There’s no hiding it, I’m in a Spring fishing slump
It happens, it hurts and it’s often there for friends to witness. It’s become an annual, frustrating dance for me: I fish through the winter with great success then Spring rolls in, waters warm, stripers arrive and I freeze up. Even osprey’s, looking down from tree perches, can sense it. I survived this one by putting 400 miles between casts and meeting someone who called me darlin’. Slumps, skunks, hard times; call them what you will but after a good while, you’ll hear Bob Marley sing. No slumps, only time.
“Them belly full, but we hungry.” We think slumps are real and like seasickness, they live in our heads and can’t be escaped until we make a plan to ignore them. Athletes get to have slumps and we cheer them on to recovery. When Raffy Devers steps to the plate, we say, “Come on Raffy, this is the one.” When I share my misery with another angler, it’s, “Huh, there are lots of fish around. I caught six up to 38” on Ohio Ledge today.” We’re not all built to deliver sympathy. We also know slumps might mean one less boat or guy on the beach.
“A hungry man is an angry man.” The drive north was easy, except for everything south of Portland, Maine. I fished for largemouth in a long narrow glacial scraping carpeted with sunken timber and tan boulders. Like back home, I know many key spots where bass hunt and none were home. A skunk’s odor can be smelled a mile and half away and I felt like the fish were wise to my condition, so I hauled out and headed for town. At Gillmor’s Beef n’ Ale, Linda asked, “What can I get for you, darlin’?” In this overly sensitive world, Maine holds tightly to some traditions, like being called darlin’. Several times I heard Linda say, “Yay, I’m so glad,” to customers and I believe she meant it each time. I ordered a haddock sandwich after haddock chowder, which arrived with a fine yellow shine. Decades before heart health worries, Block Island fisherman Spencer Smith, stirring a deep pot of fish chowder, would say, “Close your eyes and add the butter.” Counsel of a cranky old lobsterman who passed 40 years ago hit home to me as I cut hunks of fish with a spoon and wished to be nowhere else in the world.
Only Time Will Tell
“A rain a-fall, but the dirt it tough.” Hoping to escape my slump and cell phone, I walked some new growth woods with friend and Master Maine Guide Justin Morse. This land was cut hard, roughed up, rolled over and discarded as men with saws moved on. Poplars and paper birch trees were slowly reclaiming space from hemlock and oak sacrificed for generations and woodstoves. Looking at his boots, Justin told me Dick Laffey passed. Dick was their quiet and smart neighbor who lived well on a pond, sharing his time generously with the Morse family and camp visitors. He loved Justin’s two daughters dearly. Seated at the stern of his sweet Old Town canoe, motoring over a smooth blue lake, his silhouette remains a perfect image of northern Maine happiness.
In 2021, I wrote, “Neighbor Dick Laffey dropped off their daughter Vanessa after an afternoon grouse hunting. Dick is quiet and wise. He knows what you would like to. His smile tells you that. His pretty Old Town Sponson canoe was already rolled up high into the pines because he knows what season is coming, no matter how warm the air was today.” Dick retired from the Bangor Fire Department and lived peacefully as a devoted husband and friend to countless people.
“Rich and poor, they start to cry. Now the weak must get strong.” Paddling by Dick’s land at sunrise, I realized how lucky I was to have known him and to be where I was. Where water flows in from the west, a lightly twitched Z-Man DarterZ Shiner bumped off a bleached pine log fooled a two pound largemouth. Athabaskan cultures believe that some animals offer themselves to us and that we should always remain respectful and grateful. That’s an amazing concept.
Dick Laffey is gone now and such a loss will be mourned for years. It took Linda and her genuine positivity, a bowl of haddock chowder and a walk in the woods to hear of a friend’s passing to teach me not that my slump was done but that slumps are not real. There are no slumps, only time. Dick’s passing proved there is no value in giving value to a slump because they are merely moments of time between catching paddling, casting, drifting, or hunting through new forests. We can look up at tall trees and sometimes an osprey or eagle might be watching over us. How fortunate we are. Life is short, equally steeped with unknowns, miracles and our greatest blessing, time.
“Forget your sickness and dance, forget your troubles and dance.”
*Words in italics are from the great Bob Marley and Bill Laswell song, “Them Belly Full But We Hungry.” I am eternally grateful for their words and images.