WHEN YOU VENTURE outdoors, you never know what you might see.

I’ve been roaming this north Wisconsin country of ours for two weeks shy of 70 years. Though during the very few first of those years I wasn’t actually doing the roaming, letting my mother’s or my dad’s feet do the walking while I went along for the ride.

In those 70 years, the earliest of which I admittedly have no memory, I have seen strange, beautiful and uncommon things, and common things doing uncommon things. You name it, I have seen it.

Well, even though I say I’ve seen it all, no one ever truly sees it all. Something new always pops up. That was very true for me a couple of weeks ago during a trip to one of my favorite lakes for bass and bluegill fishing.

I was fishing with John, a friend from downstate. John is a little bit longer in the tooth than I am, having spent 73 years seeing what this good planet Earth has to offer.

Neither of us saw what was coming that sunny August day. It started out as a typical fishing outing, a very successful fishing outing at that. Seconds after John flipped his first cast with a crawler/floating jig rig into a likely spot, he had a dandy bass take hold.

He had quite a tussle muscling that 18-inch largemouth away from a large oak tree which toppled into the lake earlier this summer. As he fought it toward the boat, two other bass, decidedly larger, came shooting out after their junior partner.

That is something I have seen before and I never have figured out whether they are cheering on their buddy or if they are just snickering “Better you than us, sucker.”

Moments later, I hooked another bass on the other side of the tree, which unfortunately, got the better of me. It struck right next to the overhanging small branches of the oak and before I could horse it out of peril, it thrashed its way into the branches. There it hung up, splashing wildly, but unable to break the line which was tangled in the whippy branches.

John did his best to separate line from branches, but eventually, the bass broke the line. John turned around with a sad look on his face and said “I hate to tell you this, but that bass was way bigger than mine.” So it goes. It was destined for release anyway.

Later on, fishing a different part of the lake, John hooked a smallmouth that shortly proved to be 13 inches on my measuring board. Before we got it in though, it escaped a horrible ordeal. As John wrestled it toward the surface, all of a sudden he yelled “What the so and so blazes is that?” Actually, the language was a bit more colorful, but being a family newspaper I’ll leave it at that.

Anyway, what it was, was a loon rocketing under the boat after the bass. The fish got a brief reprieve when I netted it before the loon could grab it. With the loon sitting a foot away from my boat seat, waiting with great anticipation for me to throw the fish back, I silently slipped it back into the water on the opposite side of the boat, where it quickly headed for the depths.

I didn’t think the loon would see it, but like a bolt of lightning, it was under the boat in hot pursuit. Thirty seconds later, it surfaced with that 13-inch bass clamped sideways in its beak. We watched as the loon thrashed its head back and forth, sometimes ducking its head under the water to further work the bass into swallowing position. 

Before it could get its meal down, the loon suddenly started screeching, fish in its beak be damned. Looking up, I caught sight of an eagle in a dive bomb for the loon. It dove, the eagle landed in a tree and seconds later, the loon popped up again, still clamping onto the bass. It took another couple of minutes, but as we watched, the loon got the bass straightened around and in one gulp, it took it down.

I have seen loons grab large chubs or other small fish to eat before, but I never imagined one could eat a 13-inch bass. It did and we were witness to quite a show. By the way, the unimpressed eagle gave up on a free meal and wheeled off into the wild blue yonder as soon as the fish disappeared.

A little later, John and I were treated to another wildlife sighting of a completely different nature. I won’t treat you to the exact conversation we had when, as we drifted slowly past a pier in front of a summer cottage, the resident of said cottage came down to the lake for a swim.

Said resident was a nice-looking woman I guessed to be in her mid-40s. The position the boat was in at the moment had me looking at the pier with John’s back to it. As she stood at the end of the dock about 25 yards from us I quietly muttered “John, either that lady is wearing a skin-tight, flesh-colored bathing suit or she ain’t got nuttin’ on at all.” Turning to take a peek, John grinned a 73-year-old’s grin and simply said “Birthday suit.”

After saying good day to the unabashed lady swimmer, I rowed, maybe just a little reluctantly, further down the shore. My only other comment was “John, they should oughta be a law against doing that to a couple of old codgers.”

Without doubt, that was the most interesting of all my fishing trips this summer. But over the years, there have been plenty of others when maybe “once in a lifetime” things happened to enliven the day. Things like an eagle swooping down on a flock of swimming wood ducks, nailing one and then, putting on a show of reducing it to a pile of feathers about 8 feet in diameter around the muskrat house it used as a dining table.

Fantastic rainbows, lightning strikes way too close to fisherman tardily leaving the lake, a bear and her cubs strolling through shallow water along shore, a muskie engulfing a swimming garter snake; all of these have made outdoor adventures memorable for me.

Hopefully, there will be many more to come.