By Nick Simonson
I questioned the wind and the chill blowing in the mist rising off the wavy surface of the small powerplant lake, a place I frequent this time of year to cure cabin fever, prepare things for openwater, and chase the largemouth bass and crappies that are two months ahead of their brothers and sisters in the ice-covered lakes around them. I knew that the wind was wrong for any effective fishing, coming straight from the far shore and lifting a fog off the water toward the launch, but I was also aware that this might be the only time to get a feel on how the boat was doing and more importantly, the old Mercury 25 on its stern. I solo launched rather awkwardly, brought the boat to the shoreline, now well exposed from a dry fall and winter, and parked the truck before returning and setting sail against the wind under the full power of the reliable trolling motor on the bow.
Once in position along the steep rockline where my panfishing adventures often begin, I anchored up and threw a few dozen casts before I mentally prepared for a shoulder workout. In every season, the old Merc has turned over, albeit with a little bit of bulb pumping, choke tweaking and sometimes a good session or two of rope pulling. I can recall waking up the next day after some initial adventures and feeling as if I had done a couple of workouts where I had solely focused on just my right arm. Bracing for the day’s second workout, I pumped the blend of gas, two-cycle oil and a shot of Seafoam which was well mixed from the drive up to the lake and felt the fuel line pressurize. I grabbed the handle of the line and gave the first solid jerk of the season.
I’m sure my eyes grew to the size of whatever uncooperative monster panfish were below and not biting in the after-effects of the overnight cold front. On the first pull, the motor spit and then streamed the warm lake water out and a white haze of whatever was left in the carburetor after last season and the exhaust of the gasoline mixture disappeared into the fog rolling toward shore. It achieved a steady hum and the exhaust cleared as I let it idle for a few minutes before I flipped the handle shifter into forward and did donuts on the choppy lake surface to break it in for the season. As I did, the sun came out and the mist gave way to the warming temperatures of the day and the chilly red in my fingertips subsided to a normal peach. Regardless of the slow bite, it was a great start to the openwater season, and took far less pulls than the rest of the weekend’s break-in efforts.
Under the Gun
The shoulder workout I was expecting with the boat came at the trap range on Sunday, as I was blown by the strong-shifting northwest winds from the parking lot to the trap house. Feeling all sorts of rusty, due to limited shooting last summer, I loaded the pocket of my green mesh vest with a box of target loads and took the open spot in a group of five behind the house. On my first call of “Pull!” I smashed the right-angling target and felt confident that I knew where my gun was sitting, but unlike the motor, my aim quickly sputtered and I was all over the place.
It’d be five more targets before I’d connect again, and I’d replay each shot and what I did wrong – behind, jerked, under – trying to find consistency. At the end of my first round, a disappointing single digit total was all I had to show for my efforts. But, like the old Mercury in any other season, I was determined to stick with it and I ripped the top of another box of shells off and flipped it with the wind into the garbage barrel. The group I had joined had departed, and though they were shooting before I had arrived and likely done, I’m somewhat suspicious that they may have been embarrassed to be in my company. Alone, I went through the five stands, calling for clays from the remote speakers and following them out over the horizon.
Suddenly, like the fuel flowing through the engine of the outboard, things began to grab and refill the spaces in my mind. Hold points on the house, follow-through at the time of the trigger pull and after, and the timing between calling for the bird and firing, all began to fall into place, and the number of targets taken climbed up into the teens. With the mental and physical cylinders beginning to click in rhythm, I opted for one more round and things began to hum.
Set-pull!-rise-bang!-dust. Set-pull!-rise-bang!-dust. Set-pull!-rise-bang!-dust.
The pattern went unbroken for 11 targets and I finished the final post a perfect five-for-five to end with a 21 and felt confident that would provide a good base for the weeks to come. My arms and shoulder felt the stress of a different workout from holding and swinging the weight of the heavy trap gun, and the slight soreness in my right cheek was a reminder of a new shooting sports season’s start. While the mechanics of it all didn’t quite come together as quickly as that of the motor the morning before, it did eventually. And that’s all one can ask for as another pair of seasons get started…in our outdoors.