Sunday, December 30, 2012

Oops - part 2

     Back in '94 we had a 3/4 ton, full-sized van. A road barge that rode the bumps like it was floating in slow motion through jello. As a camping vehicle it was great. Both me and Allan could sleep inside and have room left over for all our gear and a face cord of oak if we'd wanted.
     On the trip in question there were six of us. Five related by blood and an in-law. Full load of gear and my wood trailer behind. Three canoes, one on the van, two on the trailer. Near to five tons rolling up I-35 to Duluth, then Highway 61 up the scenic North Shore. That drive alone is always worth the price of admission.
     The trailer was a homemade wonder. Not made by me but by a local man in Pine River. He'd make a new one each year to haul his fire wood. Then stick a sign on it in his front yard where it'd be snatched up by passers by. Like me.
     The frame was of scrounge, heavy duty scrap metal welded to one ton Ford truck suspension. All-in-all a masterpiece of recycling. Paneled of plywood and painted pink 'cause that's what he had. Pink was probably the reason it was still sitting there when I passed by for the third time that weekend. But the trailer could haul something over a half cord of green oak. That's solidly over a ton and macho enough to offset its color. Not that pink bothered me a whole lot.
     Hauled a lot of firewood and lumber over the years. Wore out tires but never the basic structure. At the moment it's still in the yard and visible from space, yes it is visible from space, even though it's now a less flamboyant grey-blue.
     Regardless of load she pulled like a part of the van. I had to occasionally look in the rear view mirror to see if it was still there. Sometimes the trailer would send me up a message that something was amiss. Like the time I was passed by one of its wheels. That'll catch your attention for sure. The trailer felt the same even though it was rolling on the drum. Seemed I'd had a blowout and the wheel ripped right through the lug bolts.
     That was close to twenty years ago but remains an example of life up north. Sixty bucks got the trailer hauled nine miles to the garage still half filled. Also bought a wheel, new lugs and a tire good enough to get the trailer home.
     Anyhow, the plan was to camp on a trout lake. I knew of one that had three fine primitive sites. Yeah, she was full up. Plan B was a second trout lake. The site was beautiful. Like something out of Field and Stream as my brother put it. Of course that was also full. Lucky for me we had backups C, D, E and F. Though F was a pure scramble.
     It was C that was the fun part. I has this Superior National Forest map and on the map it showed a primitive, remote campsite on the far shore of a lake called Devilfish. It was choice C 'cause the DNR said Devilfish was a walleyes only lake. I'm not a walleye man. Most fisherman in Minnesota would call it a sacrilege that a lake be disparaged 'cause it only had walleyes in it. It is the state fish after all. But we were after smallies or if worse came to worse, a pike now and then. Walleyes are for killing and eating and we already had a couple of coolers filled with steaks and whatnot.
     But Devilfish looked pretty on paper and was close to where we wanted to be. So it was choice C.
     There were two ways for us to make it to the site, car or canoe. Canoe was out due to our half ton of gear. So it was car. Or in this case, van. And over a marginal two track forestry road. In a vehicle designed to cruise the highways. And pulling a wood trailer. But I wasn't thinking much beyond a place to sleep far from the madding crowd and maybe a line in the water yet that evening even if the only fishes were walleyes.
     Almost forgot. There was a campsite shown on the map right at the boat access. Yup, it was taken. So we set off down the two track. Not a bad one as it turned out. Unless you consider it being the day the frost was coming out of the ground or a ground water seepage that was flowing unseen under the road surface at the bottom of a hill in which I managed to mire the van up to the hubs a problem. It all seemed so familiar. If he was still around, Greg woulda taken it in stride. Or at least not whined about it as much as me.
      'Course whining was out of the question on that day as a I had to keep up a manly appearance. A "Shit fire boys, I been in lots worse places. There was this time in The Nam...." kinda face.
     That's the one good thing about having screwed up many times over the course of a life's passage, you realize that this ain't the end of the world and that you'll figure a way out. Having no choice is a fine incentive.
     The time me and Greg had floated his little truck in what grew to become a pond the more we worked at it, there was just the two of us. Nowhere near enough manpower. This time the story was different. Six men can move a lot of weight. Almost as good as a two ton come-along.
     First of all there was the trailer. The hill behind us wasn't but twenty feet high as the frog jumps. Piece of cake, so there we parked it.
     The van was another story. What with the disintegrating ground and one wheel drive, even with five men pushing as I gunned the engine, she moved with a mind of her own. And that mind tended toward the two track's south side. Didn't matter what was tried. She'd get up a head of steam and drift straight toward this thigh thick birch tree. Finally only one choice remained and I did have an ax with me.
     Now, as far as I know, it's completely illegal to chop down any tree on state property without written permission. Seeing as how it was better than thirty miles to the nearest state office, and each of those miles was a walking mile, I wrote us a mental dispensation. We each took a few whacks to spread out the blame in typical execution form. Then carried the cadaver deep into the woods to hide it. You know, a lot like Lewis and Bobby and Drew and Ed did in Deliverance. I apologized to the tree for having stupidly taken its life - yeah, I occasionally do those kind of things.
     Once removed, extrication of the van was no problem, the trailer reattached and we were off to plan D. Which turned out to be unoccupied but not up to my standards. How stupid can a man be? But I figured when you're twenty miles off pavement in a countryside of hill, bluff and pine forest, there's still no reason to camp on what appeared to be a crumbling concrete parking lot left over from the CCC days back in the '30s.
     Outside of that and being quite a ways from any fishable lakeshore, it was an intriguing location. Fifty yards distant across the gravel road a small river rushed its way through a bolted steel culvert that appeared a leftover from a time of industrial might. Probably another Civil Conservation Corps product. Quarter inch or thicker steel, it'd been there for fifty-five years and looked to have another century left in it. Those boys built with style and a sense of the future.
      I sometimes think back on that spot and the stream lullaby it would have afforded us and regret not having spent our few days there. But plan E, that being Judge C. R. Magney State Park on the Brule River, wasn't more than a half hour away and we had a lot of daylight left. It was and is a splendid park. Me and Al had camped there two years before and had the whole place to ourselves. A lock for sure.
     Who'd have thought an entire state park could be closed for repairs? But Magney sure was and I was down to straw grasping as what to do next.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Oops - and that's a big time oops (part 1)

     Just went over all the entries and realized I'd skipped over a dozen or more trips to the Boundary Waters, most of them with Al. Not a good sign. At the moment I've got what we used to call a head cold. Seeing as how my memory ain't what it used to be, I better not be throwing away my tissues after blowing my nose. Might be some important grey matter in with the mucus.
     My best guess is that I did cover a few of them. But definitely not the one with biggest potential to embarrass my brother and his son-in-law. So I won't mention Bill and Rob's names in this entry. We all make mistakes. So long as nothing happens to ruin our futures they're no big deal. I'll leave it at that.
     How and why we found ourselves in the position we found ourselves needs a brief couple of trip intro.
     Blame it on my old buddy Rod and his need to do a post graduation trip to the Arrowhead region of Minnesota back in '66. And frost it with his last minute decision to head into East Pike Lake. Gotta blame him 'cause I didn't know squat about the area. If the smallmouth fishing hadn't been great none of what followed in the northwoods would have come about.
     I needed a summer job in '66 and ended up in a canoe with my son five hundred miles north of the border thirty-five years. It's like Marilyn Monroe said about men liking her slightly oversized bottom, "Go figure." 
     In '92 I returned to East Pike with my son Allan. The bass were still there on our one trip in just like they'd been waiting. We slept outside the Boundary Waters in a leaky old umbrella tent listening to the thunder come rumbling down the hills like distant artillery. Good trip that pumped us up for a second one the following year.
     This time we were more prepared. Real tent and lots of marginally edible freeze dried food. Set our sights for a return to East Pike with visions of sinking the canoe with all the bass we'd haul in. Instead it was a lesson in timing. Black flies. Clouds of 'em. Mosquitoes. Hard to breath without sucking in a few. And the bass were on their spawning beds. Sex trumps eating. We caught little and lived covered head to foot. Ate out on the water. Our four day trip turned into an overnighter.
     Anyone with sense would've questioned a third trip. Not us. In fact we invited others to share the joy. I knew that the fishing inside the Boundary Waters was better than outside. At least I think I did. But scrounging up all the necessary gear for a party of six was beyond me. Three canoes? No problem. But we'd have to rent most of the camping gear and I hate to spend other peoples money. So we camped outside the borders with what we had.
     Finding a campsite was a story in itself. And I'm just the person to share the fiasco.

Monday, December 24, 2012


     Received a gift today. And sure didn't expect it. Bonnie stopped by on her way home from work. No exactly on her way as we're an added ten miles of traffic laden road. Maybe the tree I'd promised her had something to do with it but forty years of close friendship would be closer to the truth. Her gifts for us were on the money.
     I'd last read Walden as a requirement for an English class back in my out-of -the-Army-and-now-a-pissed-off-protest-cat-in-college-pursuing-a-degree-that-had-no-economic-future days. Of course I enjoyed the book. Fit like a glove. Read it a couple of times then put it on the shelf. Since then it'd disappeared. Probably donated.
     I was twenty-four at the time of reading. Thoreau was a sage, older dude who had much to say to someone such as me (coulda called me an I but me sounds better). It did strike me he was a little pissed off and skeptical of his neighbors. Kind of an I'm smarter than you attitude. That appealed to me back then.
     But I'm now on the edge of my sixty-sixth birthday and am way older than Henry David was when he sat on his door stoop beside the pond. Old enough to say to him, "Don't go running around half cocked young man. Don't be so quick to judge. That farmer with the farm on his back may not find it a burden at all."
     I may be pre-judging the man in an after the fact way here. Guess I'm gonna have to read the story again. No doubt I'll still find a lot of truth in the book. After all, I do love heading into the woods all by myself. Warming myself on those chilly Minnesota nights with wood I've taken from tree to wood stove. Simple is indeed better. But I've cheated. Bought my present simple with forty years of work. Can't say that if I had it to do over I'd do it any other way.

     Months have passed.  The book was opened.  A few pages read.  Couldn't handle it.  Don't know if' the century and three-quarters between us, our age, or his advice just doesn't mean a thing to me anymore.  When you're young, you're looking for heaven on earth and searching for it somewhere out there.  A half dozen decades under your belt makes you realize you've had it all along.  Sounds good, eh?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Never Too Old - at least not yet

     I called the trips to Canada Learning Curve. Probably a better title than what followed. But it is a good title for life in general. At least that's what came to mind over and again while I was making the little trees. In general I got better from one to the next. Try this, try that. Some stuff works, some doesn't. Haven't actually got one to come out as I'd like. Probably never will 'cause I'm not exactly sure what perfect is and what it is I'm looking for.
     I cut them out on the band saw, sand 'em, wet 'em to pop the grain, re-sand, varnish, re-sand, varnish, re-sand and varnish. Something around six hours per tree including the work to get the stock out of the log. Then I give them away. Maybe I'll keep a few to remind myself that I haven't as yet tired of pointlessness.
     My job was a lot like that except I was paid. And I bitched a lot about being a wage slave. There's something weird about that. Can't put my finger on what the difference is. Attitude I suppose.
     I've been told I could sell the trees but I don't think so. They're pretty neat looking but if I was to pay myself what I was making as an hourly at FedEx and add in the time to sell and ship, they'd have to be priced so high there'd be no market. Besides, it's more fun to give them away.
     By the way, with their pointy tops they'd make excellent weapons against intruders. And scarier than hell.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Dead Brain II

     The man was fastidious and organized. His lures all in original boxes. Same for one of the reels, a South Bend model 55 with no visible wear. How many of them are still around? Yet its current value is less than its original price tag. The fact that it sucked as a casting reel might have something to with it. Story of life, the one's worth collecting today were too expensive for a normal man with a family.
     The braided dacron wound on its spool tells another story. The line's rope-like diameter coupled with the reel's zero ball bearings says this was a rig for throwing immense plugs about as far as a one lipped man could spit. Yet John caught his share of walleyes and bass. Extra silky, incredibly strong, nearly invisible Power Pro be damned.
     Of course there were never ending birds nests to deal with. Patience and cigarettes made unraveling them a part of the experience. Can't say I've ever seen Al Lindner or Roland Martin dedicate a show to the joys of being in the boonies with a single rod and working out a Gordian Knot, loop by loop. References to the reel's parentage and the heavens above coming from those gentlemen's mouths would be worth ten minutes of product plugging. I never went fishing with my father-in-law but know for a fact he spent his time in the front of the boat gaining maturity one knot at a time.
     Yup, there's an original Heddon River-Runt in one box. Actually two of them. A red and white and a black and white. Classic. Caught my first smallmouth bass on a larger version of the same lures. Mine had belonged to my brother. He was drafted back in '53. Left his tackle box in mom's basement and never came back for it. So it ended up as mine. I used most of the lures to death. Where the box and remaining plugs disappeared is beyond my memory.
     A lot of the neat junk of a person's life, stuff that was once so ordinary, saw it most every day kind of stuff, sooner or later it just goes away. Maybe thrown out, misplaced, left behind. Who remembers? Then it shows up in dreams. Symbols of a lost past. What do they mean, beyond some things once were and now they ain't any more. Guess that sums up life in a nutshell (or at least in a confusing sentence). Maybe too small a nutshell. Can't forget oatmeal raisin cookies, good coffee and a lot of time with nothing special to do.
     There's a red and white Heddon Flaptail Jr. Can't say I'm familiar with that one. Lordy, lordy, John's frog colored Lazy Ike is made out of wood. Probably a collector's item and worth at least two bucks.
     There's this three piece, aluminum gaff. Got a hook on the end of it suited for forty pound muskies or hanging off the end of a pirate in Never-Never land. A bit of over kill seeing as how John said he was a bass fisherman. He never talked much about it except to say the guy he used to fish with wasn't in it for the sport. Come evening he'd head out on the river and set out a baited trot line. Then head back in to see if the whiskey was still holding out. John never ran on about the one that got away, the big one's he caught, good days or bad days. All that's left is my memory of the trot line and the box in front of me.
     Red and white bobbers. The round, clamp on kind. Wouldn't be a real metal tackle box without them. Thirty years back, in a pinch I tied on a pine cone. I'd like to say it worked just fine but honestly don't remember. That's a problem I have with story telling these days. No jalapenos left between my ears. No fiery, red orb as the sun goes down. The sun simply sets. Blip. You've seen a few and know what one looks like. So it's just two red and white bobbers. Just like the ones I used as a kid trying to find sunnies and crappies but settling for bullheads instead. Oh yeah, now I remember, the pine cone did float and looked natural as all get out. Just like a pine cone. Kind of surprising a squirrel didn't swim out to shuck it and eat the seeds.
     There's a few other lures. A couple by Shakespeare. Not much quality there. A couple of knock-off flat fish. And the most interesting, a tubular aluminum sidewinder.
      All in all, just a box owned by a man who's been dead for sixteen years. But he was alive and carted the box, threw the lures and caught a few fish. Story of life. No matter how long it lasts it sure doesn't last a long time. Like fishing trips. You look forward to them, go on them and then look back on what once was. Looking back is the hard part. But I do. Then get lost in the reverie of if I had it to do over again I'd....

Friday, November 30, 2012

Change of Plan Due to Dead Brain

     So I was going to write this entry for the Uncle Emil Blog. Call it Uncle Emil's Tackle Box. But I was going to cheat and use my father-in-law's old box. Seems Uncle Emil didn't like the idea and wouldn't loan me any inspiration to make it interesting and Emil-ish. So I was stuck with looking into a sixty year old, metal tackle box with plenty of interesting stuff.
     None of that interesting stuff has any real monetary value. But, on the other hand, it belonged to my wife's dad and hasn't seen the water in five decades.
    I knew more of John's history than I did of my father's. Not all that unusual considering I knew my father-in-law a lot longer. To say anything more would lead to a sinkhole of poor guessing. Let's just say John spent some time on the water before I knew him. And his box tells a lot of fishing history with a few stories on the side.
     It's a simple box from a time when fishing was much simpler. And from the looks of the few items, fish were a lot easier to fool. Or maybe we've come to overthink the game, lean way too heavily on technology to outsmart a relatively simple animal. What the hell, they're born, eat, procreate and die. With the weak point being eating. That's about it. We throw something at them that is, or at least looks like food and hope they're hungry.
     It's green steel and has a slight patina of rust. Don't remember if that rust was there when it passed into my hands. One tray, seven lure compartments. Made by Union. From the looks of the box it could easily have been a small tool box, which would have fit John to a T. He'd been a medic in WWII during the recapture of the Philippines. His service brought him the GI Bill, and a teaching certificate. But in his spare time he loved to work with his hands. Wood mostly but did his share of electrical work and plumbing. The hand tools passed down to me were in metal boxes. He born in a time of steel and wood.
     Unfortunately, his lures were from the time of transition or a heartbeat after. Here he went for modern rather than classic. Or maybe the lure making industry didn't offer him a choice. Had they been wood, they'd have far more value. But wood or plastic they'd still be in that box and on my equipment shelf. They were his and that's all that matters.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Picky Stay Home

     Yup, it was unseasonably warm up north. No, not all the lakes were iced over, just the ones I wanted to fish.The word was all of the lakes had already frozen but had since melted off. All except the smaller ones, the canoe lakes. Even if they were open, the wind was up and the water was cold and I'm growing a sane streak up my spine, kind of an off-yellow. Maybe that's just age melting me down and a strong desire to get even older.
     Walking was restricted to the sand roads. Down the middle with blaze orange on. Biking was the same. Hardly anyone out and about besides the deer hunters. And they weren't on the roads.
     A half dozen times each hour rifle reports would tell of a sighting or boredom. All directions of the compass. I'm familiar with the cracks of an AK47 and an M16. Not much different from your typical, slightly deeper throated deer rifle. But every so often I'd hear a whole 'nother animal. Sounded like some of the boys out in the woods were sportin' buffalo guns. Could be the idea behind the big guns was a near miss shock wave would knock the deer down and give a poor marksman a second chance. Or a lonely one a chance at un-natural love.
     As it turned out I had a fine time. Gathered and split some oak. Squared up a couple of aspen and birch log slabs. Both leftovers from mantel making. Brought them home with the idea of re-sawing them into full two by twos, followed by the embarrassment of shaping out some more little artsy-fartsy trees. Those that have seen them haven't laughed and have even asked for a couple. Good gifts.
     The hours of my day were never enough. But the pleasure of an evening's reading with nothing better to do is to be savored. Meaning in life? I let you know if I find it. 'Til then the shush of the wind bending the white pines will have to do.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Change of Plans?

     The weather forecast says highs in the mid 40's for the Northland this weekend. If I can float the solo, I will. Two rods packed just in case. Cold water, slow fish, small presentation. Bobbers or jigs slowly dragged on the bottom in about twenty five feet of water on the edges of rock piles or reefs. Dress warm and wear a lot of blaze orange for the last weekend of deer hunting. Seems like nothing looks so much like a deer as a fisherman in a bone white canoe.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Poinggg and Boinggg

     It's that time of year and I'm headin' up north this weekend to hear it. The lakes will be freezing over. Their skin stretching and cracking. After sunset when the temps are dropping they begin to sing. Could be the song of angels, both saved and fallen. That's a bit heavy, approaching stupid even. But I wrote it and ain't turnin' back.
     The neatest part is heading outdoors to take a leak in the dark. Urination serenade. Poingin' and boingin' in the background. Throw in some northern lights and it's enough to make an aging man pray for a small bladder.

      I sometimes go back and read what I've written, months or years later.  It's now March 10, 2013.  I browsed the titles and didn't recall what this one could possibly be about.  Sounds like a children's story by Wanda Gag (with an umlaut above the last a).  Hard to believe I wrote these few words.  Sounds just like me, maybe even better.  Don't know where the words come from but I doubt it's me making them up.  When it all lines up right who, or whatever it is, has been paying enough attention and the story sounds just like the key stabber is telling it.  Don't know if that makes much sense but not a whole lot in life does so I guess it's okay.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Beaver Giveth

     Last year one of our beavers hung a large aspen. I can't say for sure it was the beaver's fault. Maybe a storm blew through and dropped the tree while Bucky was off somewhere else. Whatever the reason she's entwined among three red oaks. Pulling out the chainsaw and finishing the job was a powerful temptation. But my voice of reason, I call her Lois, said doing so was way over the hill and into the land of stupid. So far in, it bordered on suicide. So it hung there for near on a year.
     My daughter Annie and her husband Ryan came to the rescue by building a new house. In the house would be a gas fireplace. On top of which was to be a rustic mantel. Their old house had one made from a birch log. The log came from our woods up north. Moving it out of the trees taught me my knees weren't what they used to be.
     Long story short, a log was pulled from the aspen when Lois wasn't watching. The mantel is drying in the garage. But that's not the point of the entry.
     Last summer Lois and I spent an afternoon in Duluth with some friends. One artsy gift shop led to another. In passing, a display of local artisan, cartoon-like, evergreens carved from wood was spotted and admired. Another one of those things Lois said we could figure out and do ourselves. Our drawers are lined with such never done projects.
     While there I picked one up, looked at it both right side and upside down and said the usual, "Uh huh. I could do 'er. Yup. No doubt about it." Said that many times over the years and had yet to prove I could actually do any of them.
     For some reason those trees have stuck in my craw. Years past, when I was working, there was always something demanding my time way more important than putzy crap like itty-bitty trees and bird houses. Well, it's a little embarrassing but I've built a few birdhouses now. Truly an immoral waste of time. But it seems my morals, like my knees, ain't what they used to be.
     So, with scrap aspen and band saw I be makin' me some trees. Lordy, lordy what have I sunk to? Beaver and storm hangs tree. I cut log from said tree, chainsaw out a slab, square it up with planer and circular saw. Cut the slab to mantel size and have a six foot mini-timber left over. Mini-timber is made into corbels on which to mount mantel. Remainder of timber is quartered lengthwise. From these are made artsy-fartsy, mini-trees. Little trees from big ones. It's embarrassing for sure. Don't tell anyone.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


     It's a Franklin, thirty years old. Made of cast iron, she's a beast, inefficient, requires maintenance and will outlast me by quite a bit. On its face is a profile of the inventor, said by Mad Magazine to have invented everything that Jefferson and Edison didn't. Seeing as how the wheel didn't as yet have rubber on it back in Franklin's day there were a lot of holes yet to be filled. Opportunity galore.
     Hmmm. These silk stockings just ain't doin' the job anymore. My dogs are freezin'. Shoulda built a fireplace in the workshop. Maybe if I built me an iron box, got it up off the floor so's it wouldn't burn the place down, I could build a fire in it and warm these tootsies up.
     Or something like that.
     Oak, birch, aspen and pine. That's about it. Don't much care for the pine. Burns fast and gunks up the pipe. The pipe's triple walled from the loft floor on up. A straight eighteen foot run from stove vent to bonnet. A match, five sheets of newsprint, kindling and it takes off like a jet plane. And also will burn down to coals in two and a half hours. Not the most efficient wood burner but it's attractive in a black metal box kinda way.
     When I'm up north by myself I sleep on the window seat, cold nose beneath cracked window. Seeing the light from Ben flicker on the ceiling is a warming sight. Also gets me thinking of how close I am to becoming a crispy critter. The building's all thirty year old wood. Pine, cedar, redwood and fir. A little oak and ash on the walls and floor that'd burn way too slow if it wasn't oiled for both shine and explosiveness. A few thousand hours labor would turn into a pile of ash in minutes. And there I lay with a mid-sized inferno blazing away in the next room.
     I'm a hard head. Can't think of any other reason why I gather fire wood the way I do. All of which comes from the seven plus above water acres around me. Each log dead before I had my way with it. Oak usually comes from downed trees, snapped off or leveled by wind. There's a couple ready for the taking as I write this. One looks to have been lightning struck. Not that I'd know what that looks like. But this one if twenty feet of trunk topped by a three way split bent to the ground. Not sure how to drop it as the tree could fall any which way.
     The other had been dead for a few years. No idea how or why its trunk and branches turned a smooth, shiny black, like it had been creosoted, after its bark fell off. Another mystery of life in a life full of them.
     Birch takes a bit of watching. Like me, they tend to die from the top down. When the leaves are no longer there but the tiniest of branches remain, if I want the wood, now's the time to harvest. If not it rots on the stump quickly. A year and it's pulp. Five or so and it's bark and peat on the ground.
     The hard head part of the process, the part I love like a brother, comes in my manner of gather. The second of the above oaks lays a winding three hundred feet from where it'll be dismembered and stacked. Gettin' it there is the fun part. Cut to lengths it gets lobbed enough times to reach a path where the wheelbarrow awaits. Then the wood's carted and piled in the splitting area. Split by hand with a six pound maul of course. I prefer a hickory handle for its feel when the wood pops open but a fiberglass will do. My favorite maul head is on its third wood shaft. What I lack in accuracy I make up for in profanity. My love of swearing does a job to handles. Sometimes I miss on purpose. That's why the fiberglass sits nearby knowing its time will come.
     I think Lois loves the process. Especially the stacking part. Kinda like organizing drawers except for the inevitable split fingernails at the wood pile. She stacks elegantly. Nice, trim rows with the occasional rick to break up the monotony. She's a great help and a bit of a slave driver. Gets me goin' at a pace I can't sustain at age sixty-five. And I do love to split wood but there's only so much need. Gettin' 'er done too fast is like shootin' your wad two minutes into love makin' when you'd like it to last all night. Wonder if they make a wood splittin' viagra, the kind where if you're at it for more than four hours you should contact a forester?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

And Know How to Use Them

     Last week I began. Mid-Fall is a good time in the woods. Before the deer hunting crazies and after the bugs have gone to bed for the winter. Fall color is a thing of the past unless you look down. And when I'm pumpin' along I do a lot of that. That's where the color lies and under which roots and rocks are hidden. Lookin' up to see where that woodpecker is workin' a tree trunk calls for a moment's pause. Watch your step is a rule of thumb. Unless you get a thrill outta brief flight.
     It rained for most of a day when I first hit the cabin. The woods and roads were wet. Not a problem on asphalt but sand is another story. You wouldn't think it but sand floats. Or so it seems. During a downpour you can feel yourself sinking. Immediately after, footing is loose and bike tires tend to have a mind of their own. Skidding sideways on two wheels holds little appeal for me so I left the bike home when I headed north to the trail.
     There was no doubt in my mind where I'd begin. In the five mile stretch I'd chosen, a double handful of lakes would be passed, three of which I'd fished. Though I'd be alone, the waters would be like visiting old friends. Not much more than a passing howdy but a visit nonetheless. 
     My only concerns involved stayin' on the trail and hunters. Like I'd said it wasn't as yet deer season. Grouse was the game of choice. A glance in the mirror assured me I looked nothing like the bird. But the thought of a local doctor pluckin' buckshot from my southern exposure held no appeal. That blaze orange always set off the blue in my eyes clinched the deal. Atop my blaze sweatshirt I threw on a fishing vest. Lots of pockets for compass, keys, hard candy, phone, camera, and it kept most of the orange exposed. A matching stocking cap to warm my skull and I was set.
     Visibility of the trail was an unknown to me. I had no idea of its usage or how well it was maintained. A cover of dying summer weeds and fallen leaves might have worked their magic and turned the affair into a disappearing act. The compass in my vest wasn't so much carried to help me find the North Country Trail as it was to point me in the way of the sand roads. Should I become unsure as to where I was, south was my friend.
     Goes without saying I missed my access point. I knew exactly what I was looking for. But my brain picture and reality didn't actually go hand in glove. Lucky for me I knew the area well enough to know when I'd screwed up. Back when I worked for Fedex our system was a lot like that. We didn't always know where a package was but did have a good idea where we lost track of it.
     A mere five minutes lost, I was parked and walking to the trail crossing. Started by firing off a shot of the official marker. Then climbed the embankment leading to a long, slow rise. In our part of the world mountains don't exist. Seriously tall hills are a long way off but hundred foot rises, like the one under my feet, do happen here and there. In fact they're all over the place 'cause of the glaciers. This is moraine country. Dig down a bit and you'd hit piles of boulders, the grit that melted off the ice as it retreated to the northeast.
     Northern Minnesota is lake country. But the lakes aren't but the deep spots of much larger glacial melt pools from the last ice age. A person takes a look at Leech Lake and thinks, "ooh wee, that's some big lake." And it is. But like an old timer once said about Lake Bemidji, "It ain't but a spit in the fryin' pan compared to Lake of the Woods," compared to those glacial waters it ain't much.
     So the start was a lot like the entire day's walk. I was either goin' uphill or down. A single glance up the track said there'd be no need for the compass. Though passing through a randomness of trees, the trail was wide, well maintained and marked. Every thirty strides or so, a blue slash was painted on the closest tree. Every few hundred yards an official metal stake appeared. Let me know I was still on the North Country Trail and wouldn't have to share it with motorized traffic. Gettin' lost would be a challenge.
     The Minnesota Trail Guide said timber wolves now roamed this far south. A passing thought said maybe, a very skeptical maybe. However, no more than a city block in, I came upon the scat of a very big dog who apparently liked to eat things with the fur still on, or maybe a wolf. Didn't make me feel like Little Red Riding Hood. But it did get me to wondering about the state I've sunk to when I find a pile of crap interesting philosophical fare. From what I knew of the animal it doesn't trust people a lot and goes out of its way to not be seen. Nice to know they still exist in our world. I made a mental note to not bleat like a tender lamb and moved on.
      Unlike my afternoon of scaring trout in the state forest, this day was deep in silence. Not much wind. Total overcast to muffle what little sound there was. Just the rustle of leaves underfoot and the shupping of my pant legs. Sounded like someone was always comin' up on me from behind the way the cloth whopped my shoes. That sound's always there when the long pants are on. Just that it usually gets lost in the background noise of the civilized world. Not so along the trail. There it dominated. Hard to shut it out.
     I stopped to shoot a picture of a log covered in multi-colored fungi. My camera glitched. Wouldn't take a picture and wouldn't close. Once again civilization had reared its ugly head. Simple solution: first I found a softball sized rock. A solid piece of granite with no observable cracks. Next, finding a waist high boulder, the moss covered kind this moraine area has in abundance, I calmly proceeded to reduce the camera to something less than the sum of its parts. Whistled while I worked. Thankfully I always carry matches for emergencies. Or random sacrifices. With them I was able to build a small fire and melt the shattered parts back into a single clot. I call it Modern Man's Revenge. A fine addition to anyone's collection of 21st Century Folk Art. What the hell, it woulda been another photo that would either have disappointed or been ignored once seen.
     Ten minutes in and the real world came calling. No, not in the form of paws and teeth. I had my phone stuck in the fly vest and it buzzed and chimed 'til I answered it. Actually I wouldn't have broken stride had it not been Lois. So I found myself in a position I'd never wanted to be, on the phone while walking a national trail. As it was I stood in a narrowing of the path where it passed through a mini-grove of white and red pines. Nice spot. A person I love on the line.
     Seeing the lakes I'd fished many times in the past was a treat. Mostly in the sense of a negative view.  Yoo hoo! Wave to the me who ain't there on the lake. In years past while behind the wheel for Fedex I'd fantasized about building some kind of shelter near the best of the lakes. Even picked a mental location for the cabin. The trail passed directly through the spot I'd imagined but had never seen. For once reality exceeded fantasy. Would of been a great spot and view.
     Reaching one of the trout lakes it was time to turn around. Again the quiet dominated. A hawk passed by fifty yards away. The sound of its wings beating the calm air gave it away. I could almost hear it breath and fart from exertion.
     Another pile of wolf scat. Solid and black. Tasted like mice and snickers bars. Probably 'cause Halloween wasn't far in the future.
     I spooked a grouse near the end of the walk. Or should I say it spooked me? I'm another one of those irrational dreamers who attributes perfection to nature. It is what it has to be. And wild creatures never err in their abilities. The grouse taught me otherwise when it distinctly whacked a bush as it escaped like a bat out of hell. How about like a grouse from the underbrush?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

I Still Have Feet

     For most of my life I've found a use for my feet. Besides just keeping my butt from falling on the ground. When I was a kid they were my only form of transport until my first bike at age eleven. In the Army I was a grunt. The jobs I've held longest were car runner, messenger and courier. Couldn't have done a one of 'em without my feet. A look at my education, all the way through half a year of graduate school, says I had my brain in mind. But it didn't work out that way.
     Kept my ass reasonably small by running, walking and biking. Even went off the deep end in the '70s and early '80s by runnin' marathons and ultra-marathons. Can't say I recommend that to the reasonably sane. If time was no matter and I had no social attachments, some years would find me, pack on back, traipsin' along the Appalachian or coastal trails. Not sure why those things attract me. But they do.
     Up in the northland we have two main walking trails, the Superior Hiking Trail and the North Country Trail. Both are more to my abilities these days. Scaled down from thousands to tens of miles. And parts of the North Country Trail pass right through a region I love to fish. In the Chippewa National Forest sixty-eight miles of it wind over rolling hills and within sight of small lakes. I've got it in my mind to cover those sixty-eight, most of it twice 'cause of the way I'll have to do it.
     The plan is to take small segments of it at a time. At present I see no need to pack gear and spend nights camping. Instead, park in strategic locations and do single out and back hikes. Say five miles up the trail, then five return. Not repetitious to me at all. One direction I'll get to see the north side of the trees, on the return, the south. Uphills magically become downhills. Obviously, I'm easily entertained.
     Sometimes I'll stash my bike at the destination and pedal back on forest roads. Traffic is rare in the forest, at least during the mid-week when the ATV freaks aren't out tryin' to get airborne on the hills. On the bike days I figure on eight miles one way. With a little luck using both methods the Trail could be covered in ten or twelve segments. At least that's the plan for now. Time and my back will tell.

Monday, October 22, 2012

War Zone

     Spent a few days up north in the last week. Seemed the entire countryside was gettin' ready for the invasion. Not sure which invasion. But, by God, should there be, the boys and girls - didn't seem to be any of the girls but I wasn't looking so much as hearing - up in the northland will be ready.
     The duck hunt is on and has been for a while. 'Bout the time the sun shoulda been coming up - hard to tell when that was 'cause the cloud cover was thick - the tump, tump, tumps of the twenty gauges, almost like artillery back in the hills, could be heard from several directions. Shotguns don't much bother me but the sound of a thirty caliber bein' sighted in by the neighbor puts a squeeze on my bladder and makes me suck my head in every time. Sounds way too much like an ambush in Vietnam for my tastes. When you've hit the paddy floor or dike top enough times the sound of rifle fire will always catch your attention. And drop you forty years into the past.
     Deer opener is in a couple of weeks. Not a good time to be in the woods in my opinion. Lived my time in the Army under the graces of favorable irony. Gettin' my ass shot off at home would be kinda funny. At least in a literary sense. So when the boys hit the deer stands, if I go up north I won't so much as saunter to the out house without day-glo orange from head to hip. Too many dudes with high powered firearms and hangover eyes for my tastes.
     So, I headed over to a trout lake in the state forest. Overcast, cold water, they might be up in the water column where even I could catch a few. I've written of the peace to be found in the quiet of small, hidden lakes. Not so last Saturday. Dozens of ATV aficionados roamed the back trails. And, of course, duck hunters. Why not? It was a perfect day for the ducks to fly low. The hunters, fine. But the incessant roar of the ATVs eventually got me to bag it. Didn't have a strong enough mind to close out the matter I guess.
     Come November 3, there'll be far more armed Minnesotans out to bag a deer than armed troops in Vietnam at the peak. By a long shot. Shoulda sent the deer hunters over there. Issued them permits for VC. They'd a cleaned up.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Passing Thoughts

     A decade or two ago a lot of my dreams were about becoming and what I was searching for. In some of them I found a handful of lakes no one else seemed to know about. Small and out of the way but they weren't so far off the path other people couldn't find them. But nobody else did. Just me and Al. The fish weren't big. Hell, that there fish at all would of surprised most anyone. But they were there.
     The lakes had little in common with each other besides being so common no one seemed to notice them. Or much care about them even if noticed. Drive by without so much as a passing thought.
     Me, I got a kick out of them even if they weren't spectacular. Catchin' fish on water where a two pound bass was a lunker was a thrill. Guess I was a small fish, small pond kind of guy. And happy to be able to see treasure in the lesser things.
     Recently it dawned on me I'd spent the last fifteen years of my fishing life looking for and finding lakes just like the ones I used to dream about. Huh, imagine that. Don't always have them to myself. And it pisses me off just a little bit when I don't. But it's a big world with all kinds of people, some about the same as me. Seeing me on the same small water might just piss them off just a little bit also.
     Accessibility is the key. On a mid fall morning late last century - I like the sound of that. Almost like we're into an archetypical moment - Allan and I spent ninety minutes of the best bass fishing we'll ever see. Maybe a dozen fish, no more than that. But, the size, pushing four pounds average. A couple well over five pounds. Al had never caught bass that big. In a tiny bay off an oak covered island, the first one stripped line repeatedly. When it ran under the boat Al thought for sure he had a large pike. In the deep bog stain she'd grown to be black as the ace of spades. Had a mouth so big, a wrong move and Al coulda fallen in. By good-old-boy-down-south standards these weren't huge fish, just nice sized. But here in the red and white pines they were huge.
     The morning was deeply overcast with banks of fog here and there. What wind there was puffed from the south. When it turned to the north it did so gently at first. Then hit us full force with a wall of cold rain. Goodbye summer, hello winter. Probably coulda watched the mercury fall in a thermometer. That was all she wrote for the weekend.
     The access off the minimum maintenance road was a trenched and mudded two track. Ruts deep enough to make the oil pan nervous. Next year the fishing was nearly as good on the hundred acres. A gem for sure. Then the forest service got busy and cut a new drive. Smooth and graveled. Why not? This was prime water. Too bad that the improvements made it possible for anybody with a pickup and bass boat to work their way in.
     We've gone back a few times since and been skunked most every time. Kinda ironic how that works. A treasure that few can use turns into a mediocrity in the name of improvement. A person could get all philosophical about that but I'll pass.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Woods

     Five days, mostly in the woods. No TV, no phone - actually had a phone but didn't use it. Does that count? Cut and split some firewood. A flock of geese flew in to bother the swans on Deadman. A raccoon rustled through one of the woodpiles to bother Lois. But mostly it was the quiet and the changing of the leaves that added a little more depth to our lives.
     By the time we left this morning the trees were glowing. Maples, birches, basswood, oak and aspen. A few of our spreading grove of maples finally showed their true colors by breaking out in scarlets and oranges. No doubt anymore that they're reds.
     Finally finished clearing the paths. Not a forever thing and will be done again next year. It's now possible to fully tramp all four corners and end up where you started. We're not fancy or mechanized. Hand cutters, ax and rake. The hardwood forests of northern Minnesota are mostly hazel brush if the truth be known. Relatively speaking the trees are few. So path clearing is mostly brush cutting. And if  the buggers aren't cut off at the root a walk quickly turns into a trip.
     A thought struck me as to the similar size of the jackpines on our land. Nearly all are about as mature as they get, around eighteen inches in diameter. Jackpines can't propagate unless their cones are open and the seeds released. That requires a temperature approaching 200 degrees fahrenheit. Under normal circumstances we're talkin' forest fire.
     Also here and there are a dozen or more jackpine stumps. We've been on the property since 1980 and the stumps don't look like they've changed a bit. Eroded, jagged and black but give one a kick and you'll be sorry. I removed one in the yard a couple of days ago using shovel, ax, maul and chain saw. It was a small one to be sure. Nowhere near the size of the others. Took an hour and dulled the saw. Like cuttin' stone. Thick with crystalized pitch.
     Long story short, I suspect the stumps are a year or two older than the standing pines. The same fire that fried the old ones also spawned the eighty foot babies dancing in Monday's breezes.
     I guess that means life's a hand off. All living things no more than cells that come and go while the organism spreads as far as it can. 'Til it goes phtt also. Not like that's a new idea. And not all that depressing, just the way it is. No myth of Sisyphus anywhere except between the ears. Pushin' that rock up the hill can be a good time so long as you get out of the way when it comes rumblin' back down.
     Crap like that flowed through my head as I cut, cleared and did my best to not bleed any more than necessary. And crap it is. About as useful in the long run as clearin' those paths. And just as fun. Passes the time. Keeps the heart pumping and the brain smoldering along. If something worthwhile pops up I'll let you know. Or, more likely, forget it by the time I sit down to the keyboard.
     I have no real idea of how to blog. Don't do pictures. Spend way too much time on each entry. Don't write every day.
     Oh yeah, I forgot, we saw a salamander. Not that big a deal but we don't see a lot of them. Looked to be black but a closer look would probably say otherwise. Seems like nothing in nature is really the color it appears to be. Closeups reveal a lot of individual things goin' on to make up a completely different looking whole.
     In the summer we get gray, mottled tree type frogs in the pitcher pump. I pump for all my little old arms will pump but the frogs, or frog, just crawls back inside never to be seen again. Or at least until the next time up north and I pull the bucket off the pump. I know some toads are poisonous, some hallucinogenic. Gets me to wondering if the frogs in the well have any effect on the water. And if they do, is it any worse than the city water back in Minneapolis? Maybe they're the reason behind my continual inability to hit the shift key when I want to capitalize. Life is an experiment and a continual risk.
     God bless the internet. Looked up gray, mottled tree frogs in Minnesota. Guess what? They're actually called gray tree frogs. Ain't that clever?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Even a Blind Pig

     Wednesday was the result of satellite photos and sketchy research. I'd scanned the state forest several times hoping to find another lake worth fishing. Not an easy thing to do when all there is to go by is acreage and most of the lakes within the forest boundaries lack that in spades. What I hoped for didn't seem to exist. If it had there no doubt would have been a paved road and signs. And that would have killed it for me.
     Over the last decade I'd floated and fished four of the lakes with mixed results. Fish in each but not many and mostly on the small side. However, there never was another soul on any of them. Probably 'cause the fishing sucked, eh? I didn't actually buy that but wrote the slowness off to bad timing.
     But up there near the north end sat this odd little chain of lakes. Chain might be a stretch. About the only information I could get on them was their acreage. Total of about fifty-five. That's for three lakes. But they were connected and would function as one. They were also listed on a Minnesota fishing report website. Seemed no one had fished them or, if someone did, they'd never heard of the website. More likely, if any fish swam those waters they were caught by savvy old coots who'd been fishing them since they were kids back in the thirties and didn't surf the web. And wouldn't snitch on their honey hole even if they were electronically hip.
     Getting to the chain was another question. The photo told me it would be simple as pie. But like I've said way too many times in the past, those photos don't show the hills and erosion. Plus, the chain sat on a side road off a side road. Been on roads like them in the past and have the scratches down the sides of several vehicles to prove it. Also, no indication of a boat launch, a good thing and no indication a person could actually get on the water. Maybe a brush drag though a thicket of poison ivy, though I doubted that.
     In short, I was pumped. And a little nervous.
     The plan was to hit the road mid-morning and be back by supper time. Figured forty minutes there, the same back and five hours on the water. Good plan. And like most good plans, it flew out the window on the first wrong turn, disappeared over the horizon on the second and was never to be seen again on the third. And that didn't get me any further than the first side road.
     At this point I began a short drive to the far end of the forest. Lucky for me it wasn't but ten miles and forty minutes away. You see, my problem is I have this total faith in a sense of place and direction that doesn't exist beyond my ears. I mean, how is it possible to miss a turn that comes immediately after the third small lake on the left and before the sharp right hand turn?
     All went well for maybe the first quarter mile when I passed a small dried up pot hole that might or might not have been one of the lakes. Sharp right hand turns? 'Bout as many as the sharp lefts. And there was a shit load of them. All this on a road so narrow it's all a city boy like me can do to not come upside a red pine. She was a slow-go over the rocks and mini-gullies. Yeah, I passed at least what might have been three small lakes and probably missed a few more just keepin' it on the road. That's when I decided to take the full tour and get the lay of the land. My hope was I'd be able to figure out where I was on the way back.
     Passed a young guy in an old mini-pickup truck on the way. And a middle aged couple on ATVs. We all smiled and waved. Passed them again on the way back. Same smile and wave except I was a little embarrassed about not knowing where I was the first time. By now the road was making sense. Each time I passed a landmark I'd stop, look at the map and zero in on where I was. Also I'd check the odometer and was able to ball park about when I'd hit my turn. Could've used a GPS but where's the fun in that?
     The turn was right where it was supposed to be. Guess you could say that about most everything in the universe. A simple, slow drive in led me to the lake. And a driveway down to the water. Where sat the last Okie campsite in the U. S. of A. I sure didn't expect that. In fact, the Spanish Inquisition was higher on my list.
     To the right on the lower ground sat an ancient twelve-foot travel trailer. You know, the kind Mickey Mouse would've towed with the pissed off duck riding shotgun. Hitched to it was an early '70s pickup truck with a fair number of rust holes in the lower half. Actually an advantage when it came time to inspect the frame. Over the trailer entrance was a relatively new, by that I mean 21st century, blue tarp as an awning. To the side rose one seriously heavy duty steel tripod from which hung a full sized witches cauldron. A face cord of split wood and a couple of lawn chairs completed the scene.
     Up the hill to the left, a late '80s white Ford Taurus. I considered yelling out a hello but recalled my windshield note of the spring and thought a quiet smile was the way to go. Seemed the occupants were out. Or shy. Or dead. Not a one of which was my concern as I was there to fish. So I went about my business quietly and efficiently. Took no more than five minutes. Then moved my truck uphill and out of the camp. Crossed my fingers it'd still be there when I returned and hit the water.
     The plan was to paddle my ass across the lake and away from the camp as fast as I could. Also to keep my ears tuned to the sound of car jacks and engine hoists. Lucky for me there was a lily pad bed in the bay where I was headed. So I figured, "What the hell, might as well fish seein' as how I've got four rods strung and ready." Yeah, I'm a regular wizard when it comes to seizing the moment.
     And fishing. The idea from the get-go was to go at it like I knew what I was doing, even a master of the trade. Short fly rod in hand working out the line. It was breezy but not too breezy. Enough to give a drift and an occasional, uncontrolled swirl. If I left the canoe alone it would eventually have drifted into firing range of the squatters, that kind of breezy.
     Wind and fly line. That's the problem with the way I'd like to fish. That and sitting down with a short rod in hand trying to keep the line off the water as I false cast. When a zephyr comes huffing in, line on the water has to be dealt with or it can end up as a snarl. So it's reel up time. On a calm day it's no problem. Gusty day, it's cast it out, crank it in. Again and again. That usually lasts about as long as it takes me to pick up the spinning rig.
     That's kind of the situation I found myself in about a half dozen casts into the day. Fly out and a loop around the reel compounded by a high speed drift. So the popper sat out there unattended for maybe five seconds. 'Bout the time I got the canoe under control and the loop out, the fly was gone. I mentally ran through all the ways it could have disappeared till I reached: 7) Fish on the Line. Figuring that was as good a solution as any I set the hook. Turned out to be a bass. A small one but a bass nonetheless.  Then I actually said this out loud, "Could be bass in here." My perception knows no bounds.
     Can't say catching that bass with a fly rod made me feel much like a savvy fisherman. But it did give me a laugh. Like the title, even a blind pig finds a truffle now and then.
     A dozen fruitless casts later reason snapped up its ugly head. So I went sightseeing to the far end of the chain with the idea of fishing my way back. Those three little lakes proved to be a series of lily padded bays connected by two narrow channels. Got me to thinking of global warming and extended drought. An eighteen inch drop in lake level would be devastating. The chain would be cut. One would become three. Not mindless daydreaming either. It's gonna happen. Doubt I'll see it. Mainly 'cause I don't see myself dragging a canoe in here when I'm eighty years old. But for sure my son Allan and grandsons Jakob, Matthew and Luke might. Maybe it'll mean something to them, maybe not.
     The far lake was no more than a dozen acres. But did hold bass and bluegills. The first bass was a fat three pounder that stripped line and got me to say, "Mmm. This baby's got shoulders." Good thing nobody was around to hear drivel like that. Next thing you know I'll be kissin' 'em like Jimmie Houston. Then it'll be time to give up the ghost.
     Caught a couple of smaller ones. Enough to convince myself these lakes would require a return trip or two. Good water indeed. The kind a person would rarely have to share. The tourists would stick to the big waters. The locals with a good sized boat wouldn't come here. Canoe and jon boat country. Closest building was six miles away. Not quite like northwest Manitoba but a lot shorter drive. And my fertile mind could easily imagine this as wilderness.
     At that point I switched rods to the ultralight and slip bobber combo. It would have been more fun with the fly rod but I was looking to catch a couple of dozen bluegills or crappies. Get the lay of the water as to numbers and size. And it didn't take more than fifteen minutes to find out this was seriously hot bluegill water. Pockets of five to six-inchers here, eight and bigger there. Vibrant color and clouds of them. What more could an avid panfish hunter want?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Been on the Water

     Whether I like it or not, sometimes it makes sense to stick to the plan. Three days up north taught me a little and in one aspect left me wondering. I'll start with the wondering part first.
     I'm a day dreamer. Always have been, always will be. And I do it well. For sure reverie has its drawbacks. Though what I go through these days ain't nothin' nothing like being lost in the ozone of the 1960s and '70s. Those had long term effects, or so I've been told. What I'm saying is that the best mental pictures don't necessarily include all the pitfalls. Or any of them for that matter. That's a good thing. You see too many tiger pits in your path and you'll probably head another direction.
     But they also get a person to miss out on a bucket of the joys. It's the unexpected joys that make the stumbling blocks along the way mostly worthwhile. Had I known I was gonna break some ribs back in 2000, me and Al might have changed our plans and missed out on a great trip. Hell, that's really not true at all. We'd have gone regardless. Being an idiot is a joy in itself.
     Sometime ago I'd mentioned that satellite photos aren't perfect. They're really exact maps but aren't three dimensional. And don't show exactly how eroded the two tracks are. That's more or less how day dreams are. It's gonna be this way and it more or less is. But something might be missed along the way.
     So the plan on the third day was to revisit the lake that'd provided the big pike last Spring. The idea being that the pike we'd caught had to eat something. Perch, sunnies or crappies. To find out I only loaded panfish gear, slip bobber rig and a panfish sized fly rod. Had I brought a pike or bass rod the temptation would have been too great. The idea of catching big fish is a powerful temptation. And I am weak.
     Waking up on Thursday morning I wasn't sure which way the day would take me. For sure fishing was on the agenda. But exactly where hadn't been filled in as yet. After breakfast I did the usual, which means at least an hour's worth of aerobic exercise. The gravel roads were dry so the bike came out, chain lubed and tire pressure brought up. Ten miles of rolling hills took me by six small lakes. It's a fine ride. Scenic and strenuous enough for a sixty-five year old like me. Not a puff of wind on the water. Just like the photos on the calendars. Yard wide white pines are shoulder side my route in a half dozen places. They never tire. And drag me along from site to site.
     Back at the cabin, over coffee and oatmeal-raisin cookies, I debated smallmouth bass and panfish. Guilt and the plan won out and that's how I found myself back in the state forest puttering along over sand and rock. The rock, she's gettin' serious on the two tracks. Walking pace on all the hills. Nary a sidelong glance is allowed. Found myself alone at the end of the drive and beginning of the portage.
      That's where it dawned on me my reverie had missed a point. The last time on the hike into the lake there were four of us. Two to each canoe and the carry could be done on one trip over. Not so this time. Oops. One trip over with the gear. One trip back. And one over with the canoe. Mile and a half. Each way. No big deal I guess but my spring chicken days have turned into late fall stumble alongs. Yeah, she went smoothly enough but I knew the piper would come in the morning to collect his dues.
     Then there was the beyond the civilized web factor. I didn't have a cell phone with me. Mea culpa. Wouldn't have mattered a lot anyway as I was too far from any relay towers to order a pizza should the mood strike me. Up 'til a couple of months ago I didn't one of those intrusive buggers. Didn't want one. But it's been decided by the powers that be that I've reached the point where a cell phone would help the authorities find my cold, dead body. Or at least the parts of it not yet eaten by the coyotes and crows.
     Got to admit that not having it with me made me feel more alone. And not in the good way it usually does. But there was water up ahead and the feeling was forgotten in less than ten paces.
     This is ATV country. The thought struck me both times I'd been here that it would be possible to tow a small boat in behind one of the little four wheelers. From what I've seen that idea hasn't struck anyone else.
     The grass track leaving the trail showed I wasn't the only one up the trail since last June. That was fine with me. Not having to wade through waist deep grass is on my list of happy things. Even though tick season is mostly over, deer tick season doesn't end 'till snow covers the ground. Heavy grass provides cover for them. A toppled big tooth aspen blocked the path mid-way. Bye-bye ATVs.
     So, did I find any panfish? Obviously the answer should have been yes. But it wasn't. I threw poppers and dry flies. Jig and bobber with power tubes and tiny plastic, yummy, number one, lucky maggots. How could they resist? Well, they could if they weren't there. Nearly two hours on the water with not a bite or nibble. Constantly scanning the calm surface for any sign of feeding. All I saw was an army of water bugs. They were everywhere as I paddled the entire shoreline, working it shallow and deep.
     Was I disappointed? No. Didn't even consider myself as having been skunked. If they're there and you don't catch 'em, then your skunked. If they ain't there, well, guess you can say you were merely fact gathering. Which I was. And I had a good time, a really good time. And a stiff neck and sore shoulder from the portage yoke. Homemade of course and stiff as a board. That's both a joke and the truth.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Waitin' on It

     Got a new lake to fish. On a two track off bad forestry gravel. Never been there but sure will next week. Woulda gone tomorrow but there's family considerations. No doubt I'm wrong but most died in the wool fishing writers are either married to anglers or ain't married at all. Might have been married at one time but like all long time fly rodders, evolved into catch and release. In my case it's three generations of family - and the Minnesota State Fair to boot - and family trumps solo canoe trips on small water.
      Long story short, it's a case of children. My daughter and son-in-law in the process of moving. Yeah, I could blow that off but Ryan's one of my fishin' buddies and you don't turn your back on someone who could roll your ass in a canoe. Besides, Jake will be there and so will Larry. And three out of four Deans trumps everything.
     On the flip side, my all time fishin' buddy and son Allan is on the edge of becoming a father once again. That gives me the willies about next week. D-day could be then. It's been five weeks since I've been up north and it's starting to look like a long ways away.
     No matter what, it will be what it will be. For now I'm still thinkin' new water.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Jake Gets His Fill - Not Really

     Even though most of the United States is in drought northern Minnesota is doing fine. Enough rain so that the forestry roads can be hit or miss. Where we were going today was at the bottom of the pecking order as far as Minimum Maintenance - Travel at Your Own Risk, roads go. Back when I was driving a Jeep, road conditions were no concern. But now, with front wheel drive, I give it some serious thought. Mostly the concern is ground clearance and tires. The rocks left by glaciers weren't dropped with much consideration for the hundred dollar tires that were coming. Or unprotected oil pans for that matter. Mother nature could have dropped them smooth side down But no, razors to the sky. Those things weigh heavy on my mind when two track sand turns into eroded glacial till. Not so much that I'm cheap, which I am, but more that being stranded in an inconvenient location is a pain in the ass.
     So those were the thoughts running through my head when we passed the landfill on the way in and were approaching the always angry hound running down the two track driveway. Slow and easy. Say it again and again. Slow and easy. But don't just say it, do it. And see all the rocks. Keep to the high ground. No matter how slow, it's much faster than doin' a four mile portage.
     Again it was suntan weather. Mid-day. Only Englishmen fish under those conditions. In tweeds to salmon that have no interest in eating. But we knew where the bass and sunnies could still be caught and that's where we were heading. The idea being Jake at one end of the line, fish at the other.
     Two things: the trail to the lake is poison ivy lined. Jake likes to run around and explore. Not a good combination. I've never reacted to poison ivy. Been through it many a time and never had a problem.That isn't so for everybody. Jake carries a little bit of my blood but that doesn't mean he wouldn't swell up like a balloon and fester eternally. So he was warned. Loudly and often, like we really meant it.
     Again, Ryan made Jakob carry a load. Not a big one unless you factor in relativity. Jake, for his part, didn't squawk. He did grunt a bit however. To me, that was a good sign. The grunts carry the world. Hopefully Jakob will always carry his share in a somewhat useful direction.
     The jon boat was another story. Even though part of its intention was to be dragged it into small, remote lakes, I doubt the instructions said anything about the effort involved. She don't carry like a canoe laddie. We had a choice, one at each end or drag the bugger. Tried both. Carrying turned out to be a drag. Dragging wasn't much better. One of these days someone will have to invent the wheel. Even if they never do, me and Ryan won't complain a bit. Not manly don't ya know.
     We worked the shallows. Not a problem for this lake has a lot of shallows. So much so, a first look will have you wondering how it could hold any fish at all. But it surely does. And high numbers in crystal clear, foot deep water where the fish can see you for fifty yards. Gotta be quiet and move only when necessary.
     There were a few bass to be found but it was mostly sunnies. Jake found the bluegills to his liking until he realized they weren't as big as the bass. Guess even when you're six years old size matters.
     What I learned was that a dark green metal boat with dark green metal seats can sear a butt. Standing up was a short relief from the frying pan but also an opportunity for the sun to to relight the burner. Jake solved the matter by standing up most of the time. Sure couldn't blame him for that. Seein' as how he's a slim kid he could move around all he wanted and not rock the boat.
     Outside of the panfish it was a slow late morning and early afternoon. We worked half the lake's shoreline and made a few passes over the middle where the drop off holds thickets of cabbage. Yeah, the kid brought a few bass to the boat. And a whole lot of sunnies. But he was spoiled to the charms of bobber watching. At least as far as the nibblers went. He was lookin' for slam, bang, run with the thing.
     And demanding. Like it was my fault we weren't catching any four pounders. Not like he was saying it exactly. But his continual mantra of "I wanna catch bass. I wanna catch bass," had me thinking it was my fault. Like I could do something about it. Give me a break kid. Next time we'll try it in June, after supper and you better be ready to hold onto your rod 'cause they're bigger than you realize. Lots bigger.
     Truly, the only thing we did wrong was stay on the water too long. We had snacks, and they melted. We had water, and it was body temperature. Even though we used ample sun screen, we left the water glowing. Like janitors at a nuclear melt down. But it was a hoot. Jake got a taste for what fishing can be. And an assurance that it can be better. Stuff to dream about over the winter. Don't know if he will. But I will. Always have.
     Dinner was at the best down south barbecue in the northwoods which just happens to be in Pine River. Name of No. 19. The pulled pork sandwich is worth its weight in lead free jigs. Seriously unhealthy, good eatin'. Jakob wasn't too happy with the place 'cause he had his teeth set on a chocolate ice cream cone at Dairy Queen. Both Ryan and I kept telling him it was on the list of things to do but he was of little faith. Yeah, he got his cone. And moaned his way through it. Not bad for a kid who likes his hamburgers plain. Meat and bun. Nothin' else.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Fire and Ice Cream

     Back when I was a Jake's age matches sang to the children of the world. The tune went something like this:
                 Come play with me,
                 'Cause I'm your friend.

                 Come play with me
                 And burn something down.

                 Ain't I pretty?
                 And so easy to use.

                 C'mon chump,
                 Burn something, anything, down or up.
                 I don't care. Just burn something.

     What I'm trying to say is that matches were everywhere. And, yeah, they were easy to use. Open flames were a part of life. Most everyone smoked. Even us Junior High kids. Back then we burned our trash in the alley, come fall, our leaves in the street. Once in a while, our university football coaches in effigy (see: Murray Warmath). And kids were allowed to torch that stuff. It was great. Nothing like a fire when you had the need to stand and stare.
     No longer. One of my fifteen year old nephews didn't know how to strike a match 'til I showed him. Not that he was slow on the uptake. Just that he'd never had the opportunity. Sheltered and deprived lives we live today. Can't fire up a match so you might as well break into the old man's gun cabinet and blow away your gym class. Maybe an exaggeration but I dearly love to go off the deep end when at the keyboard.
     So Thursday evening was campfire night in the burning pit. Wasn't quite dark yet. Didn't matter at all. Jakob was definitely up for it. Ryan kept a short leash on him. I was happy for that. Jake didn't realize it but he was happy too. There with his dad, in the woods and dancing around the flames as they snapped up toward the birches. Been quite a while since man first barbecued a mastodon but I think Jakob would've understood their celebration.
     Before that we'd taken part in a couple of other ancient rites, miniature golf and dinner at Dairy Queen. Finished the day in the cabin. Ryan and Jakob trying to figure out a simple, but impossible, wooden puzzle. Yes sir, life in the big woods is a basic one.
     Sorry, the ice cream doesn't come 'til tomorrow. And it wasn't really ice cream. Soft serve Dairy Queen. But that's close enough in my book. For me it's most always the same thing, medium cherry shake. If you're ever passing through Minnesota and happen to be in Little Falls, that's the town Charles Lindbergh came from, stop in at their Dairy Queen. Probably the best in the state. Until a couple of years ago you could get a pina colada shake. Wasn't on the menu, you just hadda know about it. In with the in crowd kind of thing. Not my cup of tea but Lois said it was the best. Only needed a dollop of rum to make it heaven. Then, one day they ran out of coconut syrup and the owner brought a great tradition to an end.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Jake and the Art of Bass fishing II

     Day two was at a lake on which anybody can catch bass. And Ryan did. And Jakob did. Me, I manned the boat. Got used to bein' in the crew back in my Army days and ain't left it since.
     We were in no hurry to leave the cabin. No need 'cause of the lake. Good weather, bad weather, full sun, mid-day, it rarely matters. Today it did. Since Jake hadn't ever caught anything, he didn't know how slow it was.
     When it comes to lakes, I never learned to share. Poor upbringing I guess. My heart dropped a half inch when we hit the landing. There sat a truck with a rack for a couple of kayaks and a boat trailer hitched to the back. A herd. Tried to write it off with an "oh well, at least they're paddle boats."
     I lie to myself way too much. And with a six year old along I've gotta watch my tongue. Pretend I'm a mature man, the kind a kid would like to grow up to be. Near as I can figure no one ever grows up to be that man. Best you can hope for is to not slash the tires of someone who has every bit as much right to the water as you do. Vindictiveness is not a good thing to pass on down the genetic ladder. Or so I've been told.
     The north bay is about forty acres, holds fish and was ours alone. If that was our option it'd do the trick. Took a half hour of putzing, zig-zagging and general snafuing before we found some bass. Not a lot but enough.
     Jake's first was around a pound. He played the bass by himself with his grandpa's hand hovering over the rod handle's butt just in case. Seemed only natural that he'd crank the fish all the way to the tip. Probably would have cranked it down through the guides and onto the reel if he was strong enough (if you ever read this Jakob, being made fun of can be a good thing. Takes the edge off of being too wonderful. And it's what an old guy like me says to start treating you like the man you'll become someday).
     Like the old gray mare, my memory ain't what it used to be. When I conjured up our time on the water I saw trees, lily pads, lake and sunlight. And three guys in a jon boat staring back at me with a look that asked, "Sooo, big shot, what ya gonna have us do? We gonna catch fish or just sit here basking in the glory of your blank mind?" Embarrassed, I had to e-mail Ryan to learn the answer. He had no such problem. Also had five minutes of video and four hundred photos.
     I remembered Jakob as being excited by his first bass. But you know how sketchy memories can be. That is if they exist at all. In times past, when catching big pike in Canada, I'd have liked a minute's video to recall exactly what went on. The words we said. The excitement of the moment. Did Allan and I sound like sage fishermen? Or should we have worn oversized shoes and clown makeup?
     Jake's video told the tale as no memory could. His pure excitement and the explosive gleam in his eyes said it all. It was a big deal to him. He may someday forget most everything about that moment but not everything. Like mine of East Pike, he'll remember he was truly excited, the flashing light on the water and the feel of the northwoods. As a grandfather, the video told me the moment was all I could have hoped for. 'Course it could have been a seven pounder with a two pound trout in its mouth, been ripped off his jig by a bald eagle and returned to a hovering flying saucer.
     The second bass was much bigger. Near the top end for this lake. Jakob had it to the boat when the bass gave him his first lesson in spitting the hook. Hopefully not his last. Also his first taste of the big one that got away. Classic moments in fishendom.
     Finally we sucked it up and puttered off to the south end of the lake where the horde awaited us. By then I'd learned most of the pros and cons of a trolling motor. I'd hoped for a top speed of six or seven miles an hour. When that idea of speed was put in my bonnet is beyond me. Blind stab in the dark is more like it. Turned out we moved about as fast as a leisurely paddle in a canoe. However, we ran a straight course so I guess it was faster. And there were three of us instead of two. And we could stand up. Didn't have to pee but we could have. Ability sometimes negates necessity.
     Positioning the boat was another matter. In a canoe I do most of the positioning with a one handed sculling stroke. Grip the paddle at the blade top and draw, pry or paddle. Simple and efficient. The motor was okay but not in the same league as the paddle. Old dog and new tricks problem I suppose.
     Turned out there was only one boat in the far end. And it had a motor. Seeing as how it was nearing lunch time - for people, not fish as it turned out - they blew out of there within minutes of our arrival. Might also have had to do with the fishing shutting down. Good thing we brought sunscreen.
     We gave it a go for an hour then hummed our way back to the landing.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jake and the Art of Bass Fishing

     One thing is for sure, a six year old boy recovers much faster than a sixty-five year old man. Or a thirty-seven year old one for that matter. Nearly two weeks have passed and I'm still draggin' butt.
     Also learn I've gotta come up with some form of seats for the jon boat if we're going to do the trek up north again next year. Seared buttocks syndrome (SBS) is not a joy. Low 90s, blue skies and dark green seats are a near deadly combination. Beware should you find yourself in a similar situation.
     Began with a road trip and ended with one. Guess that's inevitable unless you ain't comin' back. Twenty miles into the drive, about the time we caught sight of the Buffalo Ridge wind farm, Jakob was given the okay to ask, "Are we there yet?," anytime he wanted. Did him no good. It was a long drive no matter how you sliced it.
     Being six years old can be a lot like being sixty-five. At least as far as time goes. In both cases it's our enemy. For Jake in the back of the truck it drags like concrete in mud. Takes an eternity for the cottonwoods to turn into white pines. For me it's a jack rabbit. Here and gone in the wink of an eye. Lois says that's why I'm so dull. On the other hand, I figure being a bore slows the passage down a tad. Mundane stuff. But true.
     When I'm with Jakob and Ryan it's their dime as far as the way we do things. And having Jake along makes that a necessity. When we stop for lunch at an A and W, we eat inside. A break in the flow recharges a young mind. At least I think it does. Seemed to be that way for me when I was about ten. Heading up north for a week on or near the water with my Uncle Ed and Aunt Margaret. Don't remember lunch so much as stopping at a bar for refreshment. We all had Tom Collins'. Only mine didn't have the gin. But it did have a half dozen maraschino cherries, the good kind with red dye #2. You know, the one that causes cancer. Seems like the things that can kill you tend to make food taste better. Didn't know that back then. And probably wouldn't have cared. At ten I figured I was gonna live forever. Or at least make seventy-five, which was about the same to me.
     As for eating inside, it's a sin as far as I can see. Burning time needlessly while on the way to somewhere I want to be. Don't actually believe that but have a proven pattern of acting exactly like I did. Turned out eating inside was a bit of okay.
      I've gotta say this again, Jakob is six years old. And six year old boys have an attention span that lasts about as long as it takes them to take a leak.
     My memory of standing on a dock on Lake Roosevelt back in 1954 and endlessly casting is no doubt flawed beyond recognition. Untying bird's nests from abided dacron probably made it seem endless.
      We were hoping he'd be able to handle an hour in the boat without going nuts. Both Ryan and I wanted this to be something Jake would remember all winter long. When next year rolled around he'd be asking us when we could go again. And, oh yeah, it'd be a plus of the first order if he didn't fall in the lake or hook himself. And if he did, be mature enough to keep his mouth shut so his mom didn't find out.
     His mom is my daughter and the victim of the infamous woodtick affair. When she was the same age as Jakob is now we spent four days at the cabin. Just the two of us. We worked, played and caught some sunnies. And we ate those sunnies. Moral lesson that it was okay to kill fish so long as you ate them. Life was good. Until we got home and Lois found a woodtick in Annie's ear. Oops. Some things are never forgotten.
     We hit the cabin in the late afternoon. For sure fishing was on the top of the list but, good Lord, the boy had never been in the woods. Or used an outhouse. Or peed outdoors. Or seen Earl the Dead Cat hanging from one of the rafters. Or climbed into a loft. Or hiked the paths. Just being where we were, no phone, no pool, no pets, was an adventure. And Jakob seemed to be having a great time right where he was. Good kid. No doubt about it.
     Simple supper. Hot dogs, chips, some Iowa sweet corn. Seven o'clock. If the two of them wanted to bag it and hang around the cabin, it was fine with me. But since we were there to fish and they wanted to fish, it was time to string the rods. And load the jon boat on the trailer.
     I'd modified the trailer for hauling canoes, not jon boats. By now you must know generally avoid boats I can't power myself. Sweat is good. The savior of the world. The jon boat had a lot of things going for it considering the money I paid. And none of those things actually sold me on it. What did was the three oars that came with it. Motors break down. Usually when you need them the most. And, unlike a nineteen foot bass boat, this little bugger could easily be rowed most anywhere on the small lakes I fished. And if some day I became too decrepit to paddle a canoe, there was always the jon boat and trolling motor. Couldn't visualize that ever happening but it sounded good when I was talking with normal people.
     I'd hoped the boat would load and haul with no problems. And it didn't disappoint. Don't know if I'm getting better in my old age or luckier. Or maybe the quality of modern lashing straps has improved and can overcome general incompetence.
     Since time was short we chose a nearby lake. Not the best water but there are fish in it. Good panfish and that would work nicely for Jakob. Learning curve time in the northwoods. And not just for Jake. There was the ever popular "Learning to Work a Trolling Motor on a Thickly Weeded Lake". And "Keepin' Your Kid Rigged so He'll have a Good Time". Followed immediately by "Was That a Treble Hook Grazing My Chin?" Seems both me and Ryan were doing two things at once and neither was familiar to us. We didn't have a good game plan. No organization. And it took me a few minutes to realize that fishing was not what I'd be doing in the boat. That I didn't mind at all. So long as I spared the rod, the child could be spoiled. And a happy kid makes for a happy boat.
     Eventually the routine evolved. Jake always had a rod to fish. That meant two rods rigged with slip bobbers. He preferred to fish with a spinner. Must be a genetic thing. But casting a sharpened hook proved a danger. Jakob could cast alright and would have done just fine if he was standing at the end of a dock by himself. In a fourteen foot boat, seven feet of arm, rod and line put both me and Ryan in the danger zone. An overhand cast with a bobber rig allowed Jake the time to learn while cutting my potential ducks way down. Jakob seemed fine with that arrangement. And had a good time even though we were skunked that first night.
     Without a spoken word between us Ryan took over rerigging Jakob's rod and I was in charge of bird's nest central. Slowly Jake worked to my end of the boat. That allowed me a great time helping him fish. Once in a while I'd cast into a tight spot for him. Usually he did his own work. I was just there to cut down on the things that could go wrong.
     And keep ripping the weeds off the frickin' propeller. Even though I'd been on that water many times I'd forgotten how shallow and weedy it was. Heck, it's not but a widening in the Pine River with a single small hole off to the north side. Good fertile water that would be a fishing treasure if you couldn't put a boat and motor on it (like we were doing).
     We landed in the twilight. First order of business was a short walk down the road to the culverts under the gravel road. The spot where I'd watched a couple of dozen bass and panfish waiting on a passing lunch a couple of weeks earlier. The water had gone down a few inches and, in the spreading dark, it was hard to see into. But there were a few sunnies there. And Jake had a fine time seeing them as only young boy can. Believe me, I know. The small boy in me still likes to watch fish, even on a bike ride.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bald Eagles and Skunks

     Where we went in the afternoon was of no concern to me. A great day for the beach. Not so for fishing. What tactics we chose didn't matter as much as sunscreen with a high SPF. I didn't care. We'd caught fish and had a good time. For me the afternoon was about being in the back of the canoe and following instructions. Conversation and a few laughs.
     Any number of good lakes could provide us with mediocre fishing. We could have gone to a great one but why waste such water and maybe put a hex on us for the future? We chose Pine. Good water with a public access and small ma and pa resort. The usual Minnesota mix swam there. No walleyes but, like I've said umpteen times, we don't fish walleyes. I've given that some thought as to why. Mostly it's because I'm way too lazy to learn a new fish, don't like to be skunked and it makes my day to be un-Minnesotan once in a while.
     Pine has a history with us. Used to be in the rotation of usuals. It was the lake on which Larry and Ryan started to become fisherman. Also the infamous black hole where I was bit off by something really big three times in the same spot on the same day. I'd decided then and there to come back and find out what that was someday. But that someday was now in the past and I no longer cared. Well, maybe didn't care a lot would be more accurate.
     At the access Ryan had a message on his cell phone from Lois. I called her back and found that my Aunt Della had passed away. Last of my mother's family. Thirteen down and my generation bumped up to the top of the list. Better to be at the top of the shit list than the seniority roster. Aunt Della had a great sense of humor and was a card sharp of the first order. Long time marriage to my Uncle Earl and a half dozen kids. All good people. We should all have such long lives filled with love and laughter.
     Well, she wasn't a total skunk. Eldon caught a hammer handle. Left me to handle a snake. But we saw the whole lake. Don't know what's getting into El Dean these days. Seven years ago he figured a ride in a canoe was what you did if you wanted to go swimming with your clothes on. Here on Pine he was all for doing the three shore miles necessary to see everything we could see.
     Spooked a Blue Heron while we were fishing. It'd been sitting in an oak near the shore taking an afternoon nap. Minding its own business with the idea of being left alone for an hour or two 'til the fishing picked up.
     "No sweat. I'll just head about fifteen air seconds down lake and cool it in the next oak."
     Problem was, we were heading the same direction. And so it went. For close to two miles. All the way to the access. Don't know if birds ever get pissed off. But if they do, I'm figuring we were watching one.
     Breaking up the monotony we came upon a pair of Bald Eagles sitting atop two dead jackpines. They didn't seem to mind our passing. Didn't even give us a look.
     What struck me on this little lake was the presence of lavish housing. The days of the true cabin are dying. A bulldozer and a million and a quarter does a job to knotty pine, two bedrooms and modern 1950's plumbing. Gotta admit the buildings are pretty to look at. An improvement? I can't say. But there are times when it'd be nice to have indoor plumbing at the cabin. Or at least spread my urine around a bit more. Some of the trees are starting to look a bit ragged.
     Along the south shore Eldon decided to fish for a few minutes. I was fished out and didn't pick up a rod. There was a time that didn't happen to me. But now it seems it doesn't take much for me to leave the rod alone.
     The spot El Dean chose was a lily pad bed where he'd seen his first big bass. No doubt he had his suspicions there were more where that one came from. It was my pleasure to position the boat. And his to pretty much nail the casts into tiny openings. The man's become a fisherman. A pleasure to watch.
     The big bass were elsewhere but there were a few twelve to fourteen inchers. And a rock bass, for all that's worth.
     We beat the others back to the access. They'd tied into a horde of small northerns and just couldn't leave well enough alone. On the way back Ryan was bit off at the same point where I'd had my line sheared five years earlier. I'm thinking scuba diver or, at the least, a gill man from the Black Lagoon. Either way there's something down there that assures a return trip.
     Back at the access I decided to kill time by stringing up my short, buggy whip fly rod. Remarkably it threw out more than twenty yards of line with ease. Also remarkably I put the rod down before I hurt someone. Most likely me.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Buffoons II - Granny Speaks Her Mind

     Sometimes, nope, better make that most times, the highlight of a fishing trip has nothing to do with fishing. And sometimes it pays to heed expert advice. And sometimes it'd be wise to ask the expert if he honestly has a clue as to the accuracy of his advice.
     We fished the Nason Lakes on the last day. They're not much more than sink holes in a swamp but they've never disappointed. Like most of the lakes we spend time on, they're a surprise. The fishing is generally good. Sometimes excellent. A passing look as you cruise down the road would tell you otherwise.  Drive by lakes in fly over land. What could be more up my alley? However, six pound bass and ten pound pike will be found now and then. Throw in some panfish and you've got yourself a decent fishery.
     Yeah, you can back a small boat and motor over the drop off from the shoulder of the gravel road. But you'd best be wearing the ancient, grease stained Husqvarna ball cap you got new at the Walker Power Equipment dealer back in '81 or you'd be called on it by some good old boy in cut off jeans and work boots. So, you see, the Nason's are a local hole reserved for those who know. If it wasn't for my late buddy Greg, I wouldn't be worthy to wet a hook in those hallowed waters. Even then I like to sneak on when nobody's looking.
     Don't ask me why but we were out for panfish. At least me and Eldon were. Larry and Ryan could fish for tuna for all we cared. Slip bobbers and tiny jigs were our tools of choice.
     Being in a swamp, the Nason's are wide open. Not a tree within a quarter mile of the water. There wasn't much of a breeze but what there was had a good shot at us no matter the direction. Both canoes are designed for a fair load. They'd float just right if our tackle boxes had a hundred pounds of gear in each. As they were, we were only drawing a couple of inches of water. Way too much boat sticking up from the lake. Yup, we were nothing but big bobbers. I don't do anchors, so it's drift and fish followed by a couple of minutes of repositioning. Some call that paddling. It's the price a canoeman has to pay for being to fish most anywhere.
     All was fine and dandy 'til we turned the last corner of pavement and hit the gravel. Up ahead Cass County's semi-finest were regrading the road. Without them and their constant diligence canoe boys like me would be humpin' it in from a lot farther out. Of course I grumbled even though I knew they were on my side. Having driven for a living I know for a fact there's two types of drivers in this world, there's me and then there's all the rest, who are nothing but idiots out to get in my way and ruin my day. So I grumble even though I know that's not completely true.
     There's nothing like a parking lot at the Nason's. There's no actual access, so why should there be a lot? The same crew now grading also comes by now and then to mow four feet of shoulder so you don't block the road when you park. No way that was happening today. We unloaded quickly and then I headed up the road on foot to see what the man behind the grader's wheel wanted us to do.
     The man didn't seem to mind that I stopped him. And seemed pretty sure that I'd have to park somewhere besides the usual. Or even across the road. A couple of hundred yards ahead ran a curve that had already been spread. Wide enough to park on and be off the road. But he said no need. Closer, across from the lake, exited a forestry road. Level at first then quickly climbed a sharp rise. Not a spot I'd ever consider parking and blocking.
      Eight or ten years earlier there'd been a For Sale sign posted on that road. Five acres. Allan and I had walked in to check it out. As steep as the hillside was I didn't think it would be worth a lot. But it would have been a neat spot to build a small screen house. More or less a fancy tent that we could use as a base camp to fish the lakes in the immediate area. Save an hour's driving each day we were up north. Not much more than a pipe dream really. But I liked pipe dreams. They used to give me fun stuff to pass the time when behind the wheel eight hours a day.
     The grader said it was okay to park there. "Don't give it a second thought. It'll be fine." A little voice in my head said it was a mistake. But that little voice once told me to stick an ice cream cone down my pants for the comic effect it would have on Father Cody. He didn't laugh. Instead he told me I was on a bee line for hell. That is if they'd take in a total idiot. 
     As to the parking, I figured if the Man said it was okay, it was okay. So there we parked. Two trucks and a canoe trailer.
     Once on the water me and Eldon weren't fooling around. The first pool is a marginal hot spot for small bass. Same for the second. Number three is the charm. And that's where we headed.
     The entry channel into three usually holds a couple of pike. Once in a while a big one. But not today. On the plus side the water level was up. Water level is a big deal with me. And it's a big deal for everyone. We all know the drill about the scarcity of fresh water. Simply put, we're running out of it. It's easy to forget about that but not on the water. I'm always noticing where the water is compared to where it usually is. That the channel was twice its usual width and depth put a smile on my face. Kind of like cheating the devil. We're gonna pay our water dues somewhere down the road. Today the channel said, "It'll still be a while."
     By now Ryan and Larry had caught up and passed us. At the moment they were flinging spinners for bass. How predictable. And sad. You'd think a twenty-two incher would have satisfied L. Dean. Seven years earlier a half pound bullhead would have made his day. Now he's out for a state record. How embarrassing would that be for us northwoodsers? A Minnesota game fish record in the hands of an Iowan.
     That may not seem like a big deal to some one on the coasts or elsewhere on the planet. But in Minnesota it is. Here in Gopher Land we look down on our neighbors to the south. And have devoted entire joke books to insulting them. Actually we look down on most everyone. There used to be good reason for that. Not so much anymore. It's still a decent place to live but changing. Maybe that has to do with our recent string of mild winters. They don't keep the riff-raff out like they used to. But a state fishing record in the hands of a Hawkeye? That's too much.
     Ain't this a Hitchcockian buildup? Like, what does Granny have to do with fishing on the Nason Lakes? And why were all those animated crows flocking into the trees around us? Suspense, suspense (I'd have mentioned the buffoons but we know who they were).
     As for me and Eldon, we not only didn't give a damn at this point, we were like, totally in the dark about Grannie ever entering our lives. For the moment were hot into catching small crappies and bluegills. And cursing the wind as it puffed us way too quickly over the fish zone. It was paddle, paddle, paddle. A quick turn. Bobbers out. Fish on. Into the pond muck. Damn. Then paddle, paddle, paddle. Had the panfish been a foot long, we'd have been justified. As it was we were merely terrifying juveniles. Shame on us.
     After an hour we tired of our pointless, zen-like behavior and headed toward pool four. I like pool four best. Six acres. Twenty-eight feet deep. The deep hole is just that, a hole. Around it lies four acres of weeds, mostly coon tail. And those weeds nearly break the surface. A lure mucking thicket. Pool four is like the rest of the lake, mythically fertile. Like that obese fertility goddess in all the anthropology 101 texts. Only more so. And I know for certain, but not for a fact, that it's crawling with fish. Big-assed bass that'll take you down into that dense cover and make you wish you'd been using a musky rod with sixty pound test. Or maybe an electric winch. Like I said, or at least hinted at, it ain't happened to me yet. Caught some bass there. But nothing big.
     That didn't concern us. What did was slab bluegills. Or frying pan sized crappies. The kind that make you stare and wonder what planet such beasts come from. Or stuff in your pants with its behemoth head coming out your fly and have your partner shoot a video of the moment. Immortal stupidity. Perfect for U-Tube.
     Five years earlier, on an idyllic evening, a party in a fifteen foot Lund, two men and two women, had such a moment. Probably didn't involve the zipper or extra-terrestrials. Can't say for sure about that as I didn't see but only heard their hoots and hollers. Seemed like they were hammering them right where the channel entered the pool. That's where we were heading. Trying to be cool. At the same time knowing we were on the edge of a memorable moment.
     Once again the wind was our evil nemesis. Blew us way too fast down the shore even though Eldon was doing his best to anchor the bow. He'd known this moment was coming from way back last year and had done his best to slow us down by upping his attraction for gravity (That's exactly the kind of comment that'll get me cold-cocked someday. And I'll deserve it but will whine about being unjustly clobbered).
     Mid-way down we did tie into a couple of eight inch bluegills. Figuring that was our honey hole we paddled back up and nosed the canoe into the reeds. Perfect. Well it would have been had not the eight inchers turned into the same small crappies and sunnies we'd abandoned back in number three. Who'd have thought we were such crap magnets? Outside of the crows that is, now circling above, waiting patiently to make their move.
     Ryan and Larry had better luck. But were reluctant to say what that luck was. Something about a big-assed bass down in the weeds, threatening to pull the boat under. Like that could ever happen.
     Once again the tale of the Nason's was blue sky, mid morning, slow fishing. To be fair, those are the conditions that'd ruled over the last half dozen times. No chance for them to shine. My fault. Next time I'm shooting for threatening skies and a steady drizzle. Solo and fly rod.
     Time to bag it and get some kind of lunch. Back at the landing Larry and I headed for the trucks. Halfway there an ancient memory paid a visit. Lois and I were furniture shopping. Not seriously shopping, more or less looking for a deal. Since it wouldn't take but twenty minutes I wasn't all that careful how I parked in the empty mall lot. I mean it was empty empty. And we parked off in a corner. Not a car for a hundred yards. Seems I straddled over two spots.
     Well, the browse took more than an hour. Closer to two. When we exited the store the lot was full. And there was a note on my windshield. On it was written a comparison of me and the anti-Christ. How people like me were the root of all evil. Reading the note I really did feel into being evil. And would like to have visited that evil on the person who wrote the note. As it was I was stuck being a cauldron of seething impotence.
     By the time we reached the trucks I was already looking for the note. And I wasn't disappointed. On it was inscribed "DO NOT BLOCK THIS F***ING ROAD." Of course there were no asterisks. Rock and hard place time.
     Once back with the boys we guffawed and ridiculed to our heart's content. Oh the things we'd say and do should we run into the pinhead who wrote the note. It was glorious, empty fun.
     Finally loaded I decided to take a walk up the forestry road. Maybe we'd blocked someone coming down the road from a drive through the boonies and they'd had to back up a half mile before they could turn around. Or maybe someone had bought the five acres and was living up the hill. I'd see what I saw.
     A hundred yards in, on the left sat a pickup truck and nice travel trailer. And a rabid weimaraner. The dog, not a person from Weimar. Frothing and snarling. I'd learned a lot about dogs from my courier days. Barking dogs aren't a problem. Snarling dogs with their paws dug into the dirt, eyes fixed on my testicles, are. This one was drawing a line in the ground. Cross it and I'd be singing castrato in the boys choir. I went into nice doggie mode.
     About then a seven year old boy came out of the trailer. Nice looking kid who didn't have a gun. I assured him I was no threat. As did the dog. "Are your mom and dad home?" I was really begging for it.
     The kid said no. He was staying with his grandma and grandpa. Groovy. About then Grannie came around the trailer from the moonshine still out back. Can't say as there was one but it's a nice dramatic and humorous touch. And it's a relief to finally bring her into the story.
     Immediately I went into my spiel as to how the graders were grading, and we'd fished here a kagillion times before and always parked on the shoulder of the road but this time we couldn't because the graders were grading and the man in the grader told me it was okay to park on the forestry road. "Don't think twice, it's alright."
     She asked, "So why didn't you park on the shoulder of the road like everyone else?"
     I should have asked her to turn her hearing aid up but went through the full explanation of the grader situation once more.
     She asked, "We had to go into Walker for cigarettes and hand grenades and you blocked us out! Why in the world didn't you park on the other side of the road?"
     By this point I was starting to figure she could speak English but couldn't understand it.
     A grumbly voice called out from inside the trailer, obviously Grandpa, "Who's out there?"
     Granny huffed back, "It's the asshole!"
     'Bout now I was getting the picture. They didn't like me. Nothing I could say would make them see me as the wonderful person I am. Time to suck it up, turn around and know there's two more people in this world who know me as The Asshole.
     I'm considering getting me a t-shirt with an * emblazoned on the front. Under it will be the name Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut once drew an elaborate asterisk in one of his novels. He explained that was his symbol for asshole. I could live with that. It's not such a bad thing to be.
     Two days later my daughter Annie, an intelligent and excellent journalist, explained to me that if a note contains the word f***ing, it means they don't want to talk to you. Sage advice.