Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Darrell - Circle Hook

     We went out reef fishing with Darrell's neighbor Doug.  When I asked Doug the obligatory, "what do you do for a living?", he said he was a roofer.  Simple enough.  Later Darrell told me Doug actually owned a roofing company.  A big one.  Guess that explained his winter home and boat and charter fishing trips.
     We headed to the reef 'cause of the wind and big waves out in the Stream.  Small craft warnings.  From the way they described it we'd be fishing a lot like we were going for crappies only these crappies would be forty or fifty feet down.  And wouldn't look at all like crappies.  Fine by me.  Figured I could do that.
     'Spect we anchored a mile or so out from the Seven Mile Bridge.  That's the bridge most everyone has seen in a movie or TV ad.  They call it that 'cause it's about a mile longer than six miles.  Or so I'm told.  I recall us using shrimp for bait.  Might have been something else but I doubt it was red worms or leeches.
     And we were using circle hooks.  I'd heard of them and liked the concept behind them.  Seemed they always hook a fish in the corner of the mouth.  Don't know why that is but if you were gonna go the catch and release routine, the fish would rarely be severely hurt.
     The only difference between them and regular hooks was that you don't set a circle hook, just start reelin' when you feel the fish.  The hook does all the work.  I didn't know that at first.  I'd feel a bite, pause a couple of seconds and set the hook for all I was worth.  Wasn't gonna let no stinkin' snapper spit my hook, no sir.  And then came up empty.  Next fish I waited longer.  Same result.  Then finally set that baby as soon as I felt any weight.  Crap!
     All the while Doug and Darrell were not losin' a one.  Finally they let me in on what to do. Not that it was any secret to them.  I guess they just figured most everyone knew how to use a circle hook.  Life's like that.  Guess the truth is one person's common knowledge isn't always another's.
     I'd like to say that changed everything for me but it didn't.  Guess I'd spent most of my life settin' hooks and it'd become so ingrained I couldn't help myself.  A fish would hit, I'd set the hook, then pound my head in disbelief that I'd done it again.
     It'd be nice to say that I finally got the hang of it.  But I didn't.  Maybe in the next life.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Darrell III - Ballyhoo

     Darrell asked me to bring my fly rod along when Lois and I came down.  'Spose I should have asked him what he had in mind.  I was thinking along the lines of back bay fishing for bonefish or sea trout.  Maybe redfish or snook.  All of those would have been logical and a bucket of fun.
     On the illogical side I saw me whippin' out huge streamers to the schools of blue marlin or sailfish he'd attracted close to the boat with chum and big, squiddy lookin' rigs.  'Course for that I'd have needed a fifteen weight rod with a reel that held about a half mile of backing and even then it would have been like farting in a hurricane (I know that analogy makes little sense but I liked it so I wrote it).
     What I packed up was a ten foot, eight weight.  About right for the logical fish.  With that I grabbed a fistful of streamers, all about an inch, or a little more, long.  I was wrong.  The rod was more or less okay.  Not so the streamers.  Seems Darrell had gotten into catching his own ballyhoo.  At two bucks a pop for the 'hoos he could save the price of a tankful of gas with a couple of hours effort.  Not to mention havin' a good time along the way.  In my mind it's also akin to makin' your own lures.  Good deal all around.
     Turned out ballyhoo were way too small, eight or ten inches long, for my flies.  Bummer.  It woulda been fun for both of us.  Plus they look a lot like tiny marlin.  As it was we fished for them with little hooks baited with shrimp.  How Darrell knew where to find the ballyhoos was a mystery to me but find them he did.  Another step he'd mastered in the learning curve I suppose.
     The process also involved some chumming as I recall.  Talk about a food pyramid.  Usin' bait to catch bait to catch game fish.  Made me wonder if it woulda been simpler to eat the shrimp.  The things we do for fun.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Darrell - part II

     Yeah, his boat.  Thirty some feet long, two big outboards on the back.  Weighs about the same a Paul Bunyan's canoe.  It gets him there and back.  The there is sometimes only five miles away, sometimes twenty-five, depending on whether he's heading to the seven Mile Bridge, the reef or all the way to the Gulf Stream.  As near as I can figure, the farther he goes, the fewer and bigger the fish.
     And the bigger the bill when Darrell refuels.  He says you can't go around calculating how much a pound of fish costs when you catch it yourself.  Like that's possible for someone like me.
     Lois and I spent a month in Marathon down in the Keys three years ago.  During those weeks I had the chance to get on the water five times with Darrell as I recall it.  One of those was with one of Darrell's neighbors.  The man was a patented old coot but knew his way around the water and was foolish enough to let me drive the boat. More on that later.
     On that trip we headed all the way out to the deep blue water of the Gulf Stream.  Made me feel like a balding, beardless Hemingway who doesn't know how to write and doesn't pick bar fights with gay men (could be the writing part is the one characteristic we share.  No offense to the to the man, seems to me he managed to win a Nobel Prize).
     Out there I got to see the floating blue footballs that are call Man 'o war jellyfish.  Gotta admit they're pretty neat looking for something that can make you consider peeing on yourself (probably and old wive's tale but then I really don't know).  Almost up there with the flying fishes we ran into.  Don't know if they're actually flying but they sure can cruise quite a distance through the air.
     On that trip we were in a single outboard powered catamaran.  When the man asked me if I'd ever driven a power boat like his I honestly said no.  By then we were on the deep blue and had throttled down to trolling speed.  That I didn't know my ass from a hole in the water didn't stop him from handing me the wheel.  All I had to do was keep the heading where it was on the compass.  Simple enough.
     Woulda been better had he asked me to run a completely random zig-zag pattern.  Good thing we didn't get lost or end up in Cuban coastal waters.  Finally in desperation, he and Darrell simply suggested I follow the weed line.  Now, the weed line I'm familiar with can usually be seen by looking over the side of the boat.  Out on the Gulf Stream there was no way I could see hundreds, or thousands, of feet down to the bottom.  Wrote them off as total idiots till they simply pointed out the miles long path of floating weeds we were edging along.  Oh yeah, I knew it all along (hard to keep a straight face when you're a total bozo like me).
     We didn't catch anything on that trip.  That's the way she goes sometimes even if the cap'n can shoot a straight line.
     Darrel is a bait user.  And he's a chummer.  Since I'm not a bait man, and am way too cheap to drop the money necessary to fish out on the ocean, I'll never be a deep water fisherman.  On the other hand, I understand the function of each in the scheme of things, it was Darrell's boat and I was thrilled to be on the water even if it was salted.  And that's not to mention the companionship.
     The ocean's a big and deep place and as far as I can see there's no good reason for fish to be anywhere, unless food is involved.  Kinda like fresh water except for the big and deep part.  That's why he chums.  What he uses is a beer case sized, frozen block of fish parts, sticks it in a mesh bag and hangs it over the side of the boat.  The block slowly melts as the boat moves along and makes a trail of stink on the water.  Guess fish like stink 'cause the do come nosin' around.  Sometimes.
     The usual plan out on the big water is to have a bunch of rods set up on down riggers with small fish called ballyhoo rigged on the business end of the line.  The rigged bait is trailed a ways behind the boat along with the stink line.  Then the boat is puttered along so as to make the bait look like it's swimming and havin' a good time with a bright plastic skirt stuck to its head.
     The plan is to have some big assed, highly edible fish to come along and think to itself, "Lookie there at that little fish with the bright plastic skirt stuck to its head.  Stinks so bad around here it's just gotta be some fine eatin'."  Then the fish goes and hammers the bait causing the rod back on the boat to commence wigglin' and bouncin' and it's time for one of us to grab the rod and reel it in.
     Lesson learned:  Darrell always has a belt on the boat with a cup in the front.  A rod handle fits nicely in the cup.  In addition to making it easier to reel a fish in it also protects the family jewels.  Next time I'll remember to ask for the belt.
     On the trip in question, both Lois and Linda came along.  It was like a picnic on the water except for Lois learning she might be susceptible to sea sickness.  And I did get to catch a couple of king mackerel  That's a nice way to say that Darrell did all the work but let me reel the fish in.  Thanks Darrell.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Friends - Darrell (part I)

     The other day I mentioned getting the gift of a fly rod from a friend.  It's not a fancy rod, more of a workman's fiberglass model.  Eight foot, foam handle, seven weight Daiwa.  I was happy to accept it.
     Darrell hadn't used it in thirty or more years.  And didn't look like he was ready to start buggy whipping for bass anytime soon.  When I wiped the dust off the rod it looked to be new.  Happy day. And now I'm headin' down south to crud up his gift in a whole new world of fish who'll no doubt scorn my ignorant offerings.
     I've known Darrell for better than fifty years.  Not that we've been inseparable friends, more like our lives have followed wavy lines that have crossed paths now and then.  In the beginning we saw each other a lot and over the last few we've grown close again.  That might have more to do with our wives who were best friends back when they were kids.
     Oddly enough, even though we're both fishermen, we've spent little time on the water together.  Took forty years till we finally got in the boat together on the little lake up north where he and his wife have their summer home.  We trolled the shore one evening and threw tubes to bass.  Even caught a few.
     Gotta admit I was nervous.  Yeah, I knew what I was doing.  At least I thought I did.  Over the decades I'd caught my share, maybe even more than my share.  But Darrell, at least in my mind, was a unproclaimed master.  The kind that rarely gets skunked.  And in the few times when he did, accepted it as calmly as the times he'd landed a boatload of wall hangers.  In short, I hoped I wouldn't fall out of the boat.
     Lois and I had shown up at their house to spend a few pleasant hours.  Darrell suggested fishing, even loaned me a rod.  I recognized the brand and knew it was a cut above my sticks.  But, what the hell, I expected no less from him.
     It was a fine evening.  A nice enough one in good company so the fishing wasn't but a little icing on the cake.  That I landed a couple of fish may have had more to do with his knowledge of the lake and its honey holes than my fishing ability.  At least I didn't screw it up.  As for Darrell, he was running the trolling motor, blind casting over his shoulder, telling me where to throw my tube and he still out fished me.
     Darrell and Linda have a winter home in the Keys.  Not sure if they're down there for the winter climate or the iguanas that run wild.  Or maybe the resident manatee who seems to have a thing for drinking fresh water from the hose.  Could be the ocean also has something to do with it.  You see, their home lies on a canal with access to the gulf.  Throw in what I consider a big boat ( Darrell says it's a small craft ) and, what the hell, why not go out and sample the fishing once in a while?  Weather allowing that once in a while is most every day.
     Darrell's fresh water experience didn't help a whole lot when he first came to salt water.  Yeah, he knew the pointy end of the boat was the front end and the fat end of the rod was the one to hang onto.  From there on it was a learning experience.  And over the years, he (and Linda) did.  Got to know where to go and what to put on the end of the line that'd put fish in the boat.  And get a handle on what kind of fish lived in the waters and how they took to the fryin' pan, or grill, or smoker.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Home Made is Best (maybe)

     Got the rods, a reel, backing, line and leaders.  Enough to do all the fly fishing I want.  'Course it might not hurt to have something on the end of the line just in case there's any foolish fish in Perdido Bay.  That thought got me rummaging in my fly box to see what might look good to speckled sea trout or any other unknowns in the water down there.
     On the upside, most of what I have is self-tied.  And not a one of them looks like what anyone would consider a fly, or minnow, or crayfish, or ant, or anything that lives on the planet.  In my mind that means everyone of them would be equally effective in freshwater or salt.  That's the good news.  
     On the downside I've only caught bass and pike with them.  And those fish ain't particular as to what they'll eat so long as it moves.  Could there be any fish in the ocean that are the same?
     Just in case there aren't, it got me thinking about Venn diagrams.  They're the ones where you draw two overlappin' circles and what you want is in the overlap part.  My two circles were labeled Real Fishin' Flies and Flies a Bimbo Like Me Can Tie.  The overlap was real small.  Two flies were about it.  San Juan Worms and Clauser Minnows.  
     Neither is a real fly.  The San Juan is a red piece of string tied on a hook.  Not fancy but idiot easy.  However I didn't figure a worm native to New Mexico trout streams would have much affect on ocean fish. The Clauser on the other hand is more or less a lead head, bucktail jig with eyes instead of a lead head. Top that off with them being effective in fresh and salt water on a variety of shallow water fish and I set to work.
     In my supplies I had all that was necessary to make a dozen.  That's it, no more.  Should the fishin' be good, I'm screwed.  That's Norwegian humor comin' from a Swede.  
     Truth is, all I want is time to improve my marginal casting.  And maybe not tear off my right ear in the process.  Should I catch any fish I'll write it off to cosmic coincidence.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Rod Shopping in the Ether

     Outside the window most everything is white.  Not the street of course.  There lies the tan stripe dropped by passing cars and trucks.  Yeah, I'm in the city sitting at a desk once owned by one of Lois' aunts.  It's where I sit these days to write.  Used to be up in what I consider my work and storage room. Tied lures and flies up there beneath the charcoal drawing Allan drew for one of his freshman classes.  A few years back I framed it in log edged oak.  The frame is a fittin' and rustic touch to a memory of the Canadian bush (where not a stick of oak can be found).  In the corner sat my rods next to small cabinets that held reels, tackle and tax forms.
     Not so at the moment.  Till they move into their new house my room is now shared by Matt and Luke.  Their Allan's boys.  They keep me young by wearing me out every day.  Not sure how that works but that's what I've been told.  For the moment I'll accept that as the truth.
     Seein' as how it's winter, top that with me not being an ice fisherman and you can see that my time on the water is limited to walking through snow each morning in the hope of living forever.  Doubt that'll happen but I'm not giving up.
     Sometime in each day I sneak off to ebay where I scope out what's new and available in the vintage fly rod world.  Doing so is kind of a teaser for me.  Do I need another rod?  Guffaw.  Truth is I don't turn up enough time to use the ones I've got.  But I still keep looking.
     Don't know why but the name Heddon draws me.  Like I've said earlier, it's fiberglass, not bamboo, that attracts.  Grew up with it.  And even in my canoe days I bought glass now and then.  My favorite rod was a seven foot, two piece, medium-heavy spinning rod made for Cabela's.  For pike it was perfect and could really buggy-whip a homemade spinner.  Might still be using it today if I hadn't snapped a foot of the tip off.
     When I owned the rod the idea of buying vintage fiberglass hadn't entered my pea brain as yet.  Didn't own or know how to use a computer.  Didn't want to.  Couldn't see the use for one.  Didn't know about ebay.  Didn't care.  Even if I had a computer and knew about ebay, I was still too young to see the value of old stuff.  Now that I'm old stuff myself I realize those '50s and '60s poles, 'specially the better ones, hold up better than flesh, be it horse or human.
     Now, Heddon isn't top of the line.  That perch is reserved for Phillipson.  And it's not number two, Fenwick holds sway there.  But still, Heddon is quality.  And the heart of the rod, its blank, is pretty much the same from top of the line to near bottom.  Price was, and is, ruled by the pretty parts, cork, decoration, line guides and name.  Mark IV sounds more upscale than Mark I but my research tells me there's not all that much difference.  Top that off with a winning bid that should sit between twenty and thirty-five bucks and you've got yourself a serviceable, quality rod for an unbeatable price in today's world.
     For now my few good rods will be staying at home when I head south.  Don't know if salt water would do anything to their metal parts but suspect it would.  The two that are packed in my traveling tube cost less than the tube.  'Course one was a gift from an old friend.  Sad to say the rod's in a lot better shape than my friend.  But seeing as how he's a died in the wool salt water man, I don't think he'd mind if I used the stick in the Gulf.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

McFarland and Pine

     Once again the wind was up.  Nothin' we could do about that and since we were here to fish, we headed back up the Arrowhead Trail.  The plan was to fish Pine Lake.  To do that we had to first paddle the length of McFarland then do the short upstream battle into Pine.
     At the access we met another of the ancient mariners who seemed to populate the area.
     - God, I just had a scary thought.  If I was to carry out my intention of fishing the Arrowhead once again, one of those ancient mariners might be me.  A lone wolf whose only purpose in life was to fish the waters I could still reach and ruminate about how much better it was way back when to innocent bystanders.  Like that's a whole lot different than writing a blog. Oh Lord, protect me from myself. -
     He seemed a nice enough guy, hopefully harmless, who'd had a pretty slow time of it on the water.  His stringer held a single, ten inch walleye.  He nearly had tears in his eyes about how bad the fishing had become.  His lone pickerel told me he'd not quite picked up on the concept that dead fish can't breed.
     All I could do was pat him on the shoulder and offer a consoling, "Ain't that just too damned bad, old man, ain't that just too damned bad.  Now, why don't you walk slowly over to yonder white pine and bang your head against it while my son and I get the hell out of here as fast as we can."  Strangely enough, that's just what he did.  Sounded like a pileated woodpecker with a dull beak.
     McFarland presented a problem we'd yet to face on the water.  Once launched we were lookin' into the face of a stiff wind and shushing whitecaps.  Had I more experience in a canoe or had Allan been older than twelve it might have been a lot less scary.  Top that with the thought Lois would be a bit upset if the kid drowned and I didn't, and it was time to be extra cautious.
     At least I knew enough to tuck behind points and when out in the open, keep our nose into the wind.  Still, the two miles was a stiff workout.  Looking back on it I wonder how hard the wind could have been blowing if us two neophytes could cover that stretch.
     At the north end we found calm black water.  Black as could be black.  Something about the blackness draws me.  Maybe it's my German nature and all I needed was for some nixie to lure me under to my death.  Gets a man to wondering about those ancient Dutchmen that some imaginary tart in a lake or river could sucker them into drowning.  Water nymph or not, we found no fish.  But casting to nothing beat the pants off sitting in camp.
     A short distance away ran the connecting stream to Pine Lake.  Pine is a couple of thousand, seven mile long, narrow acres.  Good numbers of walleye, great smallie and fair lakers swim in its waters.  Also, its seven mile length gave the wind a running start at building up a head of steam.  Made McFarland look like a ripply little pond in comparison.  Still we gave it a go.  Angles across the half mile width in hopes of finding a few protecting points we might fish behind.  No such luck.
     So we back tracked and pulled into shore.  Bladders called and it was our last chance to sit and watch the BWCA for the year.  By now we'd seen a few campsites and knew one or more of them would be ours when we returned the next spring.
     The run down McFarland was another learning experience.  Sure it was a lot less work than a headwind but it was also a constant fight to keep our nose downwind.  Head or tailwind, doesn't matter, both like to turn a boat sideways.  However, this was the first time I got to hear the song of the whitecaps.  We didn't exactly surf those waves but for a few seconds at a time we were in the froth and serenaded by the 'sssshhhuussshhh' of the wave as it slowly broke.  Not exactly life changing but, as far as I'm concerned, unforgettable.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Trout Lake

     With a name like Trout Lake you'd think there'd be trout in the lake.  The DNR said there was.  So we went but not after a gut busting breakfast at the Naniboujou Lodge.
     The lodge was built back in the late '20s, the ones that roared, with the idea it would be a playground for the wealthy.  Early members were Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey.  It was to be a humdinger of an affair with a golf course and people strolling the grounds in white flannels.  Don't know how that would have worked out once the guests showed up in July only to find the daytime high was forty-eight above.  Winter was out of the question.  Luckily the stock market went boom before anything beyond the main building was built.  
     A walk through the lodge is worth the drive up from Grand Marais.  Vaulted ceiling, massive fireplace and a rainbow of garish colors put it in a class by itself.  Look it up on the internet and check it out.
     In short, we chowed down.  Whatever sounded good, we ordered.  Carmel rolls, omelets, cereal, coffee, milk, juice.  And we ate it all.  Guess we were hungry.
     Trout Lake wasn't either far up or off the Gunflint Trail.  Over the years the DNR had thrown in both lakers and rainbow trout.  Didn't know about how we'd do with lake trout but I figured we might catch a few rainbows (lesson: one decent day does not make a trout fisherman).  The lake isn't large by any means so I figured we could work a fair amount of the shoreline, weather permitting.
     At the access we learned there were indeed trout in the lake.  Three young men stood on shore bobber fishing with worms for bait.  And had a stringer of foot long fish that numbered no less than a dozen.  We struck up a conversation seein' as how we weren't goin' anywhere till they'd had their fill.  To paddle out would spook the pool.  As much as I wanted to get out on the water there was no way I'd mess up another person's good time.
      As things worked out, they quit fishin' when the trout quit hittin'.  Or maybe they'd caught them all. Whichever one it was, once Allan and I were in the little bay out from the access we pitched our little spinners to dead water.  Such is life.
     By now the wind had come to pay us a visit.  Enough of a breeze to bring about a change of plan and reduce the amount of shoreline we could safely fish.  On the upside I managed to tie into a single trout.  Didn't know much about age classes back then but lookin' back on all the trout I saw, they might have once shared the same bucket.  Each and every one was twelve inches or thereabouts.
     Plan B was to troll for lakers.  The guide said they'd be relatively deep in the middle of June when we were there.  My plan was to pull into the lea of the upwind shore then let mother nature take us to the far, downwind shore.  In an effort to get our lures deeper I clamped a half ounce of sinkers to our lines.  Then as we approached the middle of the lake we continually payed out line with the idea of trusting sheer, dumb luck to get us a hookup.  Not exactly scientific but it was the only trick in my bag.
     Like all wind drifts in a canoe, we quickly turned sideways to the waves.  I don't know about other canoemen but being sideways in whitecaps makes me a little nervous.  And gets me to pay attention to the feel of the water.  And loosens up my hips.  It's actually go with the flow time as opposed to the hippie/zen notion of supreme mellowness flaunted back in the '60s.
     Didn't catch a laker that day but we didn't capsize either.  Coulda been worse.  Twenty-one years have passed and I'm still waitin' on my first lake trout.


     Heads.  I bought it.


     What to do?  We head down to Alabama for the winter months.  I'd like to practice my fly casting while down there but don't much care if I catch anything.  In fact I'd prefer bein' skunked as it would simplify life.  But since I'd be casting into open water I'd be required to buy a license. Forty-seven bucks.  Life in an organized society has its minor draw backs.  Not enough to join up with the vigilante/military wanna be/I don't owe the government nothin' crowd but it's irksome just the same.
     I've got a cheap old rod and a cheaper old reel but lack the saltwater line that wouldn't crud up on me.  Another thirty bucks.  If I wasn't so damned cheap it wouldn't be a problem.  But I am and it is.  Time to flip the coin.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Esther Lake - the Return of the Geezers

     The old dude was there waiting for us.  And he wasn't alone.  Almost made me want to make the sign of the cross and kiss a crucifix for protection before we landed.  Something about his sidekick made me think of that little dog in the Warner Brothers cartoons who was always bouncin' around his idol, the big bulldog Butch.  Only this guy's bouncing days were long gone.
     Of course the first question, "Did ya catch any?" was already floating in the air before we beached the boat.
     A simple, "Yup," and an Allan hoist of the stringer was answer enough.  Kinda shocked the two into silence for a few seconds.  Treated us with a new respect like we actually knew what we were doin' out there.  'Spose I could of told them the truth, about it bein' shear dumb luck and all, but why spoil the fun?  No doubt should push come to shove, over time they'd have out fished us with their worms.  I knew that.  Still do.  My time on trout lakes since that day is proof positive that I'm one foot this side of clueless.
     As it was, the man still had some good advice about transporting our fish.  We could gut 'em and behead the varmints but they still had to be identifiable as trout.  I vaguely recalled reading that but would not have done it.  Good man.
     While he was talking his buddy pulled out a can of Deep Woods Off and laid a line of bug juice on his forehead from about two inches out, so thick it oozed to his eyebrows before he worked it in with the meat of his hand with the hope of severe brain damage.  Licked off the excess as it drained passed his mouth.
     As for our dinner of trout, we ate 'em down to the bones then sucked 'em dry.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Esther Lake - III

     The spot we worked was a fresh weed patch.  To me green weeds meant fish.  As to whether or not that included trout might have been ignorance on my part.  Good thing it wasn't on Al's.  His first brookie wasn't large, but like all brookies it was colored like a chameleon in a jewelry box.  Damn they're pretty fish covered with all those squiggly greens and reds.
     The second was a twin of the first.  So was the third.  Damnation.  We were catching trout.  Woulda been nice to say we'd figured it out but dumb luck's not a bad thing either.  Not a one was over ten inches so we released them all.
     I don't recall why we then cut across the bay instead of working our way down the shore.  Maybe it was destiny, or my soul being drawn by the spirit of the Great Tout in the Sky (ain't that nauseating?).  Once out a few yards from shore we caught a light breeze, went into a drift and fished our way across.
     What I do recall was what passed beneath the canoe, ten or more feet down.  Seeing as how the water was clear as window glass everything below stood out in sharp detail.  Log upon log littered the bottom as though scuba diving lumberjacks had had a field day down there.  All of those logs and limbs were perfect cover for fish.  Maybe that's what the rainbows were hiding under.
     Though we could see our spinners from the time they hit the water I never saw the take.  Can't say who caught the first.  A solid foot long, the trout fought like the smallies we'd caught the day before.  At twelve inches, it was long enough to have wintered over.  In my mind that made it almost wild.  We put it on a stringer.  I'd eaten trout before, even fresh caught wild ones.  They're easy to prepare and fine northwoods fare.
     That rainbow was quickly followed by two more foot long fish.  Both went on the stringer.  Looked like this was gonna be our day but it turned out the third was the last.  Considering I expected nothing, six trout was a fine day.  Two hours on the water, we headed in.
     Had those been truly wild rainbows I suspect we'd have released them.  But come next Spring, the DNR would dump another few thousand in the lake.  Their idea was that Minnesota fisherman would catch and eat a few so that's what we did.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Esther Lake - II

     Right off the old guy asked me what I was usin' for bait.  Bait?  Was that a trick question?  I wasn't sure where he was goin' or which way I should answer.  Dry fly fisherman consider streamers to be bait.  On the other end is the bleach and dynamite crowd.  Mostly I just didn't want to piss him off.
     "Spinners," I said, not knowing whether or not he was gonna come upside my head with an oar.  I'd have said paddle but the only boats I saw had five horse Johnsons on the back that were no doubt bought back in 1948 when the guy I was speaking with was only middle aged.
     "Ain't gonna catch no trout in here with spinners.  Gotta use worms.  Lotta sinkers.  Fish 'em deep and troll real slow,"  all the while staring at our canoe and light weight rods like we were the biggest rubes in the north woods.  Good thing we didn't bring fly rods or he'd have called the cops on us.
     I didn't want to start an argument.  For all I knew he was dead right.  The best I could muster was a "Well, we've got spinners so that's what we'll use.  Anyhow, that's a beautiful lake out there.  We'll have a good time no matter what.  Father and son and all that.  If you have a son, and he hasn't already died of old age, you must know what that's like."
     The man shuffled away, back to his buddies parked in their lawn chairs sippin' coffee and occasionally wanderin' off to the brush where they fumbled with their zippers for a while in hopes of beating the open flood gates.
     Free for a moment, the two of us bolted out on the water as fast as possible before another geezer came up to tell us we were doin' it wrong.
     What I knew about trout wasn't much.  They were in the lake, were a little line shy and could be pretty much anywhere.  Spinners were supposed to work but I had my doubts.
     What I did know was how to catch bass.  Since trout looked more like bass than pike I decided to fish 'em that way.  Work the shorelines.  Of course that's pretty much the way I fish all lakes.  I figure that most fish relate to shorelines for the same reason I do, there's more to see and do.  Out in the middle it's a desert.  No reason to be there 'cause there's nothin' to eat in sixty feet of water, nothin' to see and no place to hide.  Shoreline's where the plants, bugs and hidey-holes are.  Little fish eat bugs and big fish eat little fish.  It's not a foolproof way to fish but it is a way.
     On the other hand, trout are supposed to be in streams not lakes.  The only reason the brookies and rainbows were in Esther was 'cause the DNR dumped them in.  They were so out of place they didn't even reproduce.  Bein' too bummed for sex is about as bummed as an animal can get. So, if we caught any trout, we'd know for sure they'd been born in a bucket.  Not exactly Frankentrout but not all that natural either.
     We headed straight north from the launch till we reached the far shore.  Then we fell into the same routine as on East Pike except we were throwin' tiny spinners, oughts and ones in vibrant colors.  It wasn't so much that we thought they'd work.  It was more on the order of that's what we had.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Esther Lake - I

     Since it was morning we figured we might as well eat breakfast.  You know, the real north woods kind, cereal, milk and juice with maybe a banana on the side.  I know that doesn't sound like a true wilderness meal since it was lacking meat but it was what we liked.  I've been told a real north woods campin' breakfast should be eaten long before the sun crests the treetops.  But we slept in and didn't hit the road till mid-morning.
     The road was once again the Arrowhead Trail.  There was a lot of water off of the trail, both moving and still.   Nearly all of them were nothing more than names on a map to me and I wanted to see a couple before our time was done.  This morning we were gonna take a side trip.  Most of the way inland there was a fork in the road.  Yesterday we'd gone to the right.  Today it was left up the Esther Lake Road.  I figured they called it that 'cause it ended at Esther Lake.  But I could've be wrong.
     Just before we got to Esther we passed the turn for Chester Lake.  Don't know if there was a romantic couple with those names, possibly a pair of oxen or someone just liked the rhyme and happened upon teethe lakes before anyone else.  No doubt the Ojibwa had named them many years earlier but I strongly doubt they called them Esther and Chester.
     We bypassed Chester even though it's a trout lake stocked by the DNR.  It wasn't that we had anything against trout but the ones in Chester were brown trout.  I'd done enough reading to know they were pretty skittery and line shy.  I had hopes we might actually catch some fish and browns didn't sound all that interested in being caught.
     So we continued on to Esther and its more easily caught brookies and rainbows (guffaw, easier for who?).  There's a campground there, that is if you consider three unmarked spaces enough to qualify.  But there's also an outhouse and a boat launch so it's rarely vacated.  It wasn't.  We found a small trailer and a couple of tents crowded on top of each other.  Also found a couple of old guys and a couple more really old guys.  Don't know how long they'd been there but they did have moss growing on them and their feet were sprouting roots.  Figured those dudes had been fishing the lake since they'd been mustered out of the Roughriders and had known what the backside of Teddy Roosevelt's horse looked like as he led them up San Juan Hill.
     So I avoided them like the plague.  I didn't know what the hell I was doing and didn't want to let on 'specially to some codgers who no doubt knew the Esther Lake trout by name.   But as soon as Allan and I started to load the canoe, one of them wandered over.  Didn't know it back then but old guys are always looking for fresh faces to talk with.  Most anyone they knew had already heard every one of their stories and heard them way too many times.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


     What do you talk about with a twelve year old?  Yeah, we were father and son.  We'd know each other for a long time.  No doubt that was part of the problem.  Too much authority figure baggage.  A kid's gotta watch what he says.  Don't let any cats out of the bag.  Like all kids, me included, he had a side to his life that I knew nothing of.  And some of that stuff could get him in trouble.
     On the other hand he probably didn't know a lot about me.  And at that goin' through puberty age, did he really care?  I'd been on the job in one form or another for better than a quarter century.  Been in a war, done a lot of stupid things and survived them.  Did any of that mean anything to him?  So we schmoozed, BS-ed about nothin' in particular and passed the time with the fill-in of where to fish next.  Al needed a little time in the adult world and I needed to remember what it was like to be a kid.  All the while we were beginning our history of life together in the woods and on the water.  Building memories to look back on someday.
     We cooked on the coleman stove and slathered ourselves with bug juice to create a little space around us that was mosquito free.  Yup, the 'skeeters were something fierce.  But they're livable so long as the DEET's nearby.
     At night it rained.  Bucketsful.  Sometime after the sun went down we'd hear the rumble from back behind the Sawtooths.  Even though I'd been in combat I'd never heard the distant blast of howitzers.  My father-in-law had been in the recapture of the Philippines and had spoken of the cannon reports as they rolled across the mountains.  Almost sounded romantic in a 'someone's gonna die' way.  So when the thunder started up and it tumbled down on us, I heard it through John's ears.  Then, an hour later, the skies would open up and come visit.
     The tent leaked.  Not directly on us in our sleeping bags but in little streams near the side walls.  So long as we kept to the middle of the floor we were okay.  But a couple of times each night I'd wake up and check the water level.  Even once dreamed there were brookies in the tent trying to make it to their spawning gravel.
     But we slept well.  Rain on the roof does wonders for butt on the ground.  Come morning the rain was long gone.  Probably takin' a nap somewhere so it could play the next night.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

On the Water

     Back in '92 I thought I knew something about fishing but I didn't.  I'd read what Michael Furtman had to say in the Boundary Waters Fishing Guide so the gear we had would catch fish.  But that didn't mean we would.  Readin' and doin' ain't the same.
     One thing was for sure, timing was the most important thing in the Spring.  Too early and the bass were still out deep.  Too late, they were spawning and not interested in being caught.  Just right was what Rod and I had back in '66.  We didn't know that but we did know we were having some fine fishing.
     We also hadn't read the Guide.  Didn't know small lures were the right ones.  Instead we threw floaters that were perfect for big largemouth.  Turned out that we were doin' it right.  Big fish tend to like big lures.
     As for me and Allan, we were armed with a fistful of two and a half and three inch floating rapalas.  Had we been there a week or two earlier we'd have been undersized.  As it was, they were just right.  Ignorance is bliss.  In my hand I had an ultralight rod and Al had a light medium.  Both of us were hopin' for rod benders but afraid we'd find nothing.
     From the slab we paddled to the right just like Rod and I had.  For the first ten minutes we found nothing.  Then things changed and we began to learn what the fish wanted.
     As it evolved we hugged shore no more than fifty feet out.  Not for any more reason than that's as far as we could cast the light lure.  A near perfect cast landed within a coupla feet of the rubble shoreline.  Even better was a bounce off the rocks back into the water.  Then just let the rapala sit.  For a minute or more.  Not exactly exciting unless you knew what you were looking for.
     Eventually the lure would bounce around a little bit just like a bass was rising and nudging it.  Once the floater moved we'd give it a twitch.  Then, bam!  Fish on.  Not big bass, just little males around a foot long who were guarding the nests while the ladies were off in the deep water recovering from spawning.
     They weren't the monsters we were hoping for but they were smallies.  And there were lots of them.  Catch a couple, move twenty yards, catch a couple more.  Little and frisky.  Run and jump and run some more.  We caught bass till it was time to get off the water and back to camp before it got dark.  We quickly learned that three hours from the tent was too far.  Better to have our site right on the water we wanted to fish.  And that meant more and better gear.  Already I knew we were coming back next year.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

First - East Pike Lake

     We set up camp with our ancient, canvas, umbrella tent.  Blue and gold and, as we learned over the four days, not as waterproof as it once was.
     A hundred yards to our east was the Brule River.  The falls where the river drops to near Lake Superior level is known as the Devil's cauldron.  Up above, the river splits in two.  One flow is the falls that reforms below as the river and froths its way into the big lake.  The other drops into a hole and comes out God knows where.  Over the years a myriad of floating stuff from ping pong balls to inflatable, full-side stegasaurus' have been dumped in only to disappear forever.  Spooky enough to provoke a 'that's interesting' comment from the dozens who have cared enough to give the cauldron more than a passing thought.  Can't say for sure me and Al went and took a look while we were there but we might have.
     Once camp was set up we did the only rational thing I could think of, get back in the van and head up the Arrowhead Trail to the Little John Lake access.
     The trail starts as pavement then a block inland turns to gravel.  That's the way a trail should be.  Gives it a touch of the primitive that suits a fishing expedition to the boonies.  Twelve miles in there's an overlook of the Portage Brook valley.  Nice spot with a vista of a hundred square miles of pine spruce and birch with nary a building in sight.  Down below is the little stream where Rod and I lucked out on a pair of chunky, foot long brook trout twenty-six years earlier.
     Approaching McFarland Lake we came upon the bluffs that rise three hundred feet above lake level.  Those hills are about as spectacular as things get in Minnesota's Sawtooth Mountains.  They're not the Rockies or even the Appalachians but, give 'em a break, they're more than a billion years old.
     A half a shoreline winding mile ahead we came upon the access parking lot.  For the BWCA it's a pretty elaborate affair on the one hand.  On the other, it's a scraped out piece of rock, sand and gravel with room enough for a half dozen vehicles.
    Rod and I had launched from that same Little John Lake access back in '66.  At least I think it was.  The access I remembered looked nothing like the one Allan and I were at.  Could be the put in was once a half mile away on John Lake.  After all John wasn't in the BWCA until '77.  Things change.  Might have once been a road out there.
     The little Alumacraft we had was short a portage pad.  Well, some of the pad was still there, the rest I suspect was part of a mouse nest back at the cabin.  Ever resourceful, and ever lazy, I tied a towel on the yoke.  Wasn't an elegant solution but it did the job.
     Little John is a narrow, banana shaped stretch of water lined with cedar and pine.  But it was the sweet smell of the cedar that brought me back to that day with Rod.  Back then we were under blue skies.  Me and Al were passing beneath a low hanging gray.  Looked like we could start a downpour with a well flung rock.  Rain be damned.  We had rain jackets and a rendezvous with destiny.  A small destiny maybe but a destiny nonetheless.
     There's a small set of rapids connecting the John Lakes.  Might even sneak up on bein' a number two but it's short.  As I recall we exited onto John in reverse.  I don't think that's the way the Voyageurs did it.  In all the pictures I've seen the bow of the canoe is generally facing down stream.  Seein' as how we were dry and upright I figured bein' backwards didn't matter and we set off down John toward the portage.
     It'd been a generation since I'd seen the portage but it was right where it should have been.  There was nothing on the hundred-eighty rod carry that came as a surprise.  The wet first five rods, the long gradual rise, roots, rocks, sharp descent and finally, the basalt slab from which I caught my first Boundary Waters smallmouth.  It was like the intervening twenty-six years hadn't happened.
     I carried the canoe and paddles.  Allan had our rods, tackle box and anchor.  The anchor and box were in a day pack.  Wasn't much of a load but the sharp edges of the contents worked a tattoo in his back.  To Al's credit he didn't say a thing.
     Once on the slab we dropped our load and took a couple of out of focus photos with the lake to our rear.  I could wax all philosophically about that moment but I won't.  All I'll say was I'm glad I needed that summer job back in '66 and Rod had one for me that carried a hitch with it.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

First Trip - on the road

     Back then we had a full fledged road barge, a heavy duty, three quarter ton conversion van.  With a stiff tailwind it'd get fifteen miles per gallon.  But it had a lot of room inside for gear and people and, on occasion, a face cord of oak.  She was a beast and more than doin' her share of climate change.  Atop, our fifteen foot alumacraft sat like a beanie on Andre the Giant.
     I sure was excited when we hit the road.  Don't know if Al felt the same.
     Since this was a last minute deal and we didn't have more than the basics of camping gear, we weren't aimin' for the BWCA.  Instead we chose a state park just off the edge of the Arrowhead Trail by the name of Judge C. R. Magney.  Not very wilderness sounding but perfect for our introduction.
     Since we had all day and four more like it ahead, there was no real hurry.  I wanted to make this as much fun for Al as I could.  Over in the shotgun seat he was equipped with a stack of comic books, Mads and just maybe something approaching literature.
     The drive north starts through city traffic, past downtown Minneapolis, twenty miles of the north 'burbs and finally into farm country.  Breakfast was at Tobie's in Hinckley, more or less a classic on the road to Duluth.  They're famous for their gigantic sweet rolls.  Their bigger makes up for their lack of better.  Dining out, just the two of us, wasn't something I'd ever done with my son.
     A few dozen miles farther up the interstate we passed over the first hint of the Canadian Shield in the form of a lengthy, black slab of basalt.  A hint of what's to come like that finger of rock gets my blood stirring.  From there to Duluth the land generally rolls and rises till it's several hundred feet above the city then plummets down the long, winding descent toward the harbor.
     But Duluth ain't where we want to be and did little more than slow us down as I-35 evolved into Highway 61, the ran up the shore of Lake Superior toward Grand Marais.  She's a two hour drive with many a scenic stop.  A lighthouse, rivers, waterfalls, agate beaches, state parks, Russ's smoked fish, Betty's Pies and a few roads that turn inland.
     A hundred miles up from Duluth the roads take on the name of trail.  They're roads to be sure but there was a time not too long ago that they weren't.  Caribou, Sawbill, Gunflint and our trail, the Arrowhead.  And all those trails dead end at a place not so much different than it was back when the trails were really trails.  Yeah, times have changed but the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area are big enough to let a man pretend for a while.  And maybe catch the fish of a lifetime.
     Grand Marais functions somewhat like a modern day jumping off point for the BWCA.  There's a ranger station there, good local food, a couple of outfitters, lodging, tackle shops and enough tourist oriented businesses to satisfy most anyone.  If you're gonna spend any time in town it's best you change from the shorts and t-shirt you put on back in eighty degree Minneapolis into jeans and a sweat shirt.  When the wind's coming off the big lake temperatures are likely to be in the high forties down by the harbor.
     Here we gassed up and grabbed a bag of bakery donuts for the last, short leg to Magney State Park outside of Hovland.  The town has a post office and what functions like a general store (or maybe a gift shop).  Throw in a few houses and what once was a harbor for the local herring boats and that's about it.  Alongside the turnoff onto the Arrowhead Trail runs the Flute Reed River.  Upstream a short ways the outdoorsman and author Calvin Rutstrom once owned acreage.
     Like all the north shore streams, the Flute Reed has it's share of trout.  In them you'll find brookies, sometimes rainbows and once in a while, browns.  Should you want to catch a few of those trout just head upstream till the brush becomes impenetrable, the mosquitos unbearable and pray your backhand flip cast stays out of the branches.
     But in the early afternoon the two of us turned into the state park, paid our fee and found the first of what, over the years, became many camp sites.

Friday, November 29, 2013

First - continued again

     That brings us back to me and Allan.  The year was '92 and he was twelve.  I don't actually recall asking him if he wanted to go.  Never entered my head.  I must have figured every twelve year old boy would want to head to the Canadian border, camp out and have the best fishing of his life.  Shows you how much I remembered bein' twelve.  
     Years later I learned the truth.  He went 'cause I was his old man and I asked him to go.  I figured the trip was my gift to him.  Guess it was the other way around.  Deep down I knew it was me who really wanted to go.  Allan was my excuse.  So, in a way, it was like my trip with Rod back in '66.  He needed me to make it happen.  I went 'cause I needed a job and Rod's old man had one for me.
     In the long run both trips worked out the same.  Exposure to the woods and wilderness has a way of working on some people.  And both Al and I fell in love with the experience.
     This wasn't our first fishing trip together.  In the years leading up to the '92 trip we'd done a few together at the cabin.  Good times but frustrating fishing.  I figured the fish knew we had our heads up our kiesters.  Barely knew which end of the rod to hold.  You see, the fish always know.  They like being caught by good anglers.  Will even flock to the lures of the really good ones, 'specially those who catch and release.  That's why good anglers don't just catch more fish than bad ones, they catch lots more.
     In short, we went to the Arrowhead with the idea that the smallies of East Pike Lake would set us on the path of fishing righteousness.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

First Trip - continued

     Back in '66 Rod and I didn't know there were even fish in the lake.  Rod figured there must be and even suspected East Pike was a secret well kept by the locals. Rod also figured the north woods boys were keeping a good thing quiet so no city yahoos like the two of us would work our way there, have a great time, spill the beans to the rest of the world and ruin a perfectly good lake.
     As it turned out the smallies took us completely by surprise.  That they were big and frisky was just icing on the cake.  That the lake was named after a pike and only seemed to hold bass had us scratching our heads.  But, what the hell, we didn't care what the lake was called just so long as the fishing was good.  Forty-seven years later I feel about the same.
     These days, and most likely back in '66, turns out there are some fine northern pike in East Pike Lake.  Probably were back when the lake was named.  The DNR says they average about five pounds.  From what we've seen on the ends of our lines over the years, that number is on the money.  One of the state's nettings a few years back pulled in one over twenty pounds.  That's a good sized pike by most measures.
     Then there's the muskies.  Only two lakes in the BWCA have them and like all muskies, they grow to huge sizes.  But, if you happen to be reading this, don't go tellin' anyone unless they promise to use only big honkin' musky lures on East Pike.  Don't want to have them find our how good the bass fishin' is and then return year after year.  I may never make it back but I'd sure like to find a few of them still there so as to fly rod some of the fighingest fish in the north woods.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

First Trip - continued

     As I've written a coupla times earlier it was Lois who made the trip possible.  That trip with Rod back in '66 never left my head.  But, somehow, I never saw myself in the picture when I gave East Pike Lake a thought as to a revisit.  Most often I recommended it to other people, my brother-in-law, guys I worked with.  If someone brought up bass fishing I gave 'em the old, "You ever fish for smallmouth? "  If they said yes, or even if they said no, I'd tell 'em to give East Pike a try.
     Now, East Pike isn't a world class smallmouth bass lake by a long shot.  To bring that about a body of water should be ten square miles or more.  The bigger the better.  I've seen some fine bass  come out of the lake but twenty-one inches is the top.  And they're few and far between.  World class water would pop out a two footer every now and then.  Twenty inchers, if not common, would come as no surprise.
     But as far as numbers go, it's a fine body of water.  A few dozen to the boat in the evening is no more than a good night's fishing.  Top that off with being able to reach East Pike, camping gear and all, in an hour and a half.  An ambitious fisherman can even stay in a lodge and day trip some good action. Not bad at all.
     Everything about the BWCA screams smallie.  Clean water, rubbled bottoms, excellent food sources.  Came as a surprise to me that not a one swam the waters near the border with Canada till the turn of the twentieth century.  Seems the Minnesota DNR stocked them from the trains that once traveled the border country.  The bronze backs found the place to their liking, bred and spread out. They're still doing it.  Check the Boundary Waters guides from thirty years ago and you'll find numbers of lakes that held none.  And today those same lakes are fine bass waters.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

First of the First

     Tried my best to prove myself wrong.  Even went so far as to run down the list of blog entries to check it out.  A coupla times I made mention of Allan's and my first trip to the Boundary Waters but skirted what really happened.  Forest for the trees problem.  Some things are so obvious and mulled over I can't see them.  Guess it's time to clear up this neglected moment and recall the trip that set it all in motion.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Hope Springs Infernal

     Yeah, I'm at it again.  Trying to tie the perfect bucktail treble hook for an inline spinner.  It might be easier if I knew exactly what one looked like.  Most every one I tie seems to do the job.  But, if I was a bass or pike, there've been a few I'd have rejected.  Taken a look and said, "C'mon man, what kind of fool do you take me for?"
     Taking a chance I ordered a few pre-tied trebles on line that were dirt cheap.  Simply put, you get what you pay for.  Then, I once again began tying my own.  White, yellow and red tails with complementary colored feathers.  No two come out the same.  'Spose that's the beauty of something being hand made.
     I've made more than I'll ever use.  But that's okay.  It's simply one of the things I do for the pure pleasure of doing.  Kind of like my writing.
     The hope part has to do with next year and the possibility of getting out on the water more often.  And the possibility of a real canoe trip again.  Didn't I write the same thing last year?  Oh well. I'm not dead yet and am still pretty mobile.  The gear and equipment sits waiting patiently.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Back at the Cabin

     One thing struck me as I was looking out the window one morning, I honestly love my time up north.  'Specially when it's me alone.  Not that I'm stuck on myself but more that I can move as I please.  Yeah, there's always stuff that needs to be done to keep the building from falling down and it always gets done.  But the quiet of being able to screw up without any echoes beyond those between my ears is a pleasure.  The only thing lacking when I'm there is endless time, or at the least, time that feels endless.  Bored?  Not yet.
     On a walk out to Deadman I spooked a couple of acquaintances.  Two years ago Lois and I came upon a pair of spotted fawns out there.  They gave us a wondering look that seemed to ask if we were friends or not.  Didn't take long for them to decide, turn tail and skidaddle.  Since then I've read that if we'd taken the time to scan the area we'd have seen mama.
     They've sure grown in two years.  And can tear through the woods on a dead sprint.  When they're scared, they run like horses.  Think about that.  If your vision of a forest is nothing tree trunks and duff then you're not seein' the brush and hangin' limbs that'll drag tattoos across your face.  I learned a long time ago speed and pain go hand in hand.
     What the hell, a man spends the bulk of his life going balls to the wall.  There's a pleasure finally being able to take the time to do things right even if it's only spreading some hazel brush with his hands.  Huh, almost sounds like a way to look at life.  Gotta watch that stuff.
     Though I don't intend for this to be my last time up north for the year it's time to clean it up like it is.   All the freezables brought home, gear and tools stored, fridge cleaned inside and out, a dusting and run of the vacuum and I'm outta here 'til the next time.
     In the meantime I'm hoping for a decent snowfall.  There's a fair sized pile of what once was a young man's dream that needs incinerating.  The pit's dug and ready.  Six inches of snow would be just the insurance needed to protect the woods.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Trail

     Oh Lord don't let me get carried away when I write this.
     The trailhead I chose was off a main highway.  Even had a parking lot.  How civilized.  And the trail, though it passes through a forest, is pretty damned civilized.  Don't know who maintains it but they do a good job.  Even a bonehead like me would have a hard time getting turned around.  Wide and well marked, really well marked.
     Guess that's the story about our civilized wildernesses in Minnesota.  To be sure they are home to lions and tigers and bears - oops, sometimes I get the northwoods confused with the merry old land of Oz - make that bears and moose and wolves, but we take a lot of the danger of stupidity out of the equation.  For a mind like mine that tends to wander one way while my feet are wandering another, that's a good thing.
     So what's the big deal about a path in the woods?  Maybe silence.  I love the silence of the forest.  The kind where the creaking of a tree can be heard for a hundred yards.  Or the wing flaps of passing birds.  Mostly what I heard was the rustle and crunch of the leaves underfoot.  Oak and aspen by the millions.  It's late Fall and what was up above in golds and browns two weeks earlier is now below, hiding`roots and rocks.  Watch your steps boy.
     Quiet has become a big deal for me.  There's a lot of distractions in my life, most of 'em self-caused or sought.  Seems like there's always something that needs my attention more than being alone with myself.   A body can never see too many reruns of The Big Bang Theory.  Out in the woods, one foot ahead of the other, my mind quiets down some.  It seems quiet on the outside quiets down the inside.
     And gets a man near to wettin' his drawers when a grouse springs up like a buzz saw as it bullets 'tween the trees.  That grouse and an osprey were about the only things that shared my morning.  Course there were others out there but they were good at not being seen and I was just as good at not caring if I saw them.
     The ground of the trail spends a lot of time rolling up and down.  Nothing at all like hiking in the mountains but in most miles there's about a half mile of up.  And on the longer stretches I puff a bit.  Gets me considering my age.  Then I have to remind myself that uphills and stairs always taxed my lungs.  Even back in my marathon days.  It's in the nature of the machine.  Gotta pump up the fire when the workload increases and fire needs oxygen to burn.  Fact of life.
     A couple of miles in there's an area that once held a small community.  Or so I read in the short trail guide the state puts out.  Can't say I ever saw any evidence of something that's not there anymore.  But there was this ten acre meadow of tall, gold colored grass on a low knob surrounded moat-like by a creek that might have been the site.  Kind of a nothing moment I guess.
     Did pass along a couple of beaver dams.  Both looked like they'd been there for a while.  And the water backed up behind them was black as the ace of spades legend tells us was feared by the Vietnamese and left as calling cards by grunts who collected ears as souvenirs.  Now that'd be something to look up on e-bay.  Wonder what a set is goin' for these days?  Or maybe that's not a nice thing to even think.
     Oak and aspen leaves underfoot, a birch now and then.  That's about it.  The pines I pass don't dominate the woods like the pictures you see in books.  And most of those I pass are jack pines.  But there are some big reds and whites.  Not big like the west coast.  Lord no.  You've gotta remember us Minnesotans aren't pretentious souls.  We're happy enough with our big being more on the medium side.  I read somewhere that even back in the pre-logging days all those majestic pines of the northland that framed the cities down south were only part of the makeup of the forest.  Ten, possibly twenty percent at most.  If the mix back then was similar to what I was seeing there's no doubt why oak was the usual wood for moldings, cabinets and doors down in Minneapolis.
     Saw a lot of pot hole water on the way.  Nothing more than twenty acres but big enough to cause a brief pause and wonder what might be swimming under the surface.  Just can't help it.  I see water that might hold fish and I begin to figure out how I could drag a canoe in over a miserable two hundred rods with little real hope for anything more that bullheads and sunnies.  The way my mind works you'd think I fish a whole lot more than I do.  Maybe the truth is that I like some things to remain a mystery.  A vision of what might be to mull over in the quiet hours of winter as the snow piles up outside the window.
     Near midway of the hike I passed a campsite atop a small nob with views of water in two directions.  One side a pond backed up from a beaver dam.  A body could pitch a tent there and float tube the water.  With no reason better than associating beaver ponds with native brook trout ... well, you get my drift.
     All in all, it was an uplifting way to spend a few hours on a windy, overcast morning.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Haven't forgotten II

     I 'spect it was guilt that drove me to the hike.  Back last Fall I wrote something about intending to walk the eighty-five miles of it that pass through the Chippewa National Forest.  And over the months that followed gave it a lot of thought.  Why not?  Thinking about something is a whole lot easier than doin' it.  And the walk can proceed any way you want it.  No rain.  No bugs.  No Lyme disease.  Hell, so long as it stays in a person's mind a man could walk from here to the ends of the earth and back.  No sweat.
     But, you see, I went and stuck my neck out.  Wrote the intention down and threw it out into the ether.   There a few odd souls I've never met who might have read of this intention and would think me a wimp if I didn't carry it out.  So, on my last morning I jumped into my truck, headed north and put a little more money where my mouth is.  
     More tomorrow, hopefully.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Really, I haven't forgotten

     Yeah, it's been a while since I've written anything.  Mostly 'cause I've had nothing to say.  Life has become a little complicated.  I won't go into any details but will say no jail time has been involved.  The upshot is that I've been stuck in the city for a couple of months.  And haven't had much to say about the northland.
     But last Saturday I made the trip up.  No more than a two niter with no time on the water.  It was warm enough and there wasn't any ice to speak of but the wind was up, way up.  Forty degree water and whitecaps gets me to thinking about mortality.  And at sixty-six that's a subject I don't like to dwell on.
     On the upside I did spend a couple of hours on the North Country Trail and rolled thirty bike miles on the gravel roads near to the cabin.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Float Tube

     Took awhile but I've finally resolved my fishing problems, at least here in the city.  Some years ago I bought what was in those ancient days, a near, state of the art, float tube.  Back then I didn't as yet have a solo canoe so the tube became my go to when it came to fishing by myself.
     She's an old fashioned, donut shaped affair and not easy to propel.  If you're thinking about crossing a small lake or bay, forget about it.  Flippers on feet while sitting in a fancy truck inner tube move a body along at speeds measured in feet per hour.  But if it's possible to enter the water at a good looking location, a float tube will get you off the shore and just maybe into some fish.
     If that doesn't butter my bread there's always the chest waders I wear when tube fishing.  Wade fishing is one of those time honored things a body can do while whipping a fly rod.  Throw in another upside, that of the mix of fish swimming in local waters, and I've got some real possibilities.
     Ever the sceptic, I'll add a maybe to that.  And tack on the falling water temperatures of fall.  There's always long johns.
     While up at the cabin last week I learned a forty-seven year old, fiberglass rod still casts like it's new.  And carries an air of familiarity and youth with it.  The rod is one of the two I bought on ebay, a Heddon Mark IV with the plastic wrapping still on the handle.  Has a slow action and she lays down line in a way that brings back memories of being seventeen again.  Throwing bass poppers with it is enough fun to take my mind off getting skunked, almost.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Killing Time

    I haven't written for quite a while.  Not much to say I guess.  In this dry spell I'm rereading and editing Learning Curve with the idea of putting it together in some form of Snapfish kind of thing.  One copy for me, one for Allan.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What Next?

     Maybe spinning rods.  Vintage of course.  Fiberglass and hopefully affordable.  I wanna be able to leave my grandkids a lot of collectible shit when I pass on.  Sometime in the next two days I'll know if my heart, and wallet, are in it, then I'll write about it.

Saturday, August 3, 2013


     I said I'd never do it but there it is, temptation.  Three hours to go on the bidding for a quality bamboo rod.  Now going for two hundred less than it's worth.  What to do, what to do ?
     Three days later:  What to do turned out to be look and learn.  I didn't buy, didn't bid but watched a couple of three hundred and fifty dollar rods go for a third their value.  And about fifty bucks more than I'd pay for a fly rod.  Even if I'd bought one, what would I do with it?
     Another way I look at it is bamboo flooring goes for less than three dollars a board foot.  They're glued up bamboo strips much the same as a bamboo rods.  No hand work or tapering in the flooring and the quality is nowhere near the same.  But the difference in price is astronomical.  Mystique doesn't come cheaply.  No doubt about it, I am one sick puppy.

Monday, July 29, 2013


     My Uncle Eddie was a fisherman, also my father's brother, a husband, father, baseball player, provider, and many other things I know nothing of.  Seeing as how he died about thirty years ago I'll never know a lot of things about the man.
     However he did take me to Minneapolis Miller games but more than that, he took me fishing.  On the water Eddie taught me techniques I still recall.  Most of all he showed me the beauty of the fly rod.  No, he never taught me how to cast, or tie knots, or fly selection.  But he did use the long rod while I was with him and did catch fish with it.  On one occasion, in front of a couple of other men and myself, he landed the largest bluegill I've ever seen.  Dinner plate sized ( at least that's the way I remember it).
     Due to my ignorance of the sport I had no real idea if my uncle was any good or not.  But to me he was poetry in motion.  Watching the man work out line and lay it on the water was enough to hook me.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, so far back I didn't know it was there, he planted the seed that someday would take root and grow.
     Maybe three years later I bought my first fly rod, reel and line at an Army-navy surplus store.  Couldn't have cost more than fifteen bucks.  My research as to quality went no further than, it's there, it's green, I've got the money, I'll buy it.  Lord knows who the maker was.  There's no doubt it was fiberglass.  For fifteen bucks with reel and line, there was no way it could be bamboo.  What the hell, all I knew for sure was I now had me a fly rod and no idea how to cast it beyond having seen my Uncle Eddie.  Like all kids I was ignorant enough to be confident I could figure it out.
     And over time I did.  There was no intent on my part to catch fish.  Considering the quality of the tiny lake I was practicing on any fish that ended up on my fly would have been a bullhead, carp, and above all, accidental.  Even at my best, not every cast was perfect.  But some were.  Twenty yards of line whipped out and laid down like a feather.  Yes, it was beautiful when it happened.  Simply casting was also fulfilling in its own right.  Almost an act of meditation if I'd had any idea what that was.
     I have no idea what happened to that rod.  Or the next one I bought twenty years later.  It's possible I might have left it leaning against a tree in the woods.  It was white and cheap.  The color was secondary, the price primary.
     There are memories attached to the second rod that go back to the early days of building the cabin.  My six year old daughter Annie and I spent a few father-daughter bonding days alone together.  I drove nails for part of the time and she did whatever six year olds do when they have time on their hands.  It was bluegill spawning time and the two of us caught a meal from the shore of a peninsula, me casting, Annie reelin' them in.
     A mile up a private road to a piece of undeveloped lakeshore that was up for sale it was a beautiful spot complete with showy lady's slippers in bloom.  Had I the money I'd have bought it without a second thought.
     The sunnies were no more than ten feet from shore.  So close the two of us could see the fish attack, take the cheap flies I owned, and get hooked.  A little moment that I'll carry as long as I live.  Would even have been better had I not brought her home with a wood tick in her ear.  Negligent father syndrome strikes again.
     I told her it was okay to kill the sunnies so long as we ate them.  Don't know if that was true but it sounded wise and fatherly.  And we did eat them filleted, battered, and fried in butter.
     Flash forward ten years to the beginning of my canoe years with Allan.  Once again the need for a fly rod reared its ugly head when I came upon a barrel of sale rods in a sporting goods store.  By now I knew for certain that graphite was the modern man's material of choice.  No more crap fiberglass for me.  Plus, I was able to spend anything up to a hundred bucks.  Yup, I was gonna be one hell bent, lay the fly out into the backing to within half a mayfly wing's distance from where I was aiming, crazy man in a canoe.  My only fear was the immense bill Minnesota's DNR was gonna have to foot when it came to restocking all the lakes I'd fish out.
     Of course it didn't work out that way.  For some odd reason I couldn't cast graphite as far as the old  cheap fiberglass rods.  And the new one was no where near as easy to feel the rod loading.  Lucky for me the graphite rod was stolen along with some other rods in a cabin breakin.  I still have the tip.  Must have been some low life kids who didn't know enough to watch the rod tips when passing through a doorway.
     Insurance came to the rescue and I had the golden opportunity to replace lots of marginal equipment with a few, well chosen, better rods and reels.  And then never again leave them in the cabin when we weren't there.  Figuring the problem with graphite wasn't me, I once again upscaled.  And once again was disappointed with the performance.  My Sage ten weight rod for pike and muskies was so stiff I couldn't get it to load at all.  I be wimp?  The ten foot, eight weight Redington was okay but no better than the old fifteen buck, Army-Navy special.  Yeah, I used the rods but they weren't any fun.
     In the back of my mind there lurks the fear that my dwindled distance had more to do with sitting in a canoe than it did the rod.  I kept thinking the line should be shooting out like I was Lefty Kreh.  But there the popper laid, a tad over a dozen yards from my rod tip.  Oddly enough I was catching fish.
     Then, last year, more or less killing time at an access waiting for the other canoe to pull in, it seemed to come together.  The rod I was using was a garage sale find that had been bought and put on the rack to gather dust for better than a decade.  Five bucks worth of bottom of the line fiberglass left over from the '60s.  Yes it was in mint condition but it was no more of a rod than what I'd bought at the surplus store.  Funny thing was, I could fire out fifteen yards of line with no effort.  It loaded and catapulted line with an ease that spoke a familiar story to my muscles.  Sure didn't see that coming.
     Then, once again, my brain got in the way.  If it was easy to cast a cheap fiberglass rod, what would a good one do for my ego?  And that sent me to ebay and a year's thought and research.  What was a good rod?  What should it cost?  What shape should it be in?  While checking out the glass rods, my eye occasionally drifted off to bamboo.  But decent production bamboo rods were way more than I wanted to spend, and way too effete, and way too old school for someone who grew up in the space age.  Fiberglass was old school enough for me.
     Finally I figured out what I wanted within the bounds of what was made and factored in that I'd be fishing while sitting on my butt a foot off the water.  i.e. Longer was better than short.   In the last week two rods arrived via the Postal Service.  One from Florida and the other from California.  What I ended up with is a pristine  eight foot, Fenwick that will be good for panfish and bass and a top of the line, eight and a half foot Heddon for bass and pike and, most of all, a fear that I won't be any better with them than I was with graphite.  Both rods are over forty years old and the Heddon is nearly as old as my first fly rod.  Both feel familiar.  I've lawn cast the Fenwick in the woods at the cabin where the back cast is limited.  Hopes run high.
     Now I'm starting to check out the bamboo rods on line.  Someone protect me from myself!  By the way, does anyone have a use for a nine foot, graphite pool cue?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Help! Help! I've been butchered.

     A half year ago I submitted some essays for a new publication, The BWCA Reader.  One of them was published.  It had started out as a 3,000 word essay called An Unexpected Gift which I'd blogged a couple of years ago.  To fit the needs of the book I cut 'er in third but managed to keep some humor in it.  Today I received my complimentary copy and read the essay, at least I think it was mine.  In all fairness to the publisher, he did say most essays were cut significantly to fit the needs of the book.  And he did retain my favorite paragraph.  But... that's all I'll say.
     Maybe it was my fault.  I do tend to meander and add color.  And not all of what I wrote was about the Boundary Waters.  Guess I drew it out as a personal tale about me and Rod and left the BWCA to its own devices.  Not a good idea considering the nature of the book.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Next Generation Fishes With a Camera

      ... and that's fine with me.
     Let's get this straight.  I don't do drugs.  Not that I've never done any, after all, I lived through the '60s and '70s and was in Vietnam.  But that was forty years ago.  Now I've got these bugs living in me and am taking shit so they don't completely take over.  Don't know if it's the antibiotics I'm taking or the bugs but I'm walking around these days like my head's a dented fender and some all-thumbs body man is trying to ball peen hammer me back into shape.  Not that my head hurts, more that it's numb and tends to wander off to someplace out in the bushes, then forgets to come back.
     So, while I'm pecking at the keyboard writing about the great north woods, I may be thinking of my teeth and how they need brushing.  Lord knows what will end up on the page.  If I find it interesting, it'll stay.  If not, I may forget to correct it and it'll still stay.
     My nephew Brian hasn't been up at the cabin since he and his brother got their dates mixed up, or maybe it was me who mixed them up, and found themselves in the boonies without two of their uncles. I recall they signed the note they left me, 'dumb and dumber'.  Still have the note.
     A month ago his youngest, Sean, had his high school graduation party.  It was there I put the bite on Brian to give the cabin another go.  Even promised him that I could put him on water that would be good fishing even when it was bad.  Not a smart thing to say when it comes to something as fickle as fishing.  I keep forgetting that fish have no interest in getting caught, that pointy steel wire is not something they naturally crave as a food source.
     But he said he was up for it if he could bring Sean along.  Said he would get back to me with a date that would work for him.  And he did.
     That led to the usual what do I need question and answer about what to bring for food and fishing.  And then I did something I never do and asked Brian if he'd drive.  It's not that I don't trust other drivers, it's more that I'm sure death is just around the next bend texting his buddy Fate and I'm the only one who knows it.  But, you see, there's these bugs in my body and my head's up my ass.
     Turned out he was more than willing.  Brian's idea for an ideal fishing trip included marginal roads just like the one's we would end up mudding through.  His four wheel drive was more than up for it also.  The possibility of getting stuck did nothing more than whet Brian's appetite.  Guess his formula for good fishing runs along similar two-tracks to mine.
     Brian has always appreciated and owned quality equipment for whatever he was planning to do.  I won't go into detail but he's self-employed in a field whose practitioners probably number in the hundreds nationwide and requires skills that border on the esoteric.  In short, he's usually prepared for most anything and has the world's largest Swiss Army knife to prove it.
     I knew little about what to expect from Sean other than he's his father's son and would be just fine.  And that he had a seriously high quality camera and liked to use it a lot.  From what I've seen of his photos he has talent.  Fishing up north was on his table but I had the feeling his camera would do most of the catching.
     On the drive up I had a mug of strong coffee.  Which made me goofy.  Apparently caffein and antibiotics don't mix.  I babbled on and on about pretty much nothing at all.  Guess part of it was trying to give a rundown on the thirty years of living that had happened since Brian and I'd last made this drive and doing so with no game plan at all.   Blither and ramble.  Should have started by making a shopping list for what food we needed to buy.  But we didn't.  What the hell, we had money and wouldn't go hungry.
     Somehow we did come up with a shopping list, actually more of a calories in the gut list, and made the cabin in the early afternoon.  Plenty of time to have lunch, rig the gear, and get the canoes on the trailer.  Don't know how Brian and Sean felt about a leisurely afternoon's prep but I sure liked it.  Why not?  Most fish like the low angled light of evening.  Me too.  However, the chance for rain was increasing by the hour.  Where it would hit was uncertain but it would hit somewhere.  The plan was to be on the water by late afternoon and off before it got dark.
     Cut back thirty years, back when Brian was Sean's age.  You could call that a generation ago.  In those days Brian put in quite a few hours helping the cabin grow.  Put the roof on the original outhouse and no doubt spent time cedar shingling the cabin roof.  Might even have been an adventure for him up in the woods with his off center, combat veteran uncle.  Even if it wasn't there was no doubt it was a good time.
     A man can't keep thoughts like that from visiting when barreling down the pavement on the way to an evening's fishing.  Sixty-six years of living is a lot of pages to sift through.  And Lord knows I like to sift.  So sometimes when I'm in the car with others, like the three of us were that afternoon, they might actually be alone from moment to moment.
     How could I miss the first turn?  I've been over those roads for thirty plus years but it seemed I was elsewhere when that opportunity passed us by.  And then I couldn't place exactly where we were until three miles later.  I claimed I was having a vision from God about the upcoming Apocalypse and who to invest my money with so that I could live in Eternity with style.  Ah well, no one laughed at me.
     In short, where we were heading was four (plus six) miles of pavement, three of gravel, another of blacktop, a mile of sand, and finally two miles of rock, mud, and brush misery away.  Brian was almost giggly each time he had to slow to a crawl.  I suspected catching a few bass would be no more than icing on the cake for him.  At least that's what I was hoping.
     A couple of weeks had passed since I'd last been on the water.  It'd been slow back then.  Bass hadn't spawned, neither had the bluegills.  Now I was hoping both were finally sexed out and hungry.  But nothing's a given when it comes to fishing.
     The good news was we had the parking area, if you want to do the small meadow the honor of an official title, to ourselves, just as I'd hoped.  Though I hadn't promised we'd have the water to ourselves, I'd at least hinted strongly in that direction.  So far, so good.
     The carry to the lake isn't much of a challenge, no more than forty rods ( I'd have said a couple of hundred yards but the use of the rod as a measure seemed a nice, wildernessie touch).  But with ticks and skeeters being uncommonly common this year, not to mention the thickets of poison ivy, it's an attention getting stretch.  Even before we started unloading I'd pulled a couple of wood ticks off my pants.  'Course, these days woodies don't mean squat.  Eat 'em for breakfast on top of my cereal.  Adds a little wiggle and crunch.
     On the upside, the light was good.  And Sean had his camera.  Had it strapped around his neck.  I don't know if that was his or his dad's idea.  Brian was well aware of a family legend that involved a rolling canoe, an impaled Rapala treble hook, and a sunken, high-end Nikon camera.  Sean's was a Canon, noted for its photo quality however, its buoyancy was an unknown.  Guess that's not a consideration for budding photo snappers.
     Also on the upside was the wall of towering cumulus clouds passing by to the north.  Looked like they'd miss us and also give an increasingly spectacular backdrop for pictures as the sun lowered and the clouds lit up with ever changing pastels (gotta watch my descriptions, they're sounding way too unwoodsmanly).
     For them it was new water.  For me, the tiny hardwood and pine shored lake an old friend I was introducing them to.  I was hoping to show my buddy off as the fine piece of water she was.  But water can be a fickled friend.  Has a mind of its own.  And on this evening she was a little moody.  A bass here, another there.  Pretty quiet.  I apologized.
     As for myself, it was a good time.  Mostly I watched them.  Threw a few spinners till I caught a couple.  Even in my senior days I don't like gettin' skunked.
     Dinner back at the cabin was a hurry up.  Dogs and chips.  Calories.  The good news for the morning was having the gear in the back of the truck and the canoes on the trailer.  Nothing besides some munchies and water left to load.
     I slept like the dead that night.  Been doing that for over a month now.  My dreams are mundane and  have been that way since I retired.  Nothing much to get upset about is no doubt the problem.  Don't want to get too Jungian here but if you're bent along those lines you'll get my drift.
     By Saturday morning I'd given up on finding my missing panfish box, the one with all the small slip bobbers and dozens of hand tied jigs.  Absolutely knew it was in my tackle bag and now absolutely knew it was sitting on the floor by my reel bag back home.  Seeing as how we were off to a panfish lake to start the day, that was a loss.  Now my only hope was that the fishing would suck and it wouldn't have made any difference even if I had the right gear.  Wasn't exactly what I was thinking at the time but it sure is a lot more civil.
     No, we didn't get an early start.  Lyme sets no alarm and the way I was feeling I coulda slept all day.  Actually, the time we'd get started was no real concern to me.  With panfish as a goal and Brian having enough gear, the bluegills would be there for the asking, sun or no sun.  We were heading to good water.  Being even more remote than last night we'd no doubt have the water to ourselves.  Yup.
     This time Brian had a lot more pavement to drive.  An almost civilized fifteen miles before we hit sand and a few miles of that before we entered the forest.  Though nearly wide enough for two vehicles to pass there was enough mud and rock on the track to make my nephew take care.  Today I knew enough to pay attention and grab hold of my mind before it went too far afield.  Passed on the first wrong turn, was almost sucked in by the second, and hit pay dirt with the third, though I wasn't sure until I saw the hillbilly camp down by the water.  One laners in the back woods all look about the same to me.  Same trees, mud holes, brush, and even the same squawking pair of bluejays checkin' out the oaks for any left over, 2012 acorns.
     All was as it should be, until ... the truck.  What in the sam hill was a truck doing parked at the very access where we were gonna slide in our canoes?  Frickin' trespassers.  I gruffed and snotted out a simple, "Oh well, what did I expect?  It's a weekend."  That brought a chuckle from Brian.  One truck and I was feeling crowded.  Well, the truth was, I was.
     Over the last few years I've come to learn that if I can figure out the location of fish holding, out of the way waters, so can a lot of other people.  There only so much world and a whole lot of people in it. There may be a near infinity of unsolved mysteries on this globe, and a fair share of those right here in Minnesota, but a good fishing chain of tiny lakes that can be reached by a pickup truck ain't one of them.  That line of reasoning is no doubt on the money but did nothing to make the truck go away.  Even tried the stink eye to no effect.
     Also didn't make the brilliant sunshine disappear.  Or the second boat in the middle lake.  Or the, once again, slow fishing.  On the upside, yeah there always seems to be one of those complete with silver lining and all that crap, there was a dead walleye at the tiny eroded access.  And the boat in the middle lake seemed to be trolling for them.  And I spooked a pike while fishing for bluegills.  Sooo, there's no doubt in my mind that, come Fall, me and my canoe will be back on this micro chain with hopes of finding out how good it really is.
     Once again I had to feel sorry for Brian and Sean.  Good water, bad fishing.  Such is life.  And life can be real pretty even when it's background.  All depends on what you're looking for.
     Lunch, glorious lunch.  Even more glorious 'cause Brian picked up the tab.  And since he was driving, it was a two beer lunch for me.  Or should I say ale?  India Pale Ale.  The worse it tastes, the more I like it.  Had it been completely unpalatable I'd have had a third.
     The afternoon's jaunt was to my second ace in the hole.  A bass haven that's well known to the locals.  That's the thing about locals, they know the area.  In fact, they grew up knowing the area back when the lakes I fish these days were mostly filled with bullheads.  Probably was those very same locals who were the culprits when it came to illegal stocking.  Shame on them.  And at the same time, I had to thank them for the good fishing I've found.  In short, seeing as how it was still Saturday I didn't expect we'd have the water to ourselves.
     But I didn't expect the rubbled ramp to have a pickup truck and trailer blocking the access.  Guess even the locals can even be pigs once in a while.  Not a problem for us and our canoes.  In fact it even gave us something to tsk-tsk and feel all righteous about.
     By the time we got ready to load and launch, the owners came roaring back all apologetic about what they'd done.  Then said something like, "Geez, eh.  Never seen anybody in here before."  That made me think they weren't locals.  Like I said, this is water known for a good evening's fishing.  At times there's been up to four boats on the water.
     That was the beginning of a flotilla of boats.  That is if you can call three boats a flotilla.  Sure seemed like one to me.  So much for pristine, unadulterated wilderness.  And goodbye to the usual game plan of working the entire lake to figure out where they were and what they wanted.  We were confined to one shore as the other boats dropped anchor in spots that are usually productive.
     I could go on complaining about how too many fishermen stink up public water but that would be a little odd wouldn't it?  The lakes are open to everyone and once in a while it seems like they all show up.  But we caught some bass and lost enough to question our hook setting ability.  Then, as is to be expected, the closer the sun dropped to the treetops the better the fishing was.  Had we been camping on the lake's shore we'd have truly had a spectacular evening's fishing.  Being an hour from the cabin told us it was time to leave while it was still light.
     Don't know how many photos Sean took.  Maybe a few dozen, maybe hundreds.  I've seen a couple and like their candid nature.  Nothing looked posed.
     Guess the moral is, stories tell themselves.  Or as someone else put it, life is what happens when your making plans.  You'd like the world to pay more attention to your 'to do' list and sometimes it does.  But, more likely, it had other things in mind.  On this trip catching boatloads of bass on lakes we had to ourselves just didn't pan out.