GORDON, Wis. -- Mike Jaszczak caught the first largemouth bass of the day. He held it up for us to admire. It was a beauty -- mottled in the colors of summer, with the outsized mouth and the deep green stripe along its flank.
It was a good 3 inches long.
"That's Larry's idea of a good bass fishing," said Superior's Jaszczak.
He was giving his longtime buddy, Larry Kline, some good-natured ribbing. Kline, known foremost for his bow-hunting prowess, had invited us down for a morning of largemouth fishing on a lake where he has a cabin in the woods near Gordon.
"We've been getting some big ones," Kline had said. "My 6-year-old grandson got a 24-incher. We figure it weighed between 6 and 7 pounds."
Kline could only smile at Jaszczak's remark about the 3-incher. Toward the shallows, Kline lofted a bare hook with a chubby night crawler impaled twice through its midsection. The 'crawler disappeared in amber to deep-green water. The line twitched. Kline set the hook.
As if to nullify his friend's quip, Kline played a chunky 16-inch largemouth to the boat and lifted it into the sunshine by its lower lip. It was a handsome specimen. It possessed all of the characteristics of Jaszczak's bass amplified into full basshood.
Kline quickly removed his hook and freed the bass.
And that's what we did all morning.
This was quintessential northern Wisconsin summer fishing. We all piled into a 12-foot aluminum boat that Kline, 53, has been fishing out of since at least the mid-1970s. We filled it up. It was powered only by a small trolling motor, which Kline controlled from the stern.
The lake, which has no public access, is just 20 acres in size. A few other cabins are tucked along its shoreline, four or five altogether. At one of them, a fish-crazy cocker spaniel sometimes comes down to the water while Kline is fishing. It bounds into the water, splashing, chasing fish, seriously reducing the odds of catching more fish. Kline knows the dog well.
"I told my folks, you've got to make sure you keep the dog in the house today," he said.
It worked. We didn't see another soul -- two-legged or four -- all morning.
Little strategy was involved in this outing. We didn't have to start at the break of dawn. We didn't have to use fancy spinnerbaits. We just needed some 8-pound-test line and some No. 4 or No. 6 hooks.
And lots of night crawlers.
"I bought half a flat of 'crawlers," Kline said.
Count 'em. That's 20 dozen, or 240 fat, wriggling worms. If you hook them a couple times through the middle, the ends writhe and wriggle in the water. Bass can't resist them.
Watching each other's back-casts carefully, we'd launch one of these plump wrigglers shoreward. It would carve a graceful arc across a summer sky full of clouds that looked like the sails of tall ships. Then the worms would pass before the green zone of lush popples and pines before plopping into the lake. We would watch the night crawler disappear in the clear water.
Then it was just a matter of waiting for the thump and setting the hook.
Much of the time, we would swing and miss. We'd feel the take and try to set the hook, only to come up empty.
"They are absolute bait-stealers," Jaszczak said, reeling in another wormless hook.
He dipped into his box of 'crawlers and threaded on another one.
Kline silently guided the boat around the lake, past the quiet cabins, past the simple docks. There was little structure to fish. The lake had mainly a sand bottom, an occasional downed tree in the water, a few strands of emerging vegetation.
What it had were bass -- and whopper bluegills -- with voracious appetites. There would be no 24-inchers that day, but we caught numerous bass from 16 to 18 inches. They fought with attitude. They danced on the surface. They all swam back to keep growing.
We must have looked like three overgrown kids in that little boat, flinging our worms, setting hooks. Even without looking, all of us knew when someone else hooked a fish. The boat wiggled. A rod tip dipped.
This was the essence of fishing. So basic. So primal. Such an abundance of opportunities. We fished with the hope that the next one could be the big one. Jaszczak probably caught the biggest one, about an 18-incher. There wasn't a measuring tape in the boat, and nobody cared. Nobody needed to know. We just wanted to make another cast.
We didn't measure the bluegills, either, but my handspan is 81/2 inches and some of those big bulls stretched well beyond my outstretched thumb. All of those went back, too.
"I haven't had fishing like this for a long, long time," Jaszczak said.
While we fished, Kline and Jaszczak traded deer-hunting stories. Kline shared the history of different cabin families on the lake. When we had made one complete lap around the lake, two hours were gone. Amazingly, so were all of the night crawlers.
We rode Kline's side-by-side up the hill to his cabin. We ogled all of the big buck mounts on the walls.
On the way home, hungry as June bass, we stopped at the Buckhorn Bar in Gordon for legendary chicken sandwiches.
(c)2014 Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.)
Visit the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.) at www.duluthnewstribune.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services