Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Third Time's the Charm

     Don't know if it was the first, might have been the second, or even the third deer tick I pulled off, whichever one it was, I now have Lyme disease.  I'll write more late.  For now I'm gonna lay down and take a nap.
     I was propped up in a chair last light trying to sleep.  Not easy to do when your head's in a vice.  Anyhow, to pass the time in the dark, I went through the litany of animals that have tried to make a home or pop a hole in my body over the decades.  The first I recall, outside of mosquitoes 'cause they don't count, was a bee, a yellow jacket.  Stung in a finger when I was eight.  Since then, one form of bee or other, has gotten me on dozens of occasions.  There have been leeches, fire ants, red ants, spiders, deer ticks, wood ticks, and a myriad of things too small to be seen that made themselves at home in my body when I was in Vietnam.  I figure those last little buggers are still there.
     The wonders of modern science are saving me.  Four weeks of dosing myself with massive antibiotics and I'll be as good as new.  Well, at age 66, that phrase doesn't have the same meaning it once did.
     While talking to the lady at the pharmacist counter in Pine River I learned that Lyme disease has become a way of life in the northland.  Seems her husband has had it every year for the last fourteen.  That can't be good.  And there's obviously no such thing as immunity.  Get it every year or even more than once a year.  Something to be looked forward to.
     Yes, the four of us did continue fishing in the two days that followed the deluge.  Five times on the water and full rain gear each time.  Lucky for us it rained every time we were fishing or we'd have sure felt foolish.

     Crap.  Time passes.  Storms roll by.  Trees blow down.  Poles get snapped off and fools like me lose internet connectivity.  So I have to drive a bit to make a connection.  And get behind in writing.  Seeing as how I have no time schedule how can I get behind?  However I did come up with a few ideas for Uncle Emil but am waiting till my Lyme Disease lethargy passes and I feel like being other than dead brained.
     This weekend I'm back up to the cabin for three days with a nephew and his youngest.  The idea is to hit the back of beyond and scare a few fish.  A generation or so ago, Brian and I spent time up north building the cabin.  Now we've bumped a generation into the future.  Where did the time go?  You tell me and I'll go look for it.  Must be there somewhere.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Lakes and the Rain

     Like I said, the weather forecast was for rain and thunderstorms for the next three days.  So what's new?  It had been raining on and off since it stopped snowing in early May.  Some spring, eh?  Originally I'd told the Deans, R., L., and El, that we'd hit the water on Wednesday evening.  Most every time they'd been up north, their first hour was spent unloading, rod stringing, and trying to remember how to tie a fishing knot.  Then we'd throw the gear in the trucks, hop in and roar off twenty miles to what was sometimes great fishing.  A mad rush to have fun.  And that was on top of the six-hour drive they'd just finished.  Figuring we'd all fish better and enjoy ourselves more if they weren't in their usual hurry, evening fishing would give us the better part of an afternoon to get ready, load the trucks, and eat.  Civilized.

     Of course that wasn't possible.  Mother Nature stomped her waterproof duck boot down and told us it was fish right off the bat or don't fish at all.  Rain was supposed to move in by late afternoon and slowly turn to thunderstorms.  At least it would somewhere in general vicinity.  I get my weather forecasts by radio.  WJJY to be exact.  And they get it from a meteorologist down in the Twin Cities who gets it from the newspaper where some intern, copy boy makes it up in his spare time.  More or less.  And the person doing the weather report on the radio is sitting in a concrete room without a window and has a better idea of what's happening in the Middle East than what's going on outside.

     Last year while listening to public radio during a day long soaker thunderstorm, all I heard from the DJs, once each hour, was that the northern half of Minnesota stood a chance of rain sometime during the day.  Made you want to drive to the station during a Bach Fugue, drag the DJ outside and kindly ask if he'd like to possibly alter the forecast.  Then not let him back indoors until soaked to the skivvies (I was intending to write something with a little more bite but figured a classical music aficionado deserved a better death than by drowning face up in a downpour).

     So, once again, an hour after their arrival, the four of us hit the gravel on our way somewhere with the intention of catching a few walleyes.  One thing was for sure and that was there was no way in hell we were heading to the lake I'd visited on Tuesday afternoon.  Yup, no way in hell.

     But it was a great lake.  Or more accurately, in my mind it was a great lake.  It'd been at the top of the fish wish list since we'd decided to zero in on walleyes way back in last June.  The DNR reports said it was thick with walleyes and I knew for certain even bozos like us could catch 'em by the dozens.  Needing to go there was eating at my brain like a cancer.  All R. Dean could say when I asked his opinion was that the decision was mine.  Crap, I needed an out and he wasn't giving me one.  I turned left at the first T in the road with a new plan in the egg and starting to hatch.

     Several times over the years I'd entered the state forest from the south side.  The sand access road on that side was a decent track, almost too easy.  And a few miles in, it accessed and dead-ended at the walleye lake of our dreams.  I recalled no great hazards on the way but then I'd never the last quarter-mile of two-track access.  But outside of the coming rain I could foresee no problems other than having to possibly share the lake with the beefy boys I'd met the day before.

     One mile in, all was well.  Another half-mile and we came to a fork.  The road less travelled, the one to the right, descended into what looked an acre-sized muck hole before passing on.  I went left figuring  the better road had to be the right road.  I was wrong.  We were now heading to a lake for sure, only it was the wrong lake.  The forestry sign even said so.

     Turning around in a forest with two, seventeen-foot canoes on the trailer, 'specially one with marginal roadways like the one we were in, can be a challenge.  Over the years I haven't so much gotten better at it as I have lost any embarrassment at falling short in the manly art of backing a trailer.  Seven or eight moves later we reversed direction with few trees damaged and the hope that we'd somehow missed the truly correct turn.  We hadn't.  Down in the bower of dark the quagmire beckoned.  At this point I'd really like to write that we machoed our way through the shit hole.  Then did the same through several more before reaching walleye heaven.  But that would be fiction.  The second look was no more encouraging than the first.  And the sky was black.

     All things considered, fishing a new lake sounded like a good idea.  We were no more than a half mile from the one indicated on the sign.  Why not?  It had a name, it had a sign, I figured it must have fish.  Once again we turned around.

     The first obstacle was a steep, rocky hill.  Add in the rain, which was now starting in earnest, and it was point it and gun it.  We made the top with only a sideways skid or two.  What I learned was that the soil on the uphills was mostly clay.  Snail snot, slick clay.  Once at the top any further progress looked an invitation to spending the night mired down to the hubs.  Turn around number three.  And much more difficult than the first two.  Actually a crap shoot that called for several attempts as the rutted clay trail moved the truck any old way it wanted.  Turn it left and it went right, or maybe left, then right, then straight sideways.  The only thing to do was keep at it, try again and again, till sheer dumb luck eventually prevailed and, once again, we were on our way out.

     I gave serious thought to the tiny three lake chain no more than than six treacherous miles away but the little voice in my head said I was being delusional.  Same little voice also tells me to wear socks and mittens when it's cold.  I think it's my grandma gene.  So, me, the Deans, and Grandma headed to the safe, possibly good walleye fishing, choice number three.  Talk about a relaxed start to the day.  An hour and a half into it and we were once again back on pavement, not a boat in the water nor a line wet, doin' sixty, and a half-hour away from getting started on havin' fun.

     Of course, once we were on the highway the rain began to slow down.  By the time I'd made my last wrong turn of the day it'd all but stopped.  Things were looking up as I once more backed the trailer in an effort to get us back on track, this time in a gravel pit.  On the backup, I hit a couple of ruts and noticed the canoes bounce a foot in the air.  I'd say I was alarmed, but I wasn't.  That they were virtually unstrapped and hadn't fallen off at sixty mph was cause for the laughter of relief.  And amazement.

     L. and El. said the canoes had been loose for quite a while.  I figured the only thing keeping them from flying off was St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers and canoe trailers.  Or maybe the patron saint of those who follow idiots with loose canoes on their trailer.  He wasn't so much protecting me and the canoes as he was the innocents behind me.  That explained a lot.  Take my word for that.  Saying any more would only cause confusion.  By the time I'd slowed to a safe speed in the gravel pit he was gone.  No longer needed.  That's why the canoes bounced off the trailer over the ruts.  Nothing to hold them down.  Let's just call it the Miracle of the North Woods (not involving the Virgin of Guadalupe) and hope no one erects a shrine.

     All my turnarounds now in the past, at least for the day, we found our access easily.  And put on rain gear immediately even though it wasn't raining at the moment.  That it would sometime in the next hour, or minute, was certain.

     The lake we were now on was noted for muskies, smallmouth bass, and sixty mph fishing boats.  In my mind it was more noted for being connected to an even better lake by a channel that was impassable for sixty mph fishing boats.  But no problem for a canoe.  The better lake had the same mix of fish but also had a large walleye population.  That's why we were where we were (how's that for alliteration?).

     The four of us headed onto the water, me and El. together.  El. outweighs me by about the size of a mature german shepherd dog.  That used to create a navigation problem but last year something clicked and I found the rhythm.  Now we more or less track a straight line unless I get lost in watching the shoreline. Two minutes later we found ourselves throwing the first casts of the season under darkening skies and growing mist.

     The darkening skies I'm referring to were deep black against a depressive gray.  Yeah, she was gonna rain like a cow pissin' on a flat rock.  I've been told that's an old farm expression but the boys from Iowa had never heard it even though they come from farm backgrounds.  Don't know what this world is coming to when a city boy like me has to teach country boys how to talk like farmers.

     For the next twenty minutes me and El. did the canoe waltz toward and from the access as the rain built then quickly subsided.  When the skies briefly turned a medium gray we decided to head for the channel and the tiny bridge which spans it.

     Under normal conditions there's barely enough water passing under the bridge to float a small jon boat.  With lake levels now being as high as they'd been in the last decade that wasn't the problem El. was looking at.  You see, El. is more what you'd call a big man. Six-two, maybe taller.  He carries a fair amount of weight but he's got a lot of frame to spread it over.  Sittin' in the bow seat of a canoe, the bead on his baseball hat rises four and a half feet off the water.  And, at sixty-five, El. doesn't bend like he used to (and when he does, usually results in an explosive cloud of sulfur dioxide). That proved a problem 'cause the hole he was looking passing through was three feet high, tops.  Must have brought back memories of being born.

     The solid thump of hat, flesh, and skull whacking a twelve-by-fifteen inch beam told me he didn't make it on the first attempt.  I tried not to give him too much shit about not bending enough but I'm not much on holding back when it comes to passing out abuse, 'specially when it comes to El.  Not that it's meant in a serious sense.  It's just something that's grown over the years.  Like a toenail fungus.  Now it's become a routine, and a bad habit.  One of these days I'll go too far and he'll cold cock me.  Then I'll whine about him going too far.  At the moment it was time to give the bridge  another go.

     Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the rain was starting to come down in buckets.  Big buckets like the kind you'd use to haul grain to a horse.  Would have said those words aloud but after the flat rock comment figured it a waste of time.  And the thunder that had been to our south was starting to sound like it was almost on top of us.  The idea behind heading into the second lake was simply to land and get off the water before we were encased in molten kevlar.

     Turned out there was no place to put ashore once we'd hand pulled our way through the tunnel.  I recall a second head whacking but don't remember saying anything lest I tempt the god of revenge.  Wish I'd kept my mouth shut the first time through 'cause this time it was me who gave the bridge a thump on the return.

     The landing was a simple affair.  We laid the gear in the bottom of the canoe and hoisted.  A brief wind through the woods found us atop the bridge in a steady downpour.  Nice rain. And gettin' nicer by the minute.  A flash and crack here, another there.  Hair crackling on end and the smell of ozone in the air.  Had we looked down we'd have seen the bullseye.  Seemed we were in the middle of it.  I told El. we couldn't be much more than a quarter-mile from the access.  He grabbed the bow and I lifted the stern.  The first order of business was a steep hill.  A piece of cake had we been twenty years younger.  But we weren't.  Took a half-minute or so of puffing and wheezing at the top before we could say much of anything.

     The downhill was just as steep and the bottom afforded us of a fine view of the next, longer, steeper hill.  One look and all El. could say was, "Oh shit."  That was his way of saying he was done portaging and I was gonna hike the rest of the way myself to get the truck.  Turned out my quarter-mile was closer to a full one.  The farther I hiked the harder it rained.  A gully washer.  More water than air.  Glad I had rain gear on.

     Back at the access R. Dean and L. Dean were warm and cozy in their truck.  At least that's where they said they were.  Honestly, I looked when I passed the truck but didn't see them.  Up ahead their canoe was beached and slowly filling with water.  Of course I was upset.

     There was only one explanation.  By now they were well on their way to another galaxy and an alien, anal probing just to leave me all alone with the dirty work of cleaning up their mess and loading the canoe.  I nearly soiled my drawers when out of the blue from over my shoulder I heard L. Dean ask me where El. was.  My first thought was that a whole lot can happen in an instant when you're traveling at the speed of light.  My second was to keep my mouth shut in case the two of them had actually been abducted and were now minions of a superior species.  Played it cool until I was sure they were still completely human.

     Don't know what the hell I was thinking of.  That alien abduction line is as overused as the word 'awesome'.  Let's go with:  There was only one explanation.  By now they'd been turned into the undead and were wandering throughout the nearby Chippewa National Forest, upturning rocks and looking for bugs to eat for their blood.  In years to come they'd be known as Minnesota's version of Bigfoot (or Bigfeet?) in size ten and a halves.  Regardless of circumstance I felt it best to play it cool for a while and be ready to pointlessly run should they give me a 'thirsty for blood' look.

     I put on my best please and thank you voice when the two of them immediately set about getting us loaded and going.  All being done in the blackness of a thunderstorm.  Didn't take five minutes and we were halfassedly loaded and on our way back for El.  I'd left him at the base of three sharp hills and hoped he hadn't been washed into the lake.  If he had I hoped he'd had sense enough to tie the canoe to a tree before being washed to his death so we could easily retrieve the boat.

     Dinner was prepared and eaten indoors that evening with a fire in the wood stove providing background music.  Over the years we've reached an unspoken agreement.  They bring the food and I provide the boats and a roof to sleep beneath.  Works out well.  And they're always ready to lend a hand to get whatever needs doing, done.  Good men.
   
   

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Leech Man

     Like all trips up north, this one had to happen eventually.  R. Dean says this'll be year eight, so I guess we've got ourselves a tradition.  Made it back up to the cabin last Tuesday to get things ready for the fishing boys from down south.  For that to happen Lois had to head to Sioux Falls and take care of the grandchildren.  Without her there'd be no trip.  Odd how that works.

     As for me there was the clearing to mow and canoes to clean, mount on the trailer, and all those other things that need doing but are so workaday you forget you did them even though they sucked up a few hours time.  The grass and weeds weren't all that long but it's wood and deer tick season up north.  Short grass keeps them down a bit but not so short I clip the thousands of blue and purple wildflowers.  As it turned out, the ticks were there by the dozens.  Throw in the first mosquito hatch on Wednesday for good measure and it was blood donor time once again.

     Wood ticks don't bother me all that much and mosquitoes just piss me off.  But deer ticks?  They scare me.  Lyme disease has become almost common up north and it's nothing to fool with.  Had three of the buggers on me over the five days with the last one just starting to bore in when it was tweezed out.  Now I'm waiting to see if the Lyme symptoms appear.  Had my dose two years ago and know the symptoms well. One thing is for sure, once you get a few ticks on your body most every twitching hair feels like one.  When a hair twitches while in a public place there's a decision to be made as to whether or not it's socially correct to be seen down a side aisle with your pants down.  Guess humans aren't big fans of being probed by parasites.

     The lake I'd zeroed in for walleye fishing got me thinking about accessibility.  Worried might be more accurate.  I hadn't been there for six or more years and things change.  The main drive back in the state forest gets graded a couple of times a year but not so the lake accesses off of it. Call it hard scrabble country.

     On our last trip in, the drive hadn't been all that easy.  Of course that was the reason I wanted to return.  Nasty roads kept the riff-raff out and I was hoping we wouldn't be counted among them.  There are several rock covered, steep hills to be climbed and descended on the ways in and out.  Six years earlier I'd been driving a Jeep in four wheel high and the uphills weren't hard to climb.  But now I was in a front wheel drive vehicle.  Great under most circumstances but iffy in the boonies.  So the first order of business after mowing and cleaning the outhouse was a drive in for a look-see.

     Not wanting to give the impression I didn't know what I was doing, I'd printed out a couple of satellite photos of the area and highlighted the two-tracks I wanted to find with a silver paint stick.  There's an inherent touch of irony in trying to look like a savvy woodsman by using the internet.  An irony I can live with.  And actually relish.  But still it ain't by a long shot like getting in a wooden boat and heading to some unknown that may or may not be on the other side of the horizon.

     Outside of having to pull into the brush to let the grader pass, finding the access road was simple.  And the small stream crossing the road a quarter mile in was no problem.  However, the first steep uphill was.  Not at all like I remembered it.  In my mind it'd been a sharp climb over a rock shelf and a few dodges around loose boulders.  Now it was diagonally crossed with eroded trenches.  Thoughts of a split oil pan came to mind as I lurched uphill.  At a couple of points the front tires broke loose.  It's a fine line to tread between having sufficient speed to climb such a hill and taking it easy enough to not slice a tire on a rock that calls for care in passing.

     The roll-in is about a mile and ends at a tiny campsite with room for about as many campers as were down there.  Never saw that many before.  It was a regular bivouac of beefy boys.  Tents, campers, and a large enclosed trailer for the coolers.  Looked almost like the gathering of a dozen Canadians out to enjoy the beauty of nature as seen through blood shot eyes.  I parked and walked up to the crowd parked on lawn chairs under an open, temporary gazebo.  I started my spiel before reaching them much the same as I used to do when approaching strange dogs back in my courier days.  Tell 'em you're friendly before having to go to the emergency room.

     Actually they were friendly.  Said they'd been coming to this lake for years as a way to say hello to the start of fishing season.  That they'd made it in with their tons of gear impressed me.  They were there for the week and had settled in nicely.  Getting out might be another story.  The forecast for the week was for rain, followed by thunderstorms, more rain, and more thunderstorms.  No doubt their exit would be challenging.  Simply getting out of the campground could prove nigh onto impossible seeing as how that called for a sharp, rutted climb of thirty yards.  But, no doubt they'd pull it off.  Or maybe they're still there.  Why not?  They looked to have enough stuff to survive the Apocalypse.

     We talked briefly.  At least one guy and I did.  Yup they'd caught a couple.  Inside, my mind was screaming, "A couple my ass! They nailed 'em, they nailed 'em!"  Visions of walleye boats laden to the point of sinking danced in my head.  But maybe what he said was true.  Didn't matter all that much.  The lake is on the small side and their party was already overcrowding it as far as I was concerned.  Best laid plans sometimes go poof before they can become a reality.  There was no way I was coming back to invade their privacy even though they said, "The more, the merrier."  They'd staked a claim, were the firstest with the mostest, as they used to say before the English language had any rules.

     Yup, I can be an arrogant asshole sometimes and don't want to be part of a crowd.  I try to keep the arrogance hidden where few can see it.  I wished them the best of everything and departed, hoping to not get stuck on my way out.

     Now I had other nuts to crack.  The world's third smallest chain of lakes sat no more than four miles to the north and it was on the must-do list for our few days.  I didn't recall their road access as being all that smooth either.  But at least I didn't remember any steep hills to navigate.  I also remembered missing the turn on my first attempt last summer.  But now I had a steel grip in my memory as to what the turn looked like.  Also had the map so there was no way I could screw up.  You'd think after all the years I'd lived with myself I'd have learned to never underestimate my powers of error.  But I haven't.

     Even though the main dirt road was freshly graded it was a dodge 'em course of soft ground, strewn rock, and torn root.  Don't get me wrong, the drive is beautiful in much the same sense a walk through a dappled sunlight forest is beautiful 'cause that's what it is.  Only you can't enjoy the beauty.  The marginal road with occasional steeply dropping shoulders won't let you.  One wrong move and the thrill is gone and the tow truck is hopefully on the way.  No complaints. That's just the way it is.  Besides, the beauty of the forest really comes alive when viewed from the seat of a canoe.  At least it does for me.

     Didn't seem but two minutes and I was at my turn, just like I remembered it down to the forty foot log lining its shoulder.  Yeah, the correct turn did have a log but not the one I was looking at.  Also seemed like the turn came up a little quickly but my memory, she's not so good any more.  Everything about it looked like it should till the two track narrowed, then narrowed a bit more, and finally turned into a no track in a small meadow.  Was I disappointed?  Well, yes.  But up ahead I could see the ripple of water on a small lake.  I got out and explored while keeping an eye out for poison ivy.

     S'pose that goes against the picture most people have of things to fear in the northwoods.  Bears, wolves, alien abductions at night, usually come to mind for those who haven't spent much time in no cell phone land.  But the real things to be feared are small, innocent appearing, and much more likely.  Ticks, 'skeeters, giardia in the water, and poison ivy.  You ever get a case of 'beaver fever' and you'll never again look at lake water without thinking of personal hygiene.

     The trail led me to an ATV with a rack on top, a large blue and white plastic cooler and a man pouring something into the cooler.  Of course he was pouring leeches.  What else could he have been doing?  The man doing the pouring was trim, fair-haired, and possibly mid-forties.  On the shore behind him was the shortest, widest, and deepest fiberglass canoe I'd ever seen.  Also maybe the oldest or most used.  Both bow and stern decks were worn completely through.  I'm not sure what color it may have once been.  Call it cloudy with a chance of scattered showers.

     His cooler was three or four inches deep in leeches.  Seeing that many in one place was a conversation starter if I'd ever seen one so I waded in about my days in the Mekong Delta and all the fun of getting the little buggers up and down my legs.

     Out in the boonies I'll bring up my time in Vietnam as a way of saying that I'm not a threat.  Been there, done that, crapped in the paddies.  Most outdoorsman have a respect for veterans, particularly combat veterans.  I know Vietnam vets carry the stigma of being a little off kilter what with all the drugs and killing and trunks full of automatic assault weapons and shit.  But the truth is most of us are pretty mellowed out by now and never were that way in the first place.  Call us trustworthy or at least too old now to be of much trouble.  So, when it's one on one back in the bush with a total stranger all I'm saying by mentioning my past is that, for the moment,  I've made a wrong turn back on the main road and am not pressed for time, why not talk a minute?

     So we talked about leeches as a warm up.  Bait had been in short supply because of the late spring and had driven the price up to eighteen bucks a pound for fresh leeches.  About the same as the local restaurant steaks and boneless to boot.  From the way they were slithering around in the cooler, I'd definitely say they were fresh.  How many to a pound?  I never thought to ask.  Mostly 'cause I didn't give a rat's ass.  Didn't like them as a kid, in Vietnam and never fished with them.  That they were a gold mine for the man I was facing was alright with me.  Each to his own.

     A little reading when I got home told me leech traps are a simple affair.  Also got me thinking about the weird crap I look up on line.  The traps cost practically nothing to make.  A small container such as a plastic bucket or coffee can, bait, a few holes in the can to let the leeches in, a float to mark its position, and you're in business.  Kind of like digging for worms outside of the vampire aspect.

     Turned out the man's canoe leaked.  That sure was a surprise.  The fact that it still floated was even more of a surprise.  At first I thought that was why he was wearing waders.  But then I thought about him being in a small boat with hundreds of leeches.  Waders made sense.

     He told me his father worked for a major engineering firm where he designed switches for a variety of electronics.  His old man continually reminded the Leech Man of the many advantages of such a life.  Car, house, retirement, come home to the quiet of good furniture, cable television and a glass of wine, maybe a few more to stifle the crazy voices.  But that life wasn't for the Leechster.  No sir.  He needed the freedom to do as he wanted, when he wanted.  During the winter months he trapped muskrats down in southeast Minnesota.  Whether for pelts or for dinner he didn't say.  A good life in its own, way off center, way.

     The ironic angle, seems irony always comes to pay a visit, in his pursuit of peace had to do with the current shortage of live bait.  The bait shops were on his case in their need for more and were constantly calling to tell him to hurry up.  Had my wits decided to follow me into the woods I'd have checked his hip out for a cell phone.  Seems like everyone's wired these days, why not a trapper?

     However, I couldn't take my mind off of his body and how long it would last.  Nothing lasts forever but, dear Lord, working by yourself with steel traps and blood suckers under the most extreme of conditions seems to beg for a missing limb at the least.  Then where would he be?  End up in some old folks nursing home as a public charge way before his time.  Where's your freedom then?  While I was thinking this he picked out a couple of the smaller leeches and pitched them back in the lake.  But for the moment he was doin' fine and talked of upgrading his canoe.

     The subject moved around to road conditions in the forest.  He blamed their deteriorating state on ATV riders from the Cities.  Said there was a time when you could drive a car up to any of the nearby waters and leech to your heart's content.  But now the State was pretty much turning the forest over to the four wheelers.  That brought to mind the roar in the woods last fall as I sat on a tiny trout lake.  The studded tires on those rigs were hell on the forest floor and explained the poor condition of the access I'd just been on.  Such is life.

     I'm not sure if it was Albert the Alligator or Pogo the 'Possum who said the words but they went something like this, "We have met the enemy and he is us."  It's easy to blame others for the problems in the world but there I was tearin' up the access roads with my tires.

     The Leech Man stood between me and the water.  Like most natural lakes there was no beach to speak of, just a grassy opening between woods and water with some thin alder brush here and there.  Behind him the lake appeared to be at least ten acres before it turned a corner and passed out of sight.  Had possibilities.  I asked if there were any fish in the lake.  What he said both surprised me and filled in a gap in my knowledge.

     "None at all.  Any fish in there and there'd be no leeches.  I used to set traps in a great shiner lake not far from here.  Then locals threw in a few bass and bluegills.  That's all she wrote.  Most of these lakes used to be free of fish.  Not so any more."

     That got me thinking.  Why would there be any fish in most of them?  Nearly all sat completely separated from any others.  Maybe they'd been that way since the glaciers melted.  Why would there be any fish in them unless something put them there.  According to the DNR, forty years ago a couple of my favorite lakes had nothing but bullheads.  Now they were thick with bluegills, bass, and pike.  Guess we just like to mess with our environment and bend it to our wants.  Of course it doesn't always work out.  The little lake we fished last year, Gadbolt, was ruined by adding pike.  Seemed they ate all the bass.  But where did the bass come from?

     About then I felt a little tickling on my right thigh.  Time to go and drop my pants in private.  Then head back to the cabin for a fine meal of doctored leftovers.  We said our good-byes and wished each other luck in our pursuits of both leeches and the fish that ate them.