The Summer of '88

by Gary Gibson

It is summertime in the late '80s. I have brought my son along to the Pennsylvania Club for our first ever Father-Son fishing week. During previous years, I had always come as a solo club guest. There I had observed several father-son teams fishing together and thought "what a great bonding experience" it would be.

My son was about 17 years old this trip and I had not yet lost all credibility as a father. Over the past years we had been fishing in Lakes: Erie, Sharpsville and Moraine. This had been accomplished with dubious results so his expectations when fishing with me were low. I had prepared him for the fantastic fishing that we would have at the Pennsylvania Club. Based upon this, his expectations were high and our enthusiasm bubbling.

Prior to departing we had spent a great deal of time shopping for killer lures at local sporting goods stores and were anxious to try them. We had read the point of purchase sales copy from articles in Sports Afield and had no doubt of their veracity. "This Lure catches lunkers with ease", Canada here we come! In fact we had to buy a new tackle box just to contain them all. Upon arriving at the camp we were amazed to find that most folks were just using simple live earthworms. At least we had expensive back-up bait.

We had brought along our aged two stroke 9.9 Hp Johnson outboard and diligently filled the gas tank that afternoon for our many carefully planned fishing forays. "Does the camp gas have the oil already mixed in" my son asks? Knowingly, I reply that since nearly every one here was using outboards that surely they have premixed it and besides the gas looks kind of tinted. Regrettably in the ensuing excitement, I forgot to double check this with the club members.

The next day was a fine crisp morning and off we went (before breakfast, the first of our many rookie mistakes) to the nice bay that has the portage to Clear Lake. No problem getting there and we caught some nice fish but on the return trip to camp our engine just stopped. I remember a fair amount of sputtering and smoke involved. We could not even budge the pull start rope. Clearly the engine had maybe seized?? After some serious begging, some kindhearted fishermen towed us back to the club where our suspicions were confirmed. No oil in gas, no runny.

During the greatly anticipated early evening cocktails, someone brilliantly suggested that 2-stroke engines were pretty tough and that maybe ours could be salvaged. I was skeptical because you don't often get good advice over cocktails, but after the engine cooled off, we squirted some oil into the sparkplug hole and lo' the engine turned over without making any really bad noises. After mixing some gas & oil we tried the engine again and to everyone's amazement it started right up and ran strong. The fish gods were smiling after all.

For the next few days, cautious of the reliability of the motor, we stayed pretty close to the club but discovered that the fishing was still great. Unfortunately the entire lake's population of rock bass also seemed to live in this small area. But the most important thing that we learned those few days was to stay out of the channel to the north of Pennsylvania Island. Take our word, never ever go in there. After a few days of worrisome apprehension that the motor was going to quit because of some undetermined damage, we became confident enough to venture forth further, get lost more and explore new places. Armed with what appeared to be a four foot by eight foot topo map of the islands, like Captain Kirk we explored the unknown waters.

This solitude gave me more time to lecture my son about the birds and the bees, the mysteries of women and other fatherly advice. The beauty of the fishing boat is that your kids cannot easily get away and are held a captive, if not actually enthusiastic audience. The downside was that he caught a lot more fish (and bigger ones too) than I did and I could not escape his not very well concealed snickering either.

Later that week we discovered a great looking hidden cove that we stumbled into by an error of map reading and it looked like the perfect spot to do some night fishing. Cover, forage, structure and habitat appeared perfect for fish. We figured that we would be successful too because there was a full moon coming that night. Back at the camp and after supper (hey, we learned) we took some extra food and beverages and made sure our running lights all worked. We departed the club with the intention of fishing for a few glorious hours in the moonlight.

We had barely negotiated the treacherous entrance to this secret cove when it just got real dark and real silent real quick. Perhaps the blackest night that we have ever seen on the water. Our paltry running lights didn't light much area and we didn't bring any other lights. Where the heck was the moon? With our batteries quickly running down it was hard to tell exactly where your lure was at any one time or if your cast lure even made it onto the water. If you felt around very carefully in the dark you could figure out where most every thing was.

Suddenly loud and awesome splashes sounded all around us. So many big splashes one after another, we first thought some crazy people were belly-smacking into the water. Loud splashes made by fish would confirm that we were right about the perfect fish habitat, right? However if those were fish splashes, they sure sounded like ominously big fish. What were they and what were they doing (feeding? Mating?) Just how big would a fish have to be to make that much noise? What if one of those big lust-crazed fish accidentally jumped into our boat in this pitch black darkness?

Suddenly unhappy and unbidden visions appeared in our heads as we both remembered that big frisky and very toothy pike that got loose in our boat earlier that week. We had a heck of a time subduing it, even in broad day light. In the dark with no hope of getting through the entrance, we were stuck and very much under siege. As I recall we were still eager to fish but now also somewhat apprehensive.

What seemed like hours later the moon finally appeared and just as suddenly the big splashes ceased. Bathed in glorious moonlight we puttered around for an hour or so with great expectations but ended up having absolutely nothing to show for our effort. We didn't even discover what kind of fish was making all the racket. We figured enough was enough and since we could now see to pilot out of the tricky entrance way, we decided to call it a night.

All the way back to the club we saw guys out zooming around in their boats and shining lights. I told my son that I did not know that many guys fished at night. Coming up the channel and approaching the camp another PA Club boat stopped us to ask if we had any luck finding the Gibson's. The whole club was out looking for us because they knew of our earlier motor misadventures and were worried that we were marooned with engine failure somewhere in the million island waters. We had forgotten to tell anyone about our extended fishing plans that night. These guys had found the Gibson's. Talk about bonding. Now that's a character building experience for father & son.

It's a constant source of amazement that we are still invited back. But a good thing too, because we are going to bring my grandkids along sometime soon.