Friday, June 27, 2014

The Sixth or Seventh Time's the Charm

     On Friday morning the trucks were pointed toward Three Island Lake.  We'd had a good time on Wednesday, the wind was down and I could sense L. Dean was hot for a return trip.  Even a non-clairvoiant like me could pick up on his subtle hints like, "Damn, I'll bet that bay we almost made it to when the rain started is just full of huge bass and pike," or "You know that bay on Three Island, the one that's wall to wall six pound bass, I'll bet we'd have the time of our lives if we went back there.  Yup, no doubt about it, there's some great fishing in that bay.  I can feel it in my bones.  We ought to go back there sometime.  The sooner the better.   If we did I could die a happy man."
     So that's where we were heading.  Even did the turn into the access.  And slowed as we passed our one view of the lake.  There were boats out there and you know me and boats.  One's company and two's a drive-by.  In the small gravel parking lot sat three trailers freshly freed of their two hundred horsepower loads.  A damned armada.  Sayonara boat boys.  In my rearview mirror I could see L. Dean's face pressed to the car window staring in shocked disbelief as we drove by.  'Course I can never make snap decisions without immediately doing something stupid.  Made a wrong turn at the only turn and we slowly paraded past the access one more time.  L.'s face broke into an ear-to-ear grin only to be sunk into despondency a moment later.  It wasn't intentional, really it wasn't.  Didn't stop me from laughing though.
     Next stop, Silver Lake.  I'd been there a half dozen times over the years.  Hammered bass the first two times.  Big bass that made runs under the canoe and towed us around like sizable pike.  The fishing was so good on those early trips I'd even considered camping on the north side island.  The island's a hump of moraine topped by a stand of eighty foot white pine.  With it's fine landing site and flat tent pad I'd go out of my way to camp there regardless of the fishing.
     But after those first days Silver had pretty much skunked me and whomever I dragged along.  Wrote it off to the new access road cut in by the Forestry Department.  Last trip was about five years ago.  The fishing was so bad El Dean dropped one of my rods and reels into the lake just to perk things up.  Yeah, that El Dean is a real fun guy.  Can't say why we were heading back for another try other than I had a hunch.  Also had an extra rod.
     Who'd have guessed I'd miss the turn for the access?  In my defense the turn wasn't marked and I hadn't been down this trail in a few years.  Also didn't have a map.  So I did what any true woodsman would do.  Pulled out the I-phone.  Damn that's embarrassing but it sure is effective.  The phone not only showed us where we were but where we should have been.  There's been a big whoopdido about erecting cell phone towers over by the Boundary Waters.  Traditionalists versus techies.  I have to admit I prefer maps to phones.  Also figure I'd have found the access without the phone but it sure was slick.
     Right off El and I bee-lined for the island.  My son Allan and I had the best hour of our bass fishing lives there (naturally that was immediately followed by the wettest fifteen minutes).  A fisherman doesn't forget something like that and will head for a former hotspot at the drop of a hat.  In my case the hat would be a dollar, made in Mexico, straw hat bought at a garage sale.  Sometimes there's a reason for the good fishing spot.  Most often it's a line up of coincidences that will never happen again.  Today the island's little north facing bay was quiet.  It was also a loon's nesting place.  We begged pardon, moved on and turned the corner.
     As usual we were a little late in the morning for good fishing.  Lord knows that's our pattern.  We'd have been on the water at daybreak but a few things got in the way, like sleep, breakfast and an hour's worth of driving.  So the sun was well up when we hit the water.  Throw in my use of a cell phone and it was time to turn in our crack of dawn buckskins.  Guess that's why we were wearing pre-shrunk cotton.
     The water on far side of the island had the look of an aquarium.  Sandy bottom, clear water and sparse weeds.  Everything about it said little sunnies and maybe a foot long pike.  El pitched toward shore while I worked the drop off.  Immediately I played with a two pound bass.  It made a few runs, did a tail dance or two then spit the hook.  No problem, it was fine feeling life on the line.  Two casts later I tied into one with a fist sized mouth.  Nice bass.  I can still see its first jump.  Face on and a look of distain as this big boy also spit the hook.  Oh for two.  Can't say losing either of them bothered me a whole lot.   Maybe the big one a just a little.  More than anything those bass told me Silver Lake might yet have some life to it.
     R. and L. paddled down the east side of the lake.  I'd been there before and found it to be good swimming water.  No character to the sandy shore, hadn't had a hit of any kind and had no desire to return.  I'd warned them but apparently they decided to find out for themselves.  Minutes later they were followed by a bass boat.  Two men upright, fan casting the shore and putzing along with their trolling motor.  R. and L. were barely moving but the bass boat boys weren't gaining an inch.  The two of us headed for a bay I'd had success in years earlier and worked on our tans.
     Hadn't seen or felt a fish for better than an hour when we headed back up the north shore.  Here we began to work our bobbers.  The DNR hadn't netted Silver in at least a decade.  Back then they'd found bass, crappies, pike and perch.  However, when we'd walked the dock at the access I could have sworn a pod of sunnies had taken off toward deep water.  So, under the noonday sun me and Eldon decided to find out for sure.  Yup, someday had thrown in a bunch of bluegills.  And we caught and released dozens.  Most were small but a fair number were hand sized and worth an admiring hoist.  Pretty fish.  Each one a unique blend of rainbow colors with bright orange throats.  Not a bad morning at all.
     As usual we reached the access before the others.  By the lake or on the water, it didn't matter to us, we enjoyed our time watching R. and L. work their way back in.  Of course we assumed they'd had about the same luck as us.  Why not?  Same lures, bait and tactics, no doubt the same luck, give or take a sunnie or two.  Also, as usual, they had a totally different story to tell.  Seemed the other Deans had hammered more than their share of bass, with a fair number of three and four pounders thrown in for good measure.  And they'd done it on a totally unproductive stretch of water.  Something to think about.  Guess there was more to Silver Lake than I'd thought.  Also was reason enough for us to return after lunch.
     Larry Dean had arrived up north with a kaput reel.  The reel showed its age in more than one way and had been begging to be put to rest for a couple of years.  It wasn't worth fixing but I gave the limp bail a shot.  Long story short, L. Dean still has his reel only it's now broken down to parts and in a plastic bag.  I'd read fixing a broken bail is a tricky operation best left to those who know what they're doing.  What I learned from breaking the bail down was the reasoning behind what I'd read.  A hands and knees search turned up all the sprung parts and if L. is up to it, his reel has turned into a project.  Or maybe garbage.
     Looking at the bag of parts, L. decided it might be time to buy a replacement.  That's why we found ourselves in Walker for lunch.  For once my brain was working and recalled the perfect place to eat.  The food's good in the bar and grill, great pizza but most of all, a five foot row of beer spickets.  In truth I was hungering for pizza but the beer sealed the deal.
     After lunch we wandered down the street to Reed's.  If you're looking for outdoors gear Reed's is always worth the trip.  They've got it all from hi-tech sandals to musky gear.  There, both L. and El found reels in a last year closeout bin and had them spooled with Fireline.  Who'd have thought it was cheaper to have the pros do the winding than doing it yourself?  Throw in a few goodies for panfish, a spool of four pound mono four pound for Ryan and we were ready to hit some more gold in Silver Lake.
     Back at the access we found ourselves alone for no more than three minutes when a truck, three generations of fishermen and small Lund fishing boat pulled in.  Immediately we went into action with hopes of laying claim to the hot water Larry and Ryan had been on earlier.  Not wanting to let the strangers in on our game we putzed our way down the west shore like we had all the time in the world.  As luck would have it we ended up having the good spot for ourselves.  Whatever the reason, Eldon and flailed away with no more than the occasional weed on our lures.  Then, in desperation, pulled out the panfish rods.
     I was starting to think it was our destiny to boat nothing but sunnies on a lake L. and R. found bass heaven.  Perhaps the Tibetan Buddhists were right and I was being punished for all the life forms I'd carelessly killed over the years.  Mayflies, dragon flies, moths, butterflies, bees and a myriad other bugs stuck in my truck grill and splattered across my windshield came to mind.  Didn't karma understand I didn't want to kill any bass?  All I wanted was to impale a few and put the fear of death in their minds.  I was gonna let them all go, maybe they'd be psychologically scarred but would be free to go about their business once I was done with them.
     A head scratching unearthed a mysterious sunken island I'd read about years before that may or may not lie somewhere to the south of the campsite island.  Never gave the possibility much credence but since we weren't catching anything I figured it was worth a shot.  El Dean was up for an exploration also.
     How to find it was the problem.  In years gone by depth was sounded with a weighted rope knotted at one foot intervals.  Nowadays a fisherman fires up the electronics to learn water temperature, depth, fish, incoming Russian ICBMs and relative position in the galaxy.  Guess we were caught with our pants down again.  Didn't even have a rope, so we drifted and fan casted.  Gave the lures time to sink and did a slow retrieve.
     Drift and cast, cast and drift.  Five minutes into the game I hooked up with a big bass.  Came as a surprise but not a complete one.  Like all fishermen I don't go fishing with the idea I won't catch anything.  Even back in the winter when I was throwing flies and calling it practice there was a little voice in my head saying 'maybe'.
     But this was different.  Drifting out a hundred yards off the island in an area with no discernible reason for fish to be there the hookup did set me back a little.  That the bass made a run or two, rose toward the surface and didn't even need a jump to spit the hook came as no great surprise.  I'd lost my share of big bass over the years including the one in the morning.  Now I was oh for three and one tick higher on the pissed-off meter.  "Next one and I'm gonna hammer home the hook set.  Slam it in three or four times like Allan."  Yeah baby I was ready for the next one.
     Once past the island we paddled back for another drift.  About the same spot I hooked up again.  This time I didn't fool around.  Could have been the second set or maybe the third, which ever one it was, I yanked the spinner out of the fish's mouth.  Damnation!  Oh for four.
     A couple more drifts were fruitless.  We closed in on the island with no success.  By now we'd spent between five and six hours on a fine bass lake and had nothing but sunfish to show.
     Rounding the final corner we were looking at the shoreline where we'd caught our first sunnies.  What a difference a half day makes.  In the sunshine the pads and reeds had looked the same as the water along a dock to an eight year old with a Snoopy rod as remembered by a gray hair.  In other words, a few three inch sunnies and a bass which looked disdainfully at a hook and worm.  Now, under an overcast sky the shore looked like bass heaven.  And it was.
     Back to back casts put two bass on my line, one a two pounder, the other a hog.  Yup, lost them both.  Oh for six.  Eldon, on the other hand, finally got hot.  Started with a two pounder and quickly followed with a half dozen averaging close to four pounds.  Maybe it had to do with the new tube he'd tied on.  I believe he'd been fishing the other for three days.  Why not?  It hadn't fallen off and, if anything, smelled worse than it had when new.  Whatever the reason, El finally layed into the fishing he'd sought for three days.
     Sitting in the back seat I'd resigned myself to being a spectator  Did a cast now and then but was happy to watch the master tube 'em in one after the other.  Of course I had to go and ruin this wonderful evening with a three foot pike.  In the past such a fish would have rejuvenated me, pumped me up, but not tonight.  I was spooked.  She did a half dozen runs and a tail dance.  Finally, when the pike was finning next to the canoe, I recalled something I'd read about releasing fish by simply cutting the line a few inches above the spinner.  The treble was sunk solidly in the side of the jaw and down a bit.  No bleeding.  I cut the line.  Never done that before.  Wrong man with the wrong fish.
     As for the others they'd started slow and warmed up as evening had closed in.  A good night's fishing.  If there's fish to be had in a lake Ryan and his Dad will find them.  Patient, methodical fishermen with a touch.  They most often out fish me but I'll never voluntarily let them in on my dirty little secret.  Instead I'll recall their first trip to the northland.  Till then they'd never caught much beyond bullheads and thought catching bass was hard.  Thank God they had me and my sage advice,  "Here's your canoe. There's the lake.  Go get 'em." Like all things in life worth knowing they'd figured it out for themselves.
     That was it for the fishing.  The Southern boys left on Saturday morning.  As always they volunteered for the clean up but I like to do that myself.  Quiet time at the cabin is good time.  I'd hoped to spend the night, catch up on my reading and make a note or two but the deer tick in my knee said no.  Two weeks have passed without a symptom.  Damn little bugs are simply doing what nature intended and find me more than likable.  Such is life.  As to the fishing, there's almost always a next time and I'm looking forward to it with or without ticks.

Monday, June 23, 2014

On the Edge

     Little Jake never disappoints.  Always bass, always bluegills, sometimes perch and pike.  Home of both El and L.'s biggest bass (or would that be basses? They each caught a big one.  L.'s was bigger.  Or so he claims).  In general it's the same configuration and size as South Stocking so that's where we went for our evening.
     The three mile track on the way in had me spooked just thinking about it.  In the best of conditions the road's marginal.  At the entry stands a sign, Minimum Maintenance Road.  By minimum they mean virtually never.  Fallen trees are chainsawed off but I doubt anything else has been done in this century.   Seeing as how the road is mostly rubble, sand and rock any improvements would include dynamite.  Eventually it'll be impassable for anything but an ATV or those not minding a long portage.  Last night's storm on top of all the rest we'd had up north got me thinking, "If worse comes to worst I can always take my time and back out."  And there was also L. and his towing strap as backup.  Slow and easy was the tactic, with the emphasis on slow.
     What was once the sand surface of the trail was now eroded and gathered in the low spots.  Of course those low spots were under water.  Not unusual for this track but this evening puddles were wider and deeper than usual.  In some places a solid two feet.  A fried electrical system was a real possibility.  One school of thought, the x-games school, would see the drive as a challenge.  On the other hand some would see it as pure stupidity.  Get stuck back in the bush and it was a hike out.  Fry the engine, it was a walk out and a new vehicle.
     I took it an inch at a time, all the while peering over the hood to scope out what was coming and might slash a tire, till the last downhill.  At the bottom stretches a hundred feet of beach sand.  The sand's always there but today it was virginally level like we were the first fools in.   Running the sand was where the inching stopped and the short gunning run commenced.  Fly over that dune before we sink to the hubs.  And there at the end of the sand sat the biggest, baddest puddle.  Oh well, how deep could it be?  Up to the grill for sure but we were as good as there.  Once turned around I revved the motor for a while to blow and dry any water off.  Yeah, we were lucky to make the meadow where a cloud of blood lust hovered.
     The first order of business was a slathering of DEET.  Helps a lot but any spots missed became landing and feeding areas.  While spraying we agreed to be on our way out before the sun went down.  Being in those bug infested woods after dark was begging for a trip to the Twilight Zone.
     I've read most people find tucking their pants into their socks as unfashionable.  Guess when there's a good possibility of Lyme disease fashion takes a back seat.  We all tucked and were ready to hit the poison ivy portage.  Yu don't want to be roaming around on this trail.  Straight and narrow as she goes.
     The lake was flooded, as was the last fifty feet of path.  Surprisingly there were no swirls in the water as we approached.  Little Jake is thick with panfish even in the calf-deep shallows.  There are always a dozen or more V's of panic when we drop our gear.  Not tonight.  Got me thinking of the past winter, its bitter cold and heavy snowfall.  Could the lake have frozen out?
     Our first half hour on the water was as quiet as the shore.  Zip.  Nada.  Most likely they were out there, somewhere.  On a calmer evening we could have searched the entire lake.  Or if I was truly obsessed about finding them but I wasn't.  Guess this was't one of my obsessing days.  As far as I was concerned obsession is more tiring than it's worth.  For tonight being where we were was the deal.  Fishing was simply the excuse we used to be in the quiet of water and woods.  As I get older I find quiet to be comforting, even enjoyable.  And what better place to be than on Little Jake?  We were on the water, happy to be there and if we found fish, great.  If not, great.
     Yes we found them.  All were bass and all save one were less than a pound.  Plus one pike about the same size.  El Dean continued to fish his plastic tube.  His method was to pitch it atop a thicket of shore weeds, slide it off and bam!, a bass most every time.
     Never saw that before 'cause I'd never seen a floating, thicket of shore weeds on the lakes we fished.  From a distance they looked like an invasive species called Eurasian Millfoil.  Up close and compared with some internet detective work they didn't match up.  Maybe the weeds had something to do with the flooded lake and were growing in what should be dry land.  Little Jake may never have seen have seen a motor or a boat that could drag in an invasive species of any kind.  Small mystery on a small lake observed by people in small boats.
     Now's as good a time as any to question the strength of aircraft aluminum.  I should have been suspicious when I bought the canoe.  Why would anyone use aircraft parts in a boat?  Back when we were on Three Island Lake both El and I had heard a sharp gunshot.  Sounded close.  Too close.  Nothing more was heard so we gave it a shoulder shrug and fished on.
     Once ashore we discovered one of the support tubes under El's seat had split in half.  Must have been the gunshot we heard.  Could have been a flawed tube from the beginning.  Or maybe the front of the canoe had passed through a intense Vonnegutian gravity zone.  Could have been pretty much anything, even a large weight banging down on the seat each time it entered the canoe.  In the morning we slap dashed a fix.  Once back home in Minneapolis I ripped out a few straight grained ash one by ones with the idea of a new frame from old fashioned materials.  May not be as light as hi-tech but she'll be pretty.
     Back at the beginning of this entry I wrote Little Jake never disappoints.  Well, as it turned out Little Jake felt like just another day on the water.  Not bad, not good.  Can't say it was the lake's fault, as though a lake gives a damn one way or the other as to what a bozo like me feels about it.  Being on the water has more to do with the fisherman than the lake.  We came, we caught fish, we got out of there unscathed.  Reason enough to call it time well spent.  Or call it a time like the B.B. King song, "The Thrill is Gone," if only for an evening.

Friday, June 20, 2014

When it Rains….

     Boy oh boy did it rain that evening and night.  Throw in some forty mile an hour gusts and it was a real humdinger, yah sure.  Back when we had a cedar roof the sound of rain was soothing, comforting, like a lullaby.  Now with the steel above it's more like a day at the machine gun firing range.  Adjustment took a while but even the steel's staccato has become pleasurable.  Says to me it's raining outside and I'm inside dry, food on the table and good conversation all around. Of course surrounding the wood stove in this thought, hangs an army of jackets, pants and hats waiting till they're dry enough to be stuffed with our bodies and be soaked once more.  Not an easy life being rain gear.
     Around four o'clock I awoke to misty drizzle and the need to head outside for a minute.  Don't know why it is but mosquitoes know when my defenses and pants are down.  A flock on one knee and a swarm on the other.  Like I'm sprouting fur.  Little bastards.  Time to pinch it off and do some serious killing.  Takes the fun out of a moment of relaxation but adds the joy of slaughter.  Back in the bag, I'd just cozied in when the skies opened up once again.  Deluge.  I took a moment to thank my bladder for its sense of timing.
     Over a leisurely breakfast I fretted over and tried to pass the buck on where to fish.  Four plus inches of rain overnight and the winds were still roaring.  Only an idiot would go out on a day like this.  The fishing would have to suck, we'd be blown around and have a fair chance of capsizing.  The Deans were having nothing to do with participating in the decision.  All on my shoulders.  Guess they wanted to know who to blame when everything went south with the north wind.
     With the roar above and rain tracks on the windows the old fishing saw dancing across my mind was 'small and slow'.  Sounds more like a recipe for sexual disaster.  Close enough.  Under cold front conditions the rule calls for small lures or baited hooks and to fish them slow.  Make it easy for fish to get a snack.  But I was thinking more along the line of small lakes and don't rush into doing something stupid.
     First on the checklist was the north wind.  I scanned my mental list of what lakes would have protecting east-west points or shores.  Then factored in accesses that were relatively safe.  Finally eliminated any lake with the possibility of three foot rollers.  That left two.  Throw in a late lunch/early dinner at the cabin and we had ourselves a doable plan.  Huh?  Guess I never gave much thought to what the fishing would be like.  That was up to the fish.  If they were willing then, by golly, so were we.
     Outside of the twin aspens on the trail the driving wasn't bad, nothing more than mud, slop, gray skies, drizzle and puddles.  L. Dean always follows me in his truck.  I suspect he thinks I know where I'm going.  From my seat it looks more like, should I get stuck he can pull me out.  After all, he's got the four wheel drive.
      Back in the city and on the paved highways I see no need for four wheel.  L. lives off of gravel down in rolling corn country in northwest Iowa where blizzard visibility can sometimes shrink to his windshield.  Having both axles working for him is an asset.  Had I known he packed a towing strap I'd have headed to the back side of Hades if the fishing might be good.  Maybe that's why we went where we did in the evening.
     South Stocking is the first lake I fished in the Chippewa National Forest.  She's a forty acre, banana-shaped glacier slash in the woods.  Should you blink while rolling by on the trail you'd miss it.  My three biggest pumpkin seed sunfish came from it's waters.  It's pike tend to run around five pounds.  Not  like the possible monsters of big water but on Stocking they set you back.  Somehow they've mutated to having more than their share of evil eye.  When you've got one on the line it becomes a battle of wills.
     You're thinking,"Aha, I've got me a big pike.  Let's get 'em to the boat and take a picture."
     On the other end of the string the pike's thinking, "Either you turn me loose right away or I'm gonna take a chunk out of your kiester when you get me to the boat.  Dumb-assed wanna-be woodsman, here I come."
     First off I took the slow approach.  The trees above were whipping and spitting out a steady roar.  No hurry.  We sauntered down the eroded clay and gravel chute to the lake fifteen feet below.  Don't know why but there was not a whitecap to be seen.  Foot high chop and zephyrs galore but she looked safe enough.  Directly to our left was the bay I'd envisioned, glassed out and fishable.  Not a lot of protected shore but enough to give us an hour or two without spooking the water too much.   Back we went for the canoes and gear.
     Still wasn't in any mood to rush when we began to cart the gear down.  While the Deans fine tuned their rods I went into wild flower mode.  While standing in one spot I was able to see seven different varieties; moccasin flower, trillium (both white and pink), columbine, bunch berries, wild lily of the valley, and dogwood.  There was a time when the only roadside plant I could identify was poison ivy.  Good plant to know and the trails up north are thick with it.  Yup, down there today amongst the beauty lay the beast.  Of course I had to point my finds out to all the Deans who cared.  No takers.  Guess they had other things on their minds.
     There's not much sense in fishing Stocking's open water without some form of electronics.  Could be schools of crappies suspending in the deep but even in a small lake there's too much surface area for me and a lot of depth.  Blindly trolling and dredging is about as much fun as it sounds.  Throw in the work involved in a stiff wind and it never entered my mind.
     The plan for the day was getting on the water.  Any fish caught would be considered a bonus.  That's what I was saying, again and again.  Another way to say the same thing would have been, 'it's not my fault.'  From the get-go we parked ourselves in the lily pads.  Bobber time with a rod switch to spinners once in a while.  I'd tied four or five dozen over the winter and we put them to use for bass and pike.
     The key to a good spinner is the blade.  Maybe it's just me and my limited abilities but the only blade that flawlessly spins is a French blade.  It's my experience that all the other types are hit and miss.  About every third cast an Indiana or Colorado blade will lock in position and surf its way in.  A spinner that doesn't spin isn't a spinner.  Law of Coolfront.  This year's worked like champs.  So good I didn't care if I caught anything.  I'd honed that attitude over the winter months down south and called what I was doing fly casting practice.
     We caught fish, lots of them.  In the process we also learned how well adapted pumpkin seeds are to being hooked in lily pads.  Soon as they're lipped sunnies make a sideways run to the nearest pad stem where they do a few spins and twirls.  Once wrapped the little guys nearly always spit the hook.  So good were they one of them tied a near perfect uni-knot on a stem.  Gotta try doing that with my mouth someday.
     A half hour into our tiny sunfish expedition L. Dean went and ruined everything.  The pike measured at thirty-three inches on his paddle.  Heck of a fish from a forty acre lake.
     Ah, there's more to the story.  Seems the pike attacked L. while R. Dean was taking his picture or maybe the jaw spreader slipped.  Either way there were now three of them in the canoe together.  Here's where the story is supposed to describe the chaos of flying lures and impaled bodies as the fish thrashed around.  Fortunately for the boys this was a civilized creature which simply said, "Pardon my intrusion" and exited on its own.  Maybe not exactly but no one was hurt except the pike.
     My name is Mark and I'm an idiot.  Whew!  Got that out of the way.  Though the fishing wasn't bad, the sunnies were on the small side.  On top of that El Dean had lost so many pumpkinseeds to the lily pads I feared he was going to dive in to get him some any way he could.  Not a problem so long as he didn't tip the canoe.  Seeing as how he weighs an eighth of a ton I figured the laws of physics would kick in if he dove out and it would be swimming time for both of us.  Aqua follies.
     The solution to his dilemma was to paddle round the protecting point in search of bigger fish.  At least that's what I told El Dean to keep him in the boat.  My real plan was to fish the entire lake.  Sure the wind was whipping but out in the middle the waves looked to be no problem.  Been on rougher water many a time.  A recipe for disaster but we kept tight to shore where the little fishes played.
     Later, El said there was no doubt in his mind once we turned the corner we were going all the way.  Guess he'd been in the boat with me long enough to know my style.  Also long enough to know I wouldn't go if there was any real danger.  Nine years earlier El was spooked simply thinking of a canoe, said he'd never been in one that hadn't capsized.  Times had changed or maybe his brain was getting soft.  Figuring there was little to fear if the two of us could do it, the other Deans also paddled up lake and fished the far shore with similar luck.
     I'd like to say the fishing improved but it didn't.  El Dean caught a couple of what we called back in the black frying pan days as keepers.  I suspect there's still slab pumpkinseeds in South Stocking but suspecting doesn't show up in the camera I never remember to carry.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A River Runs Through It - Apologies to Norman MacLean

     Another torrential rain has a stream running through our basement.  Gettin' out the six foot fly rod.  I'm thinking cellar crappies, maybe basement bluegills, rec room rainbows, or even nether land northerns.  Maybe I'll just keep bailing.  Shazbot!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

It Heats up Under Threatening Skies

     When in doubt go to proven water.  The coward's way out.  Big Jake did not disappoint for the Deans.  Good for them.  I was looking for panfish, something different than the blue plate special.  Supposed to be big crappies, bluegills and perch in there.  Um-um.  Maybe the DNR netted them all out in the survey 'cause I didn't find a one.
     Could be it was me and my method.  Yeah, I wasn't throwing spinners and that's my thing.  Instead, at the end of my line was a tiny jig and an unnatural chunk of something that smelled like an plastics extrusion line.  Maybe I need to give some thought to the morality of throwing something toxic in a lake clean enough to drink.
     Okay, I confess to having a thing for panfish and realize in the land of walleyes those little flat fish don't count for much.  Here in Minnesota we've got walleyes in most of the lakes.  If the DNR finds one lacking in the state fish they dump a million in.  Lord knows we've gotta have our walleyes.  On the other hand jumbo perch are hard to find and they're tasty.  I keep saying they're the only fish I'd gladly kill and eat.  Big Jake's supposed to have them in spades but I've yet to see one.  Or a crappie.  Seen bluegills but haven't caught a one.  And I call myself a fisherman.
     The other boys caught way more than their share of middling bass.  Happy campers.  Oh well, it's better than not catching anything.  If Big Jake's anything it's consistent.  Wall to wall one to two pound bass.  If you want to catch bass by the numbers, this is your lake.  Panfish?  Guess I'll have to go back and give it another go.  They're there, just got to find them.  We pulled the plug after the Dean's caught the required three dozen.  Time to move on.  Oh yeah, almost forgot, it started raining.  Slow steady drizzle and building.
     We headed to a lodge for lunch.  Huddles on the south shore of Leech Lake has been in business since 1928 and is about the biggest mom and pop operation around.  Not fancy.  Solid and built around the huge muskies up on the walls of the restaurant.  And it survived the Depression.  We took our time.  The food was good and the rain said we weren't going anywhere for a while.
     Nine years earlier our first good lake was Three Island.  Filled with panfish, some honker bass and pike, and a few walleyes for those into trolling.  Pretty lake.  No cabins, tree-lined, points, bays and reefs and, of course, three islands.  El Dean wasn't along the first year.  Back then L. And R. caught more than their share of fish.  Not an Iowa bullhead among them and the boys had their mandatory dunking.  Somehow they survived and we once again stood at the access.
     Three Island is a relatively popular lake.  Oddly enough fewer fishermen show up when the wind is down and the weather is good.  Big Leech Lake isn't but two miles away as the musky swims.  So when it's possible to head out on the big water not many are interested in panfish in little water.  Fine with us.  Outside of the drizzle we were one boat shy of alone.  And we had rain gear.
     We'd been back once before but it had been a while, maybe five years.  Coming off the water back then we were approached by a man who looked like he'd walked right off the set of The Grapes of Wrath.  Don't know where he came from, he simply materialized out of the woods.
      "You fellas keep any fish you'd be willing to sell?"
     Had to say no to that.  Don't know whether we're too lazy to filet our catch or we find the thrill of catching reward enough.  Either way we throw them all back and had nothing to sell.  The way the man looked I doubt he had more than pocket change.  Of course he could as likely had a million dollar motor coach back in the woods and simply had a hankering for some walleye fingers while he watched Wheel of Fortune on his sixty inch flat screen.  Regardless, as soon as we gathered at the access again he was the center of the discussion.
     Overcast and drizzling, it's a great combination.  That and knowing forty minutes south sat a dry cabin, three cords of dry hardwood and a meal warm and waiting.  Yes, it was a good evening.  The fishing was a cut above fair, mostly bluegills and crappies.  Throw in a few bass and pike and it was definitely okay.
     Third time on the lake and we'd yet to fish but half of it.  Three virgin bays, what was wrong with us?  R. and L. set off to the northwest bay to do penance for our neglect.  Turned out it was the promised land complete with angel and flaming sword.  Maybe that's an exaggeration but the drizzle was now turning into a full fledged rain.  Top that off with the forecast of thunderstorms and deluge, we called it an early evening.  But not after, bam, bam, bam, R. and L. hammered two bass and a pike. Or maybe two pike and a bass.  And the bay did look like the promised land of incredible fishing.  Didn't matter, we had a hot dish waiting.  Like I said, what was wrong with us?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Unexpected

     Let's face it, the unexpected is always expected.  What it actually turns out to be will no doubt catch me with my pants down.  Always does, fact of life.  In this case, a couple of mature sixty foot aspens laid across the Woodtick trail.  Thirty feet of trunk on one side, thirty feet of branches on the other.
     We had another hammering storm up north.  Four or five inches of rain layered on top of an already flooded land.  Strong, gusty, tree whipping winds.  Deadman has gained a dozen acres of surface area and the outhouse hole has become an unhealthy cistern.  Almost makes a man want to flush when he's done with his business.  My best guess is the water table now lies two feet below ground level.  Two hundred miles to the southwest the land is in drought.  Well it was until the last week.  Nine inches of rain with more on the way sure does pump up the ground water.
     The forestry roads turned out to be even more of a challenge than last year and last year's had us backtracking now and then.  Mud holes here, two foot deep, engine wetting puddles there, downhills looking like dry stream beds filled with rock and boulder.  Driving into some of the lakes was a four mile an hour creep.  Scary.  None of us had a problem with leaving before the sun set.  Been stuck in the blackness of the night woods before and have no great desire to do it again.
     On the upside I only saw five ticks all week.  Two on the truck, one on El Dean's neck, one on my old orange sweat shirt.  Of course the last was a deer tick partially imbedded in my knee.  Little bastard.  Fly in the ointment.  Chances are slim for a reoccurrence of lyme disease but I'll pay attention for the next month.
    The week over, my body is tired.  Old gray mare syndrome.  No complaints except my butt which feels pinched, abraded and crushed after thirty hours on the canoe's cane seat.  You'd think a mature retired guy like me would be used to sitting and I am.  Maybe it's 'cause I don't use a seat back or cushion.  Or possibly the way the ash frame of the seat seems to line up nicely with every bone in my backside.  Don't know if I'd ever been bruised from sitting but I am now.
     Once again it was a whirlwind, good time that was over almost as soon as it started.  Four days just isn't enough time for a fishing trip.  We're on the run from the arrival of the Deans till they pack it up on Saturday.  Manic.  I recall the Canada trips with my son Allan.  How each was longer than a week and three were a full two weeks.  Enough time to slow down and putz.  It's the doing nothing that rejuvenates.  Oh well, as the saying of the day goes 'it is what it is.'  And why should a retired man need rejuvenation?
     The aspens spanning the trail were a godsend.  Not that the fishing was bad but we expected good fishing, not trees.  And they were a challenge.  How to move a ton of wood tangled among brush and hundred foot pines?  Had I been a savvy… let's just say my learning curve ticked one notch higher and on future trips into the woods, over marginal roads, after a storm I will pack the chain saw.  As it was we began by snapping off branches to lessen the load before trying to manually push and drag the trunks off the trail.  Like whistling in the dark.  Pointless.
     Fortunately L. Dean had a heavy duty towing strap in the back of his truck.  The upper tree moved easily.  We were absolutely sure it would but kept a respectful distance.  In the back of my mind I could clearly see the bullwhip effect of twenty feet of yellow strap tipped with a half pound steel hook.  Being the gentleman that I am I placed my body directly behind El Dean.  After all, I knew the way to the hospital.  Seemed R. Dean had done a good job with the strap.  The Explorer tugged the top tree till it would move no more and the truck began to do a sideways dance.  The four of us finished the job.  Good enough.
     The lower aspen was a tough nut.  Pinned in place by the upper she just didn't want to move enough to let us pass.  Long story short we escaped thanks to being on high ground in a saturated forest with no more damage than a hole in the seat of L. Dean's rain pants.  War wound.
     I showed up last Sunday with cleaning on my mind.  German-Swede nature I guess and didn't want the Iowa boys to tsk-tsk my house keeping.  Pines are pollenating and they strew their yellow powder far and wide.  'Specially on the cabin's porch.  Come June everything out there is coated in the saffron colored stuff that gets me honking and coughing.  Throw in the accumulation of winter blown dust and dirt and the porch is a mess requiring five buckets of warm soap and water to dent.  Hands and knees, city boy.  But in an hour or two it's done.  Standing tall for a few hours till more pollen comes visiting.
     In some ways the best part of the week is Monday.  Work to be done for sure but with time to spare for reading and listening to bird song.  Truth was - and is - another day would have been nice to do a full clean up.  The building is what I'd call middle-aged.  Has a patina but is as sound as day one.  Maintenance, pure and simple.  Seems I recall something to that effect in Kesey's novel "Sometimes a Great Notion."
     Anyhow, the gang showed up pretty much when they said they would and I was as ready as I was.  The canoe trailer was modified to make it idiot proof.  Gotta do those things when there's time to think it over before getting out the tools.  Won't go into detail but the rig worked almost as good as store bought.  Or maybe we were lucky.  Since nothing came close to happening I'm leaning towards a job well done.
     Canoes were strapped on and ready to go.  Rods were strung and all of the gear loaded.  Yeah, I was ready.  I suppose the Deans were hot to trot from the moment they drove in but I figured a relaxed attitude was the way to go.  They came, they strung, we cracked a beer and waited for the food to warm.  This was the year of the crock pot.  Rather than cook over a fire we were dumping our meal in the pot after breakfast, setting the pot on low and dinner was ready when we returned in the evening.  Slick.  Not exactly the way the Daniel Boone did it but if he'd had electricity….
     Dinner done, dishes washed - damn but we were civilized - we hit the road and drove for all of nine minutes to a fair to middling lake.  Let's just say fishing was slow.  But we knew it would get better over the next few days.  Had to.
     Just in case, I had fourteen lakes up my sleeve, even wrote them down.  Couldn't do them all in three days, I knew that.  But I did know mother nature would shorten the list.  Can't buck the big waves in a canoe.  I suppose we could but a fair chance of a dunking takes the edge off a good time.  When the wind's up I look for a protected launch and shore.  A strong breeze and I run carefully down the list, assess 'em all, then go with my gut.  Sometimes it even works.  I guess thirty-four years on the local water is my ace in the hole.
     Truth is, out of the fourteen lakes, seven of them were only on the 'maybe someday' list.  All the others were tried and true.  Like that means anything.  It's a crapshoot plain and simple.  I've been skunked on the best of lakes and sometimes hammered 'em when everything seemed wrong.  On that first night I wasn't expecting much and wasn't disappointed.  A sign of things to come?  I hoped not.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

No Internet in the Woods

     And I like it that way, more or less.  That leaves me with my memory of events.  'Spose I could take notes but what's the fun of that?  Memory is a fickle thing but when it comes to fishing mine still does the job.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Bite Problems

     No, not that bite.  Not the one where you're talking about how good the fishing is.  As in, "How's the bite?"  "Not bad, I'm gettin' my share."  No, it's my teeth, pure and simple.
     It all goes back to my first spool of monofilament line.  Use a knife to cut it?  Not me or for that matter most any fisherman I ever wet a line with.  A real man tied his knot and bit the tag end off with  his razor sharp front teeth (whatever they're called).  Yeah, that's the way real men do it.  No nail clippers like those stuffed shirt, candy-assed fly fishermen.
     Since I've started throwing flies more frequently I've continued to bite line.  But it's not working like it used to.  Fifty plus years have taken their toll on my choppers.  They're dull.  No two ways about it.  And the front two, primary line slicers are no longer the same length.  It's a real challenge biting the tag end right down to the knot.  Usually takes a couple of snaps and the second piece is scary short.  Takes real concentration to not lose it in my mouth and end up hacking and and choking on it all the way to the emergency room to have it surgically removed.  reminds w me of the days I used to have a mustache.   Perhaps I've matured to the point of accepting the humiliation of nail clippers.  Probably would have been a good idea from day one.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Gathering the Gear

     Leaving on Sunday.  Two days on my own then five with the Iowa lads.  More or less have the lakes picked out and the fishing gear ready to go.
     Lakes are always a consideration and I like to throw in a new one or two every year.  Guessing which ones are going to produce is always a crap shoot.  There are a couple I always go back to year after year and there are a few I haven't seen in better than ten years.  The guiding principles for quality water haven't changed since those first days; the fewer the cabins and the worse the access the better the fishing.  But, as usual, I'm doing a map aided rundown of every lake in the area with hopes a miracle might happen and the lake of my dreams will call out to me.
     Seems I've fished nearly every fish bearing small lake within twenty five miles of the cabin.  I once did a count but have since forgotten the number.  Now I'm either too lazy to do a recount or just don't think knowing the number would matter a whole lot.  I'm leaning toward the latter 'cause it makes me seem more like a wise old man than one who has a hard time remembering which way to turn when leaving the driveway.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Beast

     Here's the plan, call it way past Plan B, and it goes something like this:  I have no problem being that weird old man who fishes the local lakes in an odd manner.  Call it a case of no pride.  Last Saturday I wade fished the local water.  Even though I again caught nothing, I had a good time.  And figure that might be a fishing future I could live with.  Though catching something now and then would perk things up.
     My waders are lo-tech ones that don't breathe.  They also don't leak and get me off the shore, about belly button deep.  Puts me out where most of the shore fishers float their bobbers and where I'd be positioning a canoe to work the shore and drop off.  So far so good.
     The next phase is the rod.  Don't get me wrong, I love using a fly rod but I'm just not that good with one.  That's honesty.  And don't feel there's enough time in my life to get a whole lot better at it.  That's laziness.  So I've been scouring the outdoors sites to see what appeals.  I believe I even mentioned noodle rods in the past.  Long, whippy and can cast a small spinner from here to kingdom come, however far that might be.  From what I gather they're more or less like a fly rod with a spinning reel attached.  Seems I have what might work, a ten foot, eight weight with two stripping guides much like a spinning rod.  It'll either work or it won't.  If it doesn't, I'll buy a noodle.  If it does it'll be me, my green, waterproof bibbers and the long stick, not catching fish but with a new attitude.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Ark

     Never made it to the cabin.  Five inches of rain flooded the northwoods yesterday and more on the way today.  No point in going just to hear the rat-a-tat-tat of rain on the steel roof.  But I don't feel good about missing the time in the woods.  There's never enough of it as it is.  Three days gone that can never be relived.  I guess rational action comes with a price.
     Not much better here with close to three inches in the rain gauge.  On the upside I did wade the local lake and it was fun to hear the carp wallowing in the debris of the shallows.  As for me, I was skunked again.  There's fish in the little lake.  All I have to do is find them.