When Things Go Wrong

Sometimes it couldn't be better

One of the greatest things about hunting and fishing is that we are never certain of our success. The natural world has more surprises than a clown’s pocket. What has impressed me, however, is how often bad luck and missed chances can flip around into unexpected success.

I remember an outing when I was eleven. Fishing from our boat, my father, my uncle and I had been steadily catching a nice feed of two pound walleye. The fish that had captured my imagination though was the wolf of the deep; the ultimate predator; a large northern pike. I was reeling in another modest walleye when my rod doubled over savagely under the boat. The drag screamed. Line peeled out like I’d hooked a train. Inch by inch and after numerous runs I got it near the boat. At a depth of one meter at last I could see what I’d hooked. There was my walleye crossways in the toothy maw of large northern. Its head seemed enormous and it was glaring at me wickedly through fierce eyes. It shocked me to realize that my pike wasn’t hooked. It had just clamped on to the walleye which was solidly hooked. It could let go at any time. I froze not knowing what to do. Then the fish of my dreams simply opened its mouth and melted away into the depths.

We boated the mangled walleye but it was no consolation. I threw my rod down in disgust. My father put another minnow on my hook. “Try again, son.” he urged. I carelessly heaved it in and sat sulking over my lost trophy. Before my bait hit bottom my rod jerked and once again doubled over under the boat. I had hooked another train. After a fierce battle we netted either the same pike or one of equal size. I think it was the same one and that it was so ripped off about losing the walleye that it lashed out at the next thing it saw in the water. Whatever the case, a young fisherman had just seen how things can go from bad to magnificent in a heartbeat in the outdoors.

In another instance, while duck hunting, I had spent four dismal hours in my blind and the first ducks had yet to arrive. Even my dog was starting to shiver from inactivity in the raw cold. Finally a small flock of mallards appeared low on the horizon. A couple of quacks on the duck call turned them my way. Their wing beats slowed. I knew they were looking for company. I knew they were coming in. I wouldn’t be skunked after all.

My hideout was a collapsed and abandoned beaver lodge which was covered in tall weeds and grass. The poplar wood which made up the roof of the lodge was all in various stages of rot. The ducks cupped their wings and dropped their landing gear to glide in among the decoys. I stood to shoot. SNAP! A rotten branch gave way under my right foot which sunk past my knee in the slime. The ducks started to lift off. I was off balance and couldn’t shoot. I tried to step up with the other leg and it crashed through the roof of the lodge too spilling me on my behind. I couldn’t see past the grass or pivot and shoot. The ducks rose to the air with a merry quacking and flapping looking over their shoulders at the hapless hunter who appeared to have no legs. My dog watched them depart then turned her gaze to me and cocked her head quizzically. She was puzzled but she simply heaved a great sigh and laid down to wait for the next flight.

I was not as composed as her. That had been my only chance all day and you could have fried an egg on my forehead. I rolled on my side and had just got my legs out when a great honking filled the air. Geese! They sounded close, but they were so low I couldn’t see them. Then they appeared, just above the bull rushes a hundred meters out. I froze on my hands and knees. My decoys were still bobbing like live things on the ripples left by the departing ducks. The Canadas set their wings to glide in. I hadn’t got a goose all season and now a pair of them had committed to my decoys. Sweet! I didn’t dare try to stand but rose up on my knees to shoot when they were at twenty five yards. Both big birds crumpled and I had a better reward for my effort than I had ever expected.

If I had been able to shoot at the ducks, the geese would have veered off. That’s what I love about the outdoors. There is often some unforeseen hitch to mess up a good chance. But sometimes, when things go wrong, it couldn’t be better.

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