Behold the fisherman:
He riseth before the dawn and waketh the whole household.
Great are his preparations.
He leaveth full of hope and returneth after the day is long spent
Smelling strongly of drink and the truth is not in him.
So reads the plaque in the clubhouse of the Coleman Lake Club, which is nestled in the woods of northern Wisconsin. The club was founded in the 1880s, and on its 10,000 acres of birch, oak, pine and aspen are five ponds and five lakes, not counting Lost Lake, which cannot be found. In those 10 bodies of water one can catch—in order of preference—brown, rainbow and brook trout, smallmouth and largemouth bass, northern pike, yellow perch, sunfish, bluegills, crappies and the regrettable sucker. As in all the northern Great Lakes region, the wildlife is spectacular. Red fox, black bear, muskrat, otter, porcupines, beaver and whitetail deer abound. I have seen ospreys, great blue herons, woodcock, grouse and a roomful (mine) of bats. An alarmingly large snapping turtle once kept me from approaching her eggs, which are the shape of Ping-Pong balls and have the consistency of wet leather. The pride of the club, however, is a faithful pair of bald eagles, who return to Coleman Lake year after year, having survived even though the giant pine that held their original nest was felled by lightning.
But it is the trout fishing that people come for, and while the smaller ponds are stocked with brook trout and what my cousin calls clone rainbow (15 inches, 1� pounds, two jumps), the larger ponds and lakes contain giant, native brown trout. Big Jumbo, they are called. Seven years ago a man named Spencer Moseley, captain of the 1942 Yale football team, became a legend of sorts by taking on a Jumbo alone at night, armed with only a fly rod. He had forgotten his net and fought the beast well over an hour before, flashlight in mouth, he scooped the exhausted brown into his rowboat with a raincoat. It weighed 8 pounds, 14 ounces, breaking the club record by a Beamonish three pounds. A year later, a 9� pound brown was caught.
I returned to Coleman Lake this summer for the first time in several years and was delighted on my first morning to spot a bald eagle as it flew over Brock Pond. It glided regally in the blue sky, its white head and white, fan-shaped tail sharply contrasting with the rich brown of its body, bringing a mournful yodel of alarm from the loons fishing nearby. The fishing the first two days was only fair. The clone rainbow, which had been reared in a hatchery on food pellets, were striking our leader knots more often than our flies.
On the third morning, my fishing partner, Sally Lee, and I drove to North Pond, where the trout are all native. It is an eerily lovely body of water, perhaps three-quarters of a mile long, dotted with hundreds of dead standing trees, burned out in some turn-of-the-century fire and later inundated when the old dam was built and the pond formed. On my cousin's advice, I was fishing with a sinking line, sinking leader and weighted black woolly worm. Shortly after dawn, I watched one of my casts disappear into the swirling deep and felt a reluctant tug. The disappointing fight was quickly explained when I pulled up a 14-inch sucker. I have always been told that suckers devour trout eggs by the thousand, like czars eating caviar, so I gave it a whack on the side of the boat and tossed it overboard.
Thirty seconds later we heard a loon cry out, and Sally shouted, "Look!"
Soaring in above the tops of the pond's dead trees was the eagle. It passed over the boat, circled and descended. The sucker, belly up, floated not 25 feet from the boat. The eagle glided lower, lower, and as it reached the fish it threw up its wings, splashing down talons first. Its yellow, hooked beak was open. Suddenly it was up again and winging away, its 7�-foot wingspan carrying it upward with even, patient beats. The sucker was gone.
Sally had snapped a picture, but she did not look happy. "I think I jerked," she said.
"You could sell that to National Geographic. That was incredible."