Red Sky at Night with JB Cornwell | The Search for the World's Finest Fishing Hole
I started fishing when I was about 7. I have told here in previous columns how I was introduced and coached by an ancient mentor. There were other mentors who tutored and coached me along the way and they took me to many fishing holes.
"My" pond was (and is) a small one; spring fed and gin clear. No more than 5 acres. In 1943 it had largemouth bass, bluegill, rock bass (we called them goggle eye), chain pickerel (jack), pumpkinseed sunfish (sunnies), brown bullhead and some forage species. It was isolated in the longleaf pine woods of the North Carolina Sandhills, so it was normally all mine and any companions I had with me. My half brother was a usual companion in those early years. We fished that pond with a willow pole and a fly rod. For a while we had a boat; a plank-built jon that leaked almost as fast as we could bail. From the boat I could cast a popping bug into the lilypads where the big bluegills and the bass lurked. In my memories it was the finest fishing hole for me at that time. I fished there regularly for about 10 years.
Today it is a water hazard on a golf course.
For the next 5 years the U.S. Navy put me in exotic places where I learned about skin and SCUBA diving the clear waters of the Pacific as an alternative to rod and reel. In 1958 the Navy placed me at Millington, TN to teach electronics. By this time I was married and a Dad. I was ready to resume fishing and to make fishermen of my daughters.
I found an old quarry a few miles north of the Naval Air Station that suited me well. Isolated, deep, clear waters, about ten acres and plenty of bass and bluegill plus a new-to-me species: crappie. Number one daughter caught her first fish there and we had many happy family outings. I caught a 12" bluegill there that weighed over 2lb. It was a nice fishing hole, but not the finest.
In the early 60s we moved to Durham, NC and I found a better one. This one was the municipal water reservoir for Chapel Hill. Much bigger lake than my experience. . . maybe 100 acres. . .but: No motors, no alcohol; check in and leave your license. Get all bottles and/or cans counted, and you better have the same number when you checked out. All fish were counted and measured when you checked out. Use city boats and row or paddle. Few were willing to meet all of the city rules so I often had the lake to myself. And the fishing was great!! I once brought in a string of 10 bluegills that weighed 12lb. Found their bed back in the willows and cast a double fly to them. . .a popping bug with a small wet fly on a dropper about 12" back. Several times the double fly caught me double bass. I only caught bluegills and largemouth bass there, so it was not perfect.
Now a pattern was beginning to develop. I wanted fishing holes that were clean water, preferably clear; they had to offer solitude and a pastoral environment. I like a variety of species to catch, even if I am seeking only one at the time, and I like to catch large examples of those species.
Then we were transferred to Arlington, VA. Again I found a place that was pretty much restricted to fishermen by outboard power limits and lack of party facilities. Occoquan Reservoir in northern Virginia was a good place to catch crappies and a few bass and it was peaceful. Unfortunately, it was not the finest.
Next came northern IL. I fished local ponds, Lake Michigan, the Mississippi River and the Fox chain of Lakes. All were usually crowded, noisy and distinctly un-pastoral.
Then it began. My good friend and hunting/fishing companion sold everything and bought a northern WI resort on Big Sissabagama Lake, near Hayward. They invited us to come up for a weekend.
I had read since my youth about Northern Pike and Musky fishing in the north woods but had sort of put such pursuits in the “someday” file. Now I was actually going there to do that.
It turned out that "Big Sis" had no pike, but it had musky and walleye and perch and some bass. Big, clean, pastoral and peaceful. And northern Wisconsin has truly glorious, if a bit short, summers. Now I was getting close to the finest fishing hole. I caught my first musky and my first walleye there. Son John caught his first musky there and my girls became addicted to walleye.
We continued to visit Big Sis for about 10 years, even traveling from Texas after we moved here (the first time). Though we had a home on respectable Lake Grapevine and fished it regularly year round, we still dreamed of our next visit to the North woods.
By 1978 we began to explore other north woods lakes, including famous Leech Lake in Minnesota. Leech has a lot to offer, but there are too many fishermen and not enough solitude to meet my “finest” description. By this time John’s son, Daniel was part of the party.
Then, in 1995, we bit the bullet and drove all the way up to Lake Of The Woods (only a few hundred miles north of Leech Lake). Bingo!! The other pictures were taken there over the last 14 years, including Daniel, at 20, with his first musky, taken this year, 2009. We have missed a couple of years because of a heart attack and a wedding, but it is in our plans as long as we can make that 1500-mile drive from Texas.
LOTW is, in my opinion, the finest fishing hole on the planet. Solitude? It is like going back 400 years and nothing has changed. The scenery is awesome, the musky are big, the smallies are big and fight like nothing else, the walleye are plentiful and delicious.
To go there once is the fishing trip of a lifetime. To go there 12 of 14 years is beyond words.
(JB Cornwell writes from "The Hideout" in Whitt, TX, and is also an expert moderator, instructor, and fountain-of-knowledge in the iboats.com Boating Forums.)