The world that bustles on, even along the rural county road, winds down. Though the rolling meadow and white pine veil surrounding my favorite farm pond shield the view of the paved artery from the confines of my canoe, my ears subconsciously monitor its heartbeat. The frequency of passing cars shrinks, replaced by the coming-alive of night sounds.
Whippoorwills, peepers, and crickets sing a chorus as my fly rod flexes. The canoe rocks slightly on the glassy surface. Fly line exits the craft from my feet, towed by a popping bug that splats down on a lily-padded edge.
As light fades from the sky and the temperature begins to drop, bass go on the feed. As top predators, the oncoming veil of night inspires them to venture from their tight holdings in the grass and claim their meals.
A tell-tale sploosh fulfills that prophecy. I set the hook in reaction, bending the long rod in my hand. After a short battle, I place a thumb in the mouth of a chunky largemouth and hoist him from the water to reclaim my fly and admire my prize.
Golden light, as it’s called, is a magical time. When the sun flirts with the horizon and the light begins to fade, wildlife of all species experience an awakening. The fishing is good and so is the thinking. Experiencing the disappearance of the sunlit day helps to focus the thoughts on the big questions—purpose and place. At dusk, we celebrate something bigger than ourselves.
There is something special about a summer night, something that you don’t find in the autumn nights leaving or following a deer trail. In it there is comfort. No impending threat of chill hangs. No undertone of the end speaks. But there is reassurance in the cool of the night air of a middle-aged year, and it stimulates the senses. Time slows down in summer in the South, and the day runs into night.
I’m still on the water, casting away at fish I know to be hungry and hunting. The moon has risen early. It’s bright, and despite some canoe difficulty, I am deeply pleased to notice a growing night breeze twiddling the shoots of long grass around the water.
Taking advantage of the cool breeze, I paddle to the westernmost bank, distance myself 40 feet from the lily pads, and store my paddle at my feet. Good balance and practice has blessed me with the ability to cast upright from a canoe, and I assume that position as I’m pushed slowly eastward along the edge.
Though I am alone in the darkness I don’t feel it. The moon is a welcome fishing partner, as the canoe and my path are illuminated by its light, and the stars tally the county road passersby, now mostly safe in their homes. We’re all alone on this planet together. Our troubles are insignificant, and nothing matters, if not the chugging of my popper through the stillness of the night.
Sploosh! The moon is bright, but fails to eliminate the end of my cast to the foot of a bush, cloaked in shadow. Still, I can hear the progress of my popper when it is interrupted by the ball of unseen energy that I know to be a hefty largemouth.
The stern of the canoe where I am standing swivels tightly and points towards my opponent as my rod bends deeply into the cork. I make gains on the reel only to have the fish sound at the boat and explore the water on the opposite side of the craft, forcing me to turn and guide the rod tip around the stern.
Again we’re in direct competition. I can feel my leader approaching my rod tip as I crank the reel. The fish is not exhausted, but losing hope. A swishing sound just feet away tells me that the fish is approaching the surface. Feeling the leader with my net, I find the water and scoop.
A largemouth of six pounds lays cradled in the net. I can feel its weight, and only see it by holding it up to the moonlight. After freeing my hook, I lip the fish and lower him to the water by the side of the canoe. There’s just canoe, water, fish, moonlight, and me. Nothing else matters. When these ingredients come together I emerge with a clean pair of eyes, and it is then that I realize that even that fish and I are in this game of life together—no different in our struggle or importance.