First order of business in the morning was finding Gogal Air Service. Seeing as how Snow Lake wasn't but seven hundred and thirty souls we figured that to be no problem. Also figuring a float plane needed water to float upon we headed downhill toward the lake. Two blocks rolled us into the parking lot. Inside we found Mr. Gogal and another man. We chatted briefly, he said he'd be ready in a little bit, answered a call, I bought a hat (still have it), read the article on the wall, and the three of us strolled downhill to the plane. Damnation, no breakfast.
Gogal's Norseman was the biggest one engine float plane I'd ever seen - also the only one I'd seen this close. Though it was built in the early '50s the plane looked as though it'd just rolled off the assembly line. I recall Larry dressed in shades of pale green, almost military in appearance. Call him about five-ten, medium build, spectacles free, and well-tanned. Seemed to know what he was doing, which was good seeing as how he had our lives in his hands. He even suggested I drive down to the dock area rather than lug a Jeep-ful of crap a needless hundred yards. Good idea, eh?
First off we loaded the supplies he was bringing to one of his outpost cabins and the lodge. After our packs and gear were stowed all that remained was the canoe. Years before I'd read fly-in horror stories where the bush pilot asked such questions as, "You guys have any idea how to tie a canoe on a float plane?" And, "You wouldn't happen to have any rope would you?" Though it would have made a more interesting story had Gogal asked us something along those lines, he didn't. Instead he had me help him lean the canoe against the float struts, paused a moment to give the situation a look-see, grabbed a couple of dozen feet of seriously heavy duty rope, and in thirty seconds wrapped and finally tied the boat off with a simple trucker's hitch. Not once in our twenty minute flight did the canoe as much as twitch. Impressive and comforting to know we were in safe hands.
Years earlier I'd written about my Army days, that the smaller the aircraft the worse the destination. Helicopters more often than not meant fewer men were riding back than flew out. Gogal's broke the mold. His was the smallest plane I'd been on and the loudest but had a pretty good destination as far as I was concerned. As for this ride, let's just say it gave me an appreciation of air currents. Also gave me a feel for the terrain we were passing over, how the water in the rivers and lakes was nothing more than a drainage system. What we were seeing was Mother Earth trying to dry off the land that'd once been beneath the glaciers and was taking her own sweet time getting it done. Inside, Larry's Norseman seemed to run off some kind of computerized GPS. He punched in his coordinates then simply kept the little plane silhouette right atop the line on the computer screen. Slick. Somehow I had the feeling he knew where he was at any given moment by simply by looking out the window and had no need for any stinkin' silhouettes.
A brief discussion at the dock in Snow Lake had decided us on being dropped off at Gogal's outpost cabin on Dow Lake. This was a little farther down the File River than my winter daydreams had left us off but to me that didn't matter a whole lot. From this point on we were definitely in the bush with not a soul we were aware of between us and the Burntwood Lake Lodge eighty miles away. Had the mood struck us Allan and I could've paddled the distance in three days but that wasn't the way our mood worked. We had no idea how many pike and walleyes swam between us and the lodge and our intention was to find out.
Ten minutes of cabin cleanup by Larry turned up a small cache of Pop-Tarts and ripe bananas. Al was having nothing to do with such crap but to me calories were calories and I crammed some down. We had miles to go and every one would come in handy. Exactly how many miles would be determined by finding a canoe landing and campsite. Before flying off Larry said we'd find fish wherever we found moving water. Then added water levels were way down and the entering streams were nothing more than trickles. Oh well. Then he was off and we were as alone as we'd ever been.
We quickly loaded under the dense blue sky, paddled north to the egress, and headed downstream to meet the File River. What struck me was the stream and its intimate, tree bowered flow. Reminded me of floating the Minnehaha Creek in South Minneapolis. Yup, outside of being surrounded by three million people and five million cars it was identical. Allan threw a few listless casts along the way. We knew dead water when we saw it but, what the hell, we were in God's country and figured He might throw a few bones our way. He didn't.
No sooner did we leave the river and enter Fairwind Lake than we spooked a nesting pair of sandhill cranes on a small island. Not having seen sandhill's before it took a moment to peg them. 'Course they had us pegged from the get-go as a couple of ignorant yahoos from the south land and flew off. A hundred yards later we spooked a moose grazing in the shallows. He/she took one look and set off across the lake in a panic, swam the depths, trundled ashore dragging up a waterfall of lake water, and busted her/his way through the brush. Damnation, this was sure a fine way to enter the bush. Too bad we had to scare the daylights out of everything in our path.
Now that we were on proper water Allan began to explore the west shore with a spinner while I slowly paddled us toward the river's egress. Each likely looking point and rock pile gave up a walleye. Enough pickerel to give us a thought to calling it a day and set up camp. Why not? Fairwind was a pretty lake, we were as far into the bush as we'd ever been, and the fishing seemed good. Plus we had a dozen days to cover the remaining seventy-five miles; in short, no need to hurry.
About the time we began to scope the shoreline for a landing we saw the first boat peek its way from the narrows at the north end of the lake. Damnation. Then a second and a third. All were aluminum fishing boats sunk near the gunwales with gear and plus-sized fishermen. Looked like the lake would be a little to crowded for Allan and I.
To this day I have no idea how six men and three power boats could have reached Fairwind Lake. I've scoped the map many times and there is indeed a road on the map close to twenty miles long and goes from nowhere and ends in a different nowhere. Of course I could be wrong and no doubt am. Anyhow, we waved, they waved back and we paddled on through the canyon-like narrows and into Limestone Point Lake. We were now on the File River system and Al was beginning to get hungry.