By Bob Riege
I growl at the alarm clock and my bones and muscles creak as I slowly move my legs to the floor and bring my reluctant, sleep-deprived body to its feet. Then I waddle stiff-legged to the shower, where I will my eyes open, and test my voice to make sure it hasn't left me in the night.
The air is still and cool and damp and fresh with the hope of a new day. Thick, soggy clouds obscure the moon and form a low, gray ceiling pierced by smoking chimneys and naked trees. A layer of slippery frost covers my windshield and driveway like cellophane.
It is quiet except for the occasional roar of a semi's diesel engine; but the sound is muted by distance, so it doesn't offend. I pull my boat out of it's bed and hook it up to the pick-up truck. It has been tucked in the garage for the winter months only to be taken to a shop and "accessorized". The weight of the boat on the hitch reminds me that the "opener" starts a host of tournaments and miles of driving between local destinations.
Across the street from the lake that I am about to fish is the local cafe. The lights are on, the grill is warming and the coffee is brewing. It is more than an hour before the restaurant's official opening time of 6 a.m. But, inside three customers are already seated in a cluster, two on stools along the counter and one in a booth. They are sipping black coffee and reading their morning newspapers.
This is what the morning person sees, hears, feels as he greets a new day in early spring. They start each day when it is naive and peaceful, unburdened by problems and complications of a mature day. They watch sunrises, hear birds awaken, wrap themselves in quiet solitude.
For some diehards the "opener" started at midnight and they have been on the water for the last six hours. They are probably hoping that it gets light pretty soon so they can find their way back to the dock and steal some needed shut eye before going back out in the later afternoon for "the night bite".
With all the preparations and all the new devices that have enabled fisherman to be more comfortable in the boat, it still reminds me of when my dad use to take me fishing. I know that I have been out on the opening day countless times with my dad and I know that we caught fish, but I don't remember the size or the species. All I remember is the lack of sleep and the smell of hot coffee as we drove to the lake. Funny, how smell brings back the memories and what we remember as important.
Why do so many people venture forth on these cool spring mornings in the pursuit of walleyes? What makes this fish more important than a bass or northern pike? I think here to it has to do with traditions and table fare more than a pull on the line. The walleye is a very cool customer. How many times have you heard him referred to as the "wily walleye". The walleye is smart, because they only eat when they are hungry. They select offerings of bait rather than racing head long into a bait that comes by them at a high rate of speed. To get the walleye to bite takes patience and skill not frothing the waters with lures.
The "opener" is more than the catch of the day. Unless you refer to sights, sounds, smells, and the conversation of sharing a boat with a friend. Then and only then do we realize that the real "catch of the day" begins with the memories of the first opener and all the other openers to follow.
Well, the flash of the headlights tell me that Vaughn, my fishing partner and friend has arrived. We have been going out on these openers for more than twenty years now and I wouldn't miss this for the world. Be safe this opener and I'll see you on the water.
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