The year was 2005; I was headed up to the U.P. (upper peninsula for those of you who do not have the good fortune of living in Michigan) for my first Men’s Retreat. The destination is a quaint little Christian camp about a 45-minute drive from “the bridge”. The purpose is to get some quiet time alone with God.
The scheduled events for the long weekend were skeet shooting, golf, paintball, and fishing. The latter is my personal passion. The campground is set on a wide spot on a river, and if you didn’t know it was a river you would think it was a small lake for the heavy population of beavers have dammed up both ends of the faux lake. Crossing the lake was a nice mini version of the Mackinaw Bridge.
Hiking trails were in abundance, but the camp personnel warned to go with a buddy or not to go too far for there had been evidence of a bear recently. Although I should have been hitting the trails to find a nice secluded spot to sit, read my bible and pray, I choose to go fishing.
Now the story was that there were walleye in the “lake” and the rules of the fishing contest were: the biggest fish wins, catch and release, and no fishing after dark. I don’t know much about walleye, but they told me that they are nocturnal feeders. I had never been walleye fishing before because I had always preferred the mortal combat of pulling a largemouth bass out of the water, sticking my thumb in its mouth to lift it up, and then putting it back in its domain so that I can catch it again another day. So, I didn’t have any tackle in which to catch a walleye within my tackle box.
I jumped in my jeep-wannabe and headed for the nearest civilization in search of a tackle shop or a hardware store. After prodding the locals for tips on how to land a walleye and making my purchases I headed back for my spot on the water.
For three days I was on that water. Baking in the sun. Beavers attempted to scare me away from their young by slapping their tails on the water. It sounded like someone dropping a boulder in the water. Three days of sitting in a canoe, bobbing a nightcrawler up and down. Up and down. Nothing. Not a nibble.
In-between fishing sessions we would have mini-church services and meals. They fed us like kings. Up and down. Backbreaking from sitting on a hard canoe seat. My skin was on fire from the cloudless sun above.
Last day of the retreat. Last day of the contest. Nobody had caught anything. The biggest fish wins right?
Still nothing. Are there any fish in this lake? Somebody had caught a crayfish with a cup, but they hadn’t entered the contest.
30 minutes to go. Got to do something to catch a fish. ANY FISH!
What’s that swimming next to the dock? Minnows. I pulled a black fly from my tackle box and tied it on. Very gently, I bobbed it on the surface of the water. Slam! After three long days of baking in a canoe, this monstrous fish actually brought a smile to my face. I snapped a picture with my service-starved cell phone and released my “White Whale” back to the depths which had spawned it.
I rushed up to the main hall where they were about to award the prizes. Whipping out my phone I sported my entry to the ministry leader. While waiting for the award ceremony, I heard that, before I showed my fish, they were going to give the fishing trophy to a 7-year-old boy who had come with his dad. I felt about 3 inches tall.
Well, I received my prize and then heard that the boy who would be the recipient of the trophy had already left. That made me feel better about leaving with it. Hey, I paid ten dollars to enter this contest.
So I gained a trophy for my wall, I lost three days of time with the creator of the universe. Next time, I leave the fishing gear at home.