The decade of the 70's was the decade of catching White Bass in Lake Erie. The Walleye weren't the featured fish and we didn't have the means to reach them on the offshore reefs anyway, seeing that we fished around Middle Bass in a small green boat with a 7.5 Sears Ted Williams motor.
Pop Pop and I, sometimes Dad and Herman always stayed at Beer's Cottages right on the shore on the island's east end. We usually stayed in the first cottage beside the road. It was probably 30 feet from the waters edge and 20 from the fish cleaning table. The aroma was something you got used to very quick. The cottages were sparse, concrete floor, drapes for doors on the bedrooms, a table, four chairs, penciled tallies of daily catches on the door frame beside the fridge, a screen door complete with holes and a layer of dead flying bugs at least an inch thick in every window sill. Just perfect for guys that only came there to fish.
The days were spent following the flocks of gulls that fed on the baitfish chased to the surface by the great schools of White Bass. Find the birds find the fish. We would cast white Shyster spinners and double rigged white doll flies on a three-way swivel into the schools. The action was fast and furious, we shook the fish loose and let them flop in the floor of the boat. We often stood ankle deep in fish, waiting to put them into a bucket when the school disappeared.
Evenings were filled with camaraderie around the fish-cleaning table. Rapala fillet knives gleamed beneath the glaring light of the street lamp. We all were coated in a glistening layer of OFF as the swarms of bugs hovered between us and the light. The water streamed constantly across the table cascading onto the granite rocks and back into the lake. My job was to cut out the belly bones and occasionally swipe the knives across the old concave Arkansas oilstone to keep the work going smoothly. The fillet's were bagged and wrapped in paper and deposited into the freezer at the office.
This was the routine. Day in day out, but that was why we were there. Having fun and anticipating the great meals of fried fish to come later in the year.
Sometimes in the late evenings, we would drive to the other end of the island to the abandoned Lonz Winery dock. A massive concrete structure, broken down and kinda spooky. We would set up at the end of the dock and put nightcrawlers on the bottom and catch Channel Catfish. I remember nights of 30 to 40 fish, all around two pounds each.
One particular night at the dock was very memorable...and still haunts me to this day.
I was around twelve years old and I had a brand new EverReady flashlight. It was at least a foot long and shiny. That night the fishing was slow and we sat there listening to the Red's on the radio. The lights of Put-In-Bay were visible several miles across the lake and the towering Perry's Monument was ablaze with white light. My new flashlight had a button that let me flash signals much like 'Morse code.' Probably a mile away I saw the running lights of a boat heading toward South Bass. I pointed my light and began blinking some kind of unknown message. To my surprise which soon turned to outright fear; the boat started turning and headed straight for us. It was running full speed and kept getting larger and larger, and I kept getting smaller and smaller. A giant searchlight came on and blinded us just as the first big wave washed over the dock sending our gear and my tackle box over the other side.(luckily it floated and I retrieved it later) As the boat turned sideways, it was then we saw the markings...Coast Guard! Must have been a fifty footer! The loudspeaker boomed with the voice of the Captain asking if we needed help? Pop Pop yelled back "NO! we're just fishing". The Captain said he saw a flashing light and thought we were in trouble. "We didn't flash any lights" was the reply.
I tried to hide!
The boat left and we gathered our wet belongings. Pop Pop said "someone probably walked in front of the Coleman lantern."
I never fessed-up. Until now.
There were other trips back to Middle Bass, but none ever topped the night I signaled the Coast Guard Cutter.