Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hope Springs

     My God, it's finally warming up.  Tomorrow's high above sixty followed by a string of seventy degree days.  Even up north it looks like winter will finally end in a flash of glory.  Of course that means incredible flooding from here to the Mississippi delta but what's a little tragedy now and then so long as it doesn't get in the way of walleye fishing?
     And my son Allan sounds like he'll be able to free up a couple of weekends for fishing.  With a bit of luck that means four brief fishing forays in the northwoods with people I enjoy spending time with on the water.  Time alone is great but sharing it is better.
     Tomorrow Lois and I head south to Sioux Falls with a stop on the way to pick up jigs for tying.  Nothing brings joy to the terminally (anally?) cheap like turning a couple of dozen half buck items into a couple of dozen buck and a halfers.  Then giving them away with a, "Try these.  Tell me if they work."
     Maybe I could prepare for the trips by writing a walleye fishing song along the lines of something Pooh bear would have made up.  After all, he was a bear.  Must have eaten more than just honey.  But I suppose A.A. Milne didn't want to scare the bejeezus out of little Christopher Robin with stories of his beloved stuffed animal ripping the guts out of a still wriggling fish.  But, c'mon, ain't the image of Pooh with a ring of droozling blood and guts around his fuzzy little mouth cute as all get out?
     The thought of Pooh as a real bear, preferably a brown bear, has its charm.  His little piggy, donkey and rodent friends wouldn't have been around long.  Would have ended up as little steaming piles of scat along the paths of The Hundred Acre Woods.  Could almost be the grist for an Uncle Emil story.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Eternal Winter - in progress

     Snowed again last week.  Most of the storm missed the cabin area yet something on the order of six or eight inches fluttered to the forest floor.  Must have been pretty as all hell.  I could almost hear the hand guns being cleaned and loaded as terminal cases of cabin fever spread like wildfire.  Three feet of ice on Leech lake and two on the smaller waters I like to fish.  Another system is moving through over the next couple of days.  (audible sigh of resignation)
     On the upside.... more to come later.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


     There's four of them.  Two here and the same number in South Dakota.  Yesterday, we had Matthew and Luke for a few hours.  Not as easy as it once was and what once was, wasn't all that easy.  Tough as it can be there's always a few treasures gathered each time they're over.
     Last night's  moments came from Luke.  Only seven months old and barely able to cast a Rapala more than a dozen yards.  Since he can't crawl, much less walk or carry a canoe pack or change his own diapers, I don't see much use for the kid as a fishing partner for at least a dozen years.  That he also likes to be carried constantly by his Grandpa and cries when he's set down also bodes badly for any serious portaging.  Guess I'll have to wait a while.
     On the upside, he likes to be carried by his Grandpa.  And sleep on the old man's belly and chest.  Looking at his sleeping head on my shoulder gives me a warm feeling from being able to see that I still have more hair than he does, maybe not in numbers but in total volume.  I'll enjoy that while I can. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Ghost of Trips Past Comes Calling

     It happens every year around this time.  More so now that there are no big trips in my future.  Years past come knocking to kick around what once was and get me plotting out trips that'll never happen anywhere in the real world.  I still think a canoe trip to Canada is something I could do.  Hell, I'm not dead yet and am a fair percentage of what I once was.  Would have been nice had my body been the one to intervene and tell me no.  Instead it's merely circumstance.  No one to go with.
     Even if a trip did come about it probably wouldn't be up to the excursions of the past.  The last serious trip in 2009 constantly had me filled with mixed emotions from the get-go.  Not that I didn't want to be there, just that I wasn't filled with the spark of earlier years.  Ask Allan, he'll tell you the same.
     As I get older nothing thrills as it once did.  Not that I have a lot of control in the matter.  Might be a case of my mind singing to my body, Baby Let Me Follow You Down.  Obviously in a different sense than the song from the '60s.
     I sorely miss the manic excitement of the days that once lead up to our Canadian departure.  The wondering of how it would all go down.  The longing for and fear of what the Four Mile Portage would be like, not to mention the canoe crossing of huge Reed Lake.  What would the fishing be like on lakes that could only be reached by plane or canoe?  And the thrill of doing it the hard way, the way it was done for centuries by people who did such things simply because that's the way life was and had always been.  All of that got my blood moving.  Still does a little but only in retrospect.
     For the moment it's white outside.  Not as much snow as predicted for either here or at the cabin.  Regardless, ice-out stumbles a couple of days farther into the future.  Nothing I can do about that except write.  Acceptance of reality seems to have balanced out my long held youthful excitement nicely.  I expect that's a good thing.  Or at least better than losing the thrill and wallowing in depression.
     For the moment there's flashabou to be tied onto some of the jigs I already have.  Maybe a few marabou feathers.  Don't know if that'll make them any better.  The big boys of walleye fishing say it will, especially in the bog stained water we'll be fishing in a few weeks.  Also the addition of a little sparkle and color adds a personal touch, not as good as making a lure from scratch but better than straight from the store.  So I'll put on a fishing hat, maybe some Mozart, tie a few jigs, and daydream.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Time to Learn - Again

     I've been a Minnesotan all my life.  But, contrary to a nationally held opinion of Minnesotans, I don't eat lefsa or lutefisk.  Or know all that much about catching walleyes, even though I consider myself a fisherman.  That brings up the question, can a Minnesotan call himself a fisherman if he doesn't fish for walleyes?
     It's not that I haven't caught them, even hundreds of them.  However, all were Canadian walleyes and, in Minnesota, they don't count.  Too innocent, too easily fooled, and well, just not American.
     I'm willing to accept the idea that Minnesota walleyes have seen it all and in the popular lakes seem to require big boats, big motors, and more electronics that a WWII battleship.  So I'm back to leaning on my assets as a fisherman.  And those assets aren't found in the tackle shops or boat yards but instead, are about locating walleyes nearly as innocent as the ones north of the border.  And that requires research and the willingness to drive through crap on rocky, rutted two tracks to waters that aren't commonly known or fished.
     Of course there are those, the locals who've fished them for a couple of generations and wisely kept their mouths shut, who know about those lakes.  Since I've been in my up-north neck of the woods for thirty-two years now, I'm almost a local.  Probably as close as I'll ever be.  And I've found my walleye lake.  At least I think I have.  For the moment the only walleyes I've seen in said lake are the ones netted by the DNR and listed on a lake chart.  Not so much walleyes as they are numbers.  Unless the DNR netted the lake clean, they're still there.
     As to catching them, first they've got to be found.  Okay, I've found a lake with walleyes in it.  Next comes the task of locating them under the surface of that lake.  Electronics would make that a lot easier but I'm old school (rhymes with old fool).  And don't do that.
     On the other hand I've got access to the internet.  No, I don't take my laptop in the canoe with me.  But I do use it as a research tool.  It's like talking with old-timers who've been catching pickerel (hoser for walleye) since Roosevelt (Teddie, not that young whipper-snapper Franklin) was in the White House.
     Yeah, it's contradictory to use one high-tech tool and badmouth another.  But my entire canoe and backwoods wise man schtick is a pretend thing (more closely related to cheap than choice).  As is my ability to find obscure, off the beaten track, lakes to fish and even know what's in them.  Nothin' like the man riding shotgun ask me with amazement, "How in the hell do you find these lakes?"  Like I'm a regular Johnny Appleseed with a fishin' pole.  Does my ego good.  However, I'll always tell them I use Google Earth as it's much easier seeing what's behind the trees when you're looking down from outer space with a billion dollar telescope. 
     But, once I'm on the water it's back to the old days for it's what I've retained in my brain that matters.  Look at the sky, scope the waves and treetops for wind direction, check out the weeds for type, feel the water (my thermometer broke years ago), and look at the shoreline for hills and swamp.  All of them are clues.  Having a lake map also helps.  Tells you a lot about the bottom but, since it's a crutch, it stays at the cabin.
     All of the tools I use are no more than aids that allow me to jump past the first couple of steps usually provided by experience.  Maybe half the lakes I fish have been learned through research.  The virgins were cases of seeing blue on the map or in passing on a back road and thinking, "Looks like it might hold fish."  Then eventually putting the canoe on its surface and a line in the water.
     This year's trip will be at the end of May.  Under normal circumstances most everything, except muskies, will be done spawning and back on the bite.  Bluegills will be found on the beds and will hit anything that passes.  It's a great time to fish up here in Minnesota.
     However, nothing about this Spring is normal.  It'll be the latest ice-out since the Spring of '96.  And that one was the latest since 1950.  At the moment the walleye lake in question is under a foot and a half of snow.  Typically ice-out would be around April 20th.  Last year it was the 20th of March.  This year it'll probably be early May.  Not good.
     Back in '96 I distinctly remember walking into a bait shop by the cabin and asking, "What's biting?" The man's answer was simple, "Nothing.  Not even crappies."  And he was right.  It was four days of casting and dredging.  The lakes near the Canadian border were still icebound.
     This year I don't think it'll be that late.  And we're going a week later.  Hope springs eternal but the weatherman is calling for cold and snow for the next week.  Over the next two days another foot is supposed to fall on our walleye lake.
     Whatever the conditions there's no doubt the ice will be gone before the four of us launch the canoes.  Then it's up to us to figure out what'll work.  Logic says the walleyes will be in the shallows looking for warm water, two to ten feet deep, on sand or small rocks.  Possibly in the cabbage if there's any growing.  Then the rule of thumb calls for small colorful jigs, eighth or sixteenth ounce, tipped with minnows be they real or Gulp Alive, or possibly leeches.  Cast 'em out and drag them along the bottom slowly, very slowly.  All the while thinking any small tick or weight might be a fish.
     Most of that knowledge came from reading a dozen articles on Spring walleye fishing.  Oddly enough Allan and I used the same tactics in Canada.  The only difference was in the far north we substituted twister tails for the minnows.  Don't know if that would work down here in the southland.  Probably not.  After all, our walleyes are smarter than theirs.