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.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Fourth Dean

     Off to the cabin tomorrow with a side trip through Sioux Falls, there to pick up my son-in-law Ryan and his son, Jakob Dean. Another Dean. Like they're coming out of the woodwork.
     Jake likes to fish. But being from the prairies he hasn't had a lot of luck. So we're heading to the great northwoods where the big fishes live. Also my chance to addict another southerner to the way of the rod.
     It's also my chance to get the jonboat onto the water. Last time up I had the trolling motor up and running, cleaned the boat and leaned it up against a tree. It's not like being in a canoe. But a jonboat and electric motor isn't too far off, especially with the oars aboard to ease my conscience.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Some Days are Diamonds - Even in the Rain

     Third day. Enough with exploring, time to hammer down. Our lake du jour was an old friend. Over a dozen plus trips and I'd never been disappointed. Flat out my favorite lake near the cabin. It has everything. A treasure. And it's well under a hundred acres. Mostly bass and bluegills. However, I've seen a couple of perch that looked like small, day-glo walleyes. Four of them would feed two people nicely. Over the last ten years I've claimed again and again that if I ever tied into a handful of jumbo perch, they were supper. I'll believe that when I see it.
     Also, there was the time I was bobber fishing with a small jig on four pound test. Why not? Never caught anything with teeth in that lake. Light line was perfect for the bluegills I was bringing in simply to ogle their colors and throw back with a satisfied chuckle. All fine and dandy until the bobber slowly sank at an angle, turned and came at the canoe. Kinda like the great white shark in Jaws. First it was stripping line, then I was reeling as fast as I could. The fish seemed in no hurry. Like it hadn't a worry in the world being connected to such thin monofilament. Finally it hung a big bodied right, stripped off line 'til it pinged and was gone. Had to be a big pike. Or maybe a beaver. Since then a pike turns up once in a while. Nothing big, but they're in there.
      Even though it's one of the loves of my life, I was reluctant to head that way after breakfast. I remembered Eldon as not being a fan of the lake. When the subject came up, he said he remembered it as me who wasn't a fan. What we'd had having was a failure to communicate. We were off in a shot. In a dense, misting overcast.
     The lake is truly a carry-in body of water. One look at the line of boulders ending the total crap two-track leaves no doubt of that. What had me worried this morning was the oil pan deep, two-hundred yard long, sand pit we had to negotiate before reaching the boulders. It'd rained pretty hard during the night. The sand had me thinking a good length of towing strap, a come-along and a chain saw would have been fine additions to our fishing gear. Coming down the last rubbly downhill, I gunned it as much as I dared. Something of a slow down but all-in-all, no sweat. Once again my fears were bigger than my stomach.
     Right from the get-go Larry and Ryan went into their shore hugging routine. Not that they're predictable. That's just what they do. Always. Don't know if they're scared of open water or like being near trees but creeping along in six inches of water seems to work for them. There's a lesson to be learned there. Some fly fishermen always fish the same type of fly. And manage to do as well as those who match the hatch. Some fish spinners to the exclusion of common sense. It seems familiarity may breed contempt but doing the same thing over and over does lead to some degree of skill and adaptability. So the two of them fish shallow. And do well at it.
     Me and Eldon are of the fart-in-a-lantern school. Not exactly sure what that means but my Mom used the phrase once in a while. And not in a complimentary way. I also don't think she had fishing in mind. As for me and El Dean, we move. Work a spot for a short while. If it proves hot, we stay. If not, we move on.
     Right off we headed to a small bay that most always holds fish. But not today. In fact, we fan casted the shore from one end to the other. Then back again. The one or two hits we had were no reason to stay. We moved deep and found a couple. Then a couple more. Aha! Or maybe, Eureka! A plan was quickly formed and we worked it over and over for the rest of the morning.
     The south wind became our friend. At least during the fishing part. To set up we'd paddle most of the way up wind across the small lake. Then turn broadside to the breeze and let it slowly drift us over the drop-off weed line. There the lake deepens from five to ten feet. As a plus, a line of cabbage follows the drop. Each drift was worth a half dozen bass. Once in a while a jumbo perch or aggressive bluegill. Most bass were around a foot. A few topped sixteen inches and one of Eldon's, just under twenty. That's a near wall hanger for a fifty acre lake. Or most any Minnesota lake for that matter.
     All the while the drizzle came and went. Again and again. Sometimes building to a two minute light rain. We don't sight fish so there's always time to scan the skies and shore. Ospreys and Bald Eagles have come to be a common sight. I was forty-seven when I saw my first eagle. Now it's a rare day when we don't see a couple. And we did today.  Wading great blue herons,  tail slapping beavers, deer drinking from the shore. Always loons. We gave them a wide berth. Come June they usually have a fuzz ball or two riding their backs or paddling alongside. Knowing they're there and being serenaded is enough.
     We broke for a short lunch with the other two. Actually we paddled down to the access to take a leak. Larry and Ryan had the same calling. So long as we were there, we snacked and made plans for the afternoon. Normally we'd have moved on. But not today. The other two had done at least as well as me and Eldon. In fact Larry had put our catch to shame with a twenty-two inch, paddle measured bass. And had the picture to prove it. That factors out to between six and seven pounds. Possible bass of a lifetime. When Larry dies we'll know for sure. Hope he catches bigger and lives long.
     So the plan was simple. Why leave when we're having one of those days we're gonna remember for years? So we stayed and caught bass 'til our arms were tired. Then caught a few more. It's a long time between bass for Eldon. This day had to last him through the winter.
     So we headed back through the sand pit toward some steaks waiting at the cabin. Seems the sirloins had a hankering to become fertilizer. And we were more than happy to oblige them.
     Ryan is the barbecuer. It's not so much that he's good at it, which he is, but he seems to relish having the hair and upper layer of skin burned off the back of his hands by oak flame. Me, I get a kick out of seeing him dance through the smoke. He's like a windsock when the breeze is up. Like Mary's little lamb, no matter where he places himself at the pit, the wind is sure to follow.
     My job is to fry the spuds. My mom was a master at turning the mundane into simple pleasure. There's no way I can duplicate her art with spuds or my fourteen year old taste buds for that matter, but I try. Half baked potatoes, sliced thin. Two, yes two, vidalia onions coarsely diced. A wad of butter in the pan thinned with a dollop of olive oil. My mom never used olive oil. My God, how could she? She was one hundred per cent German.
     Fry the onions 'til they turn clear. Then add the spuds. Salt and pepper to taste. For me that's light on the salt, heavy on the pepper. If the boys from down south didn't have such delicate stomaches I'd shake in a tablespoon of Tabasco. Yum! Then fry the hell out of 'em, turning constantly. A lot of gold and a hint of black is what your looking for. Problem is there's no way you can fry enough 'taters for four hungry men when using a two burner stove.
     Meat, potatoes and asparagus. Oh well, what you gonna do when there's no capers? Hard to tell we were suffering what with all the satisfied moanings.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Buffoons on Parade - act I

     I'm 65. And hear as good as I used to. But that's no problem. All I have to do is talk a little louder and can hear if what I'm saying is the same as what I'm thinking. Not a problem for me at all. My wife Lois seems to feel differently. Mostly when we're in quiet public places like a movie or church. You see I've got this sense of humor that has no sense of common decency. Death and moral depravity strike me as the ultimate punch lines. Especially death. And when my mind gets going I can make myself at home in some odd, twisted place most people would never conceive of and blurt out a full description in living color. Usually when that happens my intention is to whisper. But Lord knows I ain't. I'm excited and want to share. And then Lois gives me the look. And tells me to hold it down. I blame it on being in Vietnam. When you've seen your share of unnecessary death the world starts to look a little different. Truth is that I've always been that way. Being 65 years old has given me plenty of time to hone my skills. I count it a good thing that I don't spend a lot of time in church. Not so much for me but for all those innocent ears who enter with the intention of being uplifted, not offended.
     Whether or not the above rant is supposed to go anywhere constructive is yet to be seen. I'm hoping some vague form of concept will come to mind and bail my ass out. What I'm working around to is lunch in Walker, MN. And maybe the idea that a couple of burritos, with rice, beans extra and two Dos XXs shouldn't come to twenty bucks on the lunch menu.
     And that it's a mistake for me to sit with my back to the restaurant. Maybe that's what happened to Wild Bill Hickok. Probably sat facing the door so's he'd be reminded he was surrounded by polite society, in a drunken frontier sense, and should watch his tongue. One time he's forced to sit the other direction, speaks his mind, offends some civic minded Tea Party soul and the next thing he knows there's holes through his body.
     It's an election year. In a passionately divided nation. And I was sitting at a table of tolerant Republicans. Actually I know for sure that Larry and Ryan are. Larry doesn't push his agenda and Ryan seems at least to lean over the edge of the road's middle. Don't know about Eldon. He has his opinions. No doubt about that. But they're closer to home than the war in Afghanistan or gay marriage. Me, I was born in Humphrey-land and Vietnam bent me quite a ways to the left. And I speak loudly. And my back was to the room.
     Don't recall exactly what I might have said. But I kept getting the feeling someone I couldn't see was getting ready to cold-cock me with a beer mug. Or maybe it was Eldon. If so, I'd have deserved it. I ride him way too much. Maybe because he was an acting-jack desk sergeant MP when he was in the Army. Maybe my rant on the pointless war in Afghanistan was offending one of the 4th of July parade, draped in flags and leather, Harley riders. Don't even get me started on Michelle Bachman and how if you take her seriously you should be put away. One of these days I'm gonna have to stuff a sock in it. There's a fine line between intelligent commentary and being an old man frothing at the mouth about nothing much in general. Hope I haven't already crossed that line.
     The beer was good and the lunch about what you could expect in a town sixty miles from the wrong border for Mexican food.
     Back on the street we headed for the cars. First job was to rehitch the canoe trailer. You see, Walker mostly has diagonal parking. So the trailer had to be detached and given its own parking spot or it'd be blocking the street. I kinda liked taking up two parking spots. Also liked that our canoes were the only ones we saw on the water or the road. Seeing another one on the top of a car is like a reunion with someone I don't know. That's life up near the cabin this year, last year, any year. Almost like the only legal spot you can float a canoe in state is up in the Arrowhead. It's an odd life, eh?
     So, the question was, where were we goin' fishing this afternoon? Of course there was the plan. And the others usually let me make the call. I think that has to do with not wanting to be responsible for a skunking. I don't like to be fishless either but have come to accept that as part of fishing. You watch the pros and the fishing shows and are led to think that the big boys never get skunked. And they rarely do. Factor in the fishing guide they're with, who's on his home turf, and tape editing, and you get the real picture. Like the old saw, the fish are always there; sometimes you catch 'em and sometimes you don't.
     The weather was changing. Dark clouds rolling in. A good sign for success. My choice? Another trout lake. Simple drive from Walker. Seven miles of pavement. Four of gravel. Four more of good sand. Three without passing room. A left on a decent two-track with a few mud holes. And finally, the usual brush scraping down the side, slow down for rubble, coupla road ponds and we were there.
     Makes my day when Eldon says, "How the hell do you find these places?" Truth is that it's easier than it looks but there's no way I'd let that out of the bag.
     Then it's ten minutes of look at the lake, pee in the bushes and get the gear unloaded and reloaded. While that's going on the clouds are getting darker. And then the rain starts. The three tenderfeet from down south all have their rain gear. I'm impressed. And have none myself. I'm dressed for indoor lunch and the sun beating down on a bass lake. Totally unprepared. An idiot.
     Larry, on the other hand, was more than prepared. Even had an extra rain suit. Honestly, I didn't want to borrow it. But, you see, it was raining really hard. And I was afraid I'd melt. And the flying monkeys wouldn't be my friends anymore. So for the sake of the monkeys, I thanked Larry and put it on.
     So how do the lesser gods reward such kindness? Picture two canoes parallel, pointed into a tiny trout lake. The rain has slowed to a freckling on the water. In the Alumacraft on the left, Ryan sits upfront, ready to go. Larry is standing, half in, half out of the boat. Ready to push off. Slowly, like a slug in mud, my brain comes awake, to realize it would be both a helpful and a safe move to lend them a hand. Somewhere in the microsecond between hang and on, Larry, beginning to lose his balance, did a waltzing stumble to his right. Immediately followed by a counterbalance to the left. All the while, rocking the boat. Kind of an I got it, I got it air about him. But he doesn't got it. And finishes with a half twisting, belly flop back to his right. Into the lake. Towards open water, like he'd decided to head out on his own. Six inches of lake ain't enough to make a sploosh. When he hit, it was more of a kerchuck. And successfully manages to dump Ryan and his gear into the shallow water. Eldon, and especially Ryan, were completely taken by surprise. Lucky me, I got to watch it in slow motion. Guess Larry didn't need a rain suit after all. Outside of a brief dunking and a red face, both were okay. Easy for me to say.
     Out on the water, conditions were ideal. Had we caught anything they'd even have been better. But we didn't. Once again it was a series of short strikes. We got hits. A fair amount of them. But none were hooked. Slow, wary, seen it all? I was clueless. If we'd been dead into boating fish, worms, split shot and small hook would have been the way to go. Just a guess of course. In my mind, live bait smacks of cheating. Spinners are bad enough but at least we'd have been fooling them with homemade lures. I'll go back with fly rod in hand. Throw a Royal Wulff or an Adams at them. Not exactly matching the hatch but close enough for a buggy whipper like me.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Smallmouth Bass

     Can't say I've ever dreamt about catching them. Mostly I try and fail in those dreams. Usually the lake is East Pike. I caught my first one there. It's been years since the last dream. What seemed to be the recurring theme was the continual shrinking of the lake. And the growing incursion of civilization. Spookier than hell to me.
     The first one I ever saw was caught by one of my cousins. I was at Big Birch Lake with a couple of my Aunt Lavina and Uncle Joe's  teen-age sons. They all made a big deal about the fish. Like it was something special. And so it became something special to me. Give me a break. I was only seven years old. Snot nosed.
     The ones Rod and I caught on East Pike twelve years later were a total surprise. I'd only seen the one when I was a kid but there was no doubt in my mind that they were smallies. Big, hard hitting. A fish of the Canadian border. And that was as far from civilization as you could get without crossing the border. The border was a big deal to a kid from the Twin Cities back in 1966. The end of life as we knew it. The boonies. And East Pike wasn't a boonie you could drive to. The hundred-eighty rod portage separated it and us from the world of television and indoor plumbing. You had to work to get there. Pay your dues. That was where smallmouth bass lived. The idea of catching them from a boat with a motor on the back just didn't fit the image. Some of that feeling still lives in me. Always will.
     I had mixed emotions when we set off on Wednesday morning. And not because of the breakfast. For a change I had my usual gut fillers. Don't do meat or eggs unless there's no choice, which usually means someone else is doing the cooking. My idea of heaven is two kinds of cereal mixed in with fruit and almonds. Add a banana and a tumbler of orange juice. Yeah, I suppose it's healthy. But that's not why I eat it. Flavor baby, flavor. And it makes my tummy feel good. Maybe having breakfast stick to my ribs had a lot to do with us sticking to the plan.
     Would have been fun had we caught more on the first day. But we saw new water and maybe learned a little in a negative sense. Also, having a slow day would help define the good days. We'd been at the game long enough to know not every day is a winner as to fish in the boat. Not a big deal. We'd learned it wasn't hard to put a lot of fish in the boat. And knew where a few of the barrels were. No doubt we'd hit one or two before the week was out. Our hope was finding a new treasure.
     The mixed emotions had to do with smallmouth bass. I wanted to find them. No doubt about that. But it wouldn't be the same as the Boundary Waters or the Quetico. The lake we were heading for had a public access. I didn't like the sound of that. That's why we'd always driven past on our way to other waters. There'd be boats. Big boats. Big boats with behemoth engines. And live wells. And electronics that did everything but actually catch fish. Time, temperature and internet. As far as I'm concerned all that stuff screws the pooch. No matter what Al Lindner says, a boat full of gadgets doesn't make you a better fisherman. Lord knows he doesn't need them. He's already a good fisherman. As for me, it's hard  pretending I'm in the boonies when there's other people on the water. Yup, I'm an elitist whiner. And damned proud of it.
     The lake we were off to see also had a thicket of run of the mill largemouth bass. Some big ones in the mix. Better than nothing I suppose. But the idea of largemouth, no matter how big, seemed to pollute my idea of smallie water. My problem, as usual.
     Like i said, we'd seen the lake before in a drive-by kind of way. Usually there were a couple of trucks with boat trailers at the gravel access. No so today. The breeze was up and the sun out. Not the best conditions but the wave chop was in our favor, as was the southerly wind. The water was beyond clear with a slight green tint. Almost Caribbean. Both canoes headed down the left shore. Larry and Ryan took the first bay. Fine with me. It was sandy bottomed. Not my smallmouth cup of tea.
     Before pushing off, I'd delivered the smallmouth gospel. Fist sized rocks. Lots of 'em. Whole shorelines of 'em. Smallies are finicky. They like it clean bottomed. And they like to eat crayfish. Crayfish live in rubble covered bottoms. Kinda all comes together doesn't it? Take a peek down a smallmouth's gullet and you just might see a crayfish looking back at you. Help me! Help me! And I'll give you three wishes. Happened to me on East Pike. Made me think bass must suck them down tail first. Next time I'm in Cajun country I'll have to watch how they do it. Maybe there's a connection. East Pike, the Quetico and Mann Lake, every smallmouth I've caught, all were hooked on rubble bottoms. That's why it's gospel. And why Eldon and I paddled on.
     Wasn't but the next point and it was rubble for as far as we could see. Time to fish. We were drifting down wind. As usual the breeze spun us broadside to the waves. A bit of a bob but definitely fishable.I turned us nose to shore. Kinda the opposite of ideal but you take what life throws at you and make the best of it. Clear water like we were floating on calls for long casts. That is if you intend to catch bass.
     Don't know if Eldon heard me but he kept flipping toward shore. Or if I actually said it out loud. But he kept short flipping and pretty much catching zip. I was throwing downwind and parallel to shore. Casting so hard the canoe would bounce when I let her rip. That's not an exaggeration. Can't say I know the physics of it, probably action and reaction, but suppose the bounce has to do with my arm and butt being connected by my torso. If you've ever pitched a lure for all you're worth while sitting in a canoe, well, it's a pretty neat feeling ain't it? A kajoing!, more or less.
     Yes, I did catch me some bass. All smallmouth. Yup, it was fun. And they did jump. And spit the hook even better than their big mouthed cousins. Maybe I need to sharpen my hooks? And they did fight and feel bigger than they actually were. And no, it wasn't the same as fishing East Pike Lake. But it was definitely okay.
     The only draw down was the wind. Snorting and keeping our drift way too fast for my liking. A half dozen smallies in a half mile of rubble. Good, good lake indeed. Good enough for a return trip or two. Now if the county would tear out the road that passes along the south shore or barricade the access and bulldoze the cabins along the shore and make it illegal for anyone to fish the water unless they were in a canoe. Then you'd have something. Or at least I would. Guess my idea of the People's Water mostly pertains to me.
     While me and Eldon were doing our thing, Larry and Ryan were doing just fine. Mixing their smallmouth with largemouth. Sometimes I'd watch them from a distance. See how they're doing and how they're doing it. Like watching whoever's in the canoe with me, it's entertaining and gets my mind working. Saturday morning fishing show in real time with people I know as the stars. Seeing others drifting along, self propelled, catching fish, is a joy.
     Before the morning was out we'd toured all three miles of shoreline. Saw enough and caught enough to know the spots to hit the next time. By the time our stomaches were grumbling the bass were taking a deep water siesta. Time for lunch. And maybe a couple of Dos XXs.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


     I figured they'd had enough for one day. Six hour drive up north. And an hour prep and drive time to the state forest. Two portages and time on the water. Long day. But they were pumped and who was I to say no? Hell, we were a two minute downhill carry to the trout lake on the one hand. There was dinner to be made back at the cabin on the other. Guess you could say the tilt of the earth came to the rescue. We were nine days from the summer solstice and still had four hours of daylight in our pockets. The decision was made in less than a scan of the group. We loaded the gear in the boats and headed downhill. The prospect of trout is a siren's call to those raised on bullheads.
     As we got ready to push off I gave them my whole store of knowledge as to trout fishing in a stocked lake. Put on one of the little spinners I'd made and start casting. They're out there somewhere. Maybe shallow. Maybe deep. Maybe in-between. They are where they are. Also take into account that I ain't caught one in twenty years.
     Like most trout lakes, this one was tiny. So tiny the three of them were having a hard time grasping the situation. I just knew they were looking at the points and bays and thinking bass, pike or walleyes. Hard not to when that's the way they'd come to figure water. My fault. Larry and Ryan have their own tactics. No doubt about that. They'll go right in the pads if the conditions call for that. They've learned cover and structure mean food. And food means fish.
      But trout like to be comfy. Temperature is everything to them. Structure means diddly. Given time Larry and Ryan would figure it out. But this early evening we didn't have much time. I watched them paddle into a bay. Like I said, who was I to say they wouldn't catch any in shallow water.
     Eldon, on the other hand, is a kept man. Sits in the front of the canoe and has to go where I take him. We started by working in twenty feet of water. Cast in. Cast out. Fan cast the area with the idea they could be anywhere. A plan without a plan. Seems I've spent a lot of my life stumbling from event to event with no underlying plan. You'd think trout fishing would be right up my alley. Poor Eldon.
     What can I say? I'm still embarrassed. It's not so much that mine was the first rainbow trout. It's more that it was the only one. A proper host shares. Can't say we didn't all had hits. Mine was simply the only fish that impaled itself. Possibly it's another example that the fish know who's on the other end of the line. I've caught trout before. The others haven't. The trout know that and maybe fall prey to an 'oh well, the dude knows what he's doing so it's okay to get caught' attitude. Not my fault when that happens.
     An hour of casting practice followed and told us it was time to bag it. Not a lot of action but a good time on a pristine body of water.
     Back at the cabin the fire pit was match ready. Earlier in the day I'd had the time to gather up some birch bark and an armful of dry twigs. Above that was balanced a teepee of split oak. Oak adds a fine flavor to meat. No doubt carcinogenic, but I try not to think about that. When I was young the inevitable consequences of minor vices like cooking over oak had little effect on me. I was gonna live forever. Or at least another fifty years. Like there was much difference. Nowadays I'll give those consequences at least a passing thought before striking the match. If you ever saw the grill we use it'd be obvious that oak smoke is the cleanest part of the operation. Oh well, it sure eats good.
     At home there's a pile of dry apple and maple wood. All gathered for this trip. It's still there and now it's on the list for next year.
     Maybe it's a sign of aging but about all we can do after dishes are done is to sit on our kiesters for an hour. Who can remember what passes as our conversation? We say and discuss life in general. Sometimes our feet. Rarely do politics and religion come up. If ever. In the scheme of things up north the sound of the bats scritching their way out from under the steel roof seems to make a whole lot more sense than whatever Barack Obama or Mitt Romney have to say. Maybe if presidential candidates ate mosquitos...?