Joy (not her real name) called me last week, wondering if I have time to take her 75 year old husband out charter fishing next Monday. Harold has had Alzheimer’s for many years and she has hired me, perhaps a dozen times over the last few years to take him out fishing on Lake Superior. We usually fish out of Lac La Belle (in Bête Gris), but we’ve trolled out of Copper Harbor a time or two when the waters were too rough on the south side of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Usually we’re after lake trout, but occasionally we get a splake, coho salmon, steelhead or brown trout.
Joy likes him to get out fishing at least a couple of times per summer, therapy for both of them. She says he always is much better and easier to handle for a few days after going out trolling for trout. He used to fish at Isle Royale and Eagle Harbor a lot when he could still handle his own boat. This fishing charter was to be a birthday present from his wife.
When she called, I was out picking blueberries with my wife, so I told her I’d call back when I had my schedule in hand. We settled on Monday afternoon. His partner (and caretaker) Bill came along, as usual, in order to help with any problems we may encounter with the “patient” who seemed to be a little worse each time he came.
When they showed up at my dock, Harold happily shook my hand and was mumbling with a grin on his face as he looked me straight in the eye. I didn’t understand a word of it… I think it may have been actual words, but sounded like a Finnish chant of some sort. I just smiled and said “Yeah, nice to see you again too, Harold, are you ready to go out and catch some fish?” He gave another big grin and said “Ubetcha!”
Soon we had our lines set with Laker Taker spoons, and orange herring dodgers with pink spin and glows, for trolling on the Big Lake. I gave Harold a rod to hold on to and “jig” up and down as we moved along at 2.2 mph. The lake was calm and the sun was warm at 3:30 in the afternoon.
“Fish on!” I yelled, as I saw the port-side in-line offshore planer board get pulled back sharply. The drag on the reel started to buzz as the steelhead pulled out line. I quickly grabbed the rod to set the hook and handed it to Harold, hoping the fish was hooked well enough that Harold’s old hands could keep enough tension on the rod and keep him hooked. We “got the skunk out” as we landed the fish and soon had the line re-set.
The process was repeated many times, but mostly with lake trout on the deep lines. I’d hook one up, hand the rod to Harold and he would slowly, methodically, wind him in. We lost a few and landed many, released some and went back to the dock with coho salmon, steelhead and lake trout, all of which Harold hauled in and I netted.
As I filleted the “keepers,” Harold watched and commented “Wow, somebody really caught some fish, huh?”
We all had a really fun time, but not all will be good memories. Sadly, I think this might be the last trip with this old fishing buddy, but hopefully, we’ll see Harold again next summer.
(names changed for confidentiality)