Our return to Elbow Lake threw me out of whack, stopped my brain, and I don't know where to go from here. The idea behind a recap of Allan and my Canada trips was a walk down memory lane. Also put those years into a concise form and maybe incorporate them into a book or two of fishing memories. But, like I said, for the moment I'm stumped.
Back to 2003
We spent two days at every campsite. Could've paddled the distance to the Gogal's fly-in lodge in three days but with thirteen, we were in no hurry. Al and I weren't explorers or out to recreate the journeys of the Voyageurs. We were there to fish remote waters and have a few open-ended hours in camp. Eighty miles of remote was plenty enough for us. What we found was the crapshoot of planning a trip months in advance with no idea what the conditions would be like. Call that usual for a working man.
Larry Gogal had said to look for moving water and that's what we did. Four miles of paddling brought us to our first and as it turned out, only stretch of rapids. By the time Allan said we should fish this little stretch I was already pulling tight to the bank. Seemed the walleyes thought they were trout and were stacked up behind every rock of size. We held tight in the eddy and hammered pickerel for twenty minutes. Released them all. We were still at the plenty of food stage of the trip and had no need for fresh from the water, free range. organic, best eatin' in the north woods, fish. Also, after finding pockets of walleyes on both ends of this lake figured there were plenty more where they came from.
Below the rapids we paddled through a mini-canyon over a quarter mile stretch of river scoured rock. Had the water been up this would've been one hell of a chute. Any lower and we'd have been portaging. A mile later we came on a narrow peninsula with a perfect landing and a level tent site atop a six-inch deep, bed of moose moss. We hadn't traveled but a half-dozen miles but were near proven fishing and felt no need to move on.
It was there I first conducted an experiment to test how slippery slab rock could become with the slightest splashing of dishwater. Simply put, damn slippery. Thank God I had sense enough to use my elbow to beak the fall.
Once again we began our search for fish. Two entering streams in the lake to our north proved desert dry. We whipped the shores pointlessly in hope the pickerel would be there simply from habit. But it seemed fish are smarter than people. Like that was news. If there's one consistent streak in my life it's never foregoing doing something dumb-assed in favor of the intelligent. Truth was if we were in the bush solely to catch fish we'd have been a whole lot smarter to have stayed in Minnesota near proven home water. No way would Al and I have caught twenty pound pike but over two weeks would have worn out wall hanger bass and a few darned nice northerns. Oh well, we always had the rapids and its never ending stream of pickerel.
Leaving camp with walleyes on our minds we quickly came upon the interlopers from Fairwind Lake. They were tucked into a marginal beach backed by a cliff and fixing to chow down on a stringer of chunky pickerel. No doubt our pickerel from our rapids. Damnation, didn't they know we'd found them first? Oh well, seemed to me we were camped on their shore lunch grounds. Could be this party had been fishing these waters for decades, had their routines set in stone, and us Johnny-come-latelies had upset the plan. Sometimes six people in five thousand square miles of forest, lake, and river is a few too many.
Allan and I returned to the fast water about the time the sun came to a rest on the treetops. After bucking the current to the slick of dark water in the lake above, Al cast down into tiny stretches of pocket water below and hauled in fish after fish while I held the boat. I'd read about such moments while sitting in Ole's Barber Shop while awaiting my monthly butch cut. Master anglers firing slingshot casts beneath overhanging limbs to a tiny niche in a shoreline where a monster of a fish lay waiting for a perfectly placed lure. This time the master was my son who was throwing his red and white spinner into bucket-sized slicks behind boulders in a Canadian rapid. Yes sir, this beat Field and Stream all to pieces.
Finally I picked up the rod and pointlessly, more out of wanting something to do than with a purpose or maybe feeling a little left out, threw a spinner off to my left. Oddly enough I tied into the first of four good-sized pike. For twenty minutes ours was a dance of balance between an unwanted tumble into the rocks below and the joy of tormenting ten pound pike in the growing dark. Finally we had to pack it in knowing a dash through a boulder field under starlight wasn't a game we wanted to play. Ain't that the way she goes sometimes? Four pike might've been all there was, also might've been stacked up like cordwood. On the upside we'd found a couple of good spots and figured there were more up ahead. All we had to do was check the map, locate where the river narrowed to a cast wide with access to deep water, paddle our way down, and find a campsite nearby. Yup, we had ourselves a plan.