We had a plan, a new canoe, and knowledge of where to find fish. But like all wilderness plans, Mother Nature ruled the roost.
We left The Pas intending to be camped on Wedge Lake by early afternoon, mid-afternoon at the latest. However (pause for effect), the weather in town was wet and windy, not good canoeing conditions. Not a problem as we knew for sure the sky would clear and the wind die by the time we pushed off. Yup, we were the golden children of fate. Besides, Allan said he'd rather be staring at the rain through the Jeep's windshield than through a motel window.
I constantly scanned the treetops on the one-hour drive to Cranberry Portage and it seemed like they weren't being blown around as much and the sprinkles on the windshield had all but stopped. As I said, we were golden. Once at the government dock we loaded the canoe under a threatening, but dry sky. Even the lake surface was calming.
Midway down the bay we were nearly run over by Cranberry Air as the float plane roared to life, skimmed down the water, and rose into the sky. How bad could it be if a small, one engine puddle jumper would chance a flight into the bush? When the bay opened onto the main body of First Cranberry we found out.
My best guess was the bay had been protected from the southeast gale that was churning up the three-foot whitecaps galloping on the main lake. Of course, being one of nature's favorites I assured Allan we were okay and off we paddled, angling to our left. That was stupid, maybe beyond stupid. Also lazy. A wise man would have bagged it for a while, waited it out on shore in hope the wind would abate somewhat and not take a chance on capsizing in the near frigid water. This was the first week in June and we were straddling fifty-four degrees north. Ice-out was less than two weeks earlier. Figure the water at fifty degrees, give or take.
Once out of the bay, we should have gone right, into the teeth of the wind. It would've been a bear but we could've hugged the lee shore and been close to safety should we capsize. Also, once we struggled our way to the east shore we'd have been tucked under the forest and could've easily paddled to the egress.
But I turned us left, quartered the oncoming waves, and headed the canoe toward a short chain of islands that would eventually end well short of our goal and in the worst waves of the lake. Three-footers for sure. The farther we paddled, the worse it got. We beat our way from island to island, resting in the lee of each.
As I recall, between islands three and four we began to take water over the gunwales. Even I knew that wasn't good. By island four my feet were beginning to get wet and I figured it time to take a break on the acre of rock, duff, and stone. There we spent the night in a clearing just big enough for our tent.
Throughout the morning and the afternoon the storm grew. I have no accurate idea of the wind strength but sixty kilometers/hour (this was Canada, eh) would be no exaggeration. However strong it was, the powdered rain blew past horizontally.
That evening the lake calmed enough for us to push off and fish. We discovered two things in our hour on the water, there are big pike in First Cranberry Lake and needle-nose pliers don't float. Good thing we had a second set. I disassembled an in-line spinner, rigged a loop on the pliers, and tied it off with a length of parachute cord. Jury-rigged for sure but she worked.