we could. After heading in with a frenzy of mosquitoes in pursuit, we would pull the john boat to shore in the fading daylight. We would haul the bucket of fish (if there was a bucket of fish to be had, that is) up the hill to the dusky garage. I would watch the fish live their last moments in that crowded space and feel more than a little guilty for my part in taking the lake away from them forever. We would filet them under the dim light of a single 40 watt bulb, last week's Ladysmith newspaper strewn everywhere to catch the guts and scales. I say "we" would filet them but that mostly is not true. I would try every now and then but Grandpa knew my heart was not in it. It was difficult enough to watch him pin their heads to something that looked like a clipboard before starting the filet on their soft underbellies as they continued to flip and gasp for air while the mosquitoes haunted us. Sometimes their innards would reveal unborn eggs that would never see the lake, (which horrified me) and sometimes they would have pieces of other fish in their guts (which made me feel a little better). I never turned down the fish fry afterwards, though.
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