Sunday, April 27, 2014

Gut Feeling

     Thirty-eight above and raining hard in the early afternoon.  The heat of the day.  As good as it'll get today.  The forecast is for more of the same till next weekend.  Miserable enough to keep me inside and squeeze out a thought or two.
     Once again fishing will be on during the first week in June.  The Deans have committed themselves and I'll be there no matter what.  Hopefully the ice will be gone by then and it won't be a day like the one pouring down outside the window.
     I believe this will be our ninth year.  Oddly enough, though we've gotten better bringing fish to the boat and learned of more lakes, I can't say the fishing has improved.  Maybe it's my fog of memory but I believe the last couple of years haven't been all that good on the water.  Only one lake hasn't disappointed.  Maybe it never will.
     When I first set eyes on it after a couple of miles tire tearing track and a sand pit or two, Little Jake Lake (not its real name) immediately felt like home.  Personal.  The kind of lake you'll only have to share once in a blue moon with shore fishing local kids.  Sixty years ago they'd have had twelve foot cane poles, line, bobber, hook and worm.  On that first day the three of them had the same basic getup but the cane and line had evolved into bottom shelf spinning combos.  Not as organic but they could fling the rigs a whole lot farther.  'Spose they could have worked the whole lake shore had they wanted to bushwhack.  But a glance at their stringer told me they were doing just fine on the hundred feet of beach at the end of the tree and poison ivy lined trail.
     Lois and I paddled the fifty acres that day.  She, 'cause it was eighty degrees under a deep blue sky and I simply wanted to get the lay of the water.  Spent a lot of time looking down into the cabbage and coon tail beds over the next half hour.  Bass and bluegill heaven.  Still is.
     Even before we reached the end of the two track I knew we were approaching good water.  Simply put I could feel it.  I'm no clairvoyant, no seer, not even a wise old man.  But I do fish and I do like lakes that make me feel like I'm the only person in the world.  Like the Apocalypse could happen and I'd miss it.  Come out of the bush to find civilization a thing of the past.  Missed the Last Judgement 'cause I was on good water and could only say, "Well I'll be, can you beat that?"  From the moment I noticed it on the map something told me Little Jake was just that kind of lake.
     So, I return every year, spinning rod with the Deans, fly rod when alone.  Maybe this year blow a few bucks and buy a twelve foot noodle spinning rod and shore fish twenty-first century style.  Neo-retro hoot.
     Jake wasn't the first lake of the gut feeling.  Wedge Lake up in Grass River Provincial Park was much the same.  With its hundred plus islands spread over two thousand acres it simply had to be good.  That it required a sixteen mile paddle and near mile portage was merely a plus.  Maybe a necessity to keep a few of the pretenders out.
     Back in '66 it was East Pike Lake in the BWCA.  All it took was to see it at the end of the twenty minute portage.  Pine, birch and cedar lined with a rock and rubble shore.  Looked like the lake in Eden where Adam first named the smallmouth bass.
     On the great lakes all it usually takes is a single glance and you know you're there.  It make take a few hours, or days, to learn the water but on the truly special lakes, you will.  And enjoy getting skunked as much as the times when you had to hit 'em with the paddle to keep 'em out of the canoe.
     There's more of those lakes out there.  That I know for sure.  With luck I may yet find another.  Even have one in mind at the moment.  When I get there I'll consult my navel, "So, how does this one feel to you?"

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Old School

     So what is old school and how old does it have to be?  One of the reasons I'm attracted to fiberglass is 'cause it's as old school as plastic can be.  Truth be known I've known it wasn't from the time I bought my first.  What I did know was its affordability last year and that it was the material of choice when I was in my teens.  But old school?  To me, back in 1963, it was hi-tech.
     Bamboo was the choice of the old guys.  Was around before my time and was what those old fellas in soft wool fedoras and Orvis vests had in their hands when I checked out the Field and Stream's in Ole's Barber shop.  Yup, there was an Ole who removed the hair of my youth.  Vince was a half block away and was way too cutting edge.  He was the first to take up Beatle haircuts.  For sure Vince wasn't old school.  Can't say I remember why I went to Ole.  Probably was told to.
     'Spose it's an attitude.  Usually new stuff performs better.  Whatever that means.  And graphite reflects the computer age perfectly.  There's a new line of it coming out every year.  And, of course, the new stuff is always an improvement from stuff of last year.  Seems every new line is flaunted as superior to the last.  Then twenty years later, the winnowing done, the truth out, most of that new and improved turns out to have been a mistake.  Like the Chevy Vega and Ford Pinto.  I expect there's a few fly rods out there that fit that bill nicely.
     Back in the nineteenth century there were greenheart rods.  Never seen any but I'm sure it was cutting edge.  Till bamboo came along then it became old school.  Guess there's always old school just like there's always the old army.
     What I'm driving at is the newest of the old school methods, Tenkara from Japan.  Stick, line and hook.  To be sure the stick is long, a dozen feet or more (3.76171437 meters or so. Being japanese it's gotta be precise).  Mainly it's designed for small mountain streams but I figure it could be made to work in a canoe.  No one in the instructional videos seems to be fishing it that way.  Makes it even better for me.  Long stick, short canoe, strange old man cackling insanely.  How perfect.
     Best of all the technique is as old school as pole fishing can be.  Long stick, line tied to the tip, no reel, no guides.  And the rod is telescoping.  Foot and a half long when collapsed.  Combine it with a small box of flies.  Float the canoe in quietly, flip the fly out and hang on.  Maybe.  Don't know how a rig designed for tiny mountain trout would do for a six pound bass.
     Oldest of old school unless you were noodling for catfish.  There is a catch, a fly in the ointment.  All of the rods I've seen are made from graphite, the best from state of the art material and priced accordingly.  So that puts me back on square one.  So what is old school for tenkara fishing?  And I don't have a clue.  Cane pole?  Damn.  I don't want to do no stinkin' cane pole fishing.

Monday, April 14, 2014

New Dean

     Might lose El Dean this year for the Iowans up north fishing extravaganza/side eight.  Could be he's still rusted from all the rain we had last year.  Understandable.  On day one I recall him standing at the bottom of a hill in what was quickly turning into a river.  Total whiteout downpour in the dark.  I'd abandoned him to go get the truck.  It was a mile long, hill filled trudge.  One of us of necessity got the short end of the stick.  Possibly El Dean thought it was him.  I was thinking it was me.  Honestly, we both wrote it off as good fun, more or less.  Helped to know we had a dry cabin, fireplace and food a half hour away.
     That was the upside of his maybe.  The downside is his wife who is seriously under the weather, as so often happens in a person's mid-sixties.  Not good but could be worse.  So El Dean is a maybe.
     Luckily we've got a backup Dean, J. Dean.  Eight year's old.  Loves to fish but might be a little shy on the paddling side.  Kinda like El.  Probably we'll have to Jon boat it.  Not my cup of tea but, then again, I'm a coffee drinker.
     Then there's the future and how I want to enter it.  Might sell the cabin.  Yup, that's what I said.  Built it, lived in it and got lyme disease there.  And the lyme disease scares me.  Up in that neck of the woods it's no longer a rarity.  Closer to a normalcy.  Don't want it again.  I've no lingering effects from the first dose but a second might prove different.  Simple as that.
     I'm not too old to head in new directions.  The cabin is an anchor with an anchor's up and downsides.  Provides a pivot of knowledge and stability.  Also inhibits moving in different directions where there are no deer ticks such as the Arrowhead of Minnesota and maybe Canada (or, God forbid, Alabama).  Something for me to think about.
     The upshot is an old dog can continue to learn new tricks till he's a dead dog.  Dead ones are a little slow on the uptake.  Besides, where I'm going after I check out, the water has no doubt evaporated from the heat.
     There's a zen like part of me waiting on the third way.  Sixty seven years of stumbling has taught me; when in doubt the right answer is still hiding off in the shadows.  Or it's right in front of me and I'm too damned lazy to focus my eyes.  Forest and trees.
     A for my incident of a half month ago, a good friend said I was pissin' so hard a fuse in my balance mechanism blew out.  That and way too much caffein coupled with way too little water.  Not sure if she's right but I am upping the water and not downing as much caffein.  Old fart problems coupled with old fart grumbling.  Only solution is time on the water.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ice Out on Tiny Lake Provokes Thoughts of Future

     It's a lake within walking distance of my son and daughter-in-law's house.  Forty acres with game fish.  Nothing more than a cut in a valley that gathers rain, runoff and lawn fertilizer from the lawns of a couple of uphill houses on steroids.
     My three year old grandson and I paid it a visit this morning to check out the lake for the first time.  Pretty water.   Half black ice and half open water.  Get rid of the houses and boat launch and it would be a little bit of heaven.  But, in the city a man's gotta take what's available.  And it's an excuse to visit my son and family.  Or maybe just park in their driveway, say hi and portage me and my gear down to the water.  Dirt paths wind their way over and down the wooded hills much like a real portage.  Close enough so I can pretend.  But, like I said, I'll take what I can get.
     The half mile carry also has its appeal as a means of exercise.  I like that.  I'm into exercise and might even hump the boat down there and back without even stopping to fish.  Almost zen like.  Carry that logic a couple of steps farther and I might as well set off on a portage to Seattle to get a cup of coffee or watch them sling fish at Pike Place.  Sure I'd be skunked but would be in damned fine shape out on the west coast.
     Down south the lakes never freeze.  Neat to see fishable lakes in January but it's not the same as moving water where two days before there was only ice.  Ice out in the northland is cause for celebration.  T.S. Eliot thinking April as the cruelest month of all must not have been a fisherman.  Or if he was, must have been from a place like Minnesota where bass, pike, walleyes, lakers and muskies are off limits till mid-May or later.  All that open water and it's only bullheads and sunnies.  Just not fair.
     Up and down sides:  I'd someday love to take my grandson to the Boundary Waters or points north.  Got three of the boys so the possibilities are great.  Problem is I'll have to wait till they're big and strong enough to carry an eighty year old man out of the woods.  Carry him in also.  And all the gear.  Plus his oxygen tank and walker.  In case you haven't guessed, the him is me.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Changes and Memory Lapse - in progress

     A while back I wrote about the affordability of vintage fiberglass fly rods.  Ain't so any more.  Maybe it's the economy or possibly people like me who shot their mouths off and let that vintage cat out of the bag.  In short prices have nearly doubled in the last eight months.  Glad I bought the two that I did.  I knew that someday the world would pass me by but not that fast.  As my Uncle Emil would say, "Uf dah."
     Last evening I had a fine idea of what I'd write about next.  Deep, complex, thoughtful, wise and with a touch of light humor.  Should have made a note on the back of my hand.  'Bout all that floats between my ears at the moment is the color of the wall in front of me and a desire to check out what's in the fridge.  Should inspiration strike I'll continue  tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Longer the Rod

     Spey rods.  Switch rods.  Both longer than long.  Eleven feet on the short end.  Fifteen plus on the long.  I want one.  And have no use for either that I can think of unless I get into shore fishing or wading.
     Yes, my name is Mark and I'm an obsessive-compulsive.  It might have been last year that I saw one of the rods in operation down on the Mississippi River.  The man was shore fishing for smallmouth bass and using an eleven foot switch rod.  The switch rod can be used either one or two handed.  He was two handing it and throwing a fly like a bullet thirty yards onto the river.  With no frickin' backcast!  He'd jumble his intended amount of line in the water immediately in front of him.  Then, in a kind of figure eight move with the rod fire the fly way the hell out there like magic.  I stood slack jawed and transfixed.  It was beauty pure and simple.
     At first I wrote it off as something I'd never do.  But it's simplicity and effectiveness held me in its grip for months.  A month ago I watched a few videos of the technique.  Even one with a Swedish dude who was truly ancient but still a line slinger of the first order.  Watching their methods struck a chord within my soul, like it was something I was meant to do.  A calling from on high.  One of the lower levels of on high but still up there.  And it was completely meaningless.  What a great combination.
     So I now check the web for spey and switch rods.  And am slowed, but not stopped as yet, by the steep entry price of the equipment.  Guess the manufacturers figure if you're dumb enough to want something like a fifteen foot plastic pole when a six foot spinning rod would do the job as well or better then you're dumb enough to fork out the price of admission.  So I'm still looking and thinking about it (and praying for deep pockets).
     Then there's my desire to own a six foot fly rod 'cause it makes even less sense.  The appeal of the useless goes deep within me.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Out of the Blue

     Don't know what provoked me yesterday to look at my finished Vietnam blog but there it was, in the comments.  I'd written three entries that had been entitled 'Woolwine'.  With the first was a comment by Woolwine's son Jason.  Bobby Woolwine and I were in the same platoon squad and knew each other well.  Or at least as well as you can get to know someone in a six month period.  I guess being in life and death situations breeds togetherness.  Band of brothers and all that good stuff.
     I recall we all called him Woolwine, at least I did.  In my mind these days he's simply Bobby and remains a twenty year old kid to boot.  And that's the way he'll stay till I have no memories left.  He was a good soldier and a good man.  Also was ill fated.  Twice he was fragged by booby traps, one tripped by him, the other by a point man he was helping out of a swamp in the night of the Mekong Delta.  Yeah, it were a whole lot of shit.
     Jason said his dad was sixty-five and in the throes of dementia.  Also suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome.  Still had shrapnel in his leg and eye.  I don't remember the shrapnel in his eye but do recall his legs being scarred and stitched top to bottom.  After Vietnam we flew home together.  I stopped off in Minneapolis and he continued on home to the South.  I returned to Schofield Barracks after leave and Bobby didn't.  Rumor had it his family doctor took one look at Woolwine and began procedures to get him a discharge.  People come and people go.  In a war some leave with holes in their bodies, minds and souls.
     Anyhow, Jason said he made copies of the three entries and sent them to his dad.  I appreciate that.   But, who knows, maybe some memories are best left buried.  Jason also said his dad had shared few memories of his time in Vietnam.  I'm glad he found the entries and learned what a true hero his dad was.

Monday, April 7, 2014

If It Smells Like a Skunk

     The sea trout and red fish can rest easy now that I'm gone.  No fear that I might accidentally snag one.  The plan was for three days of actually trying to catch something before leaving Alabama.  Didn't happen.  The weather cooperated.  All three days were warm and relatively calm.  Good weather to throw weighted flies.  Water warm enough to wade wet.  All the stars were lined up but my stupidity got in the way.
      Long story short, I sweat way too much from my compulsive need for exercise and drank little that didn't have caffein or alcohol in it.  Oh sweet tea, how I love you with meals.  And how you and your buddy pale ale drain me of water.  On the upside the EMT's were friendly and helpful.  Ten days later and I'm still recovering.  My doctor back here in Minnesota said to give it another two weeks and see how it goes.
     So that's my excuse for being skunked.  I've got lots more where that one came from should the need arise.
     Won't be long and the lakes near home will be ice free.  Hopefully my body and brain will go through ice out at the same time.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Bellyaching - I do that well

     Snowed ten inches yesterday.  April in Minnesota and snow is to be expected.  And I do expect it.  And do complain about it.  Not out loud of course.  If anyone heard me they'd simply smile and say, "It's April in Minnesota.  What did you expect?"  So I keep quiet, go outside and shovel the walk.  With a lot of steam behind the shovel.
     Let's see.  Oh yeah, the lakes are still frozen.  What did I expect when we returned from Alabama last Wednesday? They're almost always frozen near the beginning of April.  But they weren't down south.  Probably haven't frozen in 'Bamaland since the last ice age.
     There's a chain of acre-sized ponds on a golf course down there that are crawling with bass and panfish.  In January!  Most every time I pass them I point the fish out to those waiting on the tees nearby.  And go off on a rant about bringing a rod with me next year and fishing for the bass while we wait.  Who knows?  Maybe I will.  A kind of stunt like that would be right up my alley - a dark alley lined by closed dumpsters with laughter rising out of them.  The thought of my golf grips smelling of bass has an appeal for me that exceeds desire for a hole in one.  Not even close.
     My wife and I have given thought to moving down there near water.  Somehow I don't see myself as a back-bay, salt water fisherman.  Raised in the wrong part of the world I guess.  But….

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Rods in the Car

     First off I've got to admit I have too many rods.  More than I need or have a use for.  And, of course, I want more.  Always have my eye open for new ones.  Not new, new ones.  Old, new ones.  Maybe it's a search for the fountain of youth.  Could be it's a desire to return to the days when I was young and the number of years left in my was much higher.  'Course, as I've grown older I've also grown in wisdom.  But would I trade my wisdom for youth?  Hell yes.  No questions asked.
     But I'm wandering off the subject, rods.  And mostly those tubed up in the back of the car with a pile of other stuff.  All of it, and me, off to somewhere new.  And those places usually involve water, fish and a boat of some kind.  Since it's my story I'll make that boat a canoe.
     I've gone south, east and north on those trips.  But the best is north.  In my life north has always been the right direction when it comes to fish.  More lakes, fewer people, cleaner air and water.  Even when I was a kid up north in Minnesota was where the big ones were.  Biggest pike, musky, walleye, lake trout, they all found their size up north.
     And it even got better north of the border.  So that's why Allan and I did our big trips to Manitoba.  Turned out my whacked out kid ideas were right.  Might even have been better had we gone farther.
     On my drives to the cabin I play a mind game as I leave the city.  The car's going the same direction as those Manitoba trips, the gear's in the back.  I fall into the reverie of going on till the road ends.  Two hours from town I'd be where I was.  In seven hours, the border.  Fifteen to Grass River.  But instead I leave the interstate and make the turn that changes it all.  I'm only going to the cabin.
     But the rods and gear are still in the back.  And the lakes I've found are way off the beaten track.  No cabins on those lakes.  Plenty of fish in them.  Usually I have them to myself.  Might as well be border country.
     Once at the cabin I get tingly about the lakes I can fish.  What's the weather?  Wind direction?  What will I fish for?  What lake will be best?  Sixty-seven years old and I nearly trip over myself with excitement when I load the canoe and double check to make sure I haven't forgotten anything.  A man my age should exhibit some decorum, a confident, relaxed air doing something he's done a thousand times before.  But I can't.  Too excited 'cause the rods are in the back and I'm heading for water.