Plan F was the charm. Not a charming one but there was a single open site left in one of your basic, it's a campground but there's way too many people around to give it any kind of wilderness feel no matter how much you squint and try to pretend, kind of way. Hated to admit it but I was happy to simply have a place to pitch the tents. No time left in the day to fish even though we were on a trout lake. That sucked. But she'd been an adventureful day. Adventure meaning, as usual, something went wrong. But we'd had fun and no one bled.
I'd brought along a couple of armfuls of split, hard maple over which to grill the steaks. Talk about civilized. Had a case of beer and another of coke on ice. Meat and brew. A little tough on the gut and head but it eats good and gives you that manly aroma, especially downwind. A little dry white wine to go with some cheese and crackers would of been a nice aperitif, but that's the way the truffle crumbles.
Somehow or other we couldn't get our butts in gear the next morning. Another gut bomb meal for breakfast topped off with coal tar, campfire coffee. Dropped my spoon in when giving it a stir. Come time to do the dishes all that I could find was the handle. To this day you can stick a refrigerator magnet to my nephew John's tummy.
Lacking a better idea and seeing as how it was only a hundred yards away, we strung up little spinners and set out to scare a few trout. Full sun, calm water. Al could see them feeding just out of casting range. Didn't matter where on the water we were, the little buggers were always just out of casting range. Pricks. So we killed an hour or so herding them around the lake. Trout cowboys. Yee-hah.
That was in the days before I'd learned to use the internet. In order to get lake reports a body had to go to the State's DNR and request them individually. No more than five at a time. And say "Pretty please" so as to not piss them off or risk being banned for life. Lucky for me my FedEx route passed pretty close to the DNR building near the state capitol building. A couple of trips, a grateful smile and I had enough information to make an educated guess as to where decent fishing might lie.
But that didn't mean we'd actually catch fish. Oh, we tried alright. Even had the lakes I'd chosen all to ourselves. Pretty, early season lakes. Not a cabin on any of them. Everything said yes. But not the fish. Not a one. Not a strike or nibble or surface swirl on the first one. No mosquitoes, black flies, dragonflies, mayflies. Dead air and dead sea. Lord knows I'd been skunked before and had learned that was part of the game. But I was leading a party as Heap Big Fishing Honcho Who Sees and Knows All. For me it wasn't a waste. I was learning to take embarrassment in stride.
The afternoon lake was a little better. My nephew Brian caught a couple of jumbo perch at the access while my nephew John and I headed back to camp for his wallet. The two of us lost an hour on the water driving to and fro but experienced the joy of knowing his wallet was right where he'd left it.
Northern Light Lake is a body of water worth spending time on. We didn't know that then. And didn't catch anything beyond those first two perch. Smallies, walleyes, jumbo perch and the occasional good sized pike.
Over the years since I've been in the boat with partners who've caught them all. I'll even admit to catching my share. Northern Light and my cousin from Wisconsin taught me the value of killing a few perch. Might or might not be the equal of brook trout in the frying pan but without a doubt better than any of the traditional game fish of Minnesota. Even the walleye.
We fished the lake all wrong that day. It's just a widening of the Brule River and not more than a couple of yards deep. From what I learned over the years the fish don't seem to bunch up. Small jigs tipped with a little bright plastic and hung under a slip bobber. Simple and effective rig. Worms or minnows tipped on the jig also work. Thanks Gary. 'Course on this first time we were throwing spinners and plugs.
On the first time in with my cousin Gary we were panfishing. I was thinking bluegills, Gary liked them a lot, especially the big ones. But it turned out to be nothing but perch. Big perch. Couple here, couple there. Constantly moving and stringing them up. So much fun Gary and me were bantering back and forth in terrible French accents. Laughed a lot. A whole lot.
We also threw many of them back. Didn't want to be greedy. But even with that the little stringer grew to around fifteen pounds. Didn't waste a one. Filleted them all. Hides like thick leather that required a fresh sharpening of the filet knife every other perch. Ate a bunch. And froze the rest to leave in my sister's freezer in the little house off the Gunflint Trail she'd rented for the summer.
Like I'd said earlier, we didn't know beans about perch back then. Our afternoon was like searching for gold and passing over a mountain of silver that we were too blind to see.
That night we had visitors in camp. Earlier we'd gone down to check out the commotion by the trash cans. Seemed black bears had a sweet tooth for garbage. And they were fastidious about separating the edibles from the paper. A sight to see for sure. They didn't seem all that bothered about us being there and didn't miss a beat working their way from course to course. The truth be known we didn't find them all that interesting after a minute and headed back to bed down. We had plans for the morning.
A half hour after turning in, I was about the only one left awake in camp. Laying all warm and toasty in a tent at night is a pleasurable experience. I hate to rush off to sleep and miss the good part. So I was laying there watching the flickers on the tent from the last fingers of our dying campfire.
You may not know that I wear glasses. Blind as a bat nearsighted without them and always sleep with them off. But even fuzzy eyed there was no mistaking the shadows cast on the tent by the two passing bears. I gave it a moment's thought and did the only logical thing. That being three or four loud kissing smacks, kind of like you might call a dog if you were to call a dog that way. The pair of them didn't make a sound as they hightailed it out of there.
Can't say I'd ever like one in the tent with me when I was smelling of Snickers bars. Or if I came upon a couple of cubs who took a liking to me and mama was near. But if you ever get a couple of camp ground garbage eaters passing by, try doing something stupid. It just might work. Or you might die. Hard to tell.