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.