The afternoon was warm at midweek, more like late March than the latter stages of February, warm enough to work up a sweat while refinishing the spars and struts of an old catamaran bought from a neighbor down the beach.
And after the final coat of paint was sprayed, giving a new silver sheen to the aluminum extrusions that had been badly weathered through 20-some seasons, a light spinning rod and a box of spinners were pulled from a corner of the garage and we made our way down through the bramble and blow-downs of winter to the creek.
Along the way, Trapper, as young dogs will, roamed through the underbrush several yards ahead, filling his nose with the curious scents of the wood, digging at the burrows of small wild things, pointing up cardinals, hurdling logs and chasing squirrels. A dog's life, indeed.
In late winter the creek is a stark place, the shallows, heavily weeded in the other seasons, are barren and black and criss-crossed with submerged tree trunks. In many places the banks are undercut where the tide runs stronger or the shoreline is exposed to southerly winds.
In mid- to late March there will be white and yellow perch and even some rockfish in the creek preparing to spawn. But on a February afternoon, the better likelihood was that chain pickerel would be about.
The pickerel is a voracious feeder with a long, slender body and an almost duck-billed mouth filled with sharp, conical teeth. In the warmer months, pickerel prey on smaller baitfish and young of the year, along with smaller yellow perch.
From ambush positions along the edges of weed lines, from undercut banks or beneath or behind submerged logs, the pickerel, attracted apparently by the flash of its prey, darts out quickly and hits hard.
With the absence of weedy or grassy cover, the probability on this day was that they will be up on the sun-warmed shallow flats and close to cover, and a silver Mepps spinner was cast to the cross of two old tree trunks submerged on the edge of a small drop-off and retrieved. Nothing. Again. Nothing.
Trapper, having worked his way along the creek bank, startling dozens of canvasbacks and mallards into chaotic flight, settled on a patch of sunny bank and napped while the spinner repeatedly worked submerged logs and in and around blow-downs.
One cast among a hundred or more brought back a small yellow perch, its sides scarred with the odd shape of a pickerel's mouth. Another brought back a six-inch pickerel from beneath a log. Yet another lured its bigger brother from the shadows of an undercut bank as the warmth began to leave the afternoon.
As the dusk and chill began to enter the day, a flight of a couple of dozen Canada geese passed overhead, honking to each other as they began the migration north toward their summer breeding grounds in Canada.
Trapper cocked his head, watched and listened as they passed, and stretched before heading tentatively up the path toward home, stopping and glancing back over his shoulder to be
certain I would follow. Heeding my master, I did.
At home, in the wood beyond the fence line, the kids had rigged a slip line between two tall trees, and one youngster, while perched on a high limb and preparing to slide down the line through the dusk, caught the spirit of a warm day in February.
"Whoa, Dad, the moon's up, and it's full," he said. "Dude, suddenly it was just there, like somebody turned on the switch. Beautiful."
Pub Date: 2/23/97