Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Boy's Gotta Backside

     Doubt very much we'll make it on the water next week but who knows?  I sure don't but'd bet we will.  Just like Goldilock's bears, there'll be three of us.  We'll be paddling in the Wenonah and she's a two seater.  No matter how I do the math, one of our butts will have to sit on the floor (That means you Matt.  Sorry, there's a pecking order in canoe travel and you're not high on the list).  No fun at all.  Gave a moment's thought and figured to solve the problem with a store bought drop in seat.  Simple, easy to use and might be useful in the future.  Three grandsons and a granddaughter all too young too paddle but probably willing to cruise a backwoods lake.  But, geez eh, it'd be plastic and metal.  No esthetics.  Didn't take but a moment or two more to mentally to conjure up the paddle scraps sitting on my workbench and realize the seat was already sitting there waiting to be trimmed up and assembled.  At the moment the bench is glued up and clamped.  Aspen, ash and aromatic cedar.  One-of-a-kind.  Homemade.  Folk art.  Useable and will only cost me my time.  Gotta love that.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Winter and the Perfect Trip (thinkin' it over)

     E-mailed my nephew Brian the other day about the possibility of another Boundary Waters trip next spring.  He was up for one.  That was a relief.  I've reached an age when most men are becoming a liability when heading into the boonies.  Each year I live with the fear no one'll want to take a chance on having to drag my infirm body over a portage or two.  Don't know if Brian is benevolent or just plain stupid but if he says he's going and I'm still upright come spring then I guess we're going.
     The questions are, which entry point, how far in and what are the fishing chances?  The Minnesota DNR posts a website that lists what their most recent nettings have produced.  Nothing's foolproof as to what the expectations are but the nettings are close and have become my fishing bible.  In my disillusioned middle years I believed the farther a body had to paddle and portage, the better the fishing.  Not so.  The truth of the matter concerning Boundary Waters lakes is simple, they're not fertile.  And tend to be deep.  If you want lake trout and don't want to leave the country, they're the lakes for you.  Should you be in the market for several species and fair numbers of them, the choices pare down dramatically.  Brian wouldn't mind a good chance at few walleyes and, like me, some hot smallmouth bass fishing.  Probably wouldn't mind a large pike.  That narrows it down quite a bit.  Both of us prefer heading inland out of Grand Marais along the big lake, wouldn't mind a portage or two and that narrows it down even more.  My latest count has it at zero.  Time to compromise.
     If it's walleyes there's a fine lake one portage in from East Bearskin Lake about twenty miles up the Gunflint Trail.  Yup, it's got walleyes alright.  And some jumbo perch.  That's it.  Crocodile's not big.  Maybe two hundred fifty acres with four campsites.  And it's not an unknown.  Was even mentioned in the Star Tribune as a walleye hot spot.  It's a temptation but not much of one for our single shot next year.
     'Spose we could head up to the end of the Gunflint Trail and work the big waters of Lake Saganaga.  It's big water but the south shore is island filled.  Lots of cover should the wind come up.  As for fish, it's got 'em all from lake trout to bluegills.  Was it a canoe only lake I'd give Saganaga a shot but it's not.  But…but it does hold the state walleye record.  Something to think about and mostly ignore.
     Then there's Pine Lake.  Two thousand, narrow acres of sheer hell in a west wind.  However it has good numbers of walleyes and smallmouth bass.  Throw in a few big pike and its world famous invisible lake trout and you've got yourself good fishing water.  Pine used to be pretty good for lake trout but the DNR hasn't netted one in over a decade.  I figure they must still be there only you can't see or feel them.  Talk about elusive.
     Yeah there's a drawback, no portage.  Hard to be manly when all you have to do is paddle.  Might have to pray for a serious headwind and three footers to battle through,  "Yarrr, she was a bear alright.  Fourteen hours to move a half mile.  But worth it.  Caught us a stringer of amorphous lakers."
     Should we feel the need to portage there's three trout lakes off the south shore.  The portages aren't long but they're steep.  Did two of the carries back in the '90s.  One began in a swamp and then climbed a hundred foot rise.  The other grew gradually steeper from the shore of Pine to the trout lake.  The last few rods were like climbing a staircase.  Didn't catch any trout but both days were bluebird sunny.  Anyhow, that's my excuse.  So, at the moment, I'm leaning toward Pine.
     Between now and then there's winter.  Not much to say about that.  On the upside it looks like I'm heading cabinward next week with my son and one of his boys.  Should the weather allow we'll do some November fishing.  Never done that before.  If not we'll do a couple of miles on the North Country Trail or maybe just hang around the cabin.  Why not?  It's a good place to be.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Some People Never Learn (like me?)

     A front passed through yesterday.  Dropping temperatures, occasional showers and strong, gusty winds.  Twenty-five to thirty mile per hour winds with gusts up to forty-five.  Nasty weather.  Truth is the rains weren't all that bad.  A minute per sprinkle and not much more than powdered water blasted apart by the wind.
     A smart man would've kept his hands busy with indoor work.  Not me.  The afternoon before, I'd loaded the canoe on the truck.  Seemed a waste to take it off without using it so I headed off to my son's house.  Didn't intend to actually head out on the water but then again, you never know.  Crossing the Mendota bridge the canoe bobbed around a bit.  Never done that in the thousands of miles since I'd come up with what seemed a sure fire racking system.
     A few days earlier when the forecast was much more friendly I'd kind of promised my two grandson's a canoe ride.  Done my share of disappointing in life but never liked it.  When I pulled up in front of their house it was with the idea that I did have the canoe but no real intentions of actually using it.  A man'd have to be crazy to put the lives of a five and three year old in jeopardy.  Parents don't take well the loss of a child.  Wouldn't matter much if the cause was the child's grandpa.  Might even make it worse.  Doubted that would happen but, believe me, it was on my mind.
     Inside we read putzed around and read part of a story.  I get a lot of pleasure out of reading to my grandchildren.  They also seem to enjoy it.  It was by Richard Scarry and about what people, even people who are actually cats, dogs, rabbits and mice, do with their days.  A book about workin'.  Finally, after explaining to Matthew and Luke it was too dangerous to canoe in the strong winds, we decided to hike down to the park where sat the lake.  Once outside it didn't seem all that bad.  No rain, no trees being blown down.  It seemed a waste that all four of us were there and so was the canoe and the lake wasn't more than three driving minutes away and we could always drive down there and not canoe if the weather seemed too dangerous.  So that's what we did.  Just in case my son Allan strapped his boys into their life jackets.
     Once in the park there was no doubt what we were going to do.  Off came the canoe.  In went the life jackets and paddles.  I could say our portage was about a block and a half but that doesn't sound outdoorsy.  Call it sixty rods.  Al at one end, me at the other, the boys trotting alongside.  Blackhawk's a little short of acres, forty-five tops.  But it's good fishing water, bass, pike and panfish, some of decent size.  Fished the water once and look forward to more trips.  I'd thrown the gear in the truck just in case but left it where it sat.  We were there for the boys, not the fish.  The lake said that was a good idea.
     Though Blackhawk's small, it sits in a deep valley that was doing a fine job of funneling the winds.  Our launch sat at the receiving end.  Line after line stormed down on us like the Mongol Horde.  One of them gave the Wenonah a lift and slide.  Braced it with my leg while the boys made use of the woods.
     Matt and Luke are smart for their ages but I figured it wouldn't hurt to lay down the law about standing up in the boat.  Sit on the floor, keep low and you'll stay dry.  And they did.  A putzing twenty minute tour of half the lake.  Al and the boys kept up a running conversation on what they saw.  Duckweed, stone stairways, weeping willows and a swimming pool carved into a hillside.  Wasn't much of a paddle but we were outside doing something no one in their right mind would be doing.  Fun on a miserable day.  Maybe the boys'll carry this day with them.  Probably not but I sure will.

Friday, October 9, 2015


     Ten years ago I made a rustic mantel for my daughter and son-in-law.  They wanted one for their fireplace and I had the trees.  Don't like felling needlessly but I had a pair of birches that were on their last legs.  Dying from the top down as birches commonly do.  I could've let nature run its course.  Couple of years and the one on the left would be turning to soil.  Wasn't a big tree but was big enough to chainsaw out a four inch thick, six foot by one foot slab.  Over the years, what was left of the log was carved into two by two and bigger sticks and slid up into the garage rafters.  That's where they sat till this morning.
     Over the years most of them had taken a set but each had at least one straight edge so I was in business.  At least till the second pass on the table saw.  That required a bit of eyeballing and planing of the set edge to bring it to near straight.  Most every stick in the paddles was re-sawed a little on the heavy side with the idea bigger can be made smaller to take out some of the imperfections.  Once the sticks were squared up I cut 'en to length and glued 'em on the handle end of the paddle loom.  Lotta glue.  Glue is good 'specially if it's good glue.  Start to finish seven paddles sucked up a pint of Titebond III.  Hope they don't fall apart.
     So, what's the big deal about birch handles?  Could be I knew the tree while it was still standing and mine are the only hands that've touched the wood.  Maybe it's, as usual, the idea popped out of nowhere, wherever that nowhere might be, as I stood in the garage.  That I looked at the sticks and formed the handles in my mind before I picked one up.  Truth is, wood's wood no matter where it comes from.  'Spose you could say it's simply another one of those 'in your head' things that mean nothing to anyone but me.  And those birch sticks saved me a trip to the lumber yard.

Monday, October 5, 2015

I Need More Canoes

     Seems I've got seven paddles in the works.  Not sure how that happened.  Guess idle hands are the devil's workshop.  Throw in a vacant brain and you've got yourself a dangerous combination.  Like my writing I'm squeezing the paddle work into my spare hours.  Never spend more than an hour or two a day.
     Carving paddles is a cheap, if pointless, hobby.  Wood, glue, and varnish totals about fifteen bucks a blade.  Some of the wood comes from the garage rafters.  A few sticks came from my friend's workshop pile.  Greg's gone but his wood lives on.  Each time I prep a piece of walnut for an accent board I think of him.  Probably'll do the same each time I dip a paddle up north.  The ash that's gone in a few also came my way through Greg's work.  He felled the trees and hauled the logs to the sawmill.  Once dry I used his planer to surface the boards.  In the house and cabin they're found here and there.  Mantels, floors, walls, furniture, cabinets, shelves and picture frames.  Twenty-two hundred board feet of lumber goes a long way.
     A second accent wood, aromatic cedar, came from a plank I bought down in Alabama.  Planed, sanded and varnished, the cedar is a brilliance of red.  The remainder of the material is store bought.  Gives me a guilty feeling 'cause none of the wood bears my sweat from the gathering.  But, sure enough, it's still wood and looks as good as the rest.
     My machines manage to do the job so long as I pay close attention and take my time.  The hand tools are power.  Two random orbital sanders and a planer.  Band saw came from Sears Surplus sometime in the '80s.  Does the job but it's nothing like a fourteen inch industrial job.  On the other hand it might.  Never used a five hundred pound saw (I've heard they sleep wherever they want) but from what I've seen on the internet they sure look nice.  Probably could slice a finger so slick it would't bleed.  'Spose I shouldn't complain about the quality of my machines seeing as how the first paddle in the first canoe wasn't but a stick.  And the second, a stick tipped with a shard of rock to cut down on abrasion.
     So what shall I do with seven additional paddles?  Good question.  I suspect there'll be more.