Thursday, April 26, 2012

Catch and Release - Growing up

     Catch and release isn't a philosophic notion for me. Not about live and let live. Nor spare the pain of a needless death for all living things. Though I can't say a needless and painful death appeals to me personally. At the moment no form of death appeals to me. But the thought has crossed my mind. And as I get older, the reality of it is a little closer also a little unsettling.
     There's a scene in the last reincarnation of King Kong that got me squirming and thinking. In it several members of the ship's crew are in a deep trench and being attacked by giant things that normally are small and live under a rock. One of the bugs has a man by the head and trying to suck him own. Holy crap! I'm sitting there wondering, if that was me at what point would I give up the ghost and let the thing eat me? And what would that be like? I doubt very much, on an eat or be eaten level, if such a thing as catch and release happens. We're an odd species, us human beings.
     There is a point in here somewhere. I'm looking hard. Back here in the real world I guess it's laziness. What's the point of going through all the work of killing and cleaning something when I don't need it as food? So much simpler to throw the bugger back and eat the spaghetti sauce I've made back at the cabin. Throw in the plus that I'm a big time pasta fan.
     Can't say there's anything new in what's above. But it does tie in with the way I've come to look at my life. And life in general. Simply put, philosophy doesn't determine my inlook and outlook so much as what works for me does. I'm looking for a win-win and a lack of guilt. Maybe a little fulfillment and a good night's sleep brought on by fatigue. Simplify. Slip away from the noise of the ever noisier world. And somehow, someway, finish the damned basement bathroom.
     The notion of living forever is appealing. Must be or I'd have given up on it long ago. In the Land of the Fishing there's always a next year. Until there isn't. I try to act the wise old man, tell the world, or at least anyone who'd listen, actually it's mostly dogs, cats don't seem to give a rat's ass about anything, that I've finally grown up, realized my mortality. But that's a lie.

Monday, April 23, 2012

First Times

     The world up north was almost normal. Spring came early but now it's holding off. The trees are green free. Some are budded. That's about it. Migrant birds are back. Robins, phoebes, loons, mallards, swans. Our resident pileated woodpecker was working the woods in it's usual, slow motion hammering. Might be my favorite sound in the woods outside of silence.
     Off in the distance, heavy equipment accompanied by a never ending chain saw getting ready for next winter. And then there was us, Lois and I, up for cleaning what winter had left us. It's just maintenance but that's what keeps our marginal structure from becoming one with the earth.
     When we pulled in there was a deer in the yard with an oh crap! look on its face. For five months life had been good. Now the fair weather intruders were back. There goes the neighborhood.
     For us the best news was having no breakin. About two miles south of the cabin I always get the stomach tinglies that we'll have to call the sheriff's department. Yes it's happened before. Seeing the gate locked was a relief. A person shouldn't have to worry about those kind of things. I guess there was a reason locks were invented. Even back in Vietnam we had to lock our stuff up when we were in the field. Talk about no respect. Yeah, the civilians pretty much ignored us when we came back. Some even called us baby killers. But when you had to worry about your fellow soldiers, that was goin' over the top.
     Maybe it was the mild winter but outside of the usual horde of dead flies and a light coating of dust, things looked like we'd only been gone a week. Cleanup was easy.
      Lois isn't a big fan of being up north anymore. Can't say I blame her. Not being a fisher or fan of being on the water, there's not much to keep her entertained or busy. During the early years she took an active role in the building process. Those days are history. That leaves me alone up here for a half dozen three day outings. Since retirement, time apart has become a good thing. So long as it's not too long. We like each other and our time together. Always have.
     Two weeks earlier there'd been a tragic sailboat accident up north of here. Two small boys died of hypothermia. No matter the skill level, cold water is a potential killer. That was on my mind as I put new license decals on one of the canoes. Also enough of a caution to keep me off the water. Too cold for decent fishing anyhow. However, that didn't stop me from buying this year's fishing license with a trout stamp. Yeah, I paid the extra seventy-five cents for the stamp. Why not? They're cool. 'Spose I'm now committed to getting my money's worth out of the stamp.
     More lures to tie and build. Never enough spinners. I'm tying for four, so at least I've got an excuse. So do they if they're skunked. That's a win-win situation at its best.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Never Enough Time

     Sixty-five on my last birthday. How many useful years left? Or to this point for that matter. Physically, at least I'm still counting by years. Getting in and out of a canoe is no problem. Figure ten good years left. A decade. With luck a couple of dozen days on the water each year. That doesn't add up to enough days for my last idea. Fish all of the trout lakes in Northern Minnesota.
      I'm not limiting it to the designated, stocked ones. Natural lake trout lakes would be just fine. Thinking about lakers always puts me in mind of a lake Allan and I canoed across fifteen years ago. We didn't fish it. Didn't fish any of the lakes on that loop. Don't know what the hell we were thinking of. Didn't bring anything but food and camping gear. Our first night in camp on the Canadian border there seemed to be something missing. Plenty to talk about. The only people on a thousand acres. Good food. A fire. A great view. Even glassed out water. Smooth enough to show each of ten thousand surface slurps of feeding fish. And us sittin' there like wallflowers at the dance.  Don't recall that either of us mentioned we should have brought the rods 'til years later. But that night it was heavy on our minds.
     The trout lake I have in mind is five miles south of the border. Two long portages in. Four miles long, half mile wide, a hundred feet deep. Single island with a campsite. Lake trout and smallmouth bass. Couldn't ask for a better combination. Well, I could but won't. The lakers run to thirty plus inches. The bass, typical Boundary Waters. Once in a while a four pounder. All fine but it's the mystery of unknown waters that's the lure. Everything still possible.
     The plan back in '97 was to spend two out of our five days on that lake. Spent a winter dreaming and planning. Six of us going. All the gear assembled. Iced out. And Plan B wasn't worth the miles. The northern half of Minnesota was in late winter lockjaw 'til early June. I've hashed out the should-have-dones a dozen times since. All I can come up with is, going can turn out to be a disappointment but it sure beats not going.
     Did some research. The Minnesota DNR lists 298 trout lakes in the state. That's a lot of lakes to fish. A lifetime's worth if I was a much younger man. Like I said, fishing them all was the idea behind this entry. A number pushing three hundred kinda puts a crimp in the plan.
     Truthfully, the idea of fishing them all was nothing more than a way to write some words. Canoe all the lakes in the county. Canoe from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. Do the Severeid thing and canoe to Hudson Bay from my back yard. Paddle across the Boundary Waters. Bike to the cabin. All quests that have crossed my mind. None of which I'll ever do. No loss. Most of my obsession lives between my ears.
     Then there's reality. The doable. What I always look for and can't always find is limited accessibility. A lake you can back your nineteen foot Ranger Bass Boat into just ain't my cup of tea. There's a fine looking body of water up in the Arrowhead. Filled with splake, a crossbreed of brookie and lake trout, the access description says there's a half mile portage trail. That's canoe water. A mile would be better. Me and Al still feel cheated by the ten miles of ice that kept us from the Four Mile Portage up in Manitoba. It woulda been a bear. Also woulda been a great memory and story. Misery loves family
     The Boundary Waters holds dozens of those hard to get to beauties. Been on two. Been skunked on both. But the portages were worth the trip. Through cedar changing over to pine and birch. One was a slog through a quarter mile of water to a quarter mile hillside and up to the water. The other was like the first half of a Bell Curve. The last fifty yards on our toes. Both had us puffing under perfect bluebird skies. Up on the border the sky is full blue to the horizon. Deep, deep blue straight up. Words can't do the beauty justice. It was on the second that Allan noticed his shoes didn't match and shot a photo.
     For now I'll hit the two in the plan book. They're new water, not a cabin in sight and I like that. And maybe, just maybe, I'll head up to the Arrowhead and dredge for some splake.
     Think I'll go upstairs and tie me some ugly flies. Go for the different drummer type of trout. The ones who can see the beauty of the soul behind the ugly of the surface.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lure Making Time in the Northland

     Actually I started last winter. This time it's small, trout sized spinners. Most of them the usual Mepps style. But, once again I've turned into a design thief. An unnamed company makes spinners with a fly trailer instead of the usual treble hook. Gotta say I like the fly idea for a coupla reasons. Homemade will probably work as good as store bought. Cheaper too.
     Mostly though the advantage is in the work. Tying a treble is a pain in the butt. 'Specially when it's a small, number eight or ten hook. Working the bobbin through those tiny hook openings is not a task designed for a man with extra thumbs. And aging eyes. Not to mention the inevitable impaling. And stream of curses. The image of the old master, pipe in mouth, soft patient smile on face, creating life like replications, just ain't me. Workmanlike. Never quite comin' out like the vision in my head. And that's on my best day.
     A straight shafted fly hook is another story. Single hook, long shaft. Simplicity is my friend. Now if I could only make a fly that looked like an actual fly. Even if only an attractor pattern. Streamers and woolly buggers. That's the ticket. And maybe a twister tail, a chunk of worm, minnow head and some scent sprayed on. Bleach and dynamite! Well, maybe just streamers and wooly buggers.
     The hardware's on order. Be here in a week. Thought I already had treble hooks. But I thought wrong. But I do have trout hooks. Oh yeah, won't be long and I'll be in business.
      Will they catch fish? My best friend when I was growing up woulda said it's 50-50. They will or they won't. A half century has passed since but I'll go along with his logic. Makes it sound like there's an actual possibility.
     If you're looking for a trout expert, you best look elsewhere. Just 'cause I've read everything John Gierach and a baker's dozen other trout men and women have written, doesn't mean I've got a clue. Readin' ain't doin'. That was a hard one for me to learn. Or maybe I've been around long enough and overvalue experience. The world around seems to have filled up with young, punk whippersnappers who don't know squat. Ain't been anywhere or done anything. That I was once one of 'em takes continual reminding. I may no longer be a young, punk whippersnapper but when it comes to trout savvy, I don't know squat. Something left to learn. And it's exciting.
     The trout lakes in Minnesota aren't the real deal. Without the DNR they'd be home to hammer handles and bullheads. Each Spring a thousand yearlings are dumped in each little lake so we Minnesotans can eat fresh trout once in a while. A few get to sixteen inches but most are harvested long before that. Wonder what the lakes would be like if they were catch and release? But they ain't. And trout do fry up nice. But, two foot brookies? Something to ponder.
      On four occasions I've had some luck. Even hammered them twice. Call it coincidence. Never used a long rod and fly for those times. Worms, pork rind or spinners. Hardware man. Don't know a thing about presentation. How to fool 'em like I knew what I was doing. When one is on the end of my line, both me and the trout are equally surprised. But it's fun. And doesn't matter a whole lot whether I catch any. Of course that's a lie.
     The first couple of trips up north will be solo. New lakes take some learning. My concern isn't that I won't catch anything. Rather, it's that I'll hammer 'em. And tell the boys from down south how great the lakes we're gonna fish are. Go on and on about the wonderfulness and immensity of the trout. And then when they show up it'll be skunk time. Nothin' to show for our days but sunburn and playful ridicule.
     For now it's a half hour here and there for the lures. The yard calls. The downstairs basement is a half done project that hangs over me. I'll get it done just to get it done. Up north I can pee in the woods. Guess where I'd rather be?