Tuesday, December 30, 2014

'Bamaland - 2014-5

     Arrived today.  Gear still in the process of being unloaded and sorted.  Hopefully there'll be something to write about over the next few months.  No wilderness, no canoe, no Canada but Alabama has more A's.  Close enough.  Gotta long rod, spinners to fling, hardly even need any fish.  Yup, I'm the zen fisherman.  Only thing more zen-like would be to not fish at all.  Skunked?  The zen fisherman is never skunked.  What is the sound of one arm casting?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Panic Time

     So what did I forget?  Have one rod and one reel.  Enough so long as nothing goes wrong.  Best pack another set, but which ones?  Decided on a decent reel I have no love for and a seven and a half foot fiberglass light weight I kinda do like.  Problem solved?  Problems are never solved, they simply evolve.
     Then there's all the lure making stuff.  Blades, wire former, buck tails, etc.  I know I've missed something but I'll be damned if I'm treading through all the crap again.
     Yeah, packing for three months involves a lot of preparation.  Just writing these words makes me want to throw in a couple of fly rod setups just in case.  Or maybe pack the waders.  Yeah, the waders.  I can just see me now, ball deep in the bay, humming a happy tune, when along floats a jellyfish.  Then another, and another till I'm surrounded by the slimy buggers.  My waders aren't breathable.  In a panic I just might fill them to the knees with bodily fluids.  Not good.  Best sleep on it.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Plans for the Southland

     Been told I didn't need another one but sure felt I did.  Been wanting a noodle rod for several years for solo canoe fishing and also figured one would be just the thing for shore fishing down in Alabama.  Two birds was just enough excuse for me to cave in.  Ordered one to go along with the salt water reel I'd also fallen for.  Last year I brought the fly rods for casting practice.  This year I'm actually hoping to catch something.
     A noodle rod is a long, ultra light fishing pole, something like a fly rod but rigged for spin fishing.  In my case it's a nine footer.  Some are a bit longer.  I went with the shorter of the two in my price range 'cause the coin flip told me to.  If it turns out I'd been better off with a ten footer at least it won't have been my fault.
     The idea behind a noodle is extreme length compensates for ultra light weight.  Rather than going with a stout rod, the whip of a noodle softens the effect of a relatively large fish.  Also allows the fisher to go with a lighter weight line.  And makes it possible to throw lures of only a thirty-second of an ounce.  Covers the gamut from sunfish to twenty pound red fish.  At least that's what I've read.  We'll see.  That's what the reviews say but I have my doubts.  If it turns out a nine foot ultra light works for ten pound fish could it be possible to musky fish with a fifteen footer?
     Then there's the business end of the line to consider.  For me that means spinners of course.  Figuring there's no way a man could have too much tackle I ordered enough crap to tie up, paint and form sixty of them in sizes three, four and five.  A little research turned up a spinner rig for red fish and speckled sea trout that's right up my alley (a dark one with overflowing trash cans).  About the only thing left to find is some new nail polish to make the blades extra special.  Fish appreciate a quality paint job as much as a well tied bucktail treble hook.  Well, at least I do.

Friday, October 24, 2014

It Always Takes Longer Than Planned

     Three days at the cabin in fine weather is always a pleasure.  Sure was this time.  I'd headed north to fish 'til my arms ached.  Didn't work out that way.  The wind was roaring on Tuesday and Wednesday but temperatures were mid-fall mild.  Not canoe conditions but definitely good for biking or walking.
     I haven't forgotten my intention to walk all sixty-eight miles of the North Country Trail lying within the Chippewa National Forest.  Doing so may take the better part of a decade.  If it does then so be it.  Seeing as how I'm day tripping the attempt, each mile gets walked twice, out and back.  So, the sixty-eight turns into a hundred and thirty-six.  Figuring eight or nine miles per day and one or two days a year (I'd walk more days but my attack of Lyme Disease and fear of a recurrence put the Summer months off limits) moves me well into my seventies.  The clock's ticking, not gettin' any younger and, the truth be known, whether or not I do it is of little consequence.
     On Tuesday evening I pulled out the trail map to figure out my Wednesday hike.  I was drawn to a four mile stretch touted as having a fine stand of old growth red pines.  I like trees.  It also passed several small lakes.  I like lakes.  One of them was a stocked trout lake.  I like trout lakes.  So that was the plan.  Unless I changed my mind.
     But I didn't.  Turned out to be easy, too easy.  The weather was ideal.  Cool enough to need two layers on top.  Hardly broke a sweat.  My top layer was a blaze orange windbreaker.  No sense taking any chances even though gun season for deer won't start for a week or two.  However, bow season or black powder was in progress.  Ever since I'd had a bead drawn on me twenty-five years earlier while running a gravel road I've been gun-shy when Fall rolls around.
     Deer opener brings more armed people to the woods of Minnesota than there were grunts in Vietnam.  The major difference between the groups has to do with training.  Before we hit the paddies and mountains in Asia each of us had logged five months of instruction and practice.  About all a deer hunter has in his/her background is a permit and a rifle.  So I wear blaze orange in hope the color will pierce the consciousness of even a bad hangover.
     As it was I spooked a few grouses and they in turn spooked the hell out of me.  How anyone could get a shot off before those birds were long gone is beyond me.  'Spose it'd take some getting used to the rush of flight in the silence of the woods to get the gun up and working as opposed to simply wetting my drawers.  And meandering down the trail and paying close attention to the whirr of the grouse would take some of the fun out of a good walk.  My mind likes to wander even farther afield than my feet.
Unnamed Lake
     Between birds I passed Hazel Lake.  The DNR stocks it with rainbow trout in the Spring each year so bumblers like me can pass a couple of hours not catching them.  More on that later.  Hazel's barely big enough to be classified a real lake but it does have two campsites for fishermen or hikers.  Either would be a good spot to spend a night with my grandson Jakob.  Would be even better if Hazel had a few bass or bluegills.  Not that I don't think he's up to catching trout but it'd be embarrassing should he out fish me.  Maybe we could bobber fish with worms, leave it up to chance.  That way I'd have an excuse.
                                                                                                                      When I started this entry I didn't realize how appropriate the title was going to be.  Since I wrote last, late Fall has turned into early Winter, deer hunting has made the woods a dangerous place to wander and I've simply run out of writing gumption.  There's only so much to be said about what it's like being outside.  If you've been there you know how it looks, sounds, feels and smells.  Writing and reading about being there just ain't the same.  Lord, do I know that.
     Since those walks I've kept myself busy building a deer-proof, raised garden bed for my son and daughter-in-law.  Sounds relatively simple 'til you know what the garden will look like when it's done.  It's a twelve foot by twelve foot, cedar affair built on a slope.  The upper wall is two and a half feet tall and the lower, a tad over four feet.  The entryway has a three foot by six foot, arts and crafts garden gate leading to a six by six, raised, inner court yard with a decked floor.  All the walls will be topped with four foot high screening.  Yup, she's an elaborate affair.  The garden's not done yet.  Call it ninety percent.
      What I miss about working for a living is the creativity needed to figure out and do each day's tasks.  Thinking is good.  Blog writing fills some of the gap but takes a back seat when I get involved with a project like the garden.  Anyway, that's my excuse for the near month-long gap.

     Like I said, the eight miler went by fast.  Fast enough a part of me wanted a return in the morning but there was that need to go fishing standing in the way.  After all, the reason I was up north was to hammer the trout lakes and maybe even catch a few.  So, before the sun set I loaded up the truck and lashed the solo canoe atop with the idea of an early start in the morning.
     I woke to a mild breeze and overcast.  Near perfect trout conditions.  Can't say I was enthusiastic about my chances but that's one of the beauties of fishing, you just never know when your best day will come.
     Hazel Lake was easy to find.  Even the half mile sand access road was no problem.  My history says it's always possible to make a wrong turn even if the road I'm on is the only one around.  But I did okay.  Crossing the North Country Trail got me to slow, look both ways and wish I was afoot.  But there were trout to catch so I moved on.
Hazel Lake

     As usual I scanned the sand road for tire tracks.  One fresh set had me worried but it turned out the grassy access was deserted.  Good.  I'd brought two rods.  A couple of weeks earlier at a church thrift shop, Lois had talked me into an old, two buck, seven foot, fiberglass Shakespeare Wonderod.  It cleaned up to near new and it was already strung with reel and four pound mono tipped with, what else, a little homemade spinner.  The other rod I had yet to assemble was a ten foot fly rod.  Went with a home-tied Clouser Minnow on the business end.  'Spose you could call it a fly but the Clouser is more or less a jig.  Call it what you will, for me homemade takes some of the bite out of being skunked and adds to the good feeling should I catch 'em by the bucketful.
     The access sits on a little bay that looked like it needed something out of the ordinary to perk up its day.  Like maybe a balding, gray haired man flinging a lure into its water with a fifty-eight year old spinning rod.  Yup, I was up to the task.  Gotta say I liked the slow motion feel of the rod.  Like a catapult.  After having lived with decades of graphite the old whip in my hand took some getting used to.  A timing problem solved with a half dozen casts.  It sure could lob an eighth of an ounce a long way.
     Earlier I'd looked up the model number on the internet.  What I had in my hand was supposed to be an ultralight but was stamped a medium.  Coulda fooled me, it sure acted like an ultralight.  If you're not familiar with the old Shakespeares, they're usually, and this one was, white shafted.  Throw in red and gold windings and a cork handle.  The reel mount was a green metal affair which could be slid up and down the handle.  Maybe that was Shakespeare's way of allowing the rod to balance out with different sizes of reels.  Yup, I liked the rod alright, so much so I almost left the fly rod in the truck.
      I'd like to ramble on about all the fish I tied into or the number of hits I had or even all the bald eagles I saw.  But I won't.  Except for the bald eagle whose luck was about the same as mine.  The upside was all the casting practice.  Tried this, tried that.  Learning to snap my wrist downward just before I released the line pulled it all together.  It was a lot like a baseball pitcher throwing a sinker.  The wrist snap kept the rod accelerating to the very end of the cast.  Would have been nice to have at least one hit as I worked the entire shoreline.  In desperation I trolled the lake's length with the fly rod.  Finished that off with flinging the Clouser Minnow a few dozen times along the north shore.
     In retrospect I could've gone elsewhere for bass and pike.  Would've been fine for a fish or two, then left me with a deflated feeling saying, "You should have gone for the trout old man."  I gave some thought to another trout lake.  However, the sun was peeking through the clouds and threatening to take over the entire sky.  When it did I figured any chance of hooking any trout would be slim at best.  On the upside, the North Country Trail was only a couple of hundred yards away.  And, sun or cloud, it'd be there for the walking.
     Ten minutes after loading I found myself in the turnout for the trail.  Same one as yesterday.  I was in the process of resigning myself to the eleven miles waiting for me in the woods.  Been a while since I'd covered that many miles on foot.  The five and a half miles out would fill in the gap between the four miles I'd covered the previous day and a four and a half I'd walked two years earlier.  The inward five and a half would get me back to the truck.  Yeah, I was a little spooked by the distance.  As usual, my preparation was minimal.  Just old running shoes on my feet, a dark chocolate bar, a half bottle of water I slugged before setting off and the fishing clothes on my back.  Hell, this wasn't an expedition, just a stroll in the woods.
     The goal for the day was a vaguely remembered spot somewhere near the shore of North Stocking Lake.  I figured I'd recognize it by the map in my mind and, as it turned out, the sign posted to the side of the trail.
     It was another near perfect day for a walk, cool and sunny.  The opening mile was a pleasure.
The Trail
Ponds here and there.  A half mile passed along an esker.  At least that's what I thought it might be.  This is glacier country.  Most of the hills I suspect of being moraines, so why not an elongated ridge as an esker?  Makes it sound so much more wilderness like.
     Wasn't long before I entered the forest primeval.  Thickly treed, dense undergrowth, filtered light.  There I came upon the bear's bathroom, a short stretch where they came to mark their territory or simply got into some bad grub.  Whatever the reason there were several piles of scat.
     The first two miles flew by.  So easily I figured the eleven would be no problem or, at worst, nothing more than fatiguing.  What I hadn't figured was the return miles growing in length.  Reaching the turnaround at North Stocking I was already starting to fatigue.  Oh well, what the hell, suck it up and move on.  That's what I did.  My only breaks involved photographs.
     Once again I learned it takes a talented eye to do justice to a view.  Wish I had one.  Maybe if I had more time (an odd thing to say when you're retired) photography would be a skill to learn.  Find a pair of swans on a pond and stalk them like a hunter to get a photo that'd look splendid on a blog post.  But there were only the three days to cram with as much doing as I could and still have time to do nothing of consequence like reading and cooking.
     Yeah, I slogged those last three miles.  Began to look for the crossing of the Woodtick Trail close to a mile before I reached it.  "Should be around the next turn in the trail" passed through my mind a dozen times before it actually was.  What lightened those last two miles was a large stand of red pines.  Some I figured to be three feet wide at the stump.  Big, big trees for Minnesota.
     Turned out I was right.  In retrospect the eleven miles was no more than fatiguing.  By the morning I  could have done it again but it was time to pack it up and head home.  Hopefully we'll make it up north one more time before sub-zero temperatures come to roost.  There's a canoe laying alongside the house that should be in the shed.  Hopefully that'll be excuse enough.
 
   

   

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Moon Shadow

     Under normal circumstances my bladder is full around four in the morning.  For a few years now I've been considering a pail for my business but never seriously enough to actually bring one from home.  Besides, heading outdoors in the middle of the night is not something I'd ever consider doing in the city.  Yeah, once under the trees I could head down to the outhouse but that calls for a blind shot to a small target in a dark little box.  Or perching on the seat and baring tender parts to whatever toothy vermin call the underfloor home.  Much easier to simply enjoy the opportunity to take in the fullness above while emptying below.  Mosquitoes are a problem during the warm months but this last week brought lows in the mid-thirties.  Perfect evacuation weather.

     Unfortunately, I saw only one star.  Our land lies beneath a dark night sky.  When there's no moon, the Milky Way looks like you could grab hold and pull yourself into the heavens.  However, on the first night the clouds were thick and the world below, black.  The other two nights were gauzed-over and hid all those up north stars but did little to damper the near full moon.  I suppose it could have been brighter during the wee hours but no flashlight was needed when I wandered through the unlit cabin.  Outside it was bright enough to read (should I have been interested in reading while I peed) so long as the print was large and held nose close.  Don't know why I turned my back to the moon, maybe to read the book I didn't carry or to have my silhouette to fire upon.  Started at my head and worked my way home.  Don't recall if Cat Steven's song had him doing what I was doing to my moon shadow.  Maybe I should check out the lyrics?  Back in a minute….  Nope.  Seemed he was concerned about losing his body parts and doin' a lot of leapin' and jumpin'.  S'pose I could have pranced around while takin' a leak but my dance would've been more wet than wise.

     Anyhow, as I was standing there spread-legged, off in the distance over on Deadman the trumpeter swans began to cavort.  A city block away and their flapping and honking was clear as my shadow.  A few seconds later they were joined by a chorus of coyotes yip-yippin' away.  Can't say I've ever been accompanied a finer choir.  All of us doing what comes (or goes) naturally.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

So, What Do I Do With It?

     For the past couple of years I've been an avid fan of Ebay's vintage fly rod listings.  Even bought a couple of classic fiberglass rods through them a while back.  Cripes, now I've got more fly rods than you can shake a stick at and don't really use them a lot.  Once in a while I get the urge and whip some line.  I'm not all that good at it and never will be.  But I have caught my share of foolish fish with them.  Gotta admit a fly rod is a lot of fun when the fishing is hot.  And the rods are a pleasure to pull out of the tubes once in a while simply to see and hold them.  And when the urge strikes I've got a choice of sticks.
     Not needing another rod is no reason for me to stop looking at the Ebay listings.  That and checking out bamboo rod discussion forums have both taught me a lot about an esoteric subject which has little or no real meaning in life.  But it's fun.  I've come to know manufacturers, models, what's good and bad, which rods would be affordable if I ever went insane.  Can't say I'm anywhere near an expert.  Heck, I've never actually held a bamboo rod in my hands.
     That all changed about a week ago.  Lois and I were visiting friends and relatives in the Milwaukee area.  While there we did a brief rummage through the antique shops of Cedarburg.  Off in the corner of one of them I spied a cloth fly rod sock.  Oh me, oh my, just had to check it out.  A quick check told me it was complete and in very good shape.  The manufacturer's label was gone but the model was written in white ink near the cork, Vernley.  been over the charts enough times to know the rod was a top model from Horrocks-Ibbotson.  Nearly all their rods were bottom end and sold for five to seven bucks in 1950s hardware stores and such.  The Vernley however, sold for five times that and was considered a decent casting rod.
     Long story short I bought it for the tag price of forty-five dollars.  So now it sits here at home.  Needs one tip straightened and touched up with varnish.  That'll give me a fun project for the winter months.  Outside of those minor shortcomings, she's a fine rod that can't be easily used with modern fly lines without redoing the stripping guide.  And I have no need for it whatsoever.  And will never buy another, unless I stumble upon one.
   

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Outbound

     Brian set his phone alarm for six o'clock.  Never thought of it before but I guess a cell phone does have its place in the Boundary Waters.  No matter the nature of the trip inevitably time plays a role and a cell phone is smaller than an alarm clock.  In keeping with the spirit of where we were our phones could have been left in the car.  Also in keeping with where we were, they could have been stolen, though I find that hard to believe.  Never heard of forestry road gangs unless that's what they call the crews who keep the trails clear of deadfall.
     Around five-forty the alarm went off.  Odd.  Brian reset the time and we quietly laid there hoping some of the night would start to give up the ghost.  At six it was still pitch black.  Also odd.  Fortunately Brian had brought a pair of headband lights that came in mighty handy over the next forty-five minutes as we gobbled down calories and broke camp.  By the time we pushed off there was more than enough daylight to see where the lake ended and the trees began.
     And boy did we cruise.  Borderline canoe men.  Our line was die straight and the light headwind had no effect on our progress.  Less than half an hour later we'd landed and said goodbye to West Pike.  Even the portage went faster now that we'd eaten twenty pounds and dumped what remained of the cooler ice.  By the time we hit Clearwater the idea of a return next year was appealing.  We even began to discuss a trip to East Pike and catch bass 'til our arms hurt.
     Clearwater smoked by until we hit the big bend in the lake with three miles to go.  That's right, I'd almost forgotten about saying something three days earlier about headwind in and headwind out.  And our dead west headwind was a good one with rollers, whitecaps and an army of playful zephyrs to whack us in the face every half minute.  Only one thing to do, suck it up, duck our heads and dig hard.
     Looking back on the paddle it seems we couldn't have taken more than an hour to finish the lake.  In truth it was closer to two hours for the three miles.  Oddly I never felt we were in jeopardy though there were times when the canoe was moving sideways more than forward.  But once we'd committed ourselves, the over-riding thought was nose to the wind.  And that it'd eventually be over.
     Finally we found a break from the wind with a quarter mile to go.  There I began to laugh hysterically.  Tears down the face.  There was this picture in my head concerning the way I felt and just had to let Brian in on it.  Wasn't all that funny but it sure tickled my fancy.
     While we sat bobbing in the shallows I started in, "I'm so tired and numb at the moment that a pit bull could run up and sink its teeth into my testicles as we off-loaded our gear.  Wouldn't bat an eyelash.  Hell, I could drive all the way into the Grand Marais hospital with him still holding on.  Walk in the door and ask if there was a doctor available to surgically remove the dog.  While sewing me up the doctor would no doubt faint from all the blood oozing out.  Leaving the doc laid out on the floor I'd walk into the lobby, naked from the waist down with the needle and thread still hanging and call out, 'is there a seamstress in the house?' "
     Brian kind of stared and chuckled a bit, maybe even laughed.  Can't say for sure since the tears were messing up my vision and my laughter drowned out any outside noise.  Guess you would have to have been there.  Me too.  What seemed hysterical at the time now just seems odd.
     Turned out we'd arrived at eleven o'clock like we'd hoped even though the headwind had added an hour to the trip.  It seemed Brian's phone had somehow given us an hour and we'd gotten up at five instead of six.  They don't call them smart phones for nothing.
     We stopped in Grand Marais for coffee and phone calls.  Let those who cared know we were okay and to charge up on needed caffein.  The five hour drive to the cities was actually fun.  Sure beat having to put nine hundred miles behind us like in the Manitoba days.  Among other things we talked of a possible return.  By then the pain of the portages was just a memory and I was already getting fired up about a possible next year.
   

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Return to East Pike Lake

     It'd been forty-eight years since I first saw the lake.  Brian, my middle aged nephew up there in the front of the canoe, was just out of diapers when Rod Middlested and I first fished its waters.  Not that that means a whole lot to anyone but me.  But there was a part of me wanting to be where we were heading on Friday morning much the same as that day in '92 when I chose East Pike as Allan's introduction to the Boundary Waters.  For me the lake was, and is, the be all, end all.
     Brian had fished East Pike in '94 during our first (of three) annual, family style BWCA fishing trip and had a fair amount of luck.  He caught more than his share of smallies including a four plus pounder.  Don't know if he was more pumped than me to be returning but it wouldn't have surprised me.
     As far as I was concerned the only drawback to our day was having to approach the lake from the west instead of the east.  We wouldn't paddle the rapids into John Lake, do the up and over portage into East Pike and most of all, wouldn't stand on the basalt slab at the end of the portage.  You wouldn't think that last part could carry much meaning but it sure does.  Was standing there when I caught my first smallmouth, did a selfie back there with twelve year old Allan and I've dreamt of that rock several times.  Simply put, it's one of my happy places.
     Back when Lois was pregnant with Allan we took birthing classes.  One part of them was learning a kind of self hypnosis technique in which we'd lose ourselves in a happy place of our own choosing.  Mine was the basalt slab on East Pike.  Hadn't realized the connection for Allan and and I until now.  Sometimes there's more going on than meets the eye.  I have no idea what makes the world go round but for me that slab is an important place.  Guess I'll have to find a way to return next year.  Spend some time on the basalt, maybe even take a nap.
     Once again, not wanting to stumble around in the dark, we slept in.  After a hot and gobble it down before it gets cold breakfast, we pushed off on another splendid day to be alive.  Originally the plan had been for a day on a trout lake by the name of Gogebic.  In my mind's eye getting there was a simple slog of no more than a hundred rods straight up a steep slope.  Brian would carry the canoe, I'd carry the rods and paddles (unless I could convince him to carry it all and maybe also piggy back me).  Tough but we were tough guys ready to take on any challenge.  When me and my mind's eye took the time to actually scope out the trail I realized my folly. The portage wasn't but a few rods long.  Then it turned into the Border Trail and meandered here and there before passing by the lake.  The hundred rods turned into something over two hundred.  The portage into East Pike on the other hand was listed as a hundred-seventeen rods.  Us tough guys quickly turned into us reasonable guys.
     Seeing as how the carry was flat and short we left the portage yoke back in camp.  I could say I forgot it and was too lazy to turn around after a quarter mile but I won't.  What the heck, a couple of reasonable guys like me and Brian could each hoist an end and carry the canoe from West Pike all the way to Duluth without breaking a sweat.  Sure didn't work out that way.  We not only broke a sweat but had to set the Wenonah down a half dozen times.  Why a canoe being carried by two men should seem to weigh more to each than one thrown on the shoulders of a single man is more than I can figure out.  But it does.  Could be carrying a boat, open side up, bears the weight of all the atmosphere from there to the edge of outer space whereas all that air slips off an upside-down canoe and falls to the ground.  Best e-mail Stephen Hawking for his opinion on that.
     Flat in the real world isn't flat.  Instead it's a constant up and down punctuated by rock, root and mud.  Anyhow, that's my excuse for setting the canoe down as much as we did.  It also seemed like someone had moved the lake.  We didn't come on East Pike until the seventh around the next corner.  Allan and I had done the same carry seventeen years earlier and I'd recalled it as being more rods than the number on the map.  But memory is fickle 'specially when the brain involved is pushing seventy.  Later in the day I learned my twenty year old map was off by sixty rods.  Cartographic typo?
     I'd also recalled the put-in as being a jumble of pointy rocks.  It was.  Chalk one up for memory even though I'd rather have been wrong.  We could easily see the most used avenue of attack by all the aluminum streaks on the rocks.  Made my teeth cringe.  A minute of scouting found a better way and we were off.
     The first mile of East Pike looks more like a river than a lake.  She's nothing but deadfall for the bass and cabbage beds for pike.  In fact our first fish was a pike - can't I was happy about that - pushing thirty inches.  Brian released it for me.  He's a man in his prime who does stuff with skill and aplomb and I'm smart enough to let him show off his talent.  Also cuts down on pike punctures.  Brian grabbed the fish behind the gills just like he knew what he was doing.  A minute later, after I promised to catch no more pike - not easy when one of your nicknames is the Snake Charmer - we moved on in pursuit of bass.
     East Pike is noted for its smallmouth bass.  One of the best lakes around.  But we were nearly an hour into the paddle before we started to find a pattern.  At least we thought it was a pattern since our luck never grew to hot and heavy proportions.  Mostly Brian did the catching.  That was okay with me.  Boat control was as much a part of the experience as landing fish.  I was happy simply being where I was and watching Brian tie into some bass.
     We'd caught a good drift along the north shore only requiring a sculling stroke now and then to correct our course.  Over the next hour while casting spinners parallel to shore we landed perhaps ten fish.  None was bigger than two pounds but all fought hard and never gave up 'til pulled from the water.  Smallies are respected for their fighting ability, no doubt due to their dislike of having holes popped through their faces.  Might also have something to do with their fear of hot frying pans.  I have to agree with them.  Can't say I've ever wanted to have the meat sliced from my bones, dipped in batter and fried in a half inch of boiling oil.
     We took a break on a basalt slab point that had seen a lot of traffic over the years (centuries?).  Why not, it was a perfect site.  The landing was level and wide.  Plenty of places to pitch a tent or build a fire for a shore lunch.  All told it was the best camp site on the lake but it wasn't designated as such by the Forestry Service.  While there I did the usual kicking around in hope of finding something cool, maybe from the Voyageur days.  Instead I found artifacts from the previous century, old bottle caps, removable beer can pull tabs and a sheet of rusted steel.  Guess I found the cool stuff a couple of hundred years early.  I left it all there to age.
     The carry back into West Pike was no easier.  Same length, same routine and I was a few hours older.  On the way we ran into the high-tech twins direct from REI Sporting Goods.  Their gear looked to weigh about the same as the stack of hundreds they forked over to pay their bill.  Brian recognized their stuff for what it was.  All I could think of was, "This canoe keeps getting heavier by the second."
     Dinner was home made spaghetti and a bunch of other edibles we wolfed down hoping to reduced the morning's load on the way out.  Needing an early start so Brian could get ready for work on Monday morning, we crawled into the bags around nine.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Friday


     Every so often when in the boonies I get the feeling Armageddon has happened and I've missed it.  The whole world gone.  Pfft.  None left but us paddlers out beyond cell phone range and no one left to call even if we could hook up.  Anyhow, that's what I was feeling when I awoke.  That, a stiff back and a right arm that hadn't as yet rejoined the living.
     Light level is my alarm clock.  It's hard to stay in bed past 6am in the summer and hard to roll out of the sack before 7am in the dreariness of winter.  Several times during the night I'd awakened to eyeball the tent ceiling looking for signs of morning.  For an hour after my mid-night stumble into the woods to urinate, it got a little brighter, then got darker again like the earth had gotten tired of spinning west to east and reversed itself.  Not sure what was going on I did the only logical thing, hit the snooze alarm in hope morning would eventually arrive.  Finally both of us gave up the ghost and arose under an intense overcast.  Layers on layers of clouds shielding us from from the evil, melanoma raising rays.  But it wasn't raining and no rain was in the forecast.  We had food, a stove and a lake full of fish to catch right outside our door.  Out of the tent we found no frost on the ground but we could see our breath in the air.  Our morning prayer of thanksgiving was for the person who came up with long johns (rumor has it they were named after John L. Sullivan.  Must have been cold when he was in the ring.  Could have been his bare chest and knuckles that brought on the chill).  Life was good.
     As far as the fishing went on Friday I'd best talk about how well we ate and all the firewood Brian gathered.  Yeah, it was slow.  The cause could have been the massive cold front that'd passed through on Wednesday.  Could have been the angle of the sun during the few moments it'd peeked through the clouds.  Could have been our lure selection, where we fished, the color of my boots or even what I'd eaten for breakfast on my last day of school back in eighth grade at St. Austin's.  Best skip the last one or I'll start blaming it all on the nuns once again (truth be known I'm leaning on having done something terribly wrong in my previous life as a flatworm in Ireland.  Karma is a powerful thing.).
     Sausages, eggs and Texas fried potato patties?  Could be that's what we had.  If we didn't, that's what we should have had.  A few days earlier while packing I distinctly remembered thinking, "Spatula?  Spatula?  We don't need no stinking spatula!"  On Thursday while flipping the grilled cheese I realized my mistake.  Fingers and a fork worked okay but a spatula would have been way better.  Looking at six eggs in the morning's pan that little voice in my head laid another of those nasty 'I told you so's' on me.  Nasty little voice.  Only one thing to do, grab the fork once more, cut and scramble the whole mess up and call it breakfast.  It ate good.
     It's not like we spent all our time in camp working out the day's menu.  In fact we pushed off and covered most of the east third of West Pike.  Hours and hours of fishing.  And we weren't skunked.  We worked bays, points, protected spots and wave beaten shores.  Jigged them, spun them and threw plugs both big and small.  The bass, they were a tight lipped pack on Friday, no fun at all.  That's why we finally pulled ashore for Brian to gather deadfall and drift wood.  All bone dry and bark free.  There we also learned birch trees are next on a beaver's pecking order after aspen.  Got me wondering if it's the taste of aspen or its relative softness Bucky finds attractive.  While I pondered that earth shaking problem, Brian scampered along the shore gathering this and sawing that, then throwing armfuls of wood into the canoe.  Yup, he was pilin' himself up quite a load.  Good thing we were in the middle of a lake in the middle of rain drenched forest.  Our chances of being hunted down as the perpetrators of the Great West Pike Fire of 2014 were slim.
     Dinner was a whole different story than the fishing.  Sometimes it's not so much what you're doing but how you're doing it.  Dinner was high on both.  Steak, taters and a lot of carrots.  In years past I'd brought along a bag of little carrots as grinders with digestion in mind.  There's a lot of soft food consumed in the backwoods.  Seems soft food has a way of sticking to your ribs as the old folks used to say.  Not only sticks to your ribs but has a way of moseying through one's digestive system in no hurry what-so-ever to again see the light of day.  Call the carrots an inducement.
     Before firing up the stove Brian broke open a wedge of French cheese he'd brought along to go with the box of wine he'd also packed.  So there we sat, or stood, cup of dry wine in one hand, bits of cheese in the other, men in the woods.  Yarrgg!
     We'll start with the potatoes.  They were store bought hash brown patties.  Had the seasonings and some kind of oil already infused.  Outside of the potato chunks there was little in them that smacked of homemade.  But they were tasty, kind of like having fast food in the forest.  The carrots were fried en masse in a puddle of foaming butter and seasonings till they were caramelized and nicely browned.  Decadent indeed and all Brian's idea.  The strip steaks were fried much the same, seared to a black crispness on the outside then warmed through over a much reduced heat.  Dessert was granola bars and honey crisp apples.  Damnation it was fine!
     One of the pleasures of camping is taking the time to prepare a good meal.  I didn't know that in the early days.  Back then my idea was packing a dozen envelopes of freeze dried meals, to save weight of course, adding water and heating the meal to a tolerable warmth.  The stuff wasn't nauseating and if we were hungry enough, which was pretty much every meal, it went hot and fast.  At least until the last few bites from the pouch when the stuff had cooled and my tastes buds were in shock.
     Regardless of the passage of time freeze dried was no real improvement over the c-rations and LRRP rations we had in Vietnam.  Yeah, they also went down easily at first.  Hunger can overcome bad tasting food for a while but only for a while.  Finally, after a month in the field, my menu was reduced to crackers, peanut butter, fruit, desserts and candy.  Meals be damned. Travel light and eat what you can stomach on a daily basis was a grunt's motto.
     Back in Allan and my Canada days we began to drag along a cooler with fresh food.  All told our food weight doubled but our meal appreciation went off the chart.  Maybe that's an exaggeration but you get the idea.  With fresh food, cooking turned into preparing, took longer but became part of the experience, the fun.
     Long story not so long, Brian and I ate well and took some of the edge off the mediocre fishing.  After the sun went down Brian kindled his bonfire.  He fired up a big bright blaze with occasional billows of smoke to make up for our lack of tobacco.  These days I seem to enjoy a fire more when someone else does the tending.  The weather was supposed to hold for another day and in the morning we were off to East Pike Lake.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Thursday

     Can't say I slept well.  The anticipation of what was to come wouldn't leave me alone.  Somewhere in the middle of the night I conked out for a few hours.  Brian had his alarm set for 6am but I'd already been lying there for a while in the growing light.  Years earlier I learned there was rest value simply by remaining in bed.  So there I laid keeping company with visions of whatever might come to be.  When the alarm fired I was up and at 'em like a sprinter (more or less).
     Before falling asleep I'd become convinced our bottle of stove gas was back in the garage in Minneapolis.  After showering the first order of business was a trip out to the truck to rummage through the food pack where the bottle would be if it had been packed.  No bottle.  Second order of business, buy a quart of fuel.  Doing so turned out to be a new storage bottle and a gallon of Coleman gas.  The joke was on me, I'd actually packed the fuel in the food pack but didn't dig deep enough.
     Breakfast - to include blueberry pancakes  - was at the Bluewater Cafe then up the Gunflint Trail toward Clearwater Lake.  The Gunflint was once indeed a trail, maybe even started as a caribou track, now it's a paved road.  Brian wondered if the name should be changed and figured it to be much more charming being called a trail.  Yes it is a charming road.  Two lanes passing through tight, towering forest, swamp, river and lake.  The Arrowhead region which it cleaves still has its share of moose, wolf and bear.  No caribou anymore, they all moved north back when the region was clear cut but, what the heck, it's about as close to a wilderness as us Yankee Doodlers have these days.
     After the prerequisite missed turn - not our fault, the number on the sign was different than the one on the map - we headed up the gravel side road to our put-in on Clearwater.  A handful of empty canoe rack topped cars greeted us.  We parked beneath a sign saying 'No Parking - Snow Plow Turnaround'.  A portent of what was to come?  The forecast was for highs in the fifties and frost in the morning, but snow?  Hoped not.
     Clearwater and all the other lakes of the area are the gifts of glaciers which passed through the region over the last couple of million years.  The Arrowhead itself is home to the Sawtooth Mountains, an ancient range formed by a rift in the earth through which bubbled up molten rock.  Must have been a lot of magma to make mountains.  These aren't anything like the Rockies or even the Appalachians but are much older.  From Lake Superior to the top of Eagle Mountain the rise is only sixteen hundred feet.  In another couple of billion years even the Rockies will be worn to hills.  Stay tuned to see what happens.
     Our brief paddle would pass along a series of bluffs rising three or four hundred feet above the lakes.  They even have scree along their steep slopes just like the real deal.  Undeniably beautiful but a little off the beaten path.
     The canoe loading took fifteen minutes including the 'selfie'.  We didn't really want to shoot the photo but laws are laws.  Besides, we suspected the 'selfie' police might be lurking in the hazel brush.
     Though it was still chilly the winds were down, way down from Wednesday, an important thing on the lakes we'd be traveling.  All in this area are west-east oriented, hill lined and notorious wind tunnels for for building rollers and whitecaps.  Usually the wind is out of the west, a tailwind for us this morning.  Thankfully we were looking at a northeaster which Clearwater was nicely bending into a perfect but mild, headwind.  I recall saying something to Brian as we pushed off along the line of, "Headwind out and for sure, a headwind in."  Yup, a prophesy and a certainty.
     Turned out the paddle was a pleasure.  My j-stroking was up to snuff and Brian a workhorse up front.  Since learning how to properly control a canoe from the stern seat my flailing has gone way down.  There are times I never switch sides from one end of a lake to the other.  Almost makes me think I know what I'm doing but don't want to say that out loud for fear of irritating the lake gods.  Those little guys and girls are there alright lurking below the waves and sunning themselves on the rocks.  One wrong, overconfident word from me and the canoe's going down baby.  Sink like a stone.  So I'll simply say, Brian and I enjoyed our paddle from the access to the Clearwater-West Pike portage.
     Our portage reminded me of my age.  But first it offered a reward.  Hanging from a cedar's branch was a dark green, in apparent good shape and reeking of campfire smoke, rain jacket.  We'd paddled past another canoe about a half mile back and figured it to be theirs.  Reason and honor told us to complete our first carry.  If the jacket remained unclaimed on our return, it was mine (all mine).  In one sense an overlooked hundred dollar jacket is not something I'd pick up.  Hell, it's not mine and the owner might return in the morning.  But this was the BWCA, if they weren't back in the next half hour they weren't coming back.  Also, the jacket was as much litter as campsite trash.  It was our civic duty to carry it out with us.  Yes, washed and aired out, the jacket now hangs in the front hall closet.  I'm considering having it mounted by a taxidermist to be hung on a wall at the cabin.  Fair game is close enough to wild game for me (for those of you in Europe that's a play on words).
     Back to the bear of a portage.  Allan and I had done this carry back in the mid-90s.  I recalled it as long and flat but no big deal.  The hundred foot hill in the middle seemed to have been lost in translation and the two hundred, seventeen rods of carry had definitely stretched.  Wet brush, roots, rocks, mud and our three layers of clothes made it a minor misery.  Might as well have been raining since I sweat through each and every garment on my upper body.  Foolish, old man in the woods.  And it hurt.  Not after a half mile as it had a decade earlier but right from the get go.  Top that off with me puffing along like a steam cog train engine (that's what it sounded like to me as I trudged along).
     Boy was it quiet.  The four loudest sounds in those thick woods were my heart, labored breathing, creaking leather boot strike and finally, a small stream off to the right.  When the wind's not up the far north is a land of silence on the far edge of a continent of noise.  Can't say I mind hearing my body when out of doors.  Lets me know I'm alive and kicking.
     BWCA.com is a useful tool when preparing for a Boundary Waters trip.  In it you'll find discussions on gear, fishing, campsites and essays on trips taken.  Reading it removes a little of the joy of personal discovery but also reduces a lot of the mistakes all of us make.  Figuring we'd camp on West Pike I'd read the discussions on campsites.  There I'd learned the location of the two best, both of which sat on the north shore.  Also learned the island campsite had little to recommend it.  Small tent sites and open to the ever present west winds.
     I explained this to Brian as we paddled along.  A mile into the lake he simply said, "Let's go for the island."  Truth is I'd wanted to camp on the island since passing through West Pike twenty years earlier.  A small site would fit the two of us perfectly and since the wind was down the openness would give us a view.  Turned out to be perfect for us.
     No rain in the offing, the first order of business was food.  In the past I'd pooh-poohed the amount of calories burned while paddling and portaging.  I mean, how much exercise is in a leisurely paddle and a few short walks?  Then I remembered the weight loss and exhaustion of all the previous trips.  We fired up the stove.  A smoking panful of grilled cheese sandwiches slathered in butter washed down with a quart of filtered water.  Can't say I recall them on many healthy eating lists but it was all I could do to keep from swallowing then whole.  Damnation they were fine.  Dessert followed once the coffee was brewed.
     Our fire grate was perched upon a basalt altar.  Looked like a lot of big boys had themselves a fine time hoisting and setting the hundred pound plus blocks.  Alongside the altar sat what could only be called a multi-tiered, basalt table for our stove and kitchen gear.  How nice indeed.  Our campsite mouse had a home within the boulders.  He/she seemed to enjoy a warming fire in the evening and feasted upon the crumbs of our droppings.
     The tent site sat a dozen yards inland from the kitchen.  It could have been a foot wider but posed no problem for our four man Eureka!  None for us either so long as we remembered to place our heads on the north side.  A half hour after eating all the gear was up or stored, we were home.  Dinner was eggs, sausages and Texas toast.  No shortage of cholesterol for us.  Conversation, as usual was a babble on inanities.  Witty, borderline profane - of course I stepped over the line now and then into the realm of disgusting -  and of no long term consequence.  In short, usual boonies banter.
     All well and good but we were there for the fishing.  Over the years I've learned fishing in the Boundary Waters is no better than it is around the cabin.  Odd but true.  Could be thirty years of experience fishing the waters of Cass County has something to do with it; home field advantage.  On the other hand BWCA fishing is no slouch and the smallmouth bass fishing is as good as it gets.  West Pike is noted for its lake trout but we had no expectations along that line.  Mostly we just wanted to bring some fish to the boat.
     As usual, what can you say about fishing?  For the first fifteen minutes it was a bass every other cast.  Then it stopped cold.  Brian picked up a couple an hour later to break the spell.  The last half hour was a trolling search for lakers in deep water of near summer warmth.  On the upside we weren't expecting much and weren't disappointed.
     I no longer listen for outside noises when laying in a tent.  About all I ever hear is the serenade of the loons.  Even that's only background noise.  Whether it's there or not it doesn't matter.  Don't know when my obliviousness began but one day, years ago, it did.  Regardless, I didn't sleep well that night.  Even brought two self inflating mattresses to put three inches between me and the rocky ground.  Such is life. Five hours of deep sleep will get me through most any day and that's about what I got.
     Must apologize at this point.  I want to get the details of this trip written but am not getting much joy from the attempt.  It'd be more fun to start making stuff up; add a little weirdness.  Or if strange, magical or tragic things had actually happened to us.  But they didn't.  Guess the problem is most of our mundane lives are filled with mundane happenings, even in places like the Boundary Waters.
     Maybe this is more to the point:  On this year's trip with Brian we passed a dozen canoes and heard voices from other campsites.  It was nice to see people but we were never more than a mile or two from others.  Simply put, I never felt alone in the wilderness.
     Five years earlier in northwest Manitoba with my son Allan we briefly attempted a mile and a half bushwhack to an unnamed lake.  A hundred yards into those woods I began to feel we were standing on the edge of the world.  When Allan disappeared for a couple of minutes looking for a way around a swamp I was borderline terrified.  Like he'd been swallowed up by the unknown.  If anything had happen to him or me we'd have been totally screwed.  We were off the map and no one knew where we were.  Sure, we'd probably have figured something out, probably.
      Simply put, the Boundary Waters isn't like that at all.  It's kind of like a civilized wilderness.  Sure, bad things can happen but it's also possible to be shot in your back yard by total strangers.  Can't say I'm right about my feelings but they are my feelings and I'm stuck with them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Aching Bones

     Day two : Yes, my bones do hurt.  J-stroke-itis in my upper left arm, rib cartilage on the lower left side (remnant of broken ribs from the '80s), stiff back and a case of boot toes.  I'm not complaining, that's just the way it is.  The price for the fun and it was fun.  There's still a few things to put away and then it's back to the projects of normalcy.
     Brian showed up an hour early last Wednesday.  Turned out to be a good thing as we killed the hour joining his gear to mine.  As usual, preparation is close to never-ending and doesn't stop till the tires leave the driveway.  About an hour later begins the panicked recollection of what was surely forgotten.  Finally in camp, us modern day voyageurs - this old one in particular - discover everything has been packed and I was only suffering from memory loss, not gear loss.
     The road is the road.  I know that doesn't mean anything but I like the thought.  Streets take you to work, grocery shopping and the dentist.  But the road - ahh, the road - takes you to where the line meets the water.  Solid carbon footprint, fast food, coffee and hours of excited conversation about nothing.  A front was blowing through, gusts were topping thirty, temperatures plummeting from the seventies to the thirties and it was sprinkling a bit.  Atop the truck our canoe vibrated but never caused a moment's worry.  We were wired, stoked and near to giggling.
     Two hundred, seventy miles stood between driveway and our date with the Gunflint Ranger Station before its doors locked for the evening. There was a backup permit site across the road at Bearskin Outfitters but it was the ranger station I wanted.  Good memories lived within and this was a trip based on memories.
     We made it by the 4:30 close even after sitting motionless at a roadblock for fifteen minutes.  Have to thank Brian for showing up nearly an hour early or we'd have been banging on the station's door at 8:00 the next morning.  Oddly enough that found hour stayed with us all the way to the end of the trip.
     The ranger was pleasant and more than willing to give us a brief rundown of Boundary Waters etiquette after the video program refused to work.  Nothing much new to learn.  Camp in a campsite, leave it cleaner than you found it and no loud parties after 9:00pm.  Odd they never suggest you stay alive.  A dead, rotting carcass would be both a nuisance to other campers, a fly breeder and a sure fire bear attractor.
     Next we were off to find our room for the night and  there discuss the ins and outs of thomsonite.  The lodge sat upon a bay noted for its supply of the semiprecious stone.  Think of an agate on LSD and you've a fair idea of what thomsonite looks like.  Another thing on my list of stuff to find, put in a drawer and forget about.
     After dinner in Grand Marais (bangers and mash washed down with ale) we wandered down to the roaring lakefront.  The wind was still up and the waves whipping the shore were surfable.  Six to eight footers in hypothermic water.  Yes, surfing is done on Lake Superior, in wet suits of course.  Must be an imported sport as I can't recall any paintings of Ojibway hanging ten on the big lake.  Hmm, birch bark surf boards, something to think about.  That night as I lay in bed the roar of waves on rock sounded like the north shore of Oahu, not Minnesota.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

Fatigue

     In the Army, fatigue is the time of day for cleaning, making sure everything is in working order and doing repairs if something isn't.  As to camping equipment, that's the job for today.  It'd be a lot easier if I wasn't so fatigued myself.  The old bones feel a little older than they did six days ago, my brain is numb, bitchy is my middle name and my muscles are sore.  Ten hours sleep last night was a step in the right direction but only a step.  All is about what I expected when the Boundary Waters trip was planned and that's good.  I'm not dead, only tired ( and not very creative).
     Seriously, the cleanup is every bit as important as the preparation.  Takes nearly as long and is nowhere near as much fun.  The trip's over and the next one, if there is one, is months away.  At the moment most everything is clean and packed away.  The deflation I used to experience after the big trips from a decade ago isn't there this time.  Maybe it's maturity?  Could be it was an unexpected stolen few days from normalcy?  Or that I'm simply too tired.  What did I expect?  I'm sixty-seven.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tick - Tick - Tick (no bugs this time)

     An hour and forty one to go.  Crap!  Best get packing.  Stuff all over the basement floor.  Oh well, stuff it in, stomp it down and hope for the best.  Wait a minute, gotta do my nails first.  Thank God the wind is up and the rain has slowed to a gentle, misted downpour.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Trepidation

     We leave in 24 hours.  Tent pack, food pack, rod tubes, paddles and stove are in the car.  Just the gear pack remains and it'll be a honker.  Maybe a few small helium balloons tied to the straps would make it lighter.  As it is the pack will go 55 pounds.  Back in the Canada days that was normal.  Somehow or other we'll get 'er over the portage.
     I've been over the list a half dozen times for fear I'll forget something, like maybe the canoe.  So much stuff for a three day camping trip.  You'd think we were heading to the tundra for a month's expedition.  Since it's a fishing trip we have about 25 pounds of tackle.  My God, 25 pounds of tackle!  Makes me feel like Al Lindner getting ready to film a new episode.  Oh well, with a little luck we'll only have the one 217 rod portage, at worst two and the second is half as long.
     It would be simpler if I didn't get so worked up over something I've done dozens of times in the past.  But that's the way it is.  As for what's waiting for us on the water, I have a few small hopes.  Wouldn't mind catching a laker.  A few smallies would also be nice.  Mostly I'd like for my nephew Brian to have a good time and boat dozens of fish.  And, of course, keep the lake on the outside of the boat.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Washing Dishes


     They were washed before I put them away but I figured it wouldn't hurt to clean the camping pots, pans and silverware before we dragged them out in the woods to re-dirty them.  Never ending cycle.  What the heck, how dirty can something get just sitting in the attic for five years?
     Top that off with it all being second hand crap.  Sixty year old fry pans, cheap thin-walled aluminum pots, plastic throw away bowls saved from recycling twenty years ago, coffee pot with a mismatched lid and silverware made with handle material that was declared toxic when Reagan was president.  Gotta admit I'm attached to each and every piece.  Washed each with tender, loving care.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sunfish

     Up in the northland it's bluegills, pumpkinseeds, greens and hybrids.  Yeah, those little panfish interbreed.  I'm not sure but I like to believe the hybrids are accidents of nature rather than perverted sexuality.  Milt drifts on the wrong eggs and presto, freaks of nature.  They look like sunnies but the color's a little off.  On the other hand the idea of sexually uninhibited panfish is kind of exciting.
     They're tropical fish pretty and fun to catch.  Been a while since I've purposefully killed any but I recall them as being tasty.  Fillet 'em, bread 'em and fry 'em up crisp.  Must be dinner time, my mouth is watering from the thought.
     Last week Lois and I spent a few days up north.  Needing a paddle and portage yoke was excuse enough for the three days.  The peace of the woods was merely a bonus.  As was the art crawl that passed within a few hundred yards of our driveway.  That's where I bought the sunfish painting in a handmade wood and birchbark frame.  The sunnie was a hybrid if you haven't guessed.  Now it goes on the wall.  Best hang it in a place where I'll be sure to see the print.  Stuff on the wall has a tendency to never be noticed.
     Made a reservation last night for a campsite on the night before we head into the Boundary Waters.  I've been sorting through the gear and, as always, am astounded by the amount of crap.  Also, how many needful things have to yet be found.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Old Friend

     Pulled my tent outside today.  It hasn't seen the sun in five years.  I considered slathering it in sunscreen but couldn't find any.  All told the Eureka! is fourteen years old.  Old enough to be suffering signs of old age, holes, mold, rot and arthritis.  But she was just fine.  Even the patch I'd put on the fly a decade ago was pristine.  Well, as pristine as a repair job can be.
     It erected easily and brought back memories just as easily.  Setting it up on the last day of our fourteen day 2002 trip was a challenge.  We'd spent most of the day paddling into a stiff headwind.  Finally bagged it after seeing what was ahead, eight or more miles of roaring three footers.  While Allan cooked the last of our food I set up the tent.  The two of us couldn't have handled any more.  We crawled into the bags around six o'clock that evening and slept for nearly eleven hours.
     Inside I was overcome by the stale tent smell that means wilderness to me as much as sun on spruce.  Made me want to curl up and close my eyes for a couple of minutes.  Top that with finding a Canadian one dollar Looney on the floor along with four rubber bans.  Oh yeah.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Paddle Done

     Four coats of spar varnish on the shaft, six on the blade.  Pretty-pretty.  Need to take and post pictures.  Not easy for the tech challenged.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Canoe Paddle V

     It sure takes a lot of sanding to remove an eighth of an inch of ash from a paddle blade.  How much I'll never know.  After a couple of hours with the random orbital sander I bit the bullet and pulled out the planer once again.  To say I babied the operation is no exaggeration.  Two minutes of care did most of the job.  Out came the sander once more and smoothed out all the jagged edges.  A hand touch up with 150 grit got the blade ready for a wetting and final sanding using 220 grit.
     This morning the entire paddle was wiped down with tack cloth and given its first coat of spar varnish thinned with mineral spirits.  A second coat was applied this afternoon.  Four more uncut coats applied one per day ought to do the job.  Finally I'll take it to the Boundary Waters and beat the hell out of it.  Or maybe hang it on a wall where I can admire it and imagine where the paddle might have taken me.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Gear in the Basement

     Hauled the packs out of the attic and dumped them in the basement where it can be spread out.  Clear out the nesting critters, air out the stink, check the tent and we're ready to go.  Maybe not yet.  Looks like the date is 9/11.  Interesting.  It's been five years since the gear saw the light of day.  Can't say I remember what all was in those packs.  Should be fun saying hi to all the old stuff.
     Last night I reserved a permit for Clearwater Lake.  Not the entry I was hoping for but the other filled some time ago.  No problem.  We'll still see the same sights except in reverse.  Maybe we should paddle backwards?  Got me thinking of why I wanted to paddle East Pike Lake again.  Seemed I'd just done it a few years ago, that is if sixteen qualifies as a few.  Closer to quite a few.
     Brian and I were in the Boundary Waters together back in the mid '90s.  There were six of us on a day trip and we caught a few smallmouth bass on silver spinners.  He was the one hollering "It's a shark! It's a shark!" when he had a big bass on the line.  Good time.  This time it'll be only the two of us.  Of the group the one I'll miss most is my son Allan.  Gotta keep myself alive and fit for a few more years so I can accompany Al and his son Matthew on a canoe trip and sleep in the woods.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Rain on the Shoulder

     Coming down in buckets outside.  Not a problem since I wasn't going anywhere for a while.  Could be I've been conditioned over the years to feel cooped up when it's raining.  There's books and keyboard to pass the time.  If I was home there'd be stuff to do around the house.  Maybe even pull down the packs to see if the gear is still boonies-worthy. All kinds of activities to pass the time.  Oh yeah, I could go out to the garage and work on the paddle.  Then meditate, clean my soul and change the world.  Skip the last one, I'd be better off making a couple of peanut butter sandwiches for lunch.
     Days like this bring to mind being windbound or going through a soaking with gear bobbing on the tent floor as a rivulet passes underneath.  I've only been through a combination of high winds and rain on a couple of occasions.  We didn't die but it sure crimped our style.  And learned a lot.  When the times call for staying put, stay put even when everything inside the brain is screaming, "Oh crap!  I've been waiting a year for this?"  When the world gives you lemons say, " Oh look, lemons.  What the hell did life give me lemons for?  And just think of the carbon footprint.  Are they certified organic?  Grown in the USA or halfway around the planet?  Maybe next time life can just give me lemonade and cut out the middle man."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Waiting

     Sittin' here like a wallflower waiting for dates for a Boundary Waters trip.  It'd sure be nice to write a few words about wilderness canoe fishing considering that's what this blog is supposed to be about.  Yup, just checked the title.  Got the canoe and the gear just need the wilderness.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Canoe Paddle IV

     Slowly it gets slimmer and lighter.  Ground down a thousandth of an inch at a time.  Never done one the right way before so as I come closer to the finished blade I turn chicken, afraid to go too far.  Grind the blade so thin it would be transparent.  Extraordinarily light and totally useless.  Maybe zen it into nothingness.  Hang the nothing on the wall with a blank sign beneath and pause occasionally to admire the purity of my handiwork.
     On the other hand the thought occasionally strikes me I could buy a new ash paddle for a little over a hundred bucks.  Figure I've got ten in sand paper, varnish and electricity.  When it's all said and done I'll have been paying myself about four to five bucks an hour for a paddle I don't really need.  Must be something wrong with either me or the math.  In the tech age handcrafting doesn't pay well.  Maybe I'll keep making paddles simply to see if I can get faster.  Give them away to people who need one even less than I.  The idea of pulling up to a busy intersection and handing a homeless guy a hardwood paddle has its appeal.
     On the water the other day my son Allan came up with a good idea.  I'd been blithering about putting some form of decoration on my paddle.  Not an easy thing to do when lacking decorating talent.  He simply said, "Ruler."  I responded with a blank stare and a "Pardon?"  I say that a lot.  Means I didn't understand and would like the statement repeated slowly, loudly and clearly.  Seems he meant to putting a measuring device on the blade and handle.  Many's the time we've used a paddle blade to estimate the length of a fish.  Actually inscribing a ruler on a paddle is both a practical and great idea.  So that's the plan.
   

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Grandpa's Role in the Scheme of Things

     Geez, I've got a title.  Sometimes it's papa, sometimes grandpa and for the littlest one it's bumpa  (I kind of like the last one).  Now I have to figure out how to handle the glory.  Maybe I should put myself in the back of the boat and give it some thought while I'm sitting there.  Can't say I've gotten used to the jon boat but that's where I put myself.  This time I was smart enough to carry along some strips of carpeting to avoid a broiled backside.  There's something about metal painted dark green basking in summer sunshine that says you don't need a skillet to fry up some bacon and eggs.  Also says to not do it again.
     Yup, I'm sittin' in the catbird seat with my grandson Jakob on next seat forward.  My job is to help him catch fish but keep my hands off his fishing pole.  Be there but stay out of the way.  Be prudent in my choice of words.  I'm not good at choosing my words.  For decades all I had to do was open my mouth and the flow commenced.  Sometimes it seemed like someone else was doing the talking.  My job was to rush in with the coverup should something off color pop out.  Be cool old man, you're a grandpa now.  Fool them into thinking you're a wise old man.
     It's not easy being sagacious.  Probably not possible.  Freedom of youth a thing of the past.  More likely a loss of freedom from committing acts of stupidity.  Maybe accepting the loss is the wisdom part?
     Got a new perspective today.  My four year old grandson Matthew was sitting on a cushion in the canoe between his dad and I.  A four year old sure isn't a problem in the boat.  He wasn't interested in fishing so no knots to untie.  While his dad fished, Matt and I talked about fish, the names for all the parts of a canoe, the trees along the shore and what he might be doing when he's an old, old man like his grandpa.  All the while Matthew was holding up his end of the conversation and had a smile on his face almost as though he was enjoying being on the water.  If he was hepped up about a need to go faster he never let on.  Maybe he's like his grandpa and likes to hear the chatter of birds and carry on a conversation.  Yup, like a leaf we slid along on the gentlest of breezes.  Of course his dad had to go and mess things up now and then by catching fish.  Just no excuse for that.
     The name grandpa does set me back now and then.  When I consciously hear the name, mull it over for a moment, I find myself thinking, "What the heck happened?" and, "Are they talking to me?" When Lois and I had children I figured the next step was inevitable but not till sometime way in the future.  I always forget I'm stuck in now.  It's always now.  Always was, always will be.  Was now when the kids were born and was just as now when the grandchildren came along.  Probably going to be now when I die.  Through all those nows I was always looking through the same eyes, thinking with the same brain, holding onto most of the same me.  And at some level it once in a while surprises me it's happening.
     I'm usually smart enough to not say these things out loud but not always.  It doesn't hurt to pass on such thoughts to the sprouts.  Of course, if things go right, they'll someday figure it out on their own.  But it wouldn't hurt if they remember their grandpa when they do.
     By the way, the fishing was good that morning.  Overcast, calm and drizzling on and off.  The little lake sits at the bottom of surrounding hillsides.  Mostly it's undisturbed parkland but one end does have a few houses.  Big houses with massive landscaping.
     Allan and I paddled, fished and talked.  Almost like the Canada days.  Well, nothing's like those days but times change.  We caught a half dozen bass, a few sunnies and a decent pike.  Al  fished like the old days.  Kept the spinner flying.  I sat in the back in boat control, fishing enough to get a couple.  Time on the water with shared blood, I'll take that any day.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Not Right III

     For Jake it was still bass on the second evening.  Size didn't matter, they were all big ones to him.  Numbers baby, numbers.  In the afternoon R. Dean had Jake's overstuffed reel stripped and spooled once again, this time with six pound mono.  Again it looked to be over-spooled.  And it was.  And the line was twisted.  Twist is a simple thing to avoid when spooling so long as you've learned what to do.  Could be the problem was the reel.  Maybe bad karma.  Maybe a leftover chunk of the polar vortex of last winter was hanging around Jake's reel twisting the day away.  What ever the problem it was good we had back up rods.
     This time we made it out of the driveway with no self-caused problems.  Not only that but at the access we even remembered to park the truck in an acceptable location.  Life was good, the winds were again calm, the sun was out and the bullfrogs were ker-rumping away.  Again the bass were hard to find.
     By and large Jake was casting fine for an eight year old.  Only problem was eight year olds don't cast all that well.  It's tough on an old fart like me to not step in, grab the rod and say, "This is how you do it kid."  I did that once simply to show him how to work a jig with a slip bobber.  Mea culpa.  But that's what grandpa's are for.  Little pointers now and then on relatively safe topics.  Gotta watch saying things like "Ooh-wee, that's a fine looking woman," then going on to describe all the reasons why in graphic details.  Those kind of things are easily self-learned when the time is right.
     It took twenty minutes to find the first bass.  At around two pounds it was Jake's biggest.  And his last for the day.  Maybe he was hiding it well but J. Dean didn't seem to mind a lot.  I suspect deep inside he'd have appreciated hauling in another dozen but that's the way she goes.  The fish don't care who's on the other side of the line.  They don't play favorites even when the fisherman is a likable eight year old.  Regardless, for a half hour he'd caught the first, most and biggest bass of the day.
     Once on the big side of the lake the fishing picked up a little.  R. Dean and I caught them casting, trolling and on bobbers.  The idea behind the bobbers was finding some of those elusive bluegills.  They're there but once again they stayed out of our way.  We trolled in hopes of finding walleyes.  Like the bluegills, they seem to go into hiding whenever I show up.  Guess I'm not meant to be a walleye fisherman.
     Sitting in a boat is a lot like sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee only there's a lot more to see.  Conversation rises and falls.  Between sentences there's the shoreline, woods and water to stare off into.  Once in awhile a gull or osprey passes.  Occasionally something hammers the line, a reel fouls, weeds need to be cleaned from line and lure.  Pictures of smiling faces with fish in front of them are taken.  Yup, exactly like sitting at a kitchen table.
     Never sat in a boat with my dad or my grandpa.  I have fished with my son, son-in-law and grandson.  Can't say I feel cheated out of anything and for darn sure have enjoyed every minute on the water with in-law and blood.  I guess the lesson is to be thankful for what you've got.

Canoe Paddle III

       Not much to say except it's getting smaller and lighter.  That's good.  Needs to get a lot smaller and feather light.   Hope I know when to stop.  This ain't subnuclear particle physics, thank God, or the world might be facing an imminent apocalypse.  "World as we know it ends as idiot takes too much off canoe paddle."  Or something to that effect.
     So far it keeps getting prettier with each passing minute.  Oh well, back to the old scrape and sand.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Not Right II

     On Friday evening the Deans and I headed for a honey hole figuring Jake would be happier with fish on the line than having to be content with the thrill of birdsong across the water.  As for type of fish Jake wanted bass.  Don't know if he's familiar with the other fishes but he does know bass.  There are several sure fire lakes in the area that always produce.  No problem.  Our only concern was between quantity and quality.  Though R. Dean and I feared for the boy's life, we went for quality.  Like I said, Jake's an eight year old string bean.  Couple that with a kid's innate desire to never let loose of the fish of a lifetime, we figured a five pound bass would no doubt pull him overboard.  R. Dean said he'd grab the boy should anything like that happen.  Seeing as how I was out of duct tape to lash Jake to his seat, that was fine with me.
     You know you're a full blood city boy when you make a wrong turn trying to find a lake you've been to but weeks before.  Could've sworn it was the nine hundred, thirteenth birch tree up the track.  In my defense it was an entirely new wrong turn.  One more road I'd never been down before.  Slightly more educated error.  Eventually we made it and had the water to ourselves for four hours.  Glassed out water even.
     I don't trust boat motors, even electric trolling ones.  Two things can go wrong with the latter, the motor and the battery.  Maybe there's a third and I won't know what that is until it inevitably goes kaput.  Back at the cabin I'd trickle charged the battery till the meter said it was full.  Then hooked it up to the motor and both worked.  In my mind that proved nothing.
     Back at the cabin we were so excited about leaving Lois had to run out to let us know we hadn't raised the wheel stand the trailer tongue rests on.  Oops.  Nothing was broken except the embarrassed smile across my face.
     At the boat access we slid seamlessly into boner number two by leaving the truck and trailer in the throat of the boat launch.  Oops.  A quick return and all was well.  Ahh, city boys in the woods.
     Dog Days of August.  Yup, the fishing can be slow in Minnesota.  Usually bass like warm water so we figured we'd do okay.  We didn't.  Come evening we'd had a couple on the line but that was about it.  Not the day J. Dean was hoping for.
     However, there was a reprieve in the form of bluegills.  Lots of bluegills with a few of them pushing a pound.  The Saturday morning fishing show pros call them bull bluegills with real shoulders.  That's a bit of hogwash but it is true a ten inch sunnie feels like a two pound bass on the line.  Heavy duty enough to put a smile on an eight year old's face.  A few entries ago I'd written there hadn't been a bluegill ever netted by the DNR in these waters.  Times change.  Maybe the stork was confused and delivered the baby sunnies to the wrong lake.  Whatever the reason, we had a fine time.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Canoe Paddle II

     Things don't always go as planned.  Hah, that's sure an understatement.  Would've helped if I'd had a pattern before sawing and glueing up the stock.  But I didn't and life is too short to wait, so I did what I do best, I guessed.  My first choice for paddle design couldn't be made.  So it's choice number two and that's okay.  If this one works out another can be made to match the beavertail I really wanted.  If that one works out, number three will be an ottertail.
     Yesterday I traced and sawed the rough shape.  Oddly enough the paddle looks as it should.  Still a club but more streamlined.  Easier to get a solid swing should any ETs invade my garage.
     I've no more than a general idea of where to go from there.  No two methods I've looked up carve paddles the same way.  Same goes for sealing the finished product, varnish, oil and how to apply them.  Guess I'll have to do it the old fashioned way, try something and see if it works.  If it doesn't I'll let you know.  I've been known to screw up once in a while and expect I'm not done.
     One of the videos I watched used an industrial band saw to shape the paddle.  Sure worked slick.  I do have a band saw but it's a few horsepower short of industrial.  Still considered using it even though I knew the saw wasn't up to clawing through an inch and a half thick ash slab.  Turned out a little saber saw did the trick.  Even better when I installed a new blade.  Thank God I had a clamp to hold the blank in place.  Two of them came with my body.  I call them knees.  Better than nothing even though the vibration from the saw nearly jarred the fillings out of my molars.
     Several of the carvers used a spoke shave for the handle and even the blade.  The shave has a long history behind it.  Works like a plane, looks like a tiny draw knife.  Draws through soft wood like a knife on warm butter.  Would it work on ash?  A moot point unless I want to order one on line.  The man at a local big box tool store didn't know what one was.  Instead I grabbed a surform.  Works something like a coarse file with itty-bitty knife edges to cut through the wood.  The idea is to remove all that's not the paddle and leave all that's knuckle and finger.  Don't want to stain perfectly good ash.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Grandpa's Not Always Right

     Lois and I just arrived home from six days up north.  While there our daughter and family spent three days.  Annie hasn't been there for seven years and her daughter Mollie was seeing the woods for the first time.  Also made friends with her first wood tick.  Those things happen.  Wish the little buggers didn't make themselves at home on a six year old or anyone for that matter.  At least it wasn't a deer tick.
     Back in June my son-in-law Ryan, one of the Deans, said he and Jakob Dean would come up north in August for a couple of day's fishing.  Not the best time of year but the bugs would be down and that's always a good thing.  Then, a couple of weeks ago the plan changed.  That the entire troupe would be coming was exciting.  Well, as exciting as it gets for me these days.  Yes, it was a good time.
     But seeing as how this is a fishing blog I suppose I should write about our time on the water.  Yes we did get on the water a couple of times.  If you've been reading my entries you know I'm an avid canoe man.  By avid I mean I enjoy the heck out of it but am straight line challenged.  Maybe in the next life I'll get good at J-stroking.  This time the canoes were left in the shed.
     J. Dean is an eight year old sprout, slim as a reed and full of vinegar.  I'd be more than willing to have him in the bow seat of the canoe any day but fear his parent's wrath should he fall overboard.  Not having learned the ins and outs of how to correct the usual things that go wrong while fishing, Jake also needs a little TLC that can't be provided from the back seat of a canoe.  Reason enough to use my jon boat and electric trolling motor.
     His Dad had him set up with two rods.  Decent rods, freshly spooled at an outdoor shop.  You'd think the people behind the counter would know how to wind a spool.  Most do but some aren't much more than warm bodies who don't know when a spool is full.  Lucky for Jake one of his spools knew it had been overfed and vomited twenty excess yards in hairball fashion.  Fatherly love stepped up to the plate and righted the wrong.  Twenty minutes of no fishing for R. Dean.  Those kind of things happen all the time to kids and probably cloud their idea of what fishing is like.
     I recall similar problems when I was drowning the worms of my childhood.  Part of the problem was ignorance, part crappy, hand-me-down gear and my personal favorite, lack of money. But none of that kept me from having a good time when near water though little was caught.  Seems J. Dean feels the same way.  Even when the bird's nests were flying he was upbeat.
     Like a good younger sister Mollie also wanted to go fishing.  Four in the jon boat would have been a crowd.  Turned out it wasn't since Mollie was more than happy to do her fishing from a dock.  No fish were caught but she didn't seem to much care.  Watching the resident dock sunnies lip and dash with her plastic tipped jig seemed as fascinating for her as for any kid.  Good time on a perfect evening.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Canoe Paddle I

     Years ago I made a canoe paddle out of an ash board left over from cabin building.  Good wood, bad paddle.  It was a club, pure and simple.  Didn't give it enough thought, research or time.  The poor paddle never had a chance.  Since then it has evolved into a decoration above the shed doors up north.  Good spot for it.
     That the first one didn't work out hasn't stopped me from considering a second one, also from ash. So that's why I was up in the garage rafters yesterday rummaging through leftover boards.  I knew there were some old ash boards up there.  From down below both appeared straight grained and true.  I was wrong.  The grain was fine but both boards looked like they were halfway through a left hand turn and stopped by heavy traffic.  Guess things happen over three decades.
     Lucky for me I'm a scrounger.  Hate to part with a buck or a board if I don't have to.  The wood also carries some meaning in my life.  If I make a paddle, and I will, it'll be from those boards.  The trees they were sawn from were felled by a good friend of mine who passed away a few years ago.  Without his help and a few of his tools the boards would never have come to be.  It'd be nice to have a little bit of his labor in my hands once in a while particularly when the paddle is in places he'd have enjoyed.
     Friday July 25:  This morning I ripped the boards into inch and a quarter strips.  Two five footers for the handle, eight two footers for the blade and grip.  The paddle will be laminated from necessity and with a bonus of strength.  Another friend of mine said I make little boards out of big boards then put them back together in a different shape.  As yet I don't know what the paddle style will be but it will look like something.  Maybe another club.  Hope not.
     Saturday July 26:  The glue has been applied and some of the clamping done.  The two side pieces of the blade are individually clamped as is the shaft.  When the glue dries all three pieces will be joined and a couple of small pieces added to the top of the shaft where the grip will eventually be.  I finally bit the bullet and went for Gorilla Glue since it's waterproof.  Don't want the paddle coming apart out in the boonies.  Doubt I'd get stranded but it sure would be embarrassing.  Tomorrow I'll set the result aside till I bring a beavertail paddle home from the cabin.  The beavertail will serve as a template to trace out the new paddle.
     Evening:  All the wood is glued and clamped.  At the moment she's a real club.  Or maybe a heavy duty pizza paddle.
     Sunday July 27:  No paddle work today.  Happily there's a canoe rack needs building.  I'd had a homemade one on my Jeep.  It was spiffy.  Worked fine at speeds up to eighty miles per hour.  The new rack will be similar but this time made from oak.  The boards came from the same source as the paddle ash.  They'd been sitting in the garage rafters for all of the twenty-seven years we've lived in this house.  Still rough sawn and dirty.  Each had been odd man out at the saw mill and weren't thick enough to plane to a smooth three quarters of an inch.  Pulled them down, ripped them at an inch and a half and hand planed them smooth.  They'll be glued in pairs and joined to form a strong and attractive frame.  At least I hope that's the way it'll work out.
     Honestly, I was hoping this post wouldn't be as dull as it is.  Could be preparation isn't as enjoyable in the reading as it is in the doing.  Don't know about you but I'm having a good time.
     That I now have a September BWCA trip in the offing came as a surprise.  And added to my life.  The canoe trip and El Dean's big backside have given me new life and new projects.  Things to repair and prepare.  Not fading away as yet.
     I've even started to connive a possible Canada trip.  Of course it's only in my mind at the moment.  Over in The Uncle Emil Tales I wrote of a fictitious trip he and I took to an unnamed lake.  Our adventure never actually happened but the lake we travelled to is there, at least it is on the map.  In 2009 my son Allan and I crapped out on finding a way into the lake.  Ten yards of colorful tape instead of the hundred yards I thought I had did us in.  A real woodsman could have made it by simply using blazes and natural markers.  Truth is, the mile and a half bushwhack had me a little nervous.  I wrote the Uncle Emil story figuring the only way I'd make it to the unnamed lake was in my mind.  Fiction imitating life.  I'd like to turn that around.
     At the moment I'm off to the cabin with hopes of finding writing material.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hope Springs (along with potential injury)

     A couple of days ago I e-mailed my nephew Brian with the idea of a near future fishing trip.  These days I have to push myself to include others in my plans.  As I've gotten older it's become easier to not ask others and then whine about having to fish alone.  Brian and I had done earlier trips about twenty years ago and one last year.  Of the three early ones, two came off.  The second of the three was shut down when his four year old son broke his arm in a shopping accident.  The first involved an all day effort to find a camping spot.  The last was the infamous frozen out trip of '97.  All three had their problems but the first was definitely okay.
     In the e-mail I offered an anytime, anywhere proposition to include him saying no.  As it turned out he said yes and thought the BWCA sounded great.  Holey-moley.  Could it be?  I'm hoping.  And a little pumped.