Doc got it right on Maumee fishing
It is 5 a.m. on a mid March morning and I find myself stumbling through the trees along the banks of the Maumee River, my chest waders catching a twig or a rock here or there in the wet sand.
Or I catch the tip of my spinning rod on a limb or get smacked in the face with a willow whip and cuss appropriately at the smarting sting. But I know where I am going – to that cheery crackling driftwood fire hard by the chuckling current.
I can see it winking through the brush and low-hanging limbs. As I get closer, I smell the coffee, boiling and slurping in a fire-blackened, blue-enamel pot heated on a driftwood campfire.
A wader-clad figure, a wool navy watch cap warming his bald dome, is hunkered over the fire, a cast–iron skillet in hand. “It’s ‘bout time you showed up,” the folded figure, Bill “Doc” Kramer, grumbled in a friendly kind of way.
For me, 0500 hours is the middle of the night. For Doc, it was mid day. He probably had been up three hours already, prowling around in the dark like a cat. He was like that. Presently he was frying up bacon and eggs, the coffee pot set aside to settle out and cool a mite. The aromas of spitting bacon and bubbling eggs, all mixed with that musty-moldy background smell of winter wetlands, are a powerful memory.
It was still a couple hours before legal fishing hours, but Doc – and later on I – could not resist these predawn hours streamside fueled by bacon, eggs, and coffee. Finished with our grub, he would scrub the skillet with river sand, toss the coffee grounds up the bank, and stow the fixings in a brown paper grocery bag for home later.
He would chew on a stub of an unlit cigar and we would chat, comment on the rising tendrils of mist curling like smoke off the river, duck inadvertently when getting buzzed by early rising mallards and woodies.
We would listen to the incessant honking of Canada geese, talk about how the winter’s ice may have altered last season’s runs and holes. Doc knew this Buttonwood stretch, just above Maumee-Perrysburg, like the back of his hand.
He couldn’t resist coming down here, not far from his Bowling Green home, where he helped care for his wife of 60 years, Elizabeth, whom he called Ebie and who had multiple sclerosis.
What we were doing was the stuff of old-fashioned outdoorsmen – the seeming stuff of guys whose likenesses appear in nostalgic paintings and old calendars, men for whom just being out there was more important than stacking up a brag-pile of fish or game. I know the being-there meant everything to Doc.
In a way, the fish – spawn-bent walleye run in fresh from Lake Erie – were secondary. But the very minute legal hours would come in, he was all business and breakfast and chewing the fat all but forgotten. Rolling that stub of a cigar, Doc would wade on in, casting doll flies or jigs and grubtails and such with his spinning rod.
He would study the holes at low water in summer and fall, knew where the fish would congregate, any ice-out changes notwithstanding. He kept his own little black books on the river, including comments about scofflaw snaggers and the good guys alike. He was so intense about his river fishing that he would start in mid February if the ice was out, alone, even though the real runs don’t come till late March and early April. Suckers kept him busy early on, then the occasional early-run walleye jacks. It was enough, and while he most days in the heat of the run he would catch his fair share, he never bragged and showed off.
Doc was a dentist by profession, a World War II B-24 bomber pilot by his country’s call, and a lifelong angler and hunter. Once donated a beautiful Remington Model 11 20-gauge shotgun to the youth pheasant hunt annually sponsored by the Wood/Lucas Chapter of Pheasants Forever. The classic old “squareback” gun had been a gift from his father-in-law 50 years earlier. Doc could no longer use it and he wanted to be sure some young hunter could. That’s the way he was.
Doc’s been gone seven springs now, having left for the Great Fishing Grounds on the other side. But I cannot help but think of him when I feel the damp late-winter chill of mid March along the river, inhale those musty mists, and wish I again could see those orange crackling flames twinkling ahead through the brush and smell that coffee, hear the noisy spitting bacon skittering on the cast iron.
Doc got it right when it came to the fishing. It was about a lot more than fishing. We can all bear to remember that.