Friday, May 6, 2011

Learning Curve '01 (Part two)

     Bear seemed almost a return to civilization. We'd had Brunne to ourselves for all but three hours. The lodge boys didn't even know we were there as they putt-putted by out in mid-lake. And believe me, we did nothing to attract their attention. In fact I tried to pretend I was a rock. In contrast, most every day on Bear we had someone trolling by trailing a small blue haze in never-ending ovals down below our campsite perch. Can't say we saw anyone land any fish. But then they were restricted by breakfast and cocktail hour. Were always battling mid-day sun and near calm. Tough walleye conditions. The low sun hours were ours alone.
     The campsite was boffo. Level slab, glide-up landing. Kitchen and tent pad dominated the lake from above the treetops. Made us feel like lords of Manitoba sittin' up in our lakeside aerie. Stupendously fine site. And showed more use than any we'd seen to date. Such is life in the land of the slightly out of the way.
     Best of all we had the fishing pegged from the get-go. A classic situation of ninety-percent of the fish in ten-percent of the lake. Okay, so I'm exaggerating a little. Call it ninety-percent in thirty-percent. A single look at the map told the story. Our campsite was the front door to what I've come to call a lake-within-a-lake. Four hundred acres nearly separated by islands from the rest of the body. If you ever camp on Bear, take the first camp site on the south side. Stand on the hill facing the main body of the lake. The good fishing's to your rear.
     That's the direction we headed on our first evening. Honestly, it looked good on paper but we'd been wrong before. We eventually tried other spots around Bear but nothing came close to what sat behind us. Lots and lots of walleyes. Most around twenty inches. Rock piles and points. Simple enough. Pike everywhere. A few pushing twenty pounds. Sometimes in the cabbage. Sometimes chowing down on walleyes. Big fish love to eat.
     From cast one it was The Allan Show. I caught my share but he hammered 'em. All the big pike. All the big walleyes. It was my obligation to continually remind him as he reeled them in, that it was my expertise at boat control and location choice that made it all possible. Can't say he ever bought that line. Didn't actually say one way or the other. Too busy catching fish I guess.
     His biggest pike was a Master Angler for sure. Well, it would have been if I'd taken the picture. Soon as we got a look at the fish, I began to maneuver, in reverse, toward a likely landing. Me going one way, pike towing the other. You see, I wanted the shot to be a classic. Al on slab, forest behind, on one knee, hat cocked at jaunty angle, white teeth gleaming, pike held horizontal toward camera. Photo framed and someday hanging on office wall. "Yup. My old man made it all possible. Greatest human being that ever tied a bucktail." Never did make the slab. The picture on the wall changed to Allan with empty hands while kneeing on slab, "Yup. My old man screwed up again."
     A few hundred yards behind our site sat a colossal cabbage bed. Was always good for a dozen casts each time we passed. Not a real hot spot but I've got this thing for cabbage. Even the kind that goes with corned beef. So, Al hooked this hammer handle. Not unusual. Until the little bugger quit the fight and made a bee-line for the canoe. Weird. Al cranked as fast as he could, line rooster tailing a spray  of over heated water as it gathered on his reel. 'Bout the time he's back in control, bang! It thumped the bottom of the boat like a Japanese bell log. Then turned tail and stripped out line. Weirder. Now, Al's got a fight on his hands and wondering, what the hell? Finally gets the snake alongside only to find it sideways in the jaws of a forty-incher. When he tried to hoist the pair for a photo, the big girl finally turned loose, no doubt feeling cheated out of a snack. Al released the little pike, who tried to get back in the canoe. Figuring the fatty hadn't felt the hooks, Allan commenced to fan cast. And hooked up again,  this time landed the northern. Quite a change from his first big pike on Simonhouse.xxxxxx
     Answer to the question of the week. An amphipod is a fresh water scud. More or less looks like a shrimp and floats around in a lake's plankton. Seems to be an important part of a trout lake's ecology. Seeing as how Amphipod was a trout lake that fit nicely. In a dull, couldn't think of a more creative name for a lake than a bug that fish eat, kind of way. Again made me miss good old Round Lake back home. Guess I'm a sucker for color.
     We didn't know that at the time we were paddling down to back door it from Bear. Too easy going in the front door from Third Cranberry like everyone else. Oh, we'd had our chances the first two years but it was a low priority. Also, we didn't have trout gear. Not that we were chest wader and match-the-hatch ready this time. Best we could do was little spinners. Not elegant but a proven tactic. Shoot, even us bozos had caught a few 'bows and brookies with them ( I almost sound like I knew what I was doing. But if you've read this far, you know the truth). Truth is I've never caught trout with a fly rod. Spinners, worm and hook and the ever popular beetle-bug and pork rind. Cut me some slack here. At least I didn't use bleach.
     Bushwhack. Here we go again. Been there, not done that. By gum, this time we were gonna give it something close to a good shot. No swamps in the way. Just a mile of forest without a trail. Not like the Copper Lake romp. But our chances solidly better than the snowball in hell. Honestly, I didn't think we'd make it. But we had the time. Give 'er a shot. We'd either find Amphipod or a good excuse on the way.
     A tough landing of brush above a short rock wall. Grumbled about Canadian conspiracy. There being no way to hoist the canoe, it was left in lake and tied off to brush. Knew for a fact rope would break. Worked our way uphill through the thicket, occasionally dropping to our knees. Pissed and moaned about eventually having to drag canoe through such crap. Regained my composure when finally on level. Life again good. In love with whole world. Could see for quarter mile. Occasional deadfall jumble broke up the otherwise open area. It almost looked like it had been logged off. Whistled while we walked. A half mile in we dead ended at a wall of forest with only the most general idea of Amphipod's direction. Checked the compass. Allowed for vague amount of declination. Thankfully the arrow pointed to a spot on the map that said, "Good enough excuse for city boys to pack it in." Followed by an asterisk referring to a note saying simply 'Wieners.' That and the idea of another half mile of zig-zag through a much thicker stretch of woods told me it was time to turn around. Gave me an appreciation of pioneers and those way-back Asians who wandered into North America twenty-thousand years earlier without having the slightest clue where the hell they were going. I felt awash with relief as we walked back. Maybe I didn't like heading into a world without signposts. Maybe I'd cheated death one too many times in Vietnam. Whatever the reason, not getting lost in the Canadian woods appealed to me a lot.
     Allan. This remembrance just doesn't have enough of him in it. And he's there every mile, step and paddle of the way. He's the necessary half. Without Al there'd be no Canada for me. He was the excuse, the spark. Yeah, the idea for all of it was in my head for decades. But it was Al who made it come to life. Who got us heading for Wedge. Look for the mine. Amphipod. Trapper's cabins. To stop once in a while to take a leak in a new place, on a new island. Mostly to put up with my never-ending idiocy. Talk, talk, talk. We talked all the time. Always something to say, even if what was said was better off not being said. He let me read aloud. Even encouraged it. He knew we could do things I knew we couldn't. being in Canada with my son was a gift. Pure and simple. He turned out to be the son I'd like to have been if my old man had lived long enough to do things with me.
     Come the end of our week and a half, his lips were shot. Chapped, windburned, sunburned, cracked all to hell. Lemonade burned to the touch, water burned, it hurt to eat. He was still enjoying his time. Just wasn't having as much fun enjoying it.
     The plan was to leave on our second Wednesday. The weather had been great but it could turn at any moment. Couple of days being windbound and we wouldn't make the wedding. We'd hear about it for sure. And for years after. Mostly, I didn't want to miss it. It was family. Not only important but pleasureful being around both in-laws and out-laws. So it had to be Wednesday.
     We got up real early. Didn't want to rush it. We sure did that well. Putting together and eating breakfast was a challenge. 'Course at the end of a trip you're down to mold and crumbs. Took a while, maybe a while and a half. Al said he'd do dishes and pack the kitchen. I shuffled back to break down and pack up the camping stuff. Beautiful day. Seemed a shame to waste it traveling but.... I pulled the plugs on the air mattresses. Folded a couple of things neatly. Sat and stared. Stuffed most of a sleeping bag into a sack. I was pooped. Sat and stared. Pulled the bag back out and went to talk with Al. He seemed to be having a difficult time deciding which to pack first, the salt or the pepper. The only thing around him that'd moved was his shadow.
     Al put it simply, "The weather will hold, let's fish today and travel tomorrow."
     It seemed so right. Over the next fourteen hours we spent a dozen on the water. Full sun all day. Fish beyond count. Covered close to half the shoreline. We were obsessed. Somewhere around nine p.m., Al took the photo of me with our last walleye. Then for the next two hours we caught dozens more. Hotter and hotter as the sun went down. Close to fish a cast. What a day it had been. Allan's gift to his old man. Only dark drove us from the water.
     Thursday. Another treasure of a day. Time to pack it in for real. And I'd almost forgotten to mention Old Notch, the eagle. The one missing a big wing feather. All he wanted from life was to eat one of the baby loons across the lake from us. His were the only eagle wings I'd ever been close enough to hear. He nearly dropped a load when he all but ran into me early one morning.
     This time leaving was easy. Laughed our way through it. On the water early with Winnipeg and cold beer on our minds. Travel was a pleasure on that calm, sunny day. The miles flew faster and faster as Al's watch slowed to a stop. Again.
     On Friday we were searched as we passed through customs. Don't know what went on or what they were looking for 'cause we were asked to leave the Jeep. My apologies to the drug sniffing dog. Then again, after ten days in the boonies, our stuff probably smelled like a dog's butt.

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