Friday, July 8, 2011

Learning Curve '03 - Second Site

     Seemed the walleyes thought they were trout. Holding in the fast water and waiting for mayflies that looked like #5 spinners. Half an hour of hardly-even-trying fun. Coulda caught more but now we had a campsite to find. Seeing as how the plan was to take it as it came and since it just came, we'd pull ashore at the next opportunity. Return after lunch and do some serious headhunting. In truth we weren't so much looking for numbers as we were looking for size. Master angler size. Wall of certificates and patches to sew on the outfit I'd be buried in. Sticker on the coffin reading 'A Bad Day's Fishing Beats a Good Day Being Dead.' Never been dead before but I figured it wasn't as hot as it was cracked up to be, even in heaven. Matter of opinion so don't get all huffed up about it.
     Below the rapids shot a quarter mile chute of a canyon. Half a paddle blade deep in the low water conditions. Looked like it'd been carved and polished by centuries of glacial runoff. Maybe started as a crack in a cliff and then eroded away. Spooky spot. Probably spookier in high water when that little stretch passed water like a toilet flushing and canoes were disposed of like... well, you get the image.
Perhaps Eight Feet from the Fall Spot
     Less than a mile later we found a perfect camp. Peninsula. Flat slab landing, filtered sunlight, moss-bedded tent site. Learned right off that cameras don't float. And if you don't find them right away, they don't work anymore. Here we also learned to crawl the moss before setting up the tent. Feel around for rocks and branches. Even the finest of self-inflating air mattresses does little to soften granite. Take my word for that.
     Lunch and a paddle back to the rapids. Guess who we ran into on the way? Rub-a-dub-dub. Setting up for a shore lunch. The spot they chose sucked. Guess we'd taken their intended lunchroom. Such is life. Nearing the fast water, we watched the third boat packing up, "Think we gottem all. Let's eat'em down stream and crap'em out tonight on Fairwind. S'what it's all about. Katchin', killin', kookin', krappin, and alliteratin'. Glad we brought the second keg of beer." Oops, there I go again, being an arrogant and ungrateful foreigner.
     Our turn now. Pulled onto the little island ready to catch any stragglers they'd missed. There's a photo of the Wenonah balanced atop several knife edged rocks I've considered sending to the manufacturer. Call it 'Things to Never Do with a Canoe #1'. We pointlessly fan cast the water ' til we were convinced the boogers had indeed caught every pickerel and were chowing down on them at that very moment. Reminded me of a story - Leiningen Versus the Ants - and movie - The Naked Jungle - about an army of ants in South American eating everything in their path. I don't think they got Charlton Heston, thank God. Also the only things naked in the movie were the ants. A serious disappointment to a young man.
     While doing dishes that evening I came one step closer to answering that age old question, 'How much water is required to make continental bedrock slick enough for a 56 year old man to slip and fall?' And it's corollary, 'Which elbow is best to break the resultant fall?' A cup and left. The thought of going horizontal on slick granite has always kept me from swimming in the boonies. A dab of water now and then in the right places seems to be more than enough to ward off bacteria. Never been sick in the northwoods. Also never cracked my skull. In my mind they go hand in glove.
     Fished up and down river on the second day. Nice scenery. In the evening, after having the water to ourselves all day, we hit the rapids one last time. For a change we paddled through and fished from above. Cast down. Snags be damned. Deal with them when and if. Took a lot of boat control. But the method worked just fine. Mostly I sculled and Allan caught. Seemed every walleye on the File was about sixteen inches long. Doubled once so we weren't catching the same one over and over.
     Mostly to work a  line loop off the lip of the spool, I threw a long cast back into the lake. Son of a gun. Big pike. Not a trophy but solidly over ten pounds. Seemed like Larry Gogal was right. Moving water. Who'd have thought a man who spent a lifetime outdoors in that country would have it figured out? Kinda takes the fun out of it in my opinion. Ignorance is happiness. Somehow that doesn't sound right but I'll stick with it for the moment. Earlier he'd added that July was the best time to fish this country. 'Yeah, most of the Master Angler Awards are caught in June. Because that's when most of the fishing is done. Winter's are long up here. Fishermen get an itchy casting finger and get on the water as soon as possible.'
Lucky Catch
     We fished into the dark. caught several more big pike and a fistful of walleyes. By any measure it was a fine evening. But I'd been spoiled and wanted nothing short of phenomenal. Seemed to again be missing the point that the best can only happen once. But I keep hoping it's still up the road waiting for me.
     Aha! We had a pattern. Bottlenecks in the river. It sure seemed like whenever the File narrowed down, the walleyes had a hangout. Checked the map. Found just such a spot another two hours down river. Packed and moved in the morning. Looking back from the wisdom of the future, it's easy to say we shoulda stayed put. Good walleyes both ends of that little lake. Big pike. Maybe there were other treasures. Said it before, at the crossroads you can only go one way. The other remains a mystery.
     Along the way we checked out all the feeder streams. Not feedin'. Dust bowl in the far north. Topping it off, the river had that lime green look of a sand bottom that's always felt like no fish here to me. Didn't see that coming when I'd looked at the maps. Heck the rivers there were blue. Or when I read those 'Monster Pike of the File River' articles back at Ole's Barber Shop and Small Engine Repair in 1959 Minneapolis. It's just possible there was some shuckin' and jivin' coming off those outdoorsman's typewriters. Can't make much money getting skunked. So they never did. Cripes, I was only twelve years old. How was I to know that pipe-smokin', plaid-shirted, bamboo-roddin' dude was blowing more smoke than he was inhaling? Or that Presidents had a hard time keeping their zippers up? Or that the jerk-offs run the world and we fall for their lines like sunfish sluggin' down grasshoppers. Well, sucks to them all. And, for that matter, where's my big walleye? Need that patch.


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