ONE OF THE best books I have ever read, one I treasure and place up there with every anthology of Gordon MacQuarrie stories ever printed is “Trout Madness,” by revered Michigan Upper Peninsula writer John Voelker who wrote under the pen name of Robert Traver.

After writing the novel “Anatomy of a Murder,” for which he received enough royalties from the Academy Award-nominated movie the book spawned to retire as a Michigan Supreme Court judge, Traver spent most days of Michigan’s trout seasons for the rest of his life pursuing trout on many of his treasured Upper Peninsula streams and spring ponds.

One of the stories in Trout Madness is “The Old and the Proud.” In it he spins a tale of watching an old, frail trout fisherman wading upstream in the Big Escanaba River fly fishing for trout one summer afternoon. He described him thusly “A tottering old fisherman supporting and pushing himself along with a long-handled landing net which also served as a wading staff.”

After the old fisherman caught two nice trout, he went after a third riser. Traver described the scene like this “I thought the tottering old gentleman would surely flounder and drown as he fought up through even deeper water to try for the third trout. He seemed to totter in the current like a wavering tightrope walker.” 

After that trout fell victim to another dry fly cast, Traver said “Nice job of fishin’.” He added “Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if you fished downstream?” The oldster, offended at the suggestion of fishing downstream, haughtily answered “I’d sooner sit on my prat on the public dock at Lake Michigamme and plunk night crawlers for bass than ever fish a wet fly.”

All of which brings me to the fact that I, a born and raised trout fisherman since I was old enough to hold a fly rod and fly fisherman by the time I was 10, have become in recent years, a night crawler-soaking bass fisherman sitting on my prat in my Old Town row canoe.

The thing I like best about these fish is that I can find them in good numbers and of excellent, quality size in the lakes I like best to fish. Those would be lakes of 20 acres up to 200 acres. On most of them no motors are allowed except for electric and several of them require my use of a roller to portage the Old Town anywhere from 200 yards to a mile to reach.

Last week, I had an experience which has become typical of my adventures this year on small lakes which require a portage to get to. Sliding my fishing kayak down a bank into a 40-some acre lake, I grabbed a rod with a floating jig attached and a small sinker about 2 feet above the jig. Crawlers or leeches, it doesn’t make much difference to bass.

My first cast resulted in a 12-inch largemouth being brought aboard. During the next hour, I caught at least 20 bass, with only one legal size if I’d cared to keep it, which I didn’t.

Getting bored with fish on almost every cast or so it seemed, I switched rods and started casting with a mimic minnow. I’m not into giving plugs to one lure or another, but over the past several years, I have found the mimic minnow, a small plastic minnow with a flattened, wiggly tail and a fish head-shaped jighead, attached to a Mr. Twister-type harness, complete with a small silver blade, to be absolutely deadly on all bass, either cast or row-trolled.

I spent the next hour casting it and in that time, I caught at least another 15 to 20 bass, many of them sublegal-sized, but four of them more than 14 inches. One reached the 18-inch mark on my measuring stick. All went back in the water to fight another day.

You might think that catching so many fish in such a short time would have been the best part of the outing, but really the catching was only secondary. Most enjoyable was being on a small lake without having to share it with another person.

My company consisted of a family of mallards resting on a large log, painted turtles lazily dozing on logs jutting out from shore, an eagle that I’m quite sure was hanging around hoping for a handout of an injured bass, and mama deer and her fawn, which spent a while in the shallows getting a drink and using a stiff breeze to keep the flies away.

I have lots of little lakes like that where I go to escape the thundering hordes of high-powered ski boats, jet skis and pontoon cruisers on big lakes. I cut my teeth fishing Plum Lake, for instance, fishing it nearly every day of every summer in the years of my youth, grabbing a boat at any time with one of my cousins from the fleet at their grandfather’s 16-cabin resort.

In those days, we rowed the lake end to end. I well remember doing the net job on my cousin’s first legal muskie when we were 10 and I equally remember the 27-inch walleye I caught a year later while casting a black bucktail for muskies. I loved the lake then and I still love it now, living as I do about a quarter-mile through the woods from it, but I haven’t fished it for maybe 10 years or more; too many people, too many boats, too much noise.

Now, I content myself with slipping through the woods to what once was a girls’ camp founded in the very early 1900s, sitting on a rock wall a few feet from the lake and happily remembering those wonderful years of being a child free to fish and explore a beautiful lake.

This summer, along with fishing small lakes that have been very good to me for years, I have spent much time exploring other little bodies of water. Some have yielded fine catches of panfish, bass and northerns, while others gave up nothing but a bunch of tiny panfish.

But even on outings that haven’t been great for catching eating fish, each little lake has provided a quality experience. On one, for instance, I was treated to the scene of a dozen Canada geese circling low over my head before landing just a short distance away. On another 30-acre lake I was visited by a pair of snow-white swans who thought it would be just dandy to lounge around 50 yards from me during a late spring outing for bluegills.

Others can have the walleyes and muskies. Me, I’ll gladly keep the little lakes and the big bluegills, perch and bass for myself. I like it that way.