Storyteller/columnist James Murray. (File photo)

Storyteller/columnist James Murray. (File photo)

Column: Untangling the legend of Cedar Stump Lake

Great Outdoors by James Murray

By James Murray


It all started out innocently enough, just a few of the fellas sitting around the table at the bar having a couple of brewskies.

Some were locals, some had moved there from back east to be closer to the grandchildren. Most were retired or ‘men of leisure’ as they liked to refer to themselves. The one thing they had in common was they were all fishermen who liked to fish Cedar Stump Lake.

It’s a pretty little lake with cottages dotting its north shoreline and several summer camps along the sandy area to the west. There are two small islands that sit right in the middle. The lake has a marled shoal, and a stable population of trout – bright three- and four-pound rainbows – used to cruise the waters between the shoals and the drop-off. There were even some wily old eastern brook trout that just lay in wait on the bottom.

Seasonal hatches were predictable and fishing, well, it used to be pretty good.

One afternoon, after several beers, someone suggested that maybe something was needed to spice things up.

“Maybe some of those Blackwater rainbows,” he said. “They grow to a pretty good size and are pugnacious fighters.”

“But they eat their young,” someone else said, “So there won’t be enough to grow into next year’s fish.”

“I know sometimes, them government fishery guys’ll put in old spawners that are already a pretty good size,” said someone.

“Old spawners are huge, but they fight like retired piano teachers,” commented the first.

That was when somebody piped up and said that, ounce-for-ounce, nothing scraps like the smallmouth bass they used to catch back east.

“Yup, year round you could easily catch your limit of smallmouth – and a mess of perch too in some lakes.”

It wasn’t long after that conversation that schools of bass and perch were noticed in the lake. In time, clouds of perch swam the shoals and, within a few seasons, there were thousands of small mouth bass foraging along the drop-off.

Trout numbers soon began to dwindle.

From ice-off to the very last patch of open water, the lake was invariably covered with a whole flotilla of boats bobbing up and down in the water. Each winter a small town made up of ice-fishing shacks would spring up on the frozen lake.

Most anglers were thrilled at first with being able to catch their limits of small mouth and perch.

They didn’t seem to mind that in order to make a meal you had to spend as much time cleaning and filleting the little beggars as you did catching them.

On any given night at the bar, some of the more vocal bass anglers could be heard saying proudly that if smallmouth bass and perch were good enough for Bill Dancer and Lefty Crawdad, they were certainly good enough for them.

When someone lamented the fact that there were no more trout, he was quickly ejected from the bar for being one of those fancy pants, fly fishing do-gooder so-and-sos.

Before too long, great big shiny, super low profile, 18-foot bass boats with metal-flake paint jobs and 150-horsepower engines were zooming from one end of the lake to the other.

Twelve-foot car-toppers ultimately had to be banned for safety reasons.

Predictably, in time, the thrill of catching six-inch perch and 10-inch bass wasn’t enough. Large-mouth bass showed up in the waters of Cedar Stump, and then, northern pike. And then it happened.

A hybrid showed up in the lake. Somehow a bass had got crossed with a piranha discarded from someone’s aquarium. The new hybrid fed on perch, bass, pike, and, according to certain sources, even took a bite out of an angler. Catch and release became an ugly business.

After a while, it wasn’t even safe to take your boat out on the lake.

And that’s how it came to be that most anglers spent more time in the bar than out on the water.

Read more: Column: Learning to be patient just like my old man

Read more: Fishing Adventurer a worthy catch

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