Boy oh boy did it rain that evening and night. Throw in some forty mile an hour gusts and it was a real humdinger, yah sure. Back when we had a cedar roof the sound of rain was soothing, comforting, like a lullaby. Now with the steel above it's more like a day at the machine gun firing range. Adjustment took a while but even the steel's staccato has become pleasurable. Says to me it's raining outside and I'm inside dry, food on the table and good conversation all around. Of course surrounding the wood stove in this thought, hangs an army of jackets, pants and hats waiting till they're dry enough to be stuffed with our bodies and be soaked once more. Not an easy life being rain gear.
Around four o'clock I awoke to misty drizzle and the need to head outside for a minute. Don't know why it is but mosquitoes know when my defenses and pants are down. A flock on one knee and a swarm on the other. Like I'm sprouting fur. Little bastards. Time to pinch it off and do some serious killing. Takes the fun out of a moment of relaxation but adds the joy of slaughter. Back in the bag, I'd just cozied in when the skies opened up once again. Deluge. I took a moment to thank my bladder for its sense of timing.
Over a leisurely breakfast I fretted over and tried to pass the buck on where to fish. Four plus inches of rain overnight and the winds were still roaring. Only an idiot would go out on a day like this. The fishing would have to suck, we'd be blown around and have a fair chance of capsizing. The Deans were having nothing to do with participating in the decision. All on my shoulders. Guess they wanted to know who to blame when everything went south with the north wind.
With the roar above and rain tracks on the windows the old fishing saw dancing across my mind was 'small and slow'. Sounds more like a recipe for sexual disaster. Close enough. Under cold front conditions the rule calls for small lures or baited hooks and to fish them slow. Make it easy for fish to get a snack. But I was thinking more along the line of small lakes and don't rush into doing something stupid.
First on the checklist was the north wind. I scanned my mental list of what lakes would have protecting east-west points or shores. Then factored in accesses that were relatively safe. Finally eliminated any lake with the possibility of three foot rollers. That left two. Throw in a late lunch/early dinner at the cabin and we had ourselves a doable plan. Huh? Guess I never gave much thought to what the fishing would be like. That was up to the fish. If they were willing then, by golly, so were we.
Outside of the twin aspens on the trail the driving wasn't bad, nothing more than mud, slop, gray skies, drizzle and puddles. L. Dean always follows me in his truck. I suspect he thinks I know where I'm going. From my seat it looks more like, should I get stuck he can pull me out. After all, he's got the four wheel drive.
Back in the city and on the paved highways I see no need for four wheel. L. lives off of gravel down in rolling corn country in northwest Iowa where blizzard visibility can sometimes shrink to his windshield. Having both axles working for him is an asset. Had I known he packed a towing strap I'd have headed to the back side of Hades if the fishing might be good. Maybe that's why we went where we did in the evening.
South Stocking is the first lake I fished in the Chippewa National Forest. She's a forty acre, banana-shaped glacier slash in the woods. Should you blink while rolling by on the trail you'd miss it. My three biggest pumpkin seed sunfish came from it's waters. It's pike tend to run around five pounds. Not like the possible monsters of big water but on Stocking they set you back. Somehow they've mutated to having more than their share of evil eye. When you've got one on the line it becomes a battle of wills.
You're thinking,"Aha, I've got me a big pike. Let's get 'em to the boat and take a picture."
On the other end of the string the pike's thinking, "Either you turn me loose right away or I'm gonna take a chunk out of your kiester when you get me to the boat. Dumb-assed wanna-be woodsman, here I come."
First off I took the slow approach. The trees above were whipping and spitting out a steady roar. No hurry. We sauntered down the eroded clay and gravel chute to the lake fifteen feet below. Don't know why but there was not a whitecap to be seen. Foot high chop and zephyrs galore but she looked safe enough. Directly to our left was the bay I'd envisioned, glassed out and fishable. Not a lot of protected shore but enough to give us an hour or two without spooking the water too much. Back we went for the canoes and gear.
Still wasn't in any mood to rush when we began to cart the gear down. While the Deans fine tuned their rods I went into wild flower mode. While standing in one spot I was able to see seven different varieties; moccasin flower, trillium (both white and pink), columbine, bunch berries, wild lily of the valley, and dogwood. There was a time when the only roadside plant I could identify was poison ivy. Good plant to know and the trails up north are thick with it. Yup, down there today amongst the beauty lay the beast. Of course I had to point my finds out to all the Deans who cared. No takers. Guess they had other things on their minds.
There's not much sense in fishing Stocking's open water without some form of electronics. Could be schools of crappies suspending in the deep but even in a small lake there's too much surface area for me and a lot of depth. Blindly trolling and dredging is about as much fun as it sounds. Throw in the work involved in a stiff wind and it never entered my mind.
The plan for the day was getting on the water. Any fish caught would be considered a bonus. That's what I was saying, again and again. Another way to say the same thing would have been, 'it's not my fault.' From the get-go we parked ourselves in the lily pads. Bobber time with a rod switch to spinners once in a while. I'd tied four or five dozen over the winter and we put them to use for bass and pike.
The key to a good spinner is the blade. Maybe it's just me and my limited abilities but the only blade that flawlessly spins is a French blade. It's my experience that all the other types are hit and miss. About every third cast an Indiana or Colorado blade will lock in position and surf its way in. A spinner that doesn't spin isn't a spinner. Law of Coolfront. This year's worked like champs. So good I didn't care if I caught anything. I'd honed that attitude over the winter months down south and called what I was doing fly casting practice.
We caught fish, lots of them. In the process we also learned how well adapted pumpkin seeds are to being hooked in lily pads. Soon as they're lipped sunnies make a sideways run to the nearest pad stem where they do a few spins and twirls. Once wrapped the little guys nearly always spit the hook. So good were they one of them tied a near perfect uni-knot on a stem. Gotta try doing that with my mouth someday.
A half hour into our tiny sunfish expedition L. Dean went and ruined everything. The pike measured at thirty-three inches on his paddle. Heck of a fish from a forty acre lake.
Ah, there's more to the story. Seems the pike attacked L. while R. Dean was taking his picture or maybe the jaw spreader slipped. Either way there were now three of them in the canoe together. Here's where the story is supposed to describe the chaos of flying lures and impaled bodies as the fish thrashed around. Fortunately for the boys this was a civilized creature which simply said, "Pardon my intrusion" and exited on its own. Maybe not exactly but no one was hurt except the pike.
My name is Mark and I'm an idiot. Whew! Got that out of the way. Though the fishing wasn't bad, the sunnies were on the small side. On top of that El Dean had lost so many pumpkinseeds to the lily pads I feared he was going to dive in to get him some any way he could. Not a problem so long as he didn't tip the canoe. Seeing as how he weighs an eighth of a ton I figured the laws of physics would kick in if he dove out and it would be swimming time for both of us. Aqua follies.
The solution to his dilemma was to paddle round the protecting point in search of bigger fish. At least that's what I told El Dean to keep him in the boat. My real plan was to fish the entire lake. Sure the wind was whipping but out in the middle the waves looked to be no problem. Been on rougher water many a time. A recipe for disaster but we kept tight to shore where the little fishes played.
Later, El said there was no doubt in his mind once we turned the corner we were going all the way. Guess he'd been in the boat with me long enough to know my style. Also long enough to know I wouldn't go if there was any real danger. Nine years earlier El was spooked simply thinking of a canoe, said he'd never been in one that hadn't capsized. Times had changed or maybe his brain was getting soft. Figuring there was little to fear if the two of us could do it, the other Deans also paddled up lake and fished the far shore with similar luck.
I'd like to say the fishing improved but it didn't. El Dean caught a couple of what we called back in the black frying pan days as keepers. I suspect there's still slab pumpkinseeds in South Stocking but suspecting doesn't show up in the camera I never remember to carry.