When longtime fishing buddy Connie Inman said he intended to celebrate this month’s birthday in the Canadian wilderness, I had just one question:
Does he have to get a permit from the Forestry Service before lighting that many candles?
The count is up to 89, and since 1959 most of those birthdays have been observed on Canada’s Little Vermillion Lake.
It’s easy to find. Drive 1,400 miles due north and when you get to Red Lake, Ontario, hop on a bush pontoon plane and keep going.
The only roads into Little Vermillion are bear trails.
Once, as our bush plane was dipping down to land, the pilot had to swerve to miss a moose. The pilot was a 16-year-old girl with a ponytail.
I thought we were being flown in by Taylor Swift. There aren’t a lot of old bush pilots.
Back to Inman: the Buckeye transplant arrived in Cookeville in 1979 as Tennessee Tech’s basketball coach.
Despite a few setbacks – like a 113-60 loss to Indiana, after which Connie quipped to Sports Illustrated: “I think their press hurt us,” – he was highly regarded in the profession.
Jimmy Earle, Middle Tennessee State’s championship coach, said no teams he faced played with more heart and hustle than Inman’s.
Inman grew fond of Cookeville, the people and the area, and after his coaching days were over, he and his wife Norma remained there to raise their family.
Connie sold insurance and fished, not necessarily in that order.
He enjoys fishing local lakes like Center Hill. But when he made his first trip to Canada in ’59, his heart stayed behind.
You could say it was love at first sight – and what a sight it is: watercolor sunrises and sunsets, mysterious Northern Lights flickering and dancing across midnight skies, towering firs, glassy lakes and tumbling rapids.
It’s like fishing in an Ansel Adams photograph.
And what fishing: one morning we caught exactly 100 walleyes before heading back to the cabin for lunch. We kept count, agreeing to stop at an even 100 so we would always remember that magical morning. And we always have.
If catching hundreds of walleyes grows old, giant Northern pike prowl reedy coves, pugnacious and ready to pounce onto anything that looks slightly edible – like a foot-long top-water plug. I’ve cleaned and eaten fish smaller than those pike lures.
When a 30-pound Northern pike blasts a top-water lure, it’s like someone dropped a cook stove into the lake.
One year Connie and I decided to run up some rapids and fish a feeder lake.
We ploughed upstream against the current, the motor growling and screeching, belching smoke. The boat bucked and jerked and swerved, bouncing off boulders as Connie struggled to control it.
Finally, we made it, and pulled into an eddy to catch our breath.
That’s when we noticed I’d neglected to lift the anchor.
Happy 89th, Connie. Watch out for bears, and remember to lift the anchor.