Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Bob With the Black Lab - 2002

     First order of business at Iskwasum was finding a ranger so we could buy a parking pass. Turned out it was easier finding the truck than the man and we waited patiently outside the outhouse while he finished whatever it was he was doing inside. A few minutes later, parking pass on the dash, we set to loading the canoe surrounded by an armada of walleye boats, each packing two hundred horses that were resting on the gravel after a hard morning's trolling. Yeah, this was meat hunter territory. A short gallop downriver took the horses and their riders to a lake noted for its big pickerel. Seemed the campground's plan for the week was to head east. Ours was northwest.
     For the first time we entered the park on the Grass River rather than one of the lakes. The flow we paddled onto was brush-lined placid and heavily bog-stained. Back in '98 we'd asked the breakfasting ranger if it was possible to paddle upstream from Iskwasum to Elbow Lake on the Grass. His answer was a simple, "Don't see why not." That was our Plan C and it'd been simmering on a back burner since day one. However, our goal this year was beyond Elbow, across two portages that may or may not be there. Like Norris, we knew nothing of Claw Lake beyond it being on the map. At around two thousand island-filled acres it sure looked good, a lot like Wedge had looked to us in '99, only more remote. How could we go wrong?
     Twenty minutes of easy upstream paddling found us on the main body of Iskwasum, bucking the slightest of northwest breezes beneath popcorn clouds floating in a deep blue sky, a perfect day to be in a canoe. For the moment we had the lake to ourselves, just the way we liked it. However, this was the second weekend of fishing season and we knew true solitude wouldn't begin till we'd put the first set of rapids behind us. Seems to me in today's world of big boats and big motors, rapids form the doors to wilderness. Being dead on the water with the bottom blown out of your outboard, eight miles from any help, is no way to spend the day (or night). Can't fault the logic in that.
     Mid-lake we were approached from the stern by a boat and motor. Rather than passing, it pulled alongside. Dear Lord, the man was in a fifteen foot Lund powered by a rear-tiller, twenty horse motor. Outside of it gleaming like the sun and being covered with fishing equipment decals, his rig could have been at home in 1963.  Black hair, deeply tanned with a pencil thin mustache, Bob and his black lab idled along with us and we each passed a few words as to our intentions. A few seconds later he said he'd meet us upriver at our campsite after he'd caught a few pickerel. Guess he knew the area.
     We came upon a cluster of family-sized fishing parties trolling the water below the first set of rapids. On the south shore a family of four admired their stringer of fish. Looked like they were boating their share of pickerel and having a fine time. Looked like a Canadian version of a Monet painting. They paid us no heed as we slid past, nosed into the first chute, paddled for all we were worth above a school of foot-long fish heading our direction, and in a minute left civilization behind.
     Our first camp was a few miles beyond on a small, river-splitting island. Wasn't much of an island but was typical of those we'd found in Canada, a little dirt and duff, a handful of birch and pine, and a whole lot of rock. However, the landing was good and the tent site level. Greeting us was the man we'd met a couple of hours earlier. He was throwing a ball far into the river and his black dog seemed to be having a great time romping after it.
     In the ten minutes we spent together sharing a smoke, Bob spoke of being a fishing guide in the spring and summer, a hunting guide in the fall, an equipment rep at the sportsmen shows down south in the winter, and having an understanding wife. Also was the man who guided Hap Wilson on his paddle through the park. Sounded to us that had we been seeking the Man Who Knew we'd have already found him.
     In fifty words or less Allan and I explained what our plans were for the two weeks and received a reply in an accent that sounded like Bob had gone to school to learn Canadian Backwoodsese,
     "You boys are doin' it right, eh. Seein' the backcountry is the way to learn this country. Most Americans come up here with their big boats and fish finders and think they're seein' the real Canada but they don't have a clooo, eh. Canoe and portage, yeah that's the way to learn this land."
     He turned to Al and said, "You've got a cool old man."
     What could I say to that? Maybe I blushed. In most every way you can think of, I'm not cool in the least. Probably not uncool either. I just do what I do. But to get a compliment like that, where we were and doing what we were doing, yeah, it sure made me feel good, eh.
     For a minute we talked lakes. He knew nothing of Claw Lake, in fact hadn't heard of it. However he did offer to take us to a lake where the pickerel were a fish a cast. Added it was a two mile swamp slog to the bay where his boat was stashed. Allan piped up, "Could that be Barb Lake? If there's time we've been thinking of fishing it on our way out." That Allan knew of Barb Lake got a rise out of Bob's eyebrows.
     Before leaving Bob offered us half his stringer of walleyes for dinner. Seemed he was four over the limit. No doubt he'd caught them with our supper in mind. It hurt like hell to turn him down. I explained we already had thawed ribeye steaks in the cooler. Bob simply said, "Yah, you boys are doin' it right," hopped in the Lund with his dog and they were off.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Well I'll Be Jiggered - 2002

     We spent the night at the new Super 8 motel in The Pas. Even got there early enough to get a pizza and a couple of ales at the bar and grill across the parking lot. That may not sound like a big deal but this was the first time we rolled into The Pas before sunset. Things were flowing smoothly and we were in no hurry. Our goal for the morning was to be rested, somehow cross Reed Lake, camp near the portage, and maybe get in some evening fishing. Reed was noted for big pike and lake trout and who were we to say no to that possibility? The Canadian weather channel said the morning would bring mostly fair skies and light breezes. Things were looking good.
     A few days earlier I was visited by one of those portentous dreams I get now and then that seem to have something important to say but usually have me scratching my head in the morning and wondering, "What the hell was that all about?" In this one Allan and I drove under a massive log gateway that welcomed us to the Reed Lake access and campground. The place was crawling with tourists and looked like an amusement park. A few hundred yards ahead huge pleasure boats puttered by on the water. Not at all what we were expecting when beginning a paddle into the Canadian bush. As usual, I wrote the dream off as another cryptic message about something not at all related to the pictures in the dream.
     Both Allan and I were bubbly, pumped, excited, you name it, that's what we were, on our drive to the Reed Lake access. Along the way, about twenty miles from our goal, we passed a series of bays along the south side of big Simonhouse Lake. Could have been the second that caught our eye. In all our winter thoughts and daydreaming, not once did we see the piles of lake ice lining the lake's shore. Didn't take but a single glance for our bubbles to freeze. Moments later we hung a left into the Simonhouse access with hopes of finding reassurance, a pat on the back, and a 'there, there, it's okay.'      A tour of the lanes led us to the lone party of American fishermen and their storehouse of liquor. Yup, their booze had its own tent. Never seen that before and from the looks of the fishermen they were having a hard time seeing anything also. There we learned the ice had come off the lake two days earlier and that lake trout may as well have been called Canadian carp for all they were worth. While we talked, one of the good old boys stood up, said he had to go take a leak, turned around, and let fire. Having learned all we needed to know and being thankful for dry shoes, we slowly backed away and continued on our way to destiny.
     Twenty minutes later we entered Reed's driveway. Thankfully there was no massive, timbered gate. However, there was a crowd of paunched, plaid-shirted fishermen milling about who seemed to have lost their direction in life. A glance at ice-bound Reed told the story. In the thirty yards of open water along the shore a twenty foot walleye boat puttered by. Damnation! Sometimes my dreams are a curse. We parked, climbed out, and approached a man with tears in his eyes crying, "Only the second time in seventeen years this has happened. Lord, Lord, why me?"
     Lucky for us, we had backup plans B and C. Both were created with the idea crossing Reed would scare the pants off of us. B would have taken us along a possibly protected south shore and eventually down the Grass River to Tramping Lake. The ice said that was out so we went with plan C, hopped back in the Jeep, and roared off, backtracking ten miles to the access on Lake Iskwasum. Once again our bubbles inflated knowing that in less than an hour we were heading to points unknown (and unexpected).

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Up the River - 2002

     2002 was to be the trip of trips and it was but for completely unforeseen reasons. Call it ignorance or shortsightedness, call it what you want but by now we'd wandered into the north land bush enough times to know better. No matter a person's plans, nature rules the roost. But regardless of circumstance, we were ready as could be.
     Back in '98 Manitoba Tourism had sent me several sketchy maps of Grass River Park. Near the north edge of one, trailing off the map, was a path labelled 'Four Mile Portage.' Struck me that only a fool would haul two hundred and fifty pounds of food, gear, and canoe that far to points unknown. There was no way I'd ever consider doing something that stupid, sloughed it off to the side, and over time the map disappeared. Odd thing was, I never forgot the portage. Sometime during the 2001 trip I must have mentioned it to Allan. We might even have discussed the off the map possibilities a four mile portage might lead us to. Over the fall and winter months the idea of heading to points unknown grew to be a definite maybe. I ordered maps from Manitoba just in case, poured over them, day dreamt of vague lakes to the north while staring through the windshield on the job, and eventually plotted a trip that grew to be a quest.
     By spring we agreed this was something we wanted to do and grew excited by both its sheer idiocy, the possibility of huge fish, and the magic of the unknown. Yes, this time we were definitely going to paddle out of the box and fish outside the envelop or something to that effect. One notion we gave little thought till the day grew close was the opening leg as it slowly dawned on us it was the most dangerous part of the trip. The ten mile paddle across fifty thousand acre Reed Lake was an open invitation to disaster. A year earlier I'd read a Manitoba wilderness guide by Hap Wilson that included crossing Reed. He and his wife were experienced and talented paddlers and had used a spray skirt on their canoe when Reed's waves grew to danger level. Even then Wilson said Reed was a harrowing lake. Our crossing would be in an open canoe and loaded to the gills. I hated the idea of following the shoreline and nearly doubling the passage but it might be the only way that made sense.
     Then there was the portage. We weren't gut-busting capable of toting two, ninety pound bales over the nine mile long Grand Portage like the Voyageurs of old. Hell, I wasn't capable of hoisting a hundred and eighty pounds much less move it. Looked like we needed to pare down our load and come up with a strategy. There was no doubt in my mind we'd have to triple portage the load in stages of about a hundred and sixty rods each. The way we'd do it, four miles of path called for eight miles of carry and four of going back for more and calling that a rest; leap frogging our way across from Reed to Morton Lake. Throw in a couple of snack breaks and I figured our hike at close to six hours. Odd thing was, we were excited about the misery.
     Once across we faced a dilemma. Morton was tied up and locked in by Manitoba. The fishing guide said we couldn't so much as wet a line in Morton unless we were Canadian citizens or had written permission from one of the lodges back on Reed. Not sure what that was all about but it seemed someone had friends in high places. Once across the portage we faced the choice of paddling the length of six mile long Morton, maybe fishlessly camp for a night along the way, or do a short carry into the next lake, File, where we could at least fish if the notion struck us. More likely, after the portage and paddle, call it a day on File, eat a lot, and turn in early. Whatever we did would be decided by how our bodies felt at the end of the carry.
     In a perfect world over the next day or two we'd continue our trek though a corner of fifteen thousand acre File, do a half-mile, semi-bushwhack into little Corley Lake to the west, and finally turn south on what looked like a short river trip into Norris lake with no doubt a short portage or two along the way. All-in-all we were facing twenty to twenty-five miles of paddle and around five miles of portage to a lake we knew nothing of besides seeing it on the map. Yes we were foolish but knew once we reached File we could call it a trip, base camp, and have wonderful fishing. Nothing was set in stone save we were going and would no doubt have a good time.
     As to equipment, the only item of significance where we could save weight was the canoe. Exchanging aluminum for Kevlar would save close to twenty pounds and that became the plan. At a springtime scratch and dent sale of quality boats I found a Wenonah! Spirit II that fit the bill. Wide, deep, and light, it was built for big water. By late May the Jeep was loaded, the new canoe strapped atop, and we were rolling out of the driveway in Minneapolis with our sights set, once again, on The Pas.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Bear Lake - 2001

     We scouted both camp sites on Bear, one sucked and the other was splendid, maybe the best we had in Canada. The landing was a flat slab of basalt level with the lake, the tent site stood thirty feet above, and gave us a catbird's seat for half the lake. The only drawback to Bear was it's easy access to the lodge back in Cranberry Portage and the boats they'd stashed on the lake's river entrance. Most every mid-day we were joined by at least one party trolling up and down the main body of the lake with the hope of the 'fish of a lifetime' on their minds. From what we saw, all went home disappointed.
     As it turned out fishing Bear proved worth leaving Brunne. Al, as usual, caught his share of large pike and more than his share of walleyes. A chain of forested islands surrounded the bay behind our camp formed something of a lake within a lake. Within were large beds of emergent cabbage and excellent fishing. It was in those two hundred acres that we spent most of our time on the water. One pike comes to mind.
     Ninety percent of the northerns we caught were far more annoying than large. Over the years we boated better than two full cords of snakes and hammer-handles. We'd graduated to the point where a two-foot pike was reason to yank our spinners from the water as fast as we could crank. But here on Bear that wasn't always possible when working the dense cover of the cabbage beds. One evening Allan was motor boating a little guy toward the canoe when suddenly it turned tail and began stripping line from his reel. Was odd enough an occurrence for me to put down my rod, light up, and watch the show. Al worked the powerful, little bugger through three or four line smoking runs before finally horsing the fish close to the canoe. It was there the pike once again turned hammer-handle small. A split second later, the boat was solidly walloped from below like the climax of Moby Dick. A six inch wide bite mark across the little guy's back told us what'd happened. Only one thing to do, Al did a quick needle-nose-twisting-release, fired a rapid cast, hooked up, and showed us what had been trying for an easy meal. Call Allan's forty inch pike a twice-caught fish. As usual he tailed, revived, and released her gently. Consider that for a moment; we impaled a fish through the face with sharpened steel, ripped 'er toward us no matter how hard she tried to get away then gently turned 'er loose as thoguh we were good Samaritans. Yup, fishing sure is fun in a sadistic kind of way.
     Across the lake from us swam a nesting pair of loons that seemed intent on filling the air with their yodeling most every waking hour of the day. Finally curiosity got the better of us and we pulled out the binoculars. Above the pair, perched atop a jack pine, sat a bald eagle, no doubt figuring on a tiny fluff-ball snack. Several times each day we watched the eagle as it soared from behind our camp and across the lake to its branch above the caterwauling loons. There it would sit lusting for hours on end and thinking thoughts only lonely eagles can think.
     We had enough close views of the bird as it passed to see it was missing one of its enormous wing feathers. We came to think of the it as 'Old Notch.' I doubt he/she knew we existed till one early morning. Doubt it was later than six. I'd quietly slipped out of the tent to have a few minutes alone. There was no better place in camp to sit and watch the world go by than on a lichen-covered, slab of rock overlooking the lake. There I lit up and quietly mused about how someday I'd write of this moment. Maybe get all philosophical about the meaning of life and its connection to the play of breezes on the water below. Before I dipped more than an inch into that pile of manure, over my right shoulder and getting louder by the second I heard the beating of wings; Old Notch of course. Considering my small arms fire and chainsaw damaged ears, it says a lot about the beauty of silence that I was able to hear the thumping beat of a pair of wings and the rush of air over them.
     Instead of beating his/her way directly across Bear, this time Notch hung a left toward where I sat motionless and trying my darnedest not to breathe. Call the distance twenty feet when I came into the bird's line of sight. If Notch's face full of feathers could show emotion, and at that moment I came to believe it could, then he/she shot me a look of shock, surprise, and fear. Also dropped a load before cranking into a full one-eighty turn and skedaddled back to where Notch came from.
     Call our last day on the water Allan's gift. To that point we'd had nearly perfect weather, almost too good. Being a Minnesotan I knew it couldn't last. Our intention was to leave on Thursday so we'd for sure be home in time for the Saturday wedding. However, when we awoke on leaving day the two of us dragged butt around camp and mostly stared at the sky or ground. A half hour's packing moved us ten minutes closer to leaving. In short, we were going nowhere in a hurry. Finally Allan piped up, assured me the weather would hold through tomorrow, and an early start on Friday morning would find us home during Saturday's wee hours. Looked like we were going fishing.
     Turned out we were on the water from mid-morning till sunset. Call that twelve hours and a lunch break. We never did boat a fish of size but the numbers would've been impressive had we been counting. Around nine p.m. we caught our last fish, caught another last fish a little after nine, and finally caught the last, last fish close to eleven. Fifteen years later this day showed up in Between Thought and the Treetops. I'm not creative enough to pull stories out of the air, instead I do like a lot of novelists and provide a fictional background for the things I've actually done and seen over the years.
     Yes, after fourteen miles on the water, one portage, and nine hundred miles of pavement, we did make it home in the wee hours of Saturday morning. Hell of a day.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Water Thoughts - 2001

     Sixteen years does much to cloud a memory, as does being seventy. Though in general I remember most of our days on Brunne, a few odd things stand out. We were trolling the north shore in search of walleyes. I was the motor and Allan was doing the catching, the usual drill for us. Not a lot of fish, but enough to know we were doing something right. Perhaps three walleyes into the paddle Al let me know, in no uncertain terms that trolling sucked. Had to admit he was right. Sitting and watching a rod tip smacks too much of hunting for meat and meat only. Yes, we wanted to catch fish all right but the skill required for trolling is a couple of notches below casting and even more so below pulling out the fly rod.
     Casting with either pole pays homage to the work ethic, is more physical, and by far, more mental. Casting calls for continual decision making and control. Picking the best looking spot on shore or along a mid-lake reef and doing your best to throw the lure right on the money is a continual challenge. From my experience there's as much joy to be found in dropping a spinner or fly dead center into a cut in the shoreline as there is in hooking up. Sounds like a load of crap but it's not. Having one shot to a good looking spot knowing a mistake will spook the pool or hang the lure in a bush sure does get the blood flowing and a man's focus up. Call it self-made pressure. A good fishing trip will test a person again and again.
     Early on, Allan and I realized it was part of the game to get hung on the bottom or on shore. Paddling in or back is part of the challenge of putting the lure where the fish are. Simply put, fish hang in cover 'cause they want to eat and not be eaten. Our rule was simply, 'you gonna catch fish, you gonna get hung.' Casting calls for expertise, trolling is literally a pain in the ass.
     The other moment happen in mid-lake. We were bobbing in the waves and working a reef for whatever we might find but mostly thinking walleyes. By now we'd been in Canada long enough and had enough success to know large northern pike are both exciting and painful. We caught little along the rocks but I did manage to catch a wide-bodied pike of size. Of course she wasn't happy and threw her weight around when I hoisted the fish for a picture. That might have been what made me aware of where were were and what that meant.
     The two of us were perched in a tiny aluminum canoe a half mile from the nearest shore, bobbing in swells and instinctively rolling our hips to maintain balance, two portages and seventeen miles away from the nearest flush toilet, five hundred miles north of the border, and nine hundred miles away from home. Damn. Roll the boat and we were screwed. For a moment I was spooked. It was much safer seeing and smelling the water, islands, shore, forest, clouds, and sky than it was to gut feel the reality of our situation. I have a tendency to float along the surface of life. Simpler than being aware of what it is I'm floating on and what's beneath the surface. Get the job done and move on. Out on the water it felt like I was caught in the world between being awake and dreaming. For me fishing has always had its mystical side and bobbing above that reef I was knocking on its door.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Brunne and Bear - 2001

     There were no designated campsites on Brunne Lake. We knew that before leaving home but figured the lake too remote to need any. Our intention was an island site with a panoramic view and a landing every bit as good as the one back on Wedge Lake. There we had a tiny, corner lawn almost level with the water. If Al and I paddled hard and leaned back as we hit the shore, the canoe would actually slide a few feet onto the grass. That we were looking for another every bit as good said we were idiots.
     Over the next hour we paddled and circled a fair number of islands and found nothing. Maybe the lack of canoe landings was the reason for no designated campsite on Brunne (or maybe they simply didn't print enough sets of regulations to nail on trees. Could be I forgot to mention that each designated sight was marked with a large, blaze orange diamond made from genuine Canadian plywood and a set of camping rules, both mounted in plain sight. Not real wildernessy but, as I wrote earlier, we were there for the fishing)?
     On our return west, off in the distance we spied what looked to be perfect. Over the years we came to understand that didn't mean squat. At a half-mile most every stretch of shore looked good. What seemed level shore was usually atop a three foot ledge. The necessary opening in the forest and doable landing weren't on an island, but instead were on an east-facing peninsula. By now we'd dropped being choosy and shot straight for it. This time the ledge wasn't but two feet high. With a little canoe stabilizing and a dance step or two, one of us at a time, we were able to climb ashore. The open dent in the woods was just large enough to set up a kitchen, erect the tent, and unfold the chairs. We were home.
     Over the next few days Allan and I discovered the fishing was good but was disappointing at the same time. We were four lakes and two portages from the access and expected to be boating walleyes by the dozens, many dozens. Retrospect tells me the walleyes were in post-spawn. Not a one we caught was over two pounds, probably males. The ladies were no doubt mid-lake somewhere, suspending, and going through their postpartum depression. Timing is the key to excellent spring walleye fishing and we were off by no more than a week. It was a typical case of, 'you shoulda been here last week.'
     Immediately to our north, a portage away, lay two hundred acre Copper Lake. Our map showed no path from Brunne and the ranger made no mention of one, but it was there all right, right where it should be at the closest point between. Again the walleye fishing wasn't what we were hoping. I doubt we boated more than two dozen in our morning. Again, they were all males. Back home in Minnesota a couple of dozen pickerel in a few hours would have been cause for rejoicing. Yeah, we were ugly American greedy bastards.
     Back at the access in Cranberry Portage we mentioned our luck on Copper to one of the old-timers. He recalled Copper as it was ten or more years earlier. Said it was the lake closest to virgin he'd ever fished. Then, a few years back, it changed. For some unknown reason what had been a fish a cast slowed dramatically and he had no idea why.
     Two years later we came to see what might have been the reason. Years earlier the Canadians had a rail line running east to west across the northern part of the park. Eventually the line was shut down, the rails and ties pulled out. The fine citizens of Snow Lake, twenty miles northeast of Grass River Park saw a golden opportunity and graded the right-of-way smooth as could be. Now it was possible to drive to what had earlier been fly-in water, one of which was Copper Lake.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Road and the Water -2001

     Allan ran the music show on our drives to and from the north. Once in a while he'd throw me a bone like The Beatles and almost as often I'd fire up John Prine. But mostly it was Allan and whatever phase he was passing through at the moment. Over the miles I developed the ability to tune out a variety of styles. My forte was hip-hop. Every so often Allan would ask my opinion about the lyrics of a particular tune and I'd have to return from wherever my thoughts were at the moment with a "pardon me?" I said that a lot, sometimes when my attention had wandered and sometimes due to a hearing loss. Al once said I should have 'pardon me' engraved on my tombstone. However, on this trip a couple of songs by the Minneapolis group Semisonic, latched onto my memory and are playing now playing between my ears as I sit here writing.
     Somewhere past Ashern we did manage to briefly pick up Canadian Public Radio and a discussion of UFOs. Not something a man wanted to hear when headed into the bush. Being abducted was farther off the map than I'd ever considered traveling.
     Once we passed St. Martin Junction there was little to see beyond road, graveled ditch, forest, swamp, or lake. All exotic in their own right if you'd never traveled Highway 6  before. What the heck, this was all a lake bed a few thousand years earlier, that anything at all lined this highway is remarkable.
     We had only one turn we could possibly miss in the next three hours and tonight it was well-marked and blocked by a semi-trailer. Seemed the local police and the Mounties were checking for inebriates and maybe smugglers trying to plant Minnesota walleyes in Manitoba's pristine waters. I was more than ready and forced an innocent Mountie to check every legal document in the Jeep. The Canadian government said I needed them and by golly this Mountie was going check all four documents.
     Our goal for the evening, like it had been for all of our trips north, was The Pas, mainly 'cause they had beds for rent. Being the dudes we were, it was always a pleasure entering the bush well-rested and clean from beaten-to-hell sneakers on up to crushed-and-slept-on hat. Mine was a genuine Filson. Still have it and may be cremated with it perched atop my head.
     We were up and ready by six a.m. As usual we were pumped and in a hurry to reach our goal for the afternoon. We'd have fished Brunne Lake last year had I not broken my ribs. From Cranberry Portage she was fifteen miles of paddle and two portages away, one of which was cut by the ranger we'd talked with in 1998. In case you wonder what Canadians do with their spare time, they cut portages. Don't know why but Canadians sure like to make paths between lakes.
     By now we had our paddling and portaging down pat. Unlike last year we left the bay with a gentle tail wind, moved so fast down the lakes we were forced to explore an island on the way. Not sure if our main reason was ecological interest or simply to empty our bladders. The hundred-twenty rod portage to the river exiting Bear Lake flew by, made us wish we'd carried more weight to at least make it interesting.
     The portage from Bear into Brunne looked like it'd been cleared with road equipment. A few days later on a hike into an abandoned mine site, we followed another wide trail, this one looked to be lined with ruts from tires. Could be what the ranger called a portage was actually a winter road. Some wilderness eh?
     Off to our left in a swampy, pot hole of a valley stood a fifty-five gallon, metal barrel. Not something I expected to see twenty miles from the nearest toilet. A little thought and we figured it a gut barrel for black bears, no doubt set there by a lodge or hunting guide. Much easier to find bears when you've baited the trap. No doubt Pa Crockett used the same technique for three year old Davy. No other way to explain a toddler killing a large omnivore unless the song writer was just blowing smoke. A few yards farther as we crested a gentle rise we came upon an impressive pile of dog crap. With not a dog within a six hour trot and a fair amount of hair and fur binding the droppings, there was little doubt we were in wolf country. Gave us back a little of the wilderness feeling the winter road and bear barrel had taken. Oh well, we were here for the fishing anyhow.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

2001 - Preparation

     We had time constraints slapped on this year's Manitoba trip. What they call a window of opportunity. At one end was work to be done at the cabin, at the other a family wedding. Wedding dates being permanent, our only flex in the front end, working our asses off at the cabin. We live a semi-primitive life up there in the woods. These days what's commonly called a cabin is usually somewhere between two and five thousand square feet with Internet access. Ours is on the order of a thousand feet and has outdoor plumbing. We pump our water from a well and do our business in an outhouse. And it was the outhouse where my work was to begin.
     Our original two-holer had sprung a few leaks and also become a home for some nighttime vermin we never saw but seemed to have a fondness for gnawing holes in pine and fir. At the moment the new building was close to done but required a few finishing touches on the bench. No doubt when you're thinking of outhouses you're not thinking of ours. This one is open to the breezes at the peaks, is sided in rough-sawn cedar, has a red steel roof, and inside you'll find decoupaged walls and ceiling, a trim Formica bench with toilet seats, an oak floor, and, my task for Friday evening, facing the bench with tongue and groove oak. Yes sir, it's a nice crapper.
     While I was on my knees in the john, Allan was up at the new shed nailing cedar to the plywood walls. The building's twelve-by-twenty-four feet and our board siding called for a fair amount of sawing and nailing. Come Saturday, while Al continued to hammer away, I'd start on fabricating a pair of five-by-seven foot doors to hang on the front. Our lumber came from Pine River but the fabrication and design was up there, as my fictional Uncle Emil would say, floating Between Thought and the Treetops (not a bad title for a book). Our fifth hand in the operation was Allan's mother and my wife, Lois. She fueled us, offered thoughtful advice, and was there whenever we needed help.
     As it turned out the weather cooperated, the three of us put in twelve hour days, and by Sunday evening what we'd come to do was done. Even looked good. Six a.m. Monday found us at the end of the gravel turning north with intentions of grabbing breakfast on the fly in Walker, Minnesota. As we accelerated up the state highway I watched Lois slowly disappear in the rear view mirror. Leaving Lois has always been painful for me ever since the day we said goodbye at the Twin Cities airport and I boarded the plane for Basic Training. However, heading north on a fishing trip was a whole lot better than leaving to get ready for war.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Homeward Bound 2000

     We reached The Pas a little before ten and bee-lined for the Wescana Inn, the largest motel in town. They were booked solid and had been on Friday nights since construction began at the new paper mill. The friendly lady at the front desk called around to see if any nearby, empty beds existed but there were none.
     "Well boys, as near as I can figure the closest open motel is down in Swan River. Hope that's not a problem for two fine Voyageurs like you? They might even have clean sheets but from what I'm smellin', I don't think that'll be a necessity, eh?"
     She didn't actually say those words but a little thought as to how we looked would have brought them to mind. When I asked her where Swan River was and how far away, she said,
     "South a few hours but don't you worry, the road's a halfway decent, unlit two lane with swamp and water to both sides and wanders a bit so you'd best pay attention and hope you don't hit any bears, elk, or caribou. Locals call it the shortcut to Hell but I'd pay them no mind."
     Turned out it wasn't but two hundred miles to Swan River. and the road was indeed a winding, two-lane, and the night, black as the ace of spades. We hit the local Burger King, gassed up, and bought a pack of Players figuring, since we were heading off on the highway to Hell, what would a few more cigarettes matter? We pulled out of Cranberry Portage a few minutes shy of eleven.
     Swan River silently slumbered at two-thirty but the lights were on in the first motel we approached. From its appearance the lit Vacancy sign was no surprise. Not being choosers we turned into the parking lot. At the front desk we were greeted by a balding, middle-aged man and an enormous elk head and rack. Things were looking up. Yes, they did have a vacancy and yes, there was a story with the elk.
     Seems the previous elk season began on the west edge of town about the same time as Swan River was heading out the door, oiled rifles in hand with intentions of driving high into nearby Porcupine Provincial Forest. Turned out to be no need as a suicidal herd was passing by at the stroke of sunrise. Word quietly spread and the season ended with a hail of rifle fire before the sun crested the trees. Not much of an adventurous hunting story but sure was memorable.
     Once in our room, we quickly showered and collapsed into the concave beds at three a.m. My ribs were still a mess but over the weeks they'd heal. I was unconscious in seconds. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Breaking Camp 2000

     Nothing changed weather-wise, it rained and blew, then blew and rained for better than half our two weeks in the park. Two days before packing up we had an evening of brisk sunshine and Allan caught a few more large pike on the north half of the lake. Having a few hours of light remaining (sunset was a little before eleven p.m.) we paddled back through the channel to fish a couple of productive bays near our island before turning in. As we cruised past our island my bladder suggested we pull ashore to enjoy the view. Climbing from the canoe proved a challenge. I'd stiffened up and once ashore got the shivers from the damp cold. Once my body started quivering, the pain in my ribs came alive and said it might be best if we stayed in camp. Damnation. Here we were on the best water we'd ever fished, the weather was decent for a change, and my body was telling me I'd become a hazard on the water. Had we known this was our last chance to fish from the canoe on this trip I might have said screw it. But I didn't. Occasional wisdom can sometimes be a pain in the ass.
     During the night the wind picked up and once again the rain moved in. The temperature dropped and it rained on and off and the wind blew through the next day and into the night. We wandered the island in three layers of clothes topped by rain gear and life jackets. Can't say we were depressed but it sure would've been nice had the sun come out or at least if the wind died a little. 
     Our only means of telling time was Allan's watch. It had stopped a few days earlier but we'd reset it by the setting sun. Yeah, it wasn't on the money but what was fifteen minutes in the bush? Once again, for some unknown reason, his watch stopped once more. This time we had no sunset and no remotely accurate idea what time it was beyond when our stomachs said it was time to eat. 
     We awoke on what was supposed to be our last day, with clouds hanging in the treetops. The wind seemed to be abating, as was the rain, it was merely cold, wet, and miserable. All in all, not bad. Things were looking up. By what we figured as late morning the wind was all but gone, also the mist. We scampered from the tent and exploded 'round the camp, cleaning, tearing down, and stuffing our dripping wet tarps, soggy clothes and sleeping bags, and tent into the packs. All could dry at home. Our best guess had us pushing off from the island around noon. Allan had to load me again at the portage but the six outbound hours went smoothly. Thankfully the Jeep started when Al turned the key. The time was a few minutes after eight p.m.
     While rolling through Cranberry Portage I realized we'd been in the bush for too many days. My mind was drifting when it dawned on me we were going way too fast, speeding like maniacs. I dragged the brakes to bring us in line with the speed limit. A glance at the speedometer told me we'd been going no more than twenty and had slowed to fifteen. I guess two weeks with a top speed of five miles an hour changes a person's perspective on what's fast. The highway was a terror. My God, it felt like we were flying into a wormhole in space at the speed of light. Oh well, the sixty miles into The Pas probably wouldn't take but a second or two.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Wedge Lake - 2000 Continued

     In spite of my broken ribs we did fish a lot, hung around camp a lot when the wind was up, spent a fair amount of time in the tent during the downpours, and once in a while explored. On the back burner, I had a bug to someday fish an unnamed lake, not only fish one but also find it to be an undiscovered gem of virgin water. Off to the sides of Wedge lay a pair that might fit the bill. Our map showed the most enticing to be three hundred acres but a swamp-interrupted, mile and a half bushwhack to the south. A true wilderness trek such as that was beyond our capabilities and would have taken the better part of a day to get ourselves, the canoe, and fishing gear to its shore, much less back. A few years later me and my fictitious Uncle Emil did do the bushwhack and even camped on the lake for close to a week in my novel. Maybe there was no way Allan and I could pull off such an adventure but that didn't stop me from daydreaming and writing of having done it. Imagination is a fine thing.
     However, at the east end of Wedge, no more than a half-mile slog away, was a second choice. She wasn't but a hundred, island-free acres, for sure held less appeal but did meet the requirements. So, one day we fished our way up lake with the half-hearted intention of trying a bushwhack. As we cruised the swampy shore there was little doubt as to where the lake was. Also little doubt we'd make it to and from without wet knees. I'd wimped down quite a bit from my Mekong Delta days when wading belly button deep streams was normal. We paddled on, fishing as we moved, my eyes continually scanning the shore for a trail. Hadn't seen a deer in the park before but we had seen evidence of caribou. There were islands here and there that seemed to be stomping and crapping grounds for herds of the animals and I come to enjoy the sound of dry caribou crap crunching under foot. I had no true idea how they traveled from place to place but being in the deer family I figured them to cover the same trails again and again much like the white tails of Minnesota. Wasn't but a few hundred yards ahead that I spied one. Made me feel like Natty Bumppo in The Leatherstocking Tales. We beached the boat and climbed out. I was pumped.
     A bit of scanning and we spied a blaze on a tree. Felt like I'd traveled a century into the past. These days surveying crews use blaze-orange tape to mark reference points and trails. Shaving bark down to the wood was a technique as old as the axe. Centuries ago the Voyageurs marked their passages with lob pines by lobbing a number of branches below the topknot of a tall one to make it stand out. Blazing was done for the detail work. At the moment I wasn't thinking history, I was thinking virgin fish. Ahead was another blaze, between was no obvious path. Though the blazes were grayed I doubted they were very old. However they were definitely pointing somewhere with a purpose. We waded into the ankle deep moss to see what we were facing before we hoisted the gear. Better than a quarter mile ahead found us on the shore of a lake. The distance across the water was only a few hundred yards but we weren't expecting a lake of size. All was as it should be. Till we noticed, off to our right, the little lake opened into a much larger body. Seemed we'd bushwhacked our way from one bay of Wedge Lake to another. The balloon popped. We laughed (though inside I was bummed. Still am). Sometimes the highlights of a trip are lowlights.
     Yes we did catch a lot of fish though only one stands out (besides the minnow Al impaled with a number five in-line spinner). On a typical mid-afternoon you'd find us in camp, snacking, Allan shore fishing, and me in a camp chair reading aloud. On this occasion Al had wandered to a spot where I couldn't see his cast, so why he started yelling for me to come over wasn't obvious. Yeah, I figured he had a fish on the line but didn't join in his excitement till I saw her. Yes sir, she was indeed bigger than a dog, not a real big dog but surely a cocker spaniel. Where Allan came up with a dog as a reference of size is a mystery but it is his standard for large pike. I ran for the camera and needle nose pliers. Al played the pike like the master he'd become, shored it, and hoisted  the pike for a quick snapshot. She measured at forty-six and a half inches. To this date it's the second largest pike caught in Wedge Lake. You can check that out with the Manitoba Master Anglers Awards (though the date is fudged for reasons we don't want to talk about).

Friday, May 12, 2017

Wedge Lake - 2000

     One finger was numb and the growing pain in my ribs said I best have Allan load me. Carrying a pack and a couple of paddles was no problem. Besides, the rain had stopped, life was more or less good, and an hour's worth of portaging found us by the pair of upturned lodge boats on Wedge Lake's shore. And, almost forgot, the rain had started again, this time with mayhem on its mind. As it turned out Siberia had caged up a half dozen storm fronts and over the next two weeks turned them loose, one at a time. Never did temperatures top sixty-five, we had a summer's worth of wind and rain, and one hour-long snow squall. Yeah, she was some kind of fun all right.
     At the access we waited it out. Rain poured straight down in billions of nickel-sized drops. A half hour on the lake would've flooded the boat so we cozied down on a moss-covered log beneath a towering spruce, pulled a pair of smokes from the only dry spot within fifteen miles, that being our rain jackets, fired up, and waited it out. We were almost giddy happy being where we'd wanted to be and had dreamt of for nearly a year. Yeah it was raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock but we both knew Mother Nature would have to take a break sooner or later and when she did, we'd launch, find our campsite, and have things up and running within an hour. We had food, books, and two weeks to fish the heck out of Grass River Park. As for my ribs, one way or the other I could work my way around them. Forty-five minutes of deluge found us pushing out from shore. Oddly enough, sitting in a canoe and paddling was not painful in the least. Maybe it was psychological, maybe a gift from the fishing gods, more likely a fluke.
     The next dozen days found us camping on Wedge Lake. That sure wasn't the plan but my ribs called the shots. Nighttime's were a minor misery but it sure felt good in the sleeping bag. Cold? You bet it was cold. Not like winter but night found the air playing footsie with the freezing mark. Our bags were designed for thirty degrees but weren't up to the task. We slept in long johns, shirts, and stocking caps. Changing positions in the night called for me to fully wake, prop myself on my elbows and ease my body around. But by the fifth day the ribs were improving noticeably. We began to make plans to head elsewhere.
     Our bathroom was off in the small wooded area on the south side of our tiny forty foot wide and one hundred, fifty foot long, island. Like all small, northwest Manitoba islands it was an irregular rock slab with dabs of soil in the lowest pockets, a dozen or more bushes in the open areas, and possibly fifty spruce and jack pines. Our bathroom was in the duff-floored cluster of evergreens on the south third of the island. The cat holes for our business were nothing but lifted clots of duff.
     Anyhow, on that fifth day I wandered into the woods, trowel and paper in hand. While squatting a pair of ribs finished the job I'd started back on the portage. Their snapping was so loud I figured Allan must have heard them go. The intense pain struck me funny and I started to laugh; not something I wanted to do when perched over what had moments before been inside me. At least now the real healing process could start.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

It Grows More Interesting - 2000

     Each time I woke in the night I listened to the abating wind in the pines and fell back asleep assured. Come morning the sun was out and First Cranberry was glassed over. Yesterday appeared only a miserable start to what I figured would now be uninterrupted, wonderful weather for the remainder of our fourteen days. Yup, this year we were doing a full two weeks on the water and had intentions of fishing several areas of Grass River Park. For the moment, everything looked rosy. No need to hurry, we took our time with breakfast and moseyed our way through breaking camp. Once again we intended to be set up on Wedge Lake no later than early afternoon.
     As it turned out the wind was doing as we were and in no hurry to leap into the day. Minutes after we paddled off from the tiny island and set our course straight down the middle of the lake, the wind woke up, yawned a bit, and hustled over to join us. By the end of First Cranberry we were bucking sets of ever-growing whitecaps. Sure seemed familiar.
     A mile and a half down the channel found us smoking a last cigarette on a spit of sand before paddling off into the misery of Second Cranberry. Yeah, the waves were every bit as big as yesterday though we'd come to learn a bit about choosing direction. Because of the angle of the wind we were facing a mile and a half of wave and storm bucking to reach the protected, east shore. Not easy, maybe still stupid, but once we paddled into the combers there was no turning back.
     We were creeping along and doing fine so long as the new canoe could be directed in a straight line. Any adjustments to line were difficult, frustrating, maddening, and sometimes close to impossible. Don't know if the problem was the size of our load, figure that with the two of us thrown in as pushing six hundred pounds, or how the boat was loaded. It had seemed trim when we'd started out but under the circumstances a little bit off might make a big difference. The reason why didn't matter once the canoe started moving right or left, then it was Katie-bar-the-door and all we could do to bring the boat back on line. Sometimes we were forced to do straight pull strokes to correct our course, not something canoe men relish when inching into a stiff wind. An occasional glance toward the shore assured me that under the worst of it we were at least holding our own and not moving backward but it was hard to tell.
     A little over an hour from setting out we finally reached the lee shore, pulled out smokes, and had a good laugh about how miserable it was, also a little scary. Could be our fear was the driving force behind our effort. Bobbing in the gentle swells, feet on the gunwales, we didn't even mind the slow drizzle that'd come to play with us. The remaining nine miles to our portage was child's play and the occasional blast of crosswind though the gaps in the forest, nothing more than dust on our shoulders. We paddled in joy.
     As usual, the off-load was tricky. Hoisting sixty pound packs while balancing on a canted slab of basalt begged for a headlong dive onto the rock-strewn shore. But all went well; ten minutes later the canoe and gear was resting fifty yards inland atop a gently sloping hill. Though heavily overcast, the drizzle had stopped and once again life was looking pretty good. We lit up, sat on the wet grass, and for a few minutes enjoyed the mayhem out in mid-lake.
     Our break over, I rose and threw a pack over my shoulder. My mistake was simple, I should have been facing the lake and thrown the pack uphill. After a clumsy stumble or two, I'd have been loaded and trotting off down the path. Instead I found myself in a tug-of-war with inertia for a few moments before pitching the pack and diving headlong downhill. Oops. Allan said my head landed between a pair of rocks. Lucky for the rocks I guess. However I did manage to land belly down with an arm across my ribcage. I'd cracked ribs before and when I stood I knew I'd gone and done it again. Damnation.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Challenges - 2000 - First Day

     We had a plan, a new canoe, and knowledge of where to find fish. But like all wilderness plans, Mother Nature ruled the roost.
     We left The Pas intending to be camped on Wedge Lake by early afternoon, mid-afternoon at the latest. However (pause for effect), the weather in town was wet and windy, not good canoeing conditions. Not a problem as we knew for sure the sky would clear and the wind die by the time we pushed off. Yup, we were the golden children of fate. Besides, Allan said he'd rather be staring at the rain through the Jeep's windshield than through a motel window.
     I constantly scanned the treetops on the one-hour drive to Cranberry Portage and it seemed like they weren't being blown around as much and the sprinkles on the windshield had all but stopped. As I said, we were golden. Once at the government dock we loaded the canoe under a threatening, but dry sky. Even the lake surface was calming.
     Midway down the bay we were nearly run over by Cranberry Air as the float plane roared to life, skimmed down the water, and rose into the sky. How bad could it be if a small, one engine puddle jumper would chance a flight into the bush? When the bay opened onto the main body of First Cranberry we found out.
     My best guess was the bay had been protected from the southeast gale that was churning up the three-foot whitecaps galloping on the main lake. Of course, being one of nature's favorites I assured Allan we were okay and off we paddled, angling to our left. That was stupid, maybe beyond stupid. Also lazy. A wise man would have bagged it for a while, waited it out on shore in hope the wind would abate somewhat and not take a chance on capsizing in the near frigid water. This was the first week in June and we were straddling fifty-four degrees north. Ice-out was less than two weeks earlier. Figure the water at fifty degrees, give or take.
     Once out of the bay, we should have gone right, into the teeth of the wind. It would've been a bear but we could've hugged the lee shore and been close to safety should we capsize. Also, once we struggled our way to the east shore we'd have been tucked under the forest and could've easily paddled to the egress.
     But I turned us left, quartered the oncoming waves, and headed the canoe toward a short chain of islands that would eventually end well short of our goal and in the worst waves of the lake. Three-footers for sure. The farther we paddled, the worse it got. We beat our way from island to island, resting in the lee of each.
     As I recall, between islands three and four we began to take water over the gunwales. Even I knew that wasn't good. By island four my feet were beginning to get wet and I figured it time to take a break on the acre of rock, duff, and stone. There we spent the night in a clearing just big enough for our tent.
     Throughout the morning and the afternoon the storm grew. I have no accurate idea of the wind strength but sixty kilometers/hour (this was Canada, eh) would be no exaggeration. However strong it was, the powdered rain blew past horizontally.
     That evening the lake calmed enough for us to push off and fish. We discovered two things in our hour on the water, there are big pike in First Cranberry Lake and needle-nose pliers don't float. Good thing we had a second set. I disassembled an in-line spinner, rigged a loop on the pliers, and tied it off with a length of parachute cord. Jury-rigged for sure but she worked.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Discovery - 1999

     We'd been warned and I didn't listen. Back in '98 we knew next to nothing of Grass River Park and began our search to learn the basics at the Forestry Department office in Cranberry Portage. There we were directed to the diner in town where the man who knew what we wanted to know was having breakfast. After he shagged me back out to the Jeep for my maps, the ranger kindly interrupted his meal to point out the locations of several portages leading to back country lakes. We were assured we'd find good fishing in any of the remote waters, assured, and then assured again. But I chose to ignore the man who knew every square foot of the park from personal experience. Yes, I was stupid. After we walked out Allan noted that every time I pointed at the map I used my middle finger. Talk about being the ugly American.
     While north of the border I'd picked up a Manitoba fishing guide listing all the Master Angler awards for '97 including who, what, where, and when. Most every time I hit the John over the winter months I'd pick up the guide and plot and plan. Also spent enough time on my quest to emboss a toilet seat tattoo to my backside. Can't say I recommend that many hours in the sitting position but the second time we crossed the border it was with a purpose.
     The guide told us most of the big fish were caught in June, so we went in June. Also said we were fishing the wrong lakes, so we entered from a different point. We came, we paddled, we camped, and we fished. After two days of basking in the sun of the north land we also came to know two things, there was a tremendous dragon fly hatch going on and we still sucked as fishermen. However, Allan did hook, play, and lose a solid fifteen pound pike. Had I known what advice to give him about how to play her he might've boated the fish but I was as much in the dark as he. I'd never seen a pike that big and didn't have a clue. Some father I was. After two days we paddled on.
     And we ended up on The Rock. We'd camped there for one night in '98 and I swore we'd never do it again. But we did. The Rock was a tiny, rock slab of an island whose only possible tent site was a tad smaller than our tent. We were depressed and the fishing only improved a tad. That night Allan caught our first Canadian walleye. Think about that for a moment. This was our tenth day on water noted for its wonderful walleye fishing and all we had to show was one fifteen inch pickerel.
     The following noon hour found us laid out in the sun discussing whether or not to head back to the cabin where at least we knew how to fool the fish. Lethargy and depression ruled the roost. Then Allan piped up and changed everything, "Let's go to Wedge Lake." I'd been dropping hints about Wedge right from the first moment of '98 but for some reason the lake held no appeal for Al. Why it didn't enter my head as we laid on The Rock, I'll never know. But Allan remembered, spoke up, and in a moment we were packing and filled with energy.
     It was a simple four mile paddle to a two hundred and fifty rod portage. We were uplifted and the carry was easy. Finding camp on a tiny island was a snap. Less than four hours from Allan's suggestion we were up and running. A leisurely supper and by six we were pushing off accompanied by conflicted feelings of hope and fear that our hope was simple delusion. Yeah, this sure felt different but we'd built a strong track record of failure and wouldn't have been surprised had we been skunked. For Allan's first two casts we were. Then, he tied into a small pike where there was no reason for one to be. And that was immediately followed by another. I finally picked up my rod and tied into a fair-sized walleye on my first cast. That pickerel told me we were finally onto something and our fishing miseries were in the past. For the next three days we caught pike and walleyes by the bucketful. Most were small but a few were true beasts, the kind of fish we'd hoped for from the beginning. Seems like good times first call for a fair amount of dues to be paid. To this point ours totaled eleven days in the park, paddling a hundred and fifty miles on the water, and twenty-seven hundred miles behind the wheel. Made it all the sweeter.

Sunday, May 7, 2017


     Our ignorance was profound. We had the waters to ourselves. That should have been a clue. Instead of thinking, why are we alone? I was into, wonderful, no crowds and thirty thousand acres to not have to share with anyone. It was mid-August, a time when all but bass fisherman, swimmers, and water skiers abandon Minnesota's lakes. We call them the dog days of summer. Who'd have thought northwest Manitoba could also go to the dogs? I sure didn't. But then again, maybe it didn't? Maybe it was simply a case of not knowing what the hell we were doing? Whatever the reason we boated not a fish worth catching in seven days on the water. But, we had a wonderful time.
     Oddly enough the highlight of the trip was our first night in the park. Sometime after midnight it began to rain. Sometimes hard, sometimes not much more than a drizzle. But it didn't stop till suppertime. No one in their right mind would think of that as a high point and neither did we at the time. Just in case we were stranded, wind bound, or stuck in the tent for hours on end, I'd packed a couple of books and a deck of cards to pass the hours. The cards quickly lost their charm. In their place I pulled out a garage sale copy of Forrest Gump and began to read. I don't think I'd read to Allan since his ninth birthday. But because Al remained quiet and wasn't asleep I figured he was listening and enjoying the story more than the cards. So I kept on going, even threw in different voices for each of the characters. When I'd packed Gump and one of Garrison Keillor's rambles I'd not once considered we'd read more than a few pages aloud, much less an entire novel. Thus began a tradition that became as much a part of our trips as did the fishing. I sure didn't see that coming.
     Whenever the rain would let up we'd head outside to take a leak. The soothing sound of spattering on the tent sure excited our bladders. Surely a sign of the connectedness of the universe. It's as though the bladder has a devious sense of humor and gets a man's juices flowing about the same time the skies open up just to get his toes wiggling and tubes pinched tight. While under the gray drizzle we'd light up and have a smoke. That's another oddity. Neither of us were smokers but somehow on our first half dozen trips to Canada smoking simply felt right and we enjoyed the heck out of it. Before scampering back under cover we'd raid the food pack and snack in the tent. I know, I know, that's one of the cardinal sins of life right after lust and immediately before envy. Mea culpa.
     But more than anything we began to slow down, take what Mother Nature offered, and make the best of it. We learned that our trips didn't begin till we left our city ways behind. Over our days in the bush we didn't live the lives of explorers or even pioneers but we did forgo electricity, running water, and slept on the ground under nylon. We traveled under our own power, moved with the passage of the sun, and came to know each other a little better.

Saturday, May 6, 2017


     Driving back from the cabin I began to fast forward to the Manitoba trip my son and I are planning for this July. As I'd written earlier, this won't be our first time into Grass River Park or on Elbow Lake at the far north end. We're both familiar with the drill of readying and going though there's little doubt I've spent more time over the years since replaying our time on the water than has Allan. Yeah, I'm an obsessive old bugger. What can you expect from someone who was once an obsessive young bugger? At least I'm consistent. In my defense, they were all good times and like a good book or movie, the rereads and reruns are near as good as the first time around. That we're heading off to the boonies while I'm still upright is a gift, pure and simple.
     Our first trip came about as a high school graduation present for Al. Also was as much for me as it was for him. We'd done a half dozen Boundary Waters trips and by and large I was praised for sharing time with my son but I knew the truth to be otherwise. Allan was as much my excuse to canoe on wilderness lakes as it was about father-son bonding. That he seemed to be having a good time was a bonus and over the years our trips did grow to be a sharing experience.
     I chose Grass River Provincial Park because it was barely within a very long day's driving distance, was far enough north to give me a feeling of real wilderness, and because I'd never heard of it till a couple of months before climbing in the Jeep. Hell, in my mind the park was so far north we could probably fish the nearby roadside ditches and catch arm-long walleyes. As it turned out, I was wrong.
     Our 1998 trip was a bust as far as the fishing went. Could be we should have not gone in August. However, as I mistakenly thought, when we went was of no consequence. We did catch a few fish, a very few fish and could have caught a hell of a lot more had we fished the cabin lakes. Our couple of dozen pike, all under ten pounds, had me searching my soul as to why we didn't catch more. If the fishing five hundred miles north of what we thought of as north wasn't that poor, the reason had to be us. And by us I mean me. What was wrong with me?
     Over the years I wrote a journal-like book about our trips north of the border and called it Learning Curve. As a book it wasn't much, but the title sure was on the money. What I came learn, as I had years before in Minnesota, was area knowledge has as much to do with fishing success as does technique. Allan and I rarely had a bad day on the lakes around our cabin once we figured out which lakes to fish and when to fish them. In short, what I discovered was necessary for me to be a success on the water was finding lakes where the fish were as dumb and innocent as me (though the bass and pike might feel a little insulted by such a statement).
     What I'd like to do over the next few entries is recall some of the best days Allan and I had north of the border and maybe a few things I'd like to have done differently.

Monday, May 1, 2017


     I know it's early but I pulled the fishing gear out today to see what I had and what shape it was in. After all my fishing years you'd think I had it all mentally cataloged but I don't. Blame it on my age or blame it on having only doing one fishing trip in the last year, doesn't matter to me. Only one thing came as a surprise. Long story short, most everything is in good shape and there's plenty of it. We could leave in the morning and not lack for a thing.
     My son Allan likes to fish with in-line spinners nearly as much as I do. Could be genetic, more likely that's what I gave him to slip on the action end of his line nearly thirty years ago. And probably added some fatherly wisdom like, "Your choice of lure is purely up to you but should you choose anything but spinners, you'd best be in someone else's canoe."
     If you've read any of my fishing entries from the early years you know that I make my own spinners. At first it was because I was cheap. Over the years I actually developed some skill and now turn out functional, long lasting, and almost attractive lures. Of course that's my opinion but they do catch fish, bass, pike, walleyes, trout, pebbles, branches, and to this point, no human beings. What more could I want?
     Anyhow, while rummaging through my lure parts drawers I came upon a dozen new spinners from two years ago. I recall making five dozen and giving most away (actually sold them to friends and relatives at cost. Now that I'm retired I work for free) but I'd squirreled a dozen for Allan should the notion ever come on him to hit the water again.
     Well, that time is upon us though I find it hard to believe our trip will actually take place. However, today I did reserve us an overnight cabin next to the government dock in Cranberry Portage, Manitoba for the night before the lodge boat comes to fetch us. How civilized. Eighty-two days and counting.