RALPH BARTHOLDT: Diving for cash, fishing for profit

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Some days we dove from the boat in the late afternoon to frog swim deep into the murk until our ears popped.

From the depths we fished up a few cans that an adult, teetery with too much trolling, had dropped overboard earlier in the summer.

We knew where the cans were because my pal, Honer, and I had marked the spot just like Uncle Jim had taught, with something he called triangulation.

We used three points: a jagged rock on shore, a beacon down-lake on Grubenís Point, and across the narrows where the big pine leaned off the edge of Raspberry Island.

Close enough.

The lines crossed at the spot.

We cut the Johnson 18 and when the boat lost forward momentum, we dropped anchor, carefully bouncing it on the bottom, feeling for the edge where the slate turned to sand.

Fish-finders, back then, mostly showed depth and squiggly shoals and rocks and structure on a screen the size of hard tack and were just about as useful. Mostly anglers relied on other things to get by, like lake charts, experience or triangulation.

We took turns in the blue evening, slipping over the gunwales of the 14-foot Crestliner and swimming down past the small walleye that moved to shore from depths we couldnít fathom.

Even here, 15 feet under the lakeís surface holding our breath, scouring the darkness for the flash of an aluminum can nestled on the lakeís bottom, the pressure squeezed our heads and had us fighting to keep from bubbling to the surface like a 10-cent bobber.

Fishing for stray cans of soft drinks or Hamms, and sharing the one or two we found, was how we calmed the day.

Shivering, goose skin speckled our tanned, thin arms. We passed the can around, watched the sun drop and waited for the wind to dry our hair and chase the bugs away.

Earlier those days, when we hadnít been hunting bass or pike, or walleye ó usually in the heat around noon ó we snorkeled the shoals of that northern lake for lures.

We were freshwater Jacques Cousteaus, Honer and me, with one pair of fins between us and a pair of leaky goggles, filling our tackle boxes with the plugs and spoons that once belonged to others.

Those were joyful moments.

The curses of anglers who broke off a Heddon Super Spook, a Rapala, or a Lucky 13 after wobbling like wounded minnows into an abyss of underwater boulders turned into attaboys for us.

We held our breath, carefully unhooked the lures from rocks and carried them to the surface.

Draining the water from our diving mask and taking turns, we went down again.

A fisherís indignation at a brand new Rebel crawfish wedged in a crevasse and lost, was our delight.

The vexed rant when a Dardevle or Luhr Jensen, its price sticker left on for good luck, hooked a sunken log, turned our grins like cats.

We counted our savings, high-fived, tuned up Waylon on the radio and made a wake to another shoal marked by buoys the county set each spring to tell us where to dive for cash.

For a couple summers we didnít spend a dime on spinners, spoons or plugs, buying reels and rods instead.

Even now, when I see an angler break off, I make note like decades earlier.

I asked my son if he marked it.

Thatís a $9 sinking minnow, I say.

Those donít grow on trees.

Sometimes they get hooked on them, then break off and drown.

Mark it, and come back, I tell him.

Or someone else will.

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