Monday, May 12, 2014

Lakes II

     Eight minutes from the cabin and gravel all the way.  Don't know why I call the local roads gravel, since they're nothing more than native sand.  Sand does the job nicely if you don't mind driving slow over the inevitable washboarded sections.  When I head out on my bike it's necessary to do a lot of zig-zagging around the biggest waves.  Even with shock absorbers over the front wheel it can be a tooth busting experience.
     I'll call this one Wide Pine Lake since it's nothing more than a slow down in the Pine River.  Wide Pine's not a great lake but it holds fish.  At times it can be the site of some pretty decent fishing, 'specially if you're in the market for bluegills.
     Not many people fish the lake, about as many who duck hunt it in the Fall.  The ducks are there for the wild rice which covers a quarter of its eighty acres.  Wide Pine is a weedy lake with patches of coon tail and cabbage so thick by mid August I can tie the canoe to them.  Two cabins on the lake, only one of which can be seen from shore.  Yup, she's a locals only lake.  An ugly duckling of water which can turn into a swan now and then.
     The river enters from the east end and exits through a pair of good sized culverts under the road on the west.  In the early spring, which arrives no less than two months past the one on the calendar, the culverts are a hot spot for sunnies and bass.  Not unusual to see a family of locals sitting there on lawn chairs catching dinner.  Nothing wrong with that.  Beats the pants off being inside with reruns of Two and a Half Men.
     The culverts are a usual stop for me when I'm on a bike ride.  Pop the kickstand down, walk out on the metal tubes and check out what's down there.  Can't truly say how many times I've done that.  Dozens at least.  I've mentally fly fished both sides of the road more times than I've stopped.  Why I've never actually thrown a fly there is a mystery to me.  One of these days I'll talk it over with myself. See what the hangup is.  But I better do it before the first of June when the wild rice comes on like gang busters.
     Wide Pine was the first area lake I fished.  Fished it once then left it alone for better than a decade.  One hammer handle pike wasn't reason enough to go back.  Can't say for sure what brought me back, probably time.  My son Allan and I were up north for a weekend.  We'd caught more than our share share of bass and pike Friday evening and Saturday.  Sunday dawned sunny and warm.  Not necessarily a good sign for a morning on the water but we had time for a couple of hours before heading home.  Like I said, Wide Pine is eight minutes from the cabin.  It had water and maybe even fish so that's where we headed.
     The first hour was quiet, dead.  This was back in the days when I was starting to pay attention to currents on the water.  I had it in my head that currents in a lake were similar to the ones in streams.  Fish would hang around on the relatively calm edges waiting for food to come floating by.  Don't know if that's true and suspect it's not.  But on that day it seemed to work.
     Yes, there's a lot of pike in Wide Pine.  Mostly small but there are a few we used to call keepers.  Al and I caught a round dozen in the next hour, the largest at thirty inches.  We took it pretty nonchalantly.  Canada had spoiled us for what on an eighty acre lake would be considered good fishing.  Probably Adam felt the same way when he raised his first crop of big boy tomatoes, "They're okay I guess.  Nothing like the really big ones back in Eden.  Maybe I need more manure?"
     Five pound pike are really decent fish.  They fight like their big sisters.  Even strip a little line when they're fresh.  And give you the evil eye when they're finning alongside the canoe.  Nasty in a little way.
     Another of my nephew and son combinations took a ducking up the south shore from the culverts.  Have to admit they took it well considering they had to swim and wade their way through a mass of shoreline slime and weeds.  His other son and I were half a lake away when it happened.  Too far to have been any help had they been in danger and way too far to have gotten a decent photo.  Would have been nice if there was a big fish story to go along with all the fun but no, it was a simple learning curve screw up.
     I should have asked them if their entire lives had passed in front of their eyes on the way from dry to wet.  The time I did the same thing in the Boundary Waters, one moment I was in the boat, the next in the lake.  No life flash at all.  Maybe that doesn't happen when you're gonna survive.  Maybe it never does.
     In their case I'm glad the roll over happened.  Seeing as how they were skunked that morning, the unexpected swim gave them something to remember.  Guess that's an upside to a downside.
     Upstream a quarter mile there's another widening.  Not as big as the first but still thirty acres at ice out before the rice sets in.  One Fall day a couple of duck hunters said the little opening had been full of V's under the water.  Couldn't have been fishermen or they'd have known they were spooking fish.  My mind said pike but they could have been bass, walleyes or even panfish.  Regardless, to me they meant a trip up river was on my someday agenda.
     Only made that paddle once since then.  Lois had dropped me off for three hours of water time while she went elsewhere.  Anywhere would have been a step up for her seeing as how canoeing and fishing are nowhere on her list of things to do.  That it was forty degrees even dropped it farther so I was on my own.
     It was nearing ice up and all of the rice was done for the year.  But the dead brown stalks were still there, some standing, most bent over or floating in the water.  Paddling through them to the small opening was a challenge.  So much mass in the water it would have been much easier had I stood and poled my way along like a respectable outdoorsman.  First off, I don't stand in a canoe and even if I did the water in Wide Pine was at least as cold as the air.  So I sat, paddled and did what I do best, bitch about it.
     Bitching is a release valve.  I tend to do it at the drop of a hat when I'm alone and things aren't going as smoothly as I'd like.  It's what I do when there's nothing to be afraid of and I'm a little frustrated.  Like mucking my way at a mile an hour through a marsh of floating crud.  Organic, yes.  Organic as all get out and smells that way.  On the upside, I wasn't going to fall out of the canoe and was heading someplace I wanted to be.
     Okay, here's where this stumbles its way into a non-story.  I did make it to the upstream pool and it definitely was there.  Even got in a few casts.  Then patiently spent a pleasant three minutes per cast cleaning the thicket off my lure and line.  Didn't see any V's either.  But I did scan the area and saw nothing man made.  Got the feeling I was in the middle of one of those empty spots the civilized world hadn't yet squeezed out of existence.
     One of these Springs, long before the lake is in bloom, I'm thinking this is prime water.  Great spawning habitat.  She's on my nonexistent bucket list and way more appealing than bungee jumping.
     On another evening while fishing with R. Dean I may have caught the largest pike in the lake.  It had the head of an eighteen pounder and the body of an eight.  Definitely undernourished.  My guess was twelve pounds.
     Sure took me by surprise.   I'm fond of trumpeting to most any fool who'll listen that each fish holding lake has its aberrations, something way bigger than the rest of the pack.  If there's bass in a lake there'll inevitably be a few wise old veterans who've survived through wile or luck to reach wall hanger size.  Maybe it's simply a case that I've seen a few of them 'cause I always drag my partners onto small lakes where the occasional hog tends to take us by surprise.  Don't know why it should, spending enough hours on small water sure does up the chances of finding the rare big ones.  Likely it's a case of pure blind luck that we've found a few of those aberrations.
      Not all good things happening on a lake involve fish.  My son-in-law R. Dean and I watched a spectacular sunset one evening.  The full range of pastel tinted rainbow colors lit up every cloud in the sky.  Though I know it happened exactly as I remember it, my mind's eye has the sun setting in the east.  I've even pulled out a map of Wide Pine just to make sure.  Yup, in the east.  If my memory is correct then all those glorious colors were no more than a footnote to a reversal of the known universe.
     Maybe I shouldn't shun the lake any more.  Possibly make it my home water.  It's not like I've been a shooting star in the galaxy of fisherman.  I've had my share of good days and been skunked more times than I'd admit.  Could be the two of us are made for each other.
     Spring is slow to come in the northland.  At the cabin this weekend and things look right on schedule for late April.  The lakes are free of ice but the water remains frigid.  Not a leaf on a tree. Even the brush is bare.
     On Saturday afternoon I drove over to Wide Pine with the idea of catching a single bluegill to begin the fishing season.  Didn't work out that way.  The lake was free of weeds, the swamp across the road in flood.  All was as it should be for me to stand on the culverts with my shortest fly rod in hand and pitch a small dry fly to the sunnies that'd be gathered there for an easy meal.  Yup, even my casting wasn't bad.  But the water was barren.  Not a fish to be seen alongside the water rushing through the culverts.  In short I was skunked.  Again.
     I had company for my last few casts.  A spry woman in her late 70s out for a stroll asked if what I was doing was called fly fishing.  Hopefully she wasn't being sarcastic.  Didn't think of that till now.  One comment led to another till I climbed off the culvert and we talked of the lake.  She and her husband had a house nearby.  Been there since the late '60s and knew the water well.  Yes the Spring was late.  Yes the water was still frigid and nothing was biting.
     Sounded a lot like the Winter and Spring of '96-'97.  My cousin Gary had gone into a nearby bait store late in May and asked what was biting.  Bait shop owners are never shy on information, 'specially when the customer is there simply to buy what'll work.  The owners answer was simple, "Nothing, not even crappies."  He was right.  Our five days on the water produced a few small pike and a handful of bluegills.
     Inevitably the water will warm and the fishing will improve.  If not, at least it won't get worse.

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