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.

Monday, July 8, 2013


Yeah, I'm spooked.  Lois did the research and said there's thirteen kinds of ticks in Minnesota.  In addition to another wood tick and a couple of deer ticks, I had an unidentified one sunk into my elbow. White with a black collar and half a mini-micro in size.  Makes the woods feel like the setting for real life horror stories.  Not sure but the last unidentified one seems to have me growing another testicle.  My privates are starting to look like the sign outside an old fashioned pawn shop.