Saturday, June 25, 2016

Pines and Clear Water, Peace and Contentment

Way back in the bush, I found this sheltered 'narrows' I had never seen before.  It was a great place to fish and a great place to sleep.

       Wilderness lay ahead of me that morning. Uncertainty!  But I had all the food I needed for several days, packed in two coolers, with two blocks of ice and not a thing that needed to be cooked or heated. Nothing to drink but water, and in those far away Canadian lakes the cold water is pure.  

       In a dry compartment of my old boat I had an air mattress, sleeping bag and one of those little one-person tents you can pop up in a minute, completely mosquito proof.  With it was all my necessary fishing gear, and a few emergency tools in case I needed them, dry clothes and rain gear. 

       Thank goodness I took along a little extra gas. I wouldn’t have made it back otherwise. My aging War-Eagle boat holds nearly 20 gallons of gas in a built in tank, and I would need more.  I figured it would be about 12 miles to the remote little area I wanted to fish, there in northwest Ontario.  It would take better than an hour to get there, but I could fish two or three days with two batteries and my trolling motor.

       Because of all the rapids you have to navigate between chains of lakes, you can’t go there with a propeller-driven motor.  I knew I could shoot through them with my jet motor and I did.  On one of those stretches of swift-flowing rock-strewn waters, there were dozens of fish with bright red fins sticking out of the water along the edges. Some kind of sucker I think, but never have I seen them with such blood red fins here in the Ozarks.

       On one shoal I saw a pair of pine martens, and there were lots of loons already there, the last two days of May.  I expected to find crappie spawning off the weed beds, but I didn’t.  I think I was just a few days too early.  The smallmouth I was after, and the northern pike, were in five or six feet of water getting ready for the spawn. They readily took my buzz spin off the surface along rock-strewn shores with sand beaches, but there wasn’t one bass above three pounds and that was disappointing.  Often, just as June comes on, you can hook really big ones, four pounds and above.  But not on this trip.

       I got lost just a little bit, but in getting lost I came across a ‘narrows’ I had never seen before.  It was a beautiful spot between two high rock bluffs, well-shaded with water about twelve feet deep.  Perfect for spring walleye.  I only had a dozen minnows, so I reached for my ultra-lite outfit and put one on a bluish-colored hairy jig.

       I drifted through the narrows just bobbing that jig off the bottom and in minutes something hit it hard.  I bent my rod hard and the drag didn’t work right.  It was a heavy fish, that’s all I could say.  I suspect it was a northern pike that got the jig deep enough to bite the line in two, but I didn’t fight him long.  The rod jumped as the line broke, and there I was fishless, jigless and happinessless. 

       But things can change in a hurry.  I adjusted the drag and tied on a new jig and minnow and in only ten or fifteen more minutes I felt a similar strike, with a fish just as heavy.  I fought him for a good while, then saw the white spot on his bronze tail in the clear water well below my boat.  What a big walleye this was!  With my rod in one hand and the net in the other, I got him to the surface and into the net, 27 inches long and probably in the top ten as far as Canadian walleye I have caught over the years.

       Canadian guides make a big thing of shore lunch, bringing out a skillet and cooking the mornings catch on a beautiful sand bar or flat rock shore.  On the open fire they can make the accompanying pork and beans good and hot, and you eat them right out of the can.

        Guiding on Ozark streams, I never fixed a shore lunch.  It took too much time and it was too hot, usually, to be building up a fire, even in the shade.   We made baloney sandwiches mostly, back in those days long ago.  With cheese of course… maybe with a can of cold beanie-weenies.  And there were bananas and soda pop and some Hostess chocolate cupcakes.
       I don’t drink soda any more but had a similar meal, without the cupcakes. It reminded me of the old days, as I stopped on a shaded sandbar that day and then stretched out to take a long nap.  I congratulated myself on the big walleye.  Told myself I had done good.  You get to talking to yourself like that when you are off by yourself in the middle of nowhere. I sang a lot too.  No one there to hear me but the loons, which often joined in.

       I had been in Canada fishing for three days and I hadn’t heard a thing in the way of news from the U.S.  It is nice to go for a while without having to hear the news media tell us what a wonderful president Hillary will make, or how great Obama has done.  The cry of loons and the chatter of pine squirrels, and the drumming of ruffed grouse is a much better sound.

       It is against the law to camp on those Canadian lakeshores, but I didn’t need to.  About nine that evening I anchored my boat inside those protective narrows between the bluffs and set up that little tent on the back of my boat.  The mosquitoes at night make that net-windowed little tent absolutely necessary.  I put the air mattress in it and filled it, then laid my sleeping bag inside.  Grey owls answered my call, and hooted away on the bluff top.

The back deck on my boat is 71 inches by 36 inches, and the tent is 72 inches around, so part of it had to lap over on two sides.  Luckily, I am only 70 inches long and I didn’t have to lap over at all!  I slept well except for the complicated effort one must give to get out of a tent that is only about 40 inches tall, when nature calls about 4 in the morning.  In Canada, the early summer darkness doesn’t really set in until after ten p.m., and it begins to get light about four a.m.

       I will do it again next spring, maybe a week later when the smallmouth are sure to be up on the banks.  I know just how to get back in the middle of nowhere, catch fish and hunt morel mushrooms and not violate the law at all.  One change… no air mattress!  There’s room for rolled up foam mattresses in my boat compartments.  I’ll also take a skillet and have some fish for supper with my beans. And I may go to ham!  Baloney is fine for lunch but darn poor eating at breakfast!  Another thing… I need to take more bananas.

       While it is hot, I am going to do some trotlining for big catfish at night and go to work on my fall hunting and fishing magazine, the Lightnin’ Ridge Journal, during the heat of the day.  It should be done by September.  If you have a good story about hunting and fishing from September thru November, send it to me.  We pay from 25 to 50 dollars for stories we publish.  The magazine is going to be a bit different than it has been the last 15 years, perhaps more than a hundred pages, and about half of it in color. 


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