On Friday morning the trucks were pointed toward Three Island Lake. We'd had a good time on Wednesday, the wind was down and I could sense L. Dean was hot for a return trip. Even a non-clairvoiant like me could pick up on his subtle hints like, "Damn, I'll bet that bay we almost made it to when the rain started is just full of huge bass and pike," or "You know that bay on Three Island, the one that's wall to wall six pound bass, I'll bet we'd have the time of our lives if we went back there. Yup, no doubt about it, there's some great fishing in that bay. I can feel it in my bones. We ought to go back there sometime. The sooner the better. If we did I could die a happy man."
So that's where we were heading. Even did the turn into the access. And slowed as we passed our one view of the lake. There were boats out there and you know me and boats. One's company and two's a drive-by. In the small gravel parking lot sat three trailers freshly freed of their two hundred horsepower loads. A damned armada. Sayonara boat boys. In my rearview mirror I could see L. Dean's face pressed to the car window staring in shocked disbelief as we drove by. 'Course I can never make snap decisions without immediately doing something stupid. Made a wrong turn at the only turn and we slowly paraded past the access one more time. L.'s face broke into an ear-to-ear grin only to be sunk into despondency a moment later. It wasn't intentional, really it wasn't. Didn't stop me from laughing though.
Next stop, Silver Lake. I'd been there a half dozen times over the years. Hammered bass the first two times. Big bass that made runs under the canoe and towed us around like sizable pike. The fishing was so good on those early trips I'd even considered camping on the north side island. The island's a hump of moraine topped by a stand of eighty foot white pine. With it's fine landing site and flat tent pad I'd go out of my way to camp there regardless of the fishing.
But after those first days Silver had pretty much skunked me and whomever I dragged along. Wrote it off to the new access road cut in by the Forestry Department. Last trip was about five years ago. The fishing was so bad El Dean dropped one of my rods and reels into the lake just to perk things up. Yeah, that El Dean is a real fun guy. Can't say why we were heading back for another try other than I had a hunch. Also had an extra rod.
Who'd have guessed I'd miss the turn for the access? In my defense the turn wasn't marked and I hadn't been down this trail in a few years. Also didn't have a map. So I did what any true woodsman would do. Pulled out the I-phone. Damn that's embarrassing but it sure is effective. The phone not only showed us where we were but where we should have been. There's been a big whoopdido about erecting cell phone towers over by the Boundary Waters. Traditionalists versus techies. I have to admit I prefer maps to phones. Also figure I'd have found the access without the phone but it sure was slick.
Right off El and I bee-lined for the island. My son Allan and I had the best hour of our bass fishing lives there (naturally that was immediately followed by the wettest fifteen minutes). A fisherman doesn't forget something like that and will head for a former hotspot at the drop of a hat. In my case the hat would be a dollar, made in Mexico, straw hat bought at a garage sale. Sometimes there's a reason for the good fishing spot. Most often it's a line up of coincidences that will never happen again. Today the island's little north facing bay was quiet. It was also a loon's nesting place. We begged pardon, moved on and turned the corner.
As usual we were a little late in the morning for good fishing. Lord knows that's our pattern. We'd have been on the water at daybreak but a few things got in the way, like sleep, breakfast and an hour's worth of driving. So the sun was well up when we hit the water. Throw in my use of a cell phone and it was time to turn in our crack of dawn buckskins. Guess that's why we were wearing pre-shrunk cotton.
The water on far side of the island had the look of an aquarium. Sandy bottom, clear water and sparse weeds. Everything about it said little sunnies and maybe a foot long pike. El pitched toward shore while I worked the drop off. Immediately I played with a two pound bass. It made a few runs, did a tail dance or two then spit the hook. No problem, it was fine feeling life on the line. Two casts later I tied into one with a fist sized mouth. Nice bass. I can still see its first jump. Face on and a look of distain as this big boy also spit the hook. Oh for two. Can't say losing either of them bothered me a whole lot. Maybe the big one a just a little. More than anything those bass told me Silver Lake might yet have some life to it.
R. and L. paddled down the east side of the lake. I'd been there before and found it to be good swimming water. No character to the sandy shore, hadn't had a hit of any kind and had no desire to return. I'd warned them but apparently they decided to find out for themselves. Minutes later they were followed by a bass boat. Two men upright, fan casting the shore and putzing along with their trolling motor. R. and L. were barely moving but the bass boat boys weren't gaining an inch. The two of us headed for a bay I'd had success in years earlier and worked on our tans.
Hadn't seen or felt a fish for better than an hour when we headed back up the north shore. Here we began to work our bobbers. The DNR hadn't netted Silver in at least a decade. Back then they'd found bass, crappies, pike and perch. However, when we'd walked the dock at the access I could have sworn a pod of sunnies had taken off toward deep water. So, under the noonday sun me and Eldon decided to find out for sure. Yup, someday had thrown in a bunch of bluegills. And we caught and released dozens. Most were small but a fair number were hand sized and worth an admiring hoist. Pretty fish. Each one a unique blend of rainbow colors with bright orange throats. Not a bad morning at all.
As usual we reached the access before the others. By the lake or on the water, it didn't matter to us, we enjoyed our time watching R. and L. work their way back in. Of course we assumed they'd had about the same luck as us. Why not? Same lures, bait and tactics, no doubt the same luck, give or take a sunnie or two. Also, as usual, they had a totally different story to tell. Seemed the other Deans had hammered more than their share of bass, with a fair number of three and four pounders thrown in for good measure. And they'd done it on a totally unproductive stretch of water. Something to think about. Guess there was more to Silver Lake than I'd thought. Also was reason enough for us to return after lunch.
Larry Dean had arrived up north with a kaput reel. The reel showed its age in more than one way and had been begging to be put to rest for a couple of years. It wasn't worth fixing but I gave the limp bail a shot. Long story short, L. Dean still has his reel only it's now broken down to parts and in a plastic bag. I'd read fixing a broken bail is a tricky operation best left to those who know what they're doing. What I learned from breaking the bail down was the reasoning behind what I'd read. A hands and knees search turned up all the sprung parts and if L. is up to it, his reel has turned into a project. Or maybe garbage.
Looking at the bag of parts, L. decided it might be time to buy a replacement. That's why we found ourselves in Walker for lunch. For once my brain was working and recalled the perfect place to eat. The food's good in the bar and grill, great pizza but most of all, a five foot row of beer spickets. In truth I was hungering for pizza but the beer sealed the deal.
After lunch we wandered down the street to Reed's. If you're looking for outdoors gear Reed's is always worth the trip. They've got it all from hi-tech sandals to musky gear. There, both L. and El found reels in a last year closeout bin and had them spooled with Fireline. Who'd have thought it was cheaper to have the pros do the winding than doing it yourself? Throw in a few goodies for panfish, a spool of four pound mono four pound for Ryan and we were ready to hit some more gold in Silver Lake.
Back at the access we found ourselves alone for no more than three minutes when a truck, three generations of fishermen and small Lund fishing boat pulled in. Immediately we went into action with hopes of laying claim to the hot water Larry and Ryan had been on earlier. Not wanting to let the strangers in on our game we putzed our way down the west shore like we had all the time in the world. As luck would have it we ended up having the good spot for ourselves. Whatever the reason, Eldon and flailed away with no more than the occasional weed on our lures. Then, in desperation, pulled out the panfish rods.
I was starting to think it was our destiny to boat nothing but sunnies on a lake L. and R. found bass heaven. Perhaps the Tibetan Buddhists were right and I was being punished for all the life forms I'd carelessly killed over the years. Mayflies, dragon flies, moths, butterflies, bees and a myriad other bugs stuck in my truck grill and splattered across my windshield came to mind. Didn't karma understand I didn't want to kill any bass? All I wanted was to impale a few and put the fear of death in their minds. I was gonna let them all go, maybe they'd be psychologically scarred but would be free to go about their business once I was done with them.
A head scratching unearthed a mysterious sunken island I'd read about years before that may or may not lie somewhere to the south of the campsite island. Never gave the possibility much credence but since we weren't catching anything I figured it was worth a shot. El Dean was up for an exploration also.
How to find it was the problem. In years gone by depth was sounded with a weighted rope knotted at one foot intervals. Nowadays a fisherman fires up the electronics to learn water temperature, depth, fish, incoming Russian ICBMs and relative position in the galaxy. Guess we were caught with our pants down again. Didn't even have a rope, so we drifted and fan casted. Gave the lures time to sink and did a slow retrieve.
Drift and cast, cast and drift. Five minutes into the game I hooked up with a big bass. Came as a surprise but not a complete one. Like all fishermen I don't go fishing with the idea I won't catch anything. Even back in the winter when I was throwing flies and calling it practice there was a little voice in my head saying 'maybe'.
But this was different. Drifting out a hundred yards off the island in an area with no discernible reason for fish to be there the hookup did set me back a little. That the bass made a run or two, rose toward the surface and didn't even need a jump to spit the hook came as no great surprise. I'd lost my share of big bass over the years including the one in the morning. Now I was oh for three and one tick higher on the pissed-off meter. "Next one and I'm gonna hammer home the hook set. Slam it in three or four times like Allan." Yeah baby I was ready for the next one.
Once past the island we paddled back for another drift. About the same spot I hooked up again. This time I didn't fool around. Could have been the second set or maybe the third, which ever one it was, I yanked the spinner out of the fish's mouth. Damnation! Oh for four.
A couple more drifts were fruitless. We closed in on the island with no success. By now we'd spent between five and six hours on a fine bass lake and had nothing but sunfish to show.
Rounding the final corner we were looking at the shoreline where we'd caught our first sunnies. What a difference a half day makes. In the sunshine the pads and reeds had looked the same as the water along a dock to an eight year old with a Snoopy rod as remembered by a gray hair. In other words, a few three inch sunnies and a bass which looked disdainfully at a hook and worm. Now, under an overcast sky the shore looked like bass heaven. And it was.
Back to back casts put two bass on my line, one a two pounder, the other a hog. Yup, lost them both. Oh for six. Eldon, on the other hand, finally got hot. Started with a two pounder and quickly followed with a half dozen averaging close to four pounds. Maybe it had to do with the new tube he'd tied on. I believe he'd been fishing the other for three days. Why not? It hadn't fallen off and, if anything, smelled worse than it had when new. Whatever the reason, El finally layed into the fishing he'd sought for three days.
Sitting in the back seat I'd resigned myself to being a spectator Did a cast now and then but was happy to watch the master tube 'em in one after the other. Of course I had to go and ruin this wonderful evening with a three foot pike. In the past such a fish would have rejuvenated me, pumped me up, but not tonight. I was spooked. She did a half dozen runs and a tail dance. Finally, when the pike was finning next to the canoe, I recalled something I'd read about releasing fish by simply cutting the line a few inches above the spinner. The treble was sunk solidly in the side of the jaw and down a bit. No bleeding. I cut the line. Never done that before. Wrong man with the wrong fish.
As for the others they'd started slow and warmed up as evening had closed in. A good night's fishing. If there's fish to be had in a lake Ryan and his Dad will find them. Patient, methodical fishermen with a touch. They most often out fish me but I'll never voluntarily let them in on my dirty little secret. Instead I'll recall their first trip to the northland. Till then they'd never caught much beyond bullheads and thought catching bass was hard. Thank God they had me and my sage advice, "Here's your canoe. There's the lake. Go get 'em." Like all things in life worth knowing they'd figured it out for themselves.
That was it for the fishing. The Southern boys left on Saturday morning. As always they volunteered for the clean up but I like to do that myself. Quiet time at the cabin is good time. I'd hoped to spend the night, catch up on my reading and make a note or two but the deer tick in my knee said no. Two weeks have passed without a symptom. Damn little bugs are simply doing what nature intended and find me more than likable. Such is life. As to the fishing, there's almost always a next time and I'm looking forward to it with or without ticks.