Monday, May 25, 2015

Cold water

     Might as well have been early April when I headed up north on a mid-May Monday.  Spring had been a come and go thing in the northland.  I'd expected knee high grass to greet me.  Instead it was barely long enough to mow.  Yeah, we've got grass around the cabin.  Not a lawn, just grass, plus some weeds, ground covers and a small variety of wild flowers covering the ground since Lois and I removed the hazel brush.  Mowed anyhow and was treated to short blasts of sleet.  Can't say that's happened before.  There was the time in Manitoba when Allan and I fished our way through a June snow storm.  But that was Manitoba.  Five hundred miles north of the border where you expect next winter to overlap with the last. Thankfully we'd decided to leave the mower home on that trip.  Truth was we'd have brought it had we been able to fit the mower in the canoe.  A true woodsman likes a neat campsite and a mower would've added a homey touch of civilization (that and the lace curtains we hung from the jack pines).
     Cleaned, dusted, washed and vacuumed the cabin.  Biked the gravel roads three times and spooked a dozen deer.  Even was ambitious enough to pump lube into the trailer bearings and inflate the tires (turned out they were forty-five pounds low).  At least they weren't flat.
     The boys from the south showed up Wednesday afternoon.  After ten years of doing this trip, the unload has become routine.  Twenty minutes from arrival all was as stowed as it was gonna be and the three of them were busy trying to remember how to tie knots.  In the early years we'd try to hit the water as soon as possible.  That meant nearby, marginal water and a late supper.  But last year we began to wise up and ate before heading out.  Same this year.  By four-thirty we were chowing down (slurping up?) on homemade spaghetti.  An hour later we were on the road heading to bass heaven.
     Most Minnesotans would consider early season bass a travesty, an invasion of the spawning bedroom.  So did the DNR till this year.  Now there's two weeks of early season catch and release at a time when bass were once verboten.  Could be some form of enlightenment.  More likely the DNR came to accept the fact that it was already happening, had been since the beginning of fishing regulations, didn't have much effect on the bass population and there was no way to prove if a fisherman was trying for bass or small pike.  As it turned out all of the females we caught were spawned out.
     It'd been cold for a week and the water was just right for chilling beer.  As it turned out our first day was filled with short strikers.  And there weren't a lot of them.   But we did boat a few.  Pretty much what I figured.  Seems I've got this half full glass problem.  When my intuition tells me the fishing'll be slow, it's slow.  When I figure it'll be hot, there's a fifty-fifty chance it will be.  Back in my teens a good friend of mine always put odds at fifty-fifty, "it'll either happen or it won't."  A smart man would simply say the fishing will be what it will be.  I'm not that smart.
     A couple of years ago I did some serious thinking about whether the glass was half full or half empty.  Got this idea if the water filled the top half of the glass instead of the bottom, we'd all agree as to the glass's water status, as in "that's some weird water you got there.'.  Maybe even bow down like it was a golden calf.  Maybe get a new commandment.  Problem was how to get the water in the top half without nothin' being in the bottom.  Tried turning it over real quick but that just made the floor wet.  I'll get back to you on how freezing the water worked out.
     The highlight of the evening was seeing four beavers at the same time.  As usual, the first tail slap caught my attention.  No matter how many times I've heard a beaver whack, the first one of the night always  triggers 'twelve pound bass' in my brain.  We figured them to be members of the same family.  Seems up to four adults winter over in the same lodge.  Wouldn't have taken the time to look that up if there hadn't been a quad of them on Silver Lake.  Jakob would probably have preferred to catch a boatload of bass and pike but at least he was getting a little northwoods atmosphere.  Looking back over the years I do remember some of the fishing but, more so, I recall simply being there on the water.
     The wind paid a visit on Thursday.  Not a big wind just a little slap in the face.  We were on a good lake and again had it to ourselves.  The access was on the leeward shore.  From our protected perch the lake looked safe enough for Ryan and Jakob.  Keep in mind that Ryan is a rear seat neophyte.  On all previous trips his dad sat in the stern where he learned a canoe has a mind of its own.  Simply put, a canoe abhors a straight line.  Throw in it's buddies wind, waves, load imbalance and inertia and you've got the makings for continual s-curves.  I know that from experience.  But it wasn't control I was worried about.  I put them in the Wenonah because of its stability.  She's a tough boat to roll.  It'd be wonderful if Jake caught fish, even better if he stayed dry.  I wanted him to be happy and return to the Northland many times.  Maybe even do a brief Boundary Waters trip when he's old enough and his grandpa is not too old.
     Seems I mentioned load balance as a consideration in canoe control.  Jake's a slim nine years old.  Would've been considered slim in any generation.  Fast as the wind, athletically gifted but reed thin.  His dad Ryan probably goes in the one hundred, seventy pound range.  When the two of them were afloat a couple of inches of air separated the bow from the lake, not a good thing should the wind arise. Begged the question, "When is a canoe like a sail?"
     We'd been on this lake several times in the past.  Had a reputation as a 'go to' lake when the wind was up on big Leech Lake to the north.  Less than two hundred acres, Three Island Lake has more than its share of structure.  Points, bays, reefs and five(?) islands.  Has all the usual suspects when it comes to fish, even a few walleyes.  When we're on the water we don't target anything in particular.  To us a big bluegill is as good a prey as a big pike.  Maybe that's an exaggeration but you get the idea.
     There's not a lot of room in a canoe for fishing gear so we tone it down.  Our gear set up is two rods apiece, one with a slip bobber, the other with a spinner on a snap swivel.  Tackle box apiece and the stern man has a needle nose and a jaw spreader tied off to the thwart in front of him.  Simple and effective.
     Didn't take more than a few yards to tell us the fishing would be difficult.  A cloudless blue sky and cold, fish tank clear water is a tough combination to beat.  But seeing as how I like scoping out the bottom of a lake and the bottom was sharply visible to eight feet, I was a happy man.  A lake bottom speaks a language of its own.  Over the years I've picked up enough its words to carry on a crude conversation, kind of like bargaining for a shirt in a foreign bazar.  Whether I get a good deal or not has more to do with the sales person than my savvy of the lingo.  Doesn't matter.  Like Chauncey Gardner in "Being There", I just like to watch.
     Back when I was a kid on summer vacation, me and my buddy Duane would hike down to Weber Lake with a hand held net and our fishing poles.  When we lost interest in not catching anything, Duane'd grab the net and we'd spend a half hour scooping stuff from the pond scum close to shore.  I suppose we'd hope against hope there'd be a sunnie or two in the net but, as I recall, there never was.  On the other hand there were a lot of other wiggly animals.  Neat stuff.  Being boys we found it all interesting.  Guess that boy still hangs around inside me somewhere and likes to peer over the gunwale of a canoe to see what's down there.  Like my Uncle Emil would say, "There's a lesson there.  Beats me what it is."
     Along the north shore, immediately to the west of the access there were groves of cabbage peeking up from the bottom.  Umm, umm, cabbage is good.  Not so much to eat but I've been told predator fish like to hang around it, gives 'em something to hide behind.  The plants I was seeing weren't of any size.  In a few weeks they'd break the surface and sprout flowers.  Also grab treble hooks and gum up lures.  Could be fish know they're meat and hang around cabbage so an angler can have a little cole slaw with his meal.  Balance in life, it's everywhere.
     Larry and I leapfrogged the other two.  Yeah, we were trying to beat the youngsters to the good water.  That's what grandpas do.  Our remaining good days are limited and we have to grab for the ring while we can.  The kids have decades left to them.  Their time will come.  Didn't matter, we might have led them up the shore but we found no fish.  Even the cabbage disappeared.
     We'd fished Three Island Lake a number of times in the last decade.  A decade earlier Larry and Ryan even went for an unintended swim.  Odd thing is, for all the hours spent on the water we'd only fished half the lake.  Not sure how that happened but it did.  Today the plan was to see it all.
     In the northwest corner the map showed a deep bay and islands.  Hearsay had it as a honey hole of pike and bass.  Of course hearsay tends to over inflate things like a cheap balloon.  Only one way to find out.  We turned the corner into a little world I'd been before on different lakes.  Odd how that works out.
     On the flip side, I'd had a mental image what this bay would look like.  Done that before.  Look at a map, daydream a bit and voila, I know exactly what a place will look and smell like.  Turned out, once again I was wrong.  My image was painted in grays and blacks, stump filled corners, lily pad clusters here and there, cruising pike tearing free of my red and white Dardevle as they hurdled deadheads.  Could have been spawned in my early teens by pencil drawings I'd seen in outdoor magazines.
     The reality was Minnesota tropical, bright light, sky blue water, acres of jade colored lily pads afloat in bog stained water surrounded by birch and pine.  Seemed to go back at least a quarter mile.  In here Larry turned our first bass and pike.  And that was it.  Maybe I should have packed some Dardevles.
     Jake and Ryan pulled into the bay about the time Larry was reeling in his pike.  The two were upright and dry.  I took that as a sign Ryan was doing okay in a canoe spoiling to cause trouble.  A brief chat and they slid though a narrow opening into an even more remote bay.  Don't believe they found any fish back there but did spook a pair of swans.  And when swans are spooked, their honking ruckus can be heard for miles.  Off they flew, wings beating lake till they rose and circled above us beneath a soaring eagle.  Would have made a great photo had I the right camera and presence of mind to use it.  Seems like most of the great photo ops end up as missed chances.  Or in my case, a gape-jawed stare and an, "Ain't that somethin'?"
     Leaving the bay, the four of us rode the downwind express and tried to fish the west shore as it passed by in a blur.  Who'd have believed we were sticking to the plan?  Guess there's another lesson there.  Once on the water it's all about the fish.  Plans go out the window when the bite is on.  A few years earlier on Burntwood Lake in Manitoba, my son and I were on the lookout for big walleyes.  We never found them.  We did find a pair of evenings when the two and three pounders just wouldn't turn us loose.  The big walleye plan quickly changed into the 'what the heck, let's stay here and hammer walleyes, saugers and perch by the dozens' plan.  Flexibility or sloth?  You be the judge, I just wanted to catch me some fish.
     At the downwind end of the lake lay an inlet of not-yet-in-bloom lily pads.  In the pads swam bass.  Even caught a few and would've caught more had not the wind moved us about like the proverbial leaf.  Would've been nice had the wind consulted us as to where we wanted to go.  We moved on into what turned out to be a labyrinth if small bays.  Each yard we paddled put us that much farther from the upwind access.  And all of those yards weighed on me.  For me and Larry it would have been nothing more than a half hour workout.
     For Ryan and Jakob it was a whole 'nuther story.  Wasn't so much the steady headwind that'd be a problem, it was the playful zephyrs.  Each turned out to be a slap to the front of their bow-raised canoe, pushing them to and fro.  Ryan'd make some headway and a gust would literally spin them around.  Finally they beached the Wenonah on the last point before the main body of the lake.  There we switched crews.  Jake climbed in with me.  The Alumacraft rides lower, not a lot but enough to make a difference.  Still, it was a struggle holding the nose of the canoe into the breeze.  Simple enough, Jake and I went with plan B, let the wind tack us slowly to our right and finally into the lee of an island.  There we corrected our course and nosed it into the waves and finally the access.  Made me feel good I could still get into some crap and come out of it okay.  Up front, Jake let out nary a peep.  Just kept paddling.  Says a lot about his personality and future.  Another day on the water in which the story wasn't about fishing.

Sunday, May 24, 2015


     Back from the land of different pollen along Mobile Bay.  Over the years I've become an aficionado of many varieties. Up here in the Twin Cities the multitudes of exotic flowering plants and trees tend to dull my head.  I stare at sunsets, sunrises, squirrels, grass, dirt and rocks.  And they stare back.  A communion of spirits though I fear the squirrels.  Cute and innocent in appearance but I know what they're thinking.  And it ain't pretty.  Their patience is deep and long lasting.  The little SOB's are plotting the end of civilization.  I know that for a fact.  They've told me.  Many times during the time of high pollen.  With smiles on their faces and our bird seed in their mouths.
     Up north golden pollen drifts from the pines, spruces, oaks and birches showering the woods, lakes and cabins with fertile pixie dust.  It also casts a spell upon me and, like magic, opens up the spigots of my sinuses.  Fascinating.  At 9:07 each evening I'd begin to sneeze and couldn't stop till I'd soaked a half dozen tissues.
     This trip was about the kid.  Jake's nine and found himself stuck in the world of men.  Much to see, much to learn, mostly in the sense of, "When I grow up I'm sure not gonna do anything like that."  'Snot easy being nine.  You really don't know squat but are just beginning to think you do, a dangerous combination.  You're a half dozen years down stream from needing diapers and find yourself in a canoe with a geezer who's about the same number of years from needing them again.  And your life depends on him not screwing up.  Or at least knowing what to do once he does.
     The men, on the other hand, found themselves in the world of a nine year old and had to watch their tongues.  Not easy.  In fact it's almost painful when something truly perverse tries to force its way out.  For many years the entire world has been my straight line.  I see something, a punch line comes to me and wants out in the worst way.  And there, sitting up in the bow seat, is this wisp of innocence, pristine, untainted and unaware.  And paddling along in the stern seat, unbridled and heavily wrinkled corruption.  The temptation to blurt something out is strong but there's no way this old man is going to face the wrath of his daughter after Jakob says, "That's what Grandpa said, then said other things much worse."  No siree, stuff like that's supposed to be learned on the street just like the good Lord intended.  Even think one of the Commandments says, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, 'specially in front of your grandson."  In short, I did good, kept my trap shut and as a result, my brain still hurts.
     Jake did good also.  Most of the time he shared a canoe with his dad Ryan.  Before the trip I could see trouble brewing.  Kids have all kinds of problems when it comes to fishing gear, bottom snags, bird's nests, re-rigging and simply getting fish on or off the hook.  In an open boat, dad can spend most of his time keeping his kid's bait in the water and the kid out of it.  A canoe's a whole 'nuther world and floats along on the edge of catastrophe.  It's a place for a boy to grow up a little and handle most of his own problems.  I feared Ryan would spend nearly all his time helping Jake and hoping the canoe would take care of itself.  Didn't work out that way.  Jake didn't seem to have any more problems than any canoe savvy adult would.  It'd been a year since his last trip up north and that year made a big difference.  Not that he couldn't have released his own fish or did all his own casting last year.  But this year Jake seemed to accept he was on his own and did what was needed to be done.  Even caught his share of fish.  A little bit of a modern initiation rite I suppose.  Maybe next year we'll turn him loose somewhere in the Superior National Forest for a few days with a couple of feet of string and the Bear Scout Handbook, see how he does.
     Part of this trip had to do with badge hunting.  Jake's a Webelo scout, not sure how to spell that but that's what he is.  He and his dad brought along the scout book with intentions he accomplish a few things besides catch fish and gather wood ticks.  And he took his role as one who's prepared seriously. Built a fire from scratch, planned and cooked a meal over it and, best of all, the burgers tasted good.
     In the canoe he was always ready to lend a hand and paddle.  Not easy when the paddle your grandpa gives you is longer than you are and the blade's wider than your waist.  But he worked it.  Worked it hard.  Nine year old, spindle arms reaching for the sky just to be able to dig in for the next stroke.   Now I have a new project.  Build Jake a paddle that's more his size and weighs less than he does.
     In a lifetime a person racks up an album of mental photos.  Jakob in the bow seat, one hand mid paddle, the other on the grip of his oversized paddled, reaching for the heavens will stick with me till the end.  Never once had to ask him to pick up the paddle, more often I had to ask him to put it down and pick up the rod.  For a kid, he was a good man.

Monday, May 18, 2015


     Off to see the wizard.  Supposed to be snowing lightly at the cabin this morning.  Perfect weather for mowing and cleaning.  Gotta have the place standing tall for the three generation of Deans who'll show up on wednesday.  Weather's supposed to be pleasant by then.  Cool mornings, tolerable afternoons and cooperative fish.  Might even have something to write about for a change.  Time to finish the loading and figure out exactly what important thing to forget.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Lose a Dean, Gain a Dean

     There'll be a new body in the canoes this year.  Of course he's a Dean.  Seems they're never-ending. This won't be Jake's first fishing trip to the cabin but will be his first as one of the men.  Nine's a little early in life to fish from the bow seat but it'll be good for him.  At the other end of the canoe, he'll have to figure some things out on his own.  With luck it'll go well and he'll catch his share.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Tools of the Trade

     Hard not to repeat myself but after two hundred fifty entries it's a challenge.  Keep in mind I'm sixty-eight and spend most of my time turning over the compost in hopes of finding something new and fertile.  Yeah, fertile.  Most of what's underneath was turned over decades ago
     Started off this morning with a good idea about what's needed to catch fish.  Somehow I got it all ass-backwards.  I'd been thinking about equipment like bass boats, thousand dollar rod and reel combinations, fish finders and so on.  Go back a ways in my entries and you'd see I'm not a fan of such things.  Could be I'd think differently if money was no object.  But since I'm tight with a dollar and don't have enough of them to feel otherwise, I go for a basic approach.  Canoe and paddle, rods and reels with the biggest bang for the buck, homemade lures and area knowledge.
     Anyhow, I originally started off by putting gear at the bottom of the list.  That sure was stupid.  Unless you're a noodler, you have to have some kind of gear to catch fish.  Net, spear, fish traps or, at the least, a hook and line.  Can't throw a lined hook far from shore.  Some kind of pole helps a lot.  Add a weighted hook, heard tell they call them lures, and a reel and a person can shore fish out thirty or more yards.  Of course, unless you're wading, there's always stuff in the way to snag a lure or trip you up; rocks, trees, cattails, bullrushes, Moses floating along in a basket, private property, people with guns telling you to get the hell off their dock and worse.  A boat comes in handy now and then.  Nothing between you and the fish except water.  Hard for me to admit it but I guess equipment rides the top of the list.
     Years ago, my son-in law's grandfather said he'd heard I was quite a fisherman.  'Spose I could have lied and said yes.  But I've a few friends who are good anglers and, believe me, I'm not in their league.  Instead, I told Grandpa Dan I simply knew lakes where the fish aren't smart.  That's my skill.  Took a while to figure out what to look for.  Nearly all of the lakes are under two hundred acres, most less than half that.  Off the beaten path, deep enough to hold fish with a vacant look in their eyes, no cabins, no developed access and, best of all, a carry-in over boulders, through brush thick with wood and deer ticks.
     Found out yesterday one of the Iowa boys won't be making the trip this year.  El Dean's wife broke her hip and he's doing the right thing.  El loves his five days of escape to the north.  So much so I know without a doubt this is one of those thick or thin things he promised at the altar.  Good man.
     No El in the bow seat will move me to the solo canoe.  No complaints.  Means I can carry the nine and ten foot rods without worrying I'll take a chunk out of El Dean's scalp.  Might even pack a fly rod or two.
     Almost done with the spinners.  Four and a half dozen oughta do 'er.
     So, what does it all mean?  If the bite is on, we'll catch fish no matter what we do.  If not, a six hundred dollar G. Loomis walleye rod won't make much difference.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Dry Spells on the Water

     Spent most of yesterday working on my son and daughter-in-law's deer-proof, raised garden bed,  It's a bigger project than it sounds..  Seventy feet of wall, interior deck, fancy gate and six foot high screening.  Been working on it on and off since last fall.  We're down to some trim work.  As it stands, it's usable and will keep the deer out.  While my son and I worked we briefly talked of creativity and the conditions needed to work through the layers of an idea.  He brings ideas to life for a living.  I peck away to keep my brain from leaking out of my nose and hopefully have a little fun at the same time.  But, for the most part, the two activities are the same.

     Aside:  Odd how things work out.  While writing, an idea came to me how to fix a design problem for the garden bed.  Will be both functional and decorative.  Wonder where that came from?

     The gist is that ideas, like the one above, pop up when your brain is free to roam.  No distractions.  Once popped, they need time to be explored.  Rarely does a moment of creativity arise full blown.  Most often an idea is a doorway into a world that needs exploring.
     What I'm working my way around to is, at the moment I'm waiting for a new door to appear.  Hope something fun and exciting is behind it.  Odds are it won't show up till after the next fishing trip.

Sunday, May 3, 2015


     Feels like summer in Sioux Falls.  Wouldn't say that if I was somewhere else.  Nice enough in the morning to head out in t-shirt and shorts.  Maybe squat alongside a river rock strewn garden bed and half-heartedly look for agates.  Maybe even let my mind wander (as though I can stop it).  Yeah, my mind wanders a lot.  Guess it has a mind of it's own.  Anyhow, those little rocks started me thinking of the big rocks they came from.  Long story short, a few seconds later  I'm wondering about what came before the Big Bang, the meaning of infinity and how the fishing might go this year, each one unanswerable and pointless to speculate upon.
     However, in a little bit I'll know the answer to the last.  Got the Boys From South and West of the Border Fishing Extravaganza coming up in two and a half weeks, quickly followed by the Boundary Waters trip.  Those that know and write about fishing in the local paper say things are definitely running ahead of schedule.  I believe that to be in our favor.  Or maybe not.  'Bout all we can do is be ready and take it as it comes.
     Then there's the question of what lakes we'll fish.  That one always comes up.  One of our standbys is gone.  It's a case of old guys fearing the consequences of three miles of serious erosion on a minimum maintenance road that's had no maintenance in at least ten years, a jagged rock and boulder misery of the first order.  Call it fear of the walk out more than of the drive in.
     Not many mysteries as to our other choices.  A pair we rediscovered last year proved worth the return and we'll hit them again this year.  A third we were only on once about five years ago.  The wind was up and it was tough fishing.  The DNR survey tells us the fish count is good.  S'pose it's worth a return.  The lakes we fish tend to shine in the evening.  Could have to do with where we sleep and where we fish.  Usually there's a forty minute drive between.  Up at six.  Breakfast.  Hit the road by seven.  On the water around eight.  Fishing slows around nine.  Small window.  Good excuse.
     Anyhow, the dates are on the calendar and the lures are being finished.