Sometimes, nope, better make that most times, the highlight of a fishing trip has nothing to do with fishing. And sometimes it pays to heed expert advice. And sometimes it'd be wise to ask the expert if he honestly has a clue as to the accuracy of his advice.
We fished the Nason Lakes on the last day. They're not much more than sink holes in a swamp but they've never disappointed. Like most of the lakes we spend time on, they're a surprise. The fishing is generally good. Sometimes excellent. A passing look as you cruise down the road would tell you otherwise. Drive by lakes in fly over land. What could be more up my alley? However, six pound bass and ten pound pike will be found now and then. Throw in some panfish and you've got yourself a decent fishery.
Yeah, you can back a small boat and motor over the drop off from the shoulder of the gravel road. But you'd best be wearing the ancient, grease stained Husqvarna ball cap you got new at the Walker Power Equipment dealer back in '81 or you'd be called on it by some good old boy in cut off jeans and work boots. So, you see, the Nason's are a local hole reserved for those who know. If it wasn't for my late buddy Greg, I wouldn't be worthy to wet a hook in those hallowed waters. Even then I like to sneak on when nobody's looking.
Don't ask me why but we were out for panfish. At least me and Eldon were. Larry and Ryan could fish for tuna for all we cared. Slip bobbers and tiny jigs were our tools of choice.
Being in a swamp, the Nason's are wide open. Not a tree within a quarter mile of the water. There wasn't much of a breeze but what there was had a good shot at us no matter the direction. Both canoes are designed for a fair load. They'd float just right if our tackle boxes had a hundred pounds of gear in each. As they were, we were only drawing a couple of inches of water. Way too much boat sticking up from the lake. Yup, we were nothing but big bobbers. I don't do anchors, so it's drift and fish followed by a couple of minutes of repositioning. Some call that paddling. It's the price a canoeman has to pay for being to fish most anywhere.
All was fine and dandy 'til we turned the last corner of pavement and hit the gravel. Up ahead Cass County's semi-finest were regrading the road. Without them and their constant diligence canoe boys like me would be humpin' it in from a lot farther out. Of course I grumbled even though I knew they were on my side. Having driven for a living I know for a fact there's two types of drivers in this world, there's me and then there's all the rest, who are nothing but idiots out to get in my way and ruin my day. So I grumble even though I know that's not completely true.
There's nothing like a parking lot at the Nason's. There's no actual access, so why should there be a lot? The same crew now grading also comes by now and then to mow four feet of shoulder so you don't block the road when you park. No way that was happening today. We unloaded quickly and then I headed up the road on foot to see what the man behind the grader's wheel wanted us to do.
The man didn't seem to mind that I stopped him. And seemed pretty sure that I'd have to park somewhere besides the usual. Or even across the road. A couple of hundred yards ahead ran a curve that had already been spread. Wide enough to park on and be off the road. But he said no need. Closer, across from the lake, exited a forestry road. Level at first then quickly climbed a sharp rise. Not a spot I'd ever consider parking and blocking.
Eight or ten years earlier there'd been a For Sale sign posted on that road. Five acres. Allan and I had walked in to check it out. As steep as the hillside was I didn't think it would be worth a lot. But it would have been a neat spot to build a small screen house. More or less a fancy tent that we could use as a base camp to fish the lakes in the immediate area. Save an hour's driving each day we were up north. Not much more than a pipe dream really. But I liked pipe dreams. They used to give me fun stuff to pass the time when behind the wheel eight hours a day.
The grader said it was okay to park there. "Don't give it a second thought. It'll be fine." A little voice in my head said it was a mistake. But that little voice once told me to stick an ice cream cone down my pants for the comic effect it would have on Father Cody. He didn't laugh. Instead he told me I was on a bee line for hell. That is if they'd take in a total idiot.
As to the parking, I figured if the Man said it was okay, it was okay. So there we parked. Two trucks and a canoe trailer.
Once on the water me and Eldon weren't fooling around. The first pool is a marginal hot spot for small bass. Same for the second. Number three is the charm. And that's where we headed.
The entry channel into three usually holds a couple of pike. Once in a while a big one. But not today. On the plus side the water level was up. Water level is a big deal with me. And it's a big deal for everyone. We all know the drill about the scarcity of fresh water. Simply put, we're running out of it. It's easy to forget about that but not on the water. I'm always noticing where the water is compared to where it usually is. That the channel was twice its usual width and depth put a smile on my face. Kind of like cheating the devil. We're gonna pay our water dues somewhere down the road. Today the channel said, "It'll still be a while."
By now Ryan and Larry had caught up and passed us. At the moment they were flinging spinners for bass. How predictable. And sad. You'd think a twenty-two incher would have satisfied L. Dean. Seven years earlier a half pound bullhead would have made his day. Now he's out for a state record. How embarrassing would that be for us northwoodsers? A Minnesota game fish record in the hands of an Iowan.
That may not seem like a big deal to some one on the coasts or elsewhere on the planet. But in Minnesota it is. Here in Gopher Land we look down on our neighbors to the south. And have devoted entire joke books to insulting them. Actually we look down on most everyone. There used to be good reason for that. Not so much anymore. It's still a decent place to live but changing. Maybe that has to do with our recent string of mild winters. They don't keep the riff-raff out like they used to. But a state fishing record in the hands of a Hawkeye? That's too much.
Ain't this a Hitchcockian buildup? Like, what does Granny have to do with fishing on the Nason Lakes? And why were all those animated crows flocking into the trees around us? Suspense, suspense (I'd have mentioned the buffoons but we know who they were).
As for me and Eldon, we not only didn't give a damn at this point, we were like, totally in the dark about Grannie ever entering our lives. For the moment were hot into catching small crappies and bluegills. And cursing the wind as it puffed us way too quickly over the fish zone. It was paddle, paddle, paddle. A quick turn. Bobbers out. Fish on. Into the pond muck. Damn. Then paddle, paddle, paddle. Had the panfish been a foot long, we'd have been justified. As it was we were merely terrifying juveniles. Shame on us.
After an hour we tired of our pointless, zen-like behavior and headed toward pool four. I like pool four best. Six acres. Twenty-eight feet deep. The deep hole is just that, a hole. Around it lies four acres of weeds, mostly coon tail. And those weeds nearly break the surface. A lure mucking thicket. Pool four is like the rest of the lake, mythically fertile. Like that obese fertility goddess in all the anthropology 101 texts. Only more so. And I know for certain, but not for a fact, that it's crawling with fish. Big-assed bass that'll take you down into that dense cover and make you wish you'd been using a musky rod with sixty pound test. Or maybe an electric winch. Like I said, or at least hinted at, it ain't happened to me yet. Caught some bass there. But nothing big.
That didn't concern us. What did was slab bluegills. Or frying pan sized crappies. The kind that make you stare and wonder what planet such beasts come from. Or stuff in your pants with its behemoth head coming out your fly and have your partner shoot a video of the moment. Immortal stupidity. Perfect for U-Tube.
Five years earlier, on an idyllic evening, a party in a fifteen foot Lund, two men and two women, had such a moment. Probably didn't involve the zipper or extra-terrestrials. Can't say for sure about that as I didn't see but only heard their hoots and hollers. Seemed like they were hammering them right where the channel entered the pool. That's where we were heading. Trying to be cool. At the same time knowing we were on the edge of a memorable moment.
Once again the wind was our evil nemesis. Blew us way too fast down the shore even though Eldon was doing his best to anchor the bow. He'd known this moment was coming from way back last year and had done his best to slow us down by upping his attraction for gravity (That's exactly the kind of comment that'll get me cold-cocked someday. And I'll deserve it but will whine about being unjustly clobbered).
Mid-way down we did tie into a couple of eight inch bluegills. Figuring that was our honey hole we paddled back up and nosed the canoe into the reeds. Perfect. Well it would have been had not the eight inchers turned into the same small crappies and sunnies we'd abandoned back in number three. Who'd have thought we were such crap magnets? Outside of the crows that is, now circling above, waiting patiently to make their move.
Ryan and Larry had better luck. But were reluctant to say what that luck was. Something about a big-assed bass down in the weeds, threatening to pull the boat under. Like that could ever happen.
Once again the tale of the Nason's was blue sky, mid morning, slow fishing. To be fair, those are the conditions that'd ruled over the last half dozen times. No chance for them to shine. My fault. Next time I'm shooting for threatening skies and a steady drizzle. Solo and fly rod.
Time to bag it and get some kind of lunch. Back at the landing Larry and I headed for the trucks. Halfway there an ancient memory paid a visit. Lois and I were furniture shopping. Not seriously shopping, more or less looking for a deal. Since it wouldn't take but twenty minutes I wasn't all that careful how I parked in the empty mall lot. I mean it was empty empty. And we parked off in a corner. Not a car for a hundred yards. Seems I straddled over two spots.
Well, the browse took more than an hour. Closer to two. When we exited the store the lot was full. And there was a note on my windshield. On it was written a comparison of me and the anti-Christ. How people like me were the root of all evil. Reading the note I really did feel into being evil. And would like to have visited that evil on the person who wrote the note. As it was I was stuck being a cauldron of seething impotence.
By the time we reached the trucks I was already looking for the note. And I wasn't disappointed. On it was inscribed "DO NOT BLOCK THIS F***ING ROAD." Of course there were no asterisks. Rock and hard place time.
Once back with the boys we guffawed and ridiculed to our heart's content. Oh the things we'd say and do should we run into the pinhead who wrote the note. It was glorious, empty fun.
Finally loaded I decided to take a walk up the forestry road. Maybe we'd blocked someone coming down the road from a drive through the boonies and they'd had to back up a half mile before they could turn around. Or maybe someone had bought the five acres and was living up the hill. I'd see what I saw.
A hundred yards in, on the left sat a pickup truck and nice travel trailer. And a rabid weimaraner. The dog, not a person from Weimar. Frothing and snarling. I'd learned a lot about dogs from my courier days. Barking dogs aren't a problem. Snarling dogs with their paws dug into the dirt, eyes fixed on my testicles, are. This one was drawing a line in the ground. Cross it and I'd be singing castrato in the boys choir. I went into nice doggie mode.
About then a seven year old boy came out of the trailer. Nice looking kid who didn't have a gun. I assured him I was no threat. As did the dog. "Are your mom and dad home?" I was really begging for it.
The kid said no. He was staying with his grandma and grandpa. Groovy. About then Grannie came around the trailer from the moonshine still out back. Can't say as there was one but it's a nice dramatic and humorous touch. And it's a relief to finally bring her into the story.
Immediately I went into my spiel as to how the graders were grading, and we'd fished here a kagillion times before and always parked on the shoulder of the road but this time we couldn't because the graders were grading and the man in the grader told me it was okay to park on the forestry road. "Don't think twice, it's alright."
She asked, "So why didn't you park on the shoulder of the road like everyone else?"
I should have asked her to turn her hearing aid up but went through the full explanation of the grader situation once more.
She asked, "We had to go into Walker for cigarettes and hand grenades and you blocked us out! Why in the world didn't you park on the other side of the road?"
By this point I was starting to figure she could speak English but couldn't understand it.
A grumbly voice called out from inside the trailer, obviously Grandpa, "Who's out there?"
Granny huffed back, "It's the asshole!"
'Bout now I was getting the picture. They didn't like me. Nothing I could say would make them see me as the wonderful person I am. Time to suck it up, turn around and know there's two more people in this world who know me as The Asshole.
I'm considering getting me a t-shirt with an * emblazoned on the front. Under it will be the name Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut once drew an elaborate asterisk in one of his novels. He explained that was his symbol for asshole. I could live with that. It's not such a bad thing to be.
Two days later my daughter Annie, an intelligent and excellent journalist, explained to me that if a note contains the word f***ing, it means they don't want to talk to you. Sage advice.