Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Old Friend

     Pulled my tent outside today.  It hasn't seen the sun in five years.  I considered slathering it in sunscreen but couldn't find any.  All told the Eureka! is fourteen years old.  Old enough to be suffering signs of old age, holes, mold, rot and arthritis.  But she was just fine.  Even the patch I'd put on the fly a decade ago was pristine.  Well, as pristine as a repair job can be.
     It erected easily and brought back memories just as easily.  Setting it up on the last day of our fourteen day 2002 trip was a challenge.  We'd spent most of the day paddling into a stiff headwind.  Finally bagged it after seeing what was ahead, eight or more miles of roaring three footers.  While Allan cooked the last of our food I set up the tent.  The two of us couldn't have handled any more.  We crawled into the bags around six o'clock that evening and slept for nearly eleven hours.
     Inside I was overcome by the stale tent smell that means wilderness to me as much as sun on spruce.  Made me want to curl up and close my eyes for a couple of minutes.  Top that with finding a Canadian one dollar Looney on the floor along with four rubber bans.  Oh yeah.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Paddle Done

     Four coats of spar varnish on the shaft, six on the blade.  Pretty-pretty.  Need to take and post pictures.  Not easy for the tech challenged.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Canoe Paddle V

     It sure takes a lot of sanding to remove an eighth of an inch of ash from a paddle blade.  How much I'll never know.  After a couple of hours with the random orbital sander I bit the bullet and pulled out the planer once again.  To say I babied the operation is no exaggeration.  Two minutes of care did most of the job.  Out came the sander once more and smoothed out all the jagged edges.  A hand touch up with 150 grit got the blade ready for a wetting and final sanding using 220 grit.
     This morning the entire paddle was wiped down with tack cloth and given its first coat of spar varnish thinned with mineral spirits.  A second coat was applied this afternoon.  Four more uncut coats applied one per day ought to do the job.  Finally I'll take it to the Boundary Waters and beat the hell out of it.  Or maybe hang it on a wall where I can admire it and imagine where the paddle might have taken me.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Gear in the Basement

     Hauled the packs out of the attic and dumped them in the basement where it can be spread out.  Clear out the nesting critters, air out the stink, check the tent and we're ready to go.  Maybe not yet.  Looks like the date is 9/11.  Interesting.  It's been five years since the gear saw the light of day.  Can't say I remember what all was in those packs.  Should be fun saying hi to all the old stuff.
     Last night I reserved a permit for Clearwater Lake.  Not the entry I was hoping for but the other filled some time ago.  No problem.  We'll still see the same sights except in reverse.  Maybe we should paddle backwards?  Got me thinking of why I wanted to paddle East Pike Lake again.  Seemed I'd just done it a few years ago, that is if sixteen qualifies as a few.  Closer to quite a few.
     Brian and I were in the Boundary Waters together back in the mid '90s.  There were six of us on a day trip and we caught a few smallmouth bass on silver spinners.  He was the one hollering "It's a shark! It's a shark!" when he had a big bass on the line.  Good time.  This time it'll be only the two of us.  Of the group the one I'll miss most is my son Allan.  Gotta keep myself alive and fit for a few more years so I can accompany Al and his son Matthew on a canoe trip and sleep in the woods.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Rain on the Shoulder

     Coming down in buckets outside.  Not a problem since I wasn't going anywhere for a while.  Could be I've been conditioned over the years to feel cooped up when it's raining.  There's books and keyboard to pass the time.  If I was home there'd be stuff to do around the house.  Maybe even pull down the packs to see if the gear is still boonies-worthy. All kinds of activities to pass the time.  Oh yeah, I could go out to the garage and work on the paddle.  Then meditate, clean my soul and change the world.  Skip the last one, I'd be better off making a couple of peanut butter sandwiches for lunch.
     Days like this bring to mind being windbound or going through a soaking with gear bobbing on the tent floor as a rivulet passes underneath.  I've only been through a combination of high winds and rain on a couple of occasions.  We didn't die but it sure crimped our style.  And learned a lot.  When the times call for staying put, stay put even when everything inside the brain is screaming, "Oh crap!  I've been waiting a year for this?"  When the world gives you lemons say, " Oh look, lemons.  What the hell did life give me lemons for?  And just think of the carbon footprint.  Are they certified organic?  Grown in the USA or halfway around the planet?  Maybe next time life can just give me lemonade and cut out the middle man."

Thursday, August 14, 2014


     Sittin' here like a wallflower waiting for dates for a Boundary Waters trip.  It'd sure be nice to write a few words about wilderness canoe fishing considering that's what this blog is supposed to be about.  Yup, just checked the title.  Got the canoe and the gear just need the wilderness.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Canoe Paddle IV

     Slowly it gets slimmer and lighter.  Ground down a thousandth of an inch at a time.  Never done one the right way before so as I come closer to the finished blade I turn chicken, afraid to go too far.  Grind the blade so thin it would be transparent.  Extraordinarily light and totally useless.  Maybe zen it into nothingness.  Hang the nothing on the wall with a blank sign beneath and pause occasionally to admire the purity of my handiwork.
     On the other hand the thought occasionally strikes me I could buy a new ash paddle for a little over a hundred bucks.  Figure I've got ten in sand paper, varnish and electricity.  When it's all said and done I'll have been paying myself about four to five bucks an hour for a paddle I don't really need.  Must be something wrong with either me or the math.  In the tech age handcrafting doesn't pay well.  Maybe I'll keep making paddles simply to see if I can get faster.  Give them away to people who need one even less than I.  The idea of pulling up to a busy intersection and handing a homeless guy a hardwood paddle has its appeal.
     On the water the other day my son Allan came up with a good idea.  I'd been blithering about putting some form of decoration on my paddle.  Not an easy thing to do when lacking decorating talent.  He simply said, "Ruler."  I responded with a blank stare and a "Pardon?"  I say that a lot.  Means I didn't understand and would like the statement repeated slowly, loudly and clearly.  Seems he meant to putting a measuring device on the blade and handle.  Many's the time we've used a paddle blade to estimate the length of a fish.  Actually inscribing a ruler on a paddle is both a practical and great idea.  So that's the plan.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Grandpa's Role in the Scheme of Things

     Geez, I've got a title.  Sometimes it's papa, sometimes grandpa and for the littlest one it's bumpa  (I kind of like the last one).  Now I have to figure out how to handle the glory.  Maybe I should put myself in the back of the boat and give it some thought while I'm sitting there.  Can't say I've gotten used to the jon boat but that's where I put myself.  This time I was smart enough to carry along some strips of carpeting to avoid a broiled backside.  There's something about metal painted dark green basking in summer sunshine that says you don't need a skillet to fry up some bacon and eggs.  Also says to not do it again.
     Yup, I'm sittin' in the catbird seat with my grandson Jakob on next seat forward.  My job is to help him catch fish but keep my hands off his fishing pole.  Be there but stay out of the way.  Be prudent in my choice of words.  I'm not good at choosing my words.  For decades all I had to do was open my mouth and the flow commenced.  Sometimes it seemed like someone else was doing the talking.  My job was to rush in with the coverup should something off color pop out.  Be cool old man, you're a grandpa now.  Fool them into thinking you're a wise old man.
     It's not easy being sagacious.  Probably not possible.  Freedom of youth a thing of the past.  More likely a loss of freedom from committing acts of stupidity.  Maybe accepting the loss is the wisdom part?
     Got a new perspective today.  My four year old grandson Matthew was sitting on a cushion in the canoe between his dad and I.  A four year old sure isn't a problem in the boat.  He wasn't interested in fishing so no knots to untie.  While his dad fished, Matt and I talked about fish, the names for all the parts of a canoe, the trees along the shore and what he might be doing when he's an old, old man like his grandpa.  All the while Matthew was holding up his end of the conversation and had a smile on his face almost as though he was enjoying being on the water.  If he was hepped up about a need to go faster he never let on.  Maybe he's like his grandpa and likes to hear the chatter of birds and carry on a conversation.  Yup, like a leaf we slid along on the gentlest of breezes.  Of course his dad had to go and mess things up now and then by catching fish.  Just no excuse for that.
     The name grandpa does set me back now and then.  When I consciously hear the name, mull it over for a moment, I find myself thinking, "What the heck happened?" and, "Are they talking to me?" When Lois and I had children I figured the next step was inevitable but not till sometime way in the future.  I always forget I'm stuck in now.  It's always now.  Always was, always will be.  Was now when the kids were born and was just as now when the grandchildren came along.  Probably going to be now when I die.  Through all those nows I was always looking through the same eyes, thinking with the same brain, holding onto most of the same me.  And at some level it once in a while surprises me it's happening.
     I'm usually smart enough to not say these things out loud but not always.  It doesn't hurt to pass on such thoughts to the sprouts.  Of course, if things go right, they'll someday figure it out on their own.  But it wouldn't hurt if they remember their grandpa when they do.
     By the way, the fishing was good that morning.  Overcast, calm and drizzling on and off.  The little lake sits at the bottom of surrounding hillsides.  Mostly it's undisturbed parkland but one end does have a few houses.  Big houses with massive landscaping.
     Allan and I paddled, fished and talked.  Almost like the Canada days.  Well, nothing's like those days but times change.  We caught a half dozen bass, a few sunnies and a decent pike.  Al  fished like the old days.  Kept the spinner flying.  I sat in the back in boat control, fishing enough to get a couple.  Time on the water with shared blood, I'll take that any day.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Not Right III

     For Jake it was still bass on the second evening.  Size didn't matter, they were all big ones to him.  Numbers baby, numbers.  In the afternoon R. Dean had Jake's overstuffed reel stripped and spooled once again, this time with six pound mono.  Again it looked to be over-spooled.  And it was.  And the line was twisted.  Twist is a simple thing to avoid when spooling so long as you've learned what to do.  Could be the problem was the reel.  Maybe bad karma.  Maybe a leftover chunk of the polar vortex of last winter was hanging around Jake's reel twisting the day away.  What ever the problem it was good we had back up rods.
     This time we made it out of the driveway with no self-caused problems.  Not only that but at the access we even remembered to park the truck in an acceptable location.  Life was good, the winds were again calm, the sun was out and the bullfrogs were ker-rumping away.  Again the bass were hard to find.
     By and large Jake was casting fine for an eight year old.  Only problem was eight year olds don't cast all that well.  It's tough on an old fart like me to not step in, grab the rod and say, "This is how you do it kid."  I did that once simply to show him how to work a jig with a slip bobber.  Mea culpa.  But that's what grandpa's are for.  Little pointers now and then on relatively safe topics.  Gotta watch saying things like "Ooh-wee, that's a fine looking woman," then going on to describe all the reasons why in graphic details.  Those kind of things are easily self-learned when the time is right.
     It took twenty minutes to find the first bass.  At around two pounds it was Jake's biggest.  And his last for the day.  Maybe he was hiding it well but J. Dean didn't seem to mind a lot.  I suspect deep inside he'd have appreciated hauling in another dozen but that's the way she goes.  The fish don't care who's on the other side of the line.  They don't play favorites even when the fisherman is a likable eight year old.  Regardless, for a half hour he'd caught the first, most and biggest bass of the day.
     Once on the big side of the lake the fishing picked up a little.  R. Dean and I caught them casting, trolling and on bobbers.  The idea behind the bobbers was finding some of those elusive bluegills.  They're there but once again they stayed out of our way.  We trolled in hopes of finding walleyes.  Like the bluegills, they seem to go into hiding whenever I show up.  Guess I'm not meant to be a walleye fisherman.
     Sitting in a boat is a lot like sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee only there's a lot more to see.  Conversation rises and falls.  Between sentences there's the shoreline, woods and water to stare off into.  Once in awhile a gull or osprey passes.  Occasionally something hammers the line, a reel fouls, weeds need to be cleaned from line and lure.  Pictures of smiling faces with fish in front of them are taken.  Yup, exactly like sitting at a kitchen table.
     Never sat in a boat with my dad or my grandpa.  I have fished with my son, son-in-law and grandson.  Can't say I feel cheated out of anything and for darn sure have enjoyed every minute on the water with in-law and blood.  I guess the lesson is to be thankful for what you've got.

Canoe Paddle III

       Not much to say except it's getting smaller and lighter.  That's good.  Needs to get a lot smaller and feather light.   Hope I know when to stop.  This ain't subnuclear particle physics, thank God, or the world might be facing an imminent apocalypse.  "World as we know it ends as idiot takes too much off canoe paddle."  Or something to that effect.
     So far it keeps getting prettier with each passing minute.  Oh well, back to the old scrape and sand.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Not Right II

     On Friday evening the Deans and I headed for a honey hole figuring Jake would be happier with fish on the line than having to be content with the thrill of birdsong across the water.  As for type of fish Jake wanted bass.  Don't know if he's familiar with the other fishes but he does know bass.  There are several sure fire lakes in the area that always produce.  No problem.  Our only concern was between quantity and quality.  Though R. Dean and I feared for the boy's life, we went for quality.  Like I said, Jake's an eight year old string bean.  Couple that with a kid's innate desire to never let loose of the fish of a lifetime, we figured a five pound bass would no doubt pull him overboard.  R. Dean said he'd grab the boy should anything like that happen.  Seeing as how I was out of duct tape to lash Jake to his seat, that was fine with me.
     You know you're a full blood city boy when you make a wrong turn trying to find a lake you've been to but weeks before.  Could've sworn it was the nine hundred, thirteenth birch tree up the track.  In my defense it was an entirely new wrong turn.  One more road I'd never been down before.  Slightly more educated error.  Eventually we made it and had the water to ourselves for four hours.  Glassed out water even.
     I don't trust boat motors, even electric trolling ones.  Two things can go wrong with the latter, the motor and the battery.  Maybe there's a third and I won't know what that is until it inevitably goes kaput.  Back at the cabin I'd trickle charged the battery till the meter said it was full.  Then hooked it up to the motor and both worked.  In my mind that proved nothing.
     Back at the cabin we were so excited about leaving Lois had to run out to let us know we hadn't raised the wheel stand the trailer tongue rests on.  Oops.  Nothing was broken except the embarrassed smile across my face.
     At the boat access we slid seamlessly into boner number two by leaving the truck and trailer in the throat of the boat launch.  Oops.  A quick return and all was well.  Ahh, city boys in the woods.
     Dog Days of August.  Yup, the fishing can be slow in Minnesota.  Usually bass like warm water so we figured we'd do okay.  We didn't.  Come evening we'd had a couple on the line but that was about it.  Not the day J. Dean was hoping for.
     However, there was a reprieve in the form of bluegills.  Lots of bluegills with a few of them pushing a pound.  The Saturday morning fishing show pros call them bull bluegills with real shoulders.  That's a bit of hogwash but it is true a ten inch sunnie feels like a two pound bass on the line.  Heavy duty enough to put a smile on an eight year old's face.  A few entries ago I'd written there hadn't been a bluegill ever netted by the DNR in these waters.  Times change.  Maybe the stork was confused and delivered the baby sunnies to the wrong lake.  Whatever the reason, we had a fine time.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Canoe Paddle II

     Things don't always go as planned.  Hah, that's sure an understatement.  Would've helped if I'd had a pattern before sawing and glueing up the stock.  But I didn't and life is too short to wait, so I did what I do best, I guessed.  My first choice for paddle design couldn't be made.  So it's choice number two and that's okay.  If this one works out another can be made to match the beavertail I really wanted.  If that one works out, number three will be an ottertail.
     Yesterday I traced and sawed the rough shape.  Oddly enough the paddle looks as it should.  Still a club but more streamlined.  Easier to get a solid swing should any ETs invade my garage.
     I've no more than a general idea of where to go from there.  No two methods I've looked up carve paddles the same way.  Same goes for sealing the finished product, varnish, oil and how to apply them.  Guess I'll have to do it the old fashioned way, try something and see if it works.  If it doesn't I'll let you know.  I've been known to screw up once in a while and expect I'm not done.
     One of the videos I watched used an industrial band saw to shape the paddle.  Sure worked slick.  I do have a band saw but it's a few horsepower short of industrial.  Still considered using it even though I knew the saw wasn't up to clawing through an inch and a half thick ash slab.  Turned out a little saber saw did the trick.  Even better when I installed a new blade.  Thank God I had a clamp to hold the blank in place.  Two of them came with my body.  I call them knees.  Better than nothing even though the vibration from the saw nearly jarred the fillings out of my molars.
     Several of the carvers used a spoke shave for the handle and even the blade.  The shave has a long history behind it.  Works like a plane, looks like a tiny draw knife.  Draws through soft wood like a knife on warm butter.  Would it work on ash?  A moot point unless I want to order one on line.  The man at a local big box tool store didn't know what one was.  Instead I grabbed a surform.  Works something like a coarse file with itty-bitty knife edges to cut through the wood.  The idea is to remove all that's not the paddle and leave all that's knuckle and finger.  Don't want to stain perfectly good ash.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Grandpa's Not Always Right

     Lois and I just arrived home from six days up north.  While there our daughter and family spent three days.  Annie hasn't been there for seven years and her daughter Mollie was seeing the woods for the first time.  Also made friends with her first wood tick.  Those things happen.  Wish the little buggers didn't make themselves at home on a six year old or anyone for that matter.  At least it wasn't a deer tick.
     Back in June my son-in-law Ryan, one of the Deans, said he and Jakob Dean would come up north in August for a couple of day's fishing.  Not the best time of year but the bugs would be down and that's always a good thing.  Then, a couple of weeks ago the plan changed.  That the entire troupe would be coming was exciting.  Well, as exciting as it gets for me these days.  Yes, it was a good time.
     But seeing as how this is a fishing blog I suppose I should write about our time on the water.  Yes we did get on the water a couple of times.  If you've been reading my entries you know I'm an avid canoe man.  By avid I mean I enjoy the heck out of it but am straight line challenged.  Maybe in the next life I'll get good at J-stroking.  This time the canoes were left in the shed.
     J. Dean is an eight year old sprout, slim as a reed and full of vinegar.  I'd be more than willing to have him in the bow seat of the canoe any day but fear his parent's wrath should he fall overboard.  Not having learned the ins and outs of how to correct the usual things that go wrong while fishing, Jake also needs a little TLC that can't be provided from the back seat of a canoe.  Reason enough to use my jon boat and electric trolling motor.
     His Dad had him set up with two rods.  Decent rods, freshly spooled at an outdoor shop.  You'd think the people behind the counter would know how to wind a spool.  Most do but some aren't much more than warm bodies who don't know when a spool is full.  Lucky for Jake one of his spools knew it had been overfed and vomited twenty excess yards in hairball fashion.  Fatherly love stepped up to the plate and righted the wrong.  Twenty minutes of no fishing for R. Dean.  Those kind of things happen all the time to kids and probably cloud their idea of what fishing is like.
     I recall similar problems when I was drowning the worms of my childhood.  Part of the problem was ignorance, part crappy, hand-me-down gear and my personal favorite, lack of money. But none of that kept me from having a good time when near water though little was caught.  Seems J. Dean feels the same way.  Even when the bird's nests were flying he was upbeat.
     Like a good younger sister Mollie also wanted to go fishing.  Four in the jon boat would have been a crowd.  Turned out it wasn't since Mollie was more than happy to do her fishing from a dock.  No fish were caught but she didn't seem to much care.  Watching the resident dock sunnies lip and dash with her plastic tipped jig seemed as fascinating for her as for any kid.  Good time on a perfect evening.