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by Joe Shead | Feb 18, 2021 | FISHING, FRESHWATER
Fishing Premonitions

Though I continue to believe omens, signs or premonitions are total baloney, I did note some rather convincing portents while fishing the Wisconsin River one spring evening.
Some people put a lot of faith in omens, signs, premonitions or whatever you choose to call them. They truly believe that a bug hitting a windshield could alter the winning lottery numbers. They read their horoscopes as if their lives depend on them, because, according to this morning’s newspaper, if you’re an Aries, it does.

Hogwash, I say.

Although I continue to believe trying to predict the future based on meaningless observations is total baloney, I did note a few rather convincing portents one spring day years ago.

The mighty Wisconsin River had had enough of her icy mistress, and after a good tussle with her, sent her packing downstream. I didn’t need a sign to know that spring was coming, and the walleyes would be biting.

My friend Ryan and I ditched whatever responsibilities college students had and hit the river in my canoe. We paddled upstream to within a couple hundred yards of a dam and anchored. We had the river to ourselves, save for a younger guy fishing atop a garage-sized boulder just below the dam, who was hauling in walleyes with astonishing regularity.
We didn’t have squat to show for our efforts. Now, if I were a superstitious soul, I might have taken our lack of success as a sign that we should haul anchor and move. But I’m not, so we sat and moped while the teenage Babe Winkelman reeled in fish after fish.

Eventually the young angler climbed off his rock, waded to shore and left.

I was about to turn around and ask Ryan if we should take his departure as an indication that we should steal his now-vacated spot. Ryan, meanwhile, had already reeled in his line, hauled in the anchor and begun paddling us against the current toward the rock.

We beached the canoe, rolled up our pants as high as we could, took off our shoes and waded out to the massive hunk of granite. We could see why the kid was catching those fish. The water, for the first time that spring, didn’t carry the chilling bite we were used to, but rather, felt warm and refreshing. In fact, that first warm spring day felt so good that we left our shoes off and pants rolled up, just like Tom and Huck.

“The Rock,” as we dubbed it, lived up to our expectations and the walleyes rolled in. Before that evening, I don’t think I’d ever truly lived. There we were, free of responsibility, reeling in walleyes, alone and relaxed, enjoying the first real day of spring.

It would have been absolutely perfect…except for one nagging thought: I’d told my girlfriend we’d be back home around sunset and it was now dark. And of course, this was back in the days before I owned a cell phone. But the fishing was so good, I couldn’t help myself. The walleyes wouldn’t be biting so well if we weren’t meant to catch them. It must have been a sign!

On and on we fished. But the longer we lingered, the more the thought of my girlfriend nagged at me.

“Man, this is the life!” Ryan exclaimed as he swung another fish up onto the rock. “This just couldn’t get any better, could it?”

“Uh, no,” I stammered, as a vision of my girlfriend standing in the doorway, arms akimbo with an angry sneer across her face entered my head.

Hours went by, with Ryan flashing a delighted grin with every walleye that latched onto one of our jigs. Each time he glanced at me, I faked a smile, but inside, my guts were turning into a clinch knot. On the other hand, each minute that passed brought another tug on the line.
walleye fishing

Finally, after hours of fishing and scores of walleyes, we were down to the last minnow: a big, unsightly stickleback that had gotten mixed in with our fatheads. All night, I’d been secretly avoiding it, pitching it back into the bucket every time the spiny critter appeared in the minnow net. Later, Ryan told me he had been doing likewise. Our choices were to call it a night or hook on Mr. Spiny. Without a second thought, Ryan attached the minnow, cast it out and proceeded to catch the largest fish of the evening.

We were out of minnows, but content with our night of fishing, so we waded back to shore. We’d just reached the canoe when Ryan yelled, “Hey, guess what! Your minnow buck is still in the canoe! We’ve got a bunch more minnows! Isn’t that great?”

“Yeah, that’s fantastic,” I said, faking my enthusiasm. “But, ya know, we wouldn’t wanna ruin a night like this. I mean, you catching a whopper on the last cast, on a stickleback, no less! Man, that’s a fish story. Maybe we should call it a night.”

My lie somehow convinced Ryan, and we saved our minnows for another day. By the time we got in my truck, it was 11 p.m.

When I got home, my vision became reality.

“Where have you been?” she stormed. “You were supposed to be home four hours ago! I’ve got two search parties out looking for you!”

I saw right through the lie. Nobody would care if I drowned.

Just then, the phone rang. It was my friend Norm.

“Oh, hi, Joe. You’re back, huh? We were just out looking for you. Your girlfriend said you might have drowned. You might want to tell your buddy from the newspaper you’re back. How was fishing?”

“Uh, great. Can I call you back tomorrow?”

She was still glaring at me.

“Is this the way it’s gonna be?” she fumed. “You’re just gonna go out fishing all night and come back whenever you want?”

“Yes! I’m so glad you finally understand me,” I exclaimed in adolescent naivety. “At first, I thought that stuff about us sharing our feelings and really getting to know each other was just a bunch of crap, but now it makes sense. See, I’m a sensitive guy after all!”

I thought we’d made a real breakthrough.

“I’m going to bed…alone,” she replied.

The next day I told all my friends that my girlfriend and I had really reached a milestone. I didn’t want to say too much, but now I thought that maybe, just perhaps, she could be “the one.”

Soon after that she broke up with me. I never saw it coming.

But like I said, I don’t believe in signs.
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