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.