Opening day

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange has been enjoying the winter, but there’s something about the year’s first fishing trip that’s very special.

(Lange) The ice went out of the pond last week. The peepers took over the night. As I walked around the house, deciding where to start raking, I passed the shed where the canoes have been waiting since fall. A waiting canoe in a shed has the same appeal as a Ferrari parked in the driveway. It was time to go fishing!

There’s a ritualistic order to the act of “going fishing.” It ensures that each time you will reprise the steps that over the years have been the most rewarding; it holds to a minimum the chance that you’ll forget something; and it pretends that nothing changes, or ever will.

The dog has a vinyl beanbag bed that goes into the bow of the canoe. Her weight helps hold down that end, and the comfort of the bed keeps her from shifting around. I don’t know what I’ll do when she and her bed are no longer there.

And the 65-year-old canoe: There’s a prescribed motion for every stage of moving it from the rack to the truck to the pond, and later, back again. I’ve noticed that’s not getting any easier, and in fact, friends at the pond occasionally ask, “You want a hand with that?”

We crossed the river into Vermont. What changes in the 35 years we’ve been here! When we came, the river was a sewer. Now it’s clean enough for swimming, but the biologists warn us not to eat its fish.

The pond shimmered in a fresh breeze – perfectly beautiful! The dog explored the lawn and the boathouse. I took the canoe down to the water and watched an osprey wobble on the wind.

The feel of a lovely canoe in its native element is predictable and sensual. The dog settled on her beanbag, rested her muzzle on the gunwale, and closed her eyes. Her nose twitched as it sampled the breeze.

The first fish was a brook trout. I’d hoped it would be. Its Latin name means “charr of the fountain.” Marooned inland after the last glacial retreat, it’s a cousin of the Arctic charr, and thrives only in cold, clean water. I unhooked it and watched it swim down out of sight.

Somewhere in the Arctic Ocean, as I was removing a streamer fly from a 14-inch brookie, a school of three-foot-long charr was cruising under the sea ice, dining on shrimp and alewives. In late July they’ll find the mouth of their natal river and start upstream. They’ll pass under the canoe of an old guy also seeking romance. They may meet, briefly, before each goes on his way.

Done fishing and dreaming at last, I futzed around, delaying the moment of flipping the canoe onto my shoulders. The act requires complete confidence and forbids second thoughts. Could I still do it? There was only one way to find out…

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer, and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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