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.

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