Sunday, September 25, 2022

Catching a Dinosaur

Last week my Best Half and I loaded up the boat and trailer onto the minivan and set out for an early morning fishing adventure. If you haven’t figured it out by now, this time of the year is one of my favorite times to float on the water and wet a line in hopes of catching some fish. Not always do we keep the fish we catch, it always depends on the ambition I am feeling towards fileting fish on that set day. Many times we will go out fishing and just return them to the water after the thrill of hauling them into the boat and seeing how big they are. 

That morning we did set out to catch some nice sunnies for supper that night. The plan was to catch enough to have for supper and hopefully freeze enough for another meal this winter when we are gazing out the windows at the frozen dark tundra and -30 below temps. That always is a special treat in the dead of winter.

We got to the boat landing and backed the boat into the water and within a few minutes I had my line cast out with one of the wooden fishing lures I had made a few years ago. People laugh often when they find out I make my own lures out of a chunk of pine wood, a hook, and some $.50 Walmart hobby paint. I always receive a smile from the person looking at one of my “lucky lures”  and the look of “you’ll never catch anything with that”. And imagine the surprise when I have them take a closer look at the teeth marks on the lures from past catches. They kind of stare in disbelief.

We had just launched the boat and were slowly trolling out from the boat landing and about 30 seconds into the boat ride, I told my Best Half to put the boat in neutral as I was hung up in weeds already. So he complied and I started to reel in my line with so much resistance I was pretty certain I would snap the lure right off the line and leave it in the weeds beneath the water. But slowly it felt like maybe the weeds would give up my lucky lure as it became less resistant as I reeled. 

A few seconds later I felt the gentle but firm tug on my line and realized I had a fish on my line. The way it started to tug on my line, I figured it was more than likely a bass yanking around. For a few seconds it sat on the bottom of the lake deciding what to try next to get the hook out of its mouth and be free. I continued to casually reel in my line knowing it was a bass and I’d release it back as soon as I could get the hook out of its mouth.

After about a minute of trying to reel the fish in, I finally got it up close enough to see what was on the end of my line. There next to the boat a few feet from the surface was a ginormous Northern. I took one look at the fish and let out a squeal Iike  a little kid entering a candy store! 

This fish was well over a few feet long and as fat as could be. It came to the surface long enough for me to get a glimpse of it and then dove back into the deep water. Imagine my disbelief. This was the absolute biggest fish I ever had on my line. I was so grateful I was using a heavier duty rod and real and not my ultralight I use for sunfish and crappies. At least I had a chance of landing this bad boy.

I let the monster fish have some line and go back down into the deeper water while my Best Half and I figured out how we were going to get this dinosaur into the boat. I yelled at him to get the net and he gave me the strangest stare. Then I realized why he was staring at me. The only net in the boat was a net I used when in the kayak. It’s a small collapsible net used for panfish and trout. The head alone on this monster Northern wouldn’t even fit in the net. The regular fishing net was down in the chicken coop hanging up. We had used it for rounding up a few loose chickens and never got it back in the boat.

So with no other means of landing this fish I continued to play it out. I would get it up next to the boat and ready to pull it in by hand and it would race back into the deeper water. This went on several more times and finally after about 5-6 minutes I told my best half to just reach down and grab the metal leader the lure was hooked to and haul the monster into the boat. So after a few more attempts he grabbed the leader and hoisted the fish into the boat. Just as he got it into the boat the Northern released the death grip he had on my lure and dropped into the cooler that was being used as a livewell. 

The fish immediately started jumping and thrashing around in the cooler that was about 6 or 8 inches shorter than the fish. I slammed the cover down and began filling it with water. After a few minutes passed and my adrenaline rush had subsided, I opened the cooler and took a good look at what I had just caught. It was close to 3 feet long and had to weigh 6-7 pounds I was guessing. The absolute biggest fish I had ever caught in my life! 

I took a look at my lucky lure that had been in this fish’s mouth and only then realized that my lure was completely stripped of the hooks. That fish had somehow ripped the hooks right out of the lure, spit them out and had been holding on to the lure with clenched teeth around it. What are the chances of that happening, I thought. My lucky lure had done its job and then some. I had caught bass and even a few large sunfish off that lure and similar ones I had made, but never the size of this beast. As I looked at the lure I could see teeth marks indented into the pine wood, encircled all around it from the Bad Boy of Summer, my northern. 

We got home with our catch and I fileted them out by the cleaning table, down by the pump. I had made a fish cleaning station years ago to teach the grandkids how to filet fish they caught. That Northern was way too big for the kitchen sink. It took up the length of the 4 foot table. I had weighed and measured the Northern and it was just under 36 inches long and a titch over 7 pounds. Definitely the catch of a lifetime for me.

As I said before, I love to go fishing, especially in the late Summer or early Fall. There is just something about the cool crispness of the morning air and the fog sitting just over the lake and the stillness that surrounds me. For me…it is the closest I can get to my Creator. It is in that stillness way down deep in my heart that I can feel the Presence and stir of what brings me joy and happiness and peace. Catching some fish is just the bonus.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

TIppy Canoe...A Kayak Will Do

The other day I decided to hit the lake and go fishing in the morning. The mornings have been foggy and pretty still with no winds. That’s always my favorite time to fish. Just a calm lake with loons floating by and the sound of fish jumping just out of reach of my line.

We have a regular boat and motor, a bigger kayak for paddling or putting on a trolling motor, a small kayak to carry into the lake and my Old Town Pack canoe. So when I go fishing, like most Minnesotans, I have a choice and decision to make as to what floating device to take. 

I decided to take the canoe the other morning since it was so still and it was 48 degrees. I didn’t feel like hitching up the big boat and the kayaks get me a bit more wet with water coming in the scupper holes of the sit on top kayaks. So the little solo canoe seemed the most logical choice. I really haven’t used the Pack canoe for the past couple of years. It seems I always go for one of the kayaks. And this Spring I built a holder to put a little trolling motor on the big one. So that one is able to get anywhere I want to go on a lake .

But, back to the Pack canoe. Probably 15 or 20 years ago, I came across an Old Town Pack solo canoe. It was for sale up near Two Harbors and my Best Half hauled me up there to give it a look. To say the heavens opened and the angels began to sing is an understatement! I took one look at that little green beauty and without any doubts, it was loaded into the back of our pickup truck. 

That canoe was perfect for me. It was only 33 pounds, but would hold 600 pounds of weight and gear. It was wide and stable and with a double paddle it went anywhere I asked of it. This was before we had any kayaks, so it was my only mode of water travel except for a 14 foot boat and motor on a trailer. We have had several different boats over the years.

The Pack canoe has been on many BWCA trips with me and my grandkids when they have gone with their parents. It has been the hauler of the food packs with a teeneager navigating it. It has gone down the river with a good current in the Spring and a grandkid paddling trying to keep it headed in the right direction. And it never let its paddler down.

That Pack canoe was a favorite to do a spur of the moment fishing adventure. Many years ago when the older grandkids were smaller, they would sit on the floor in the front of the 11 foot beauty and we would fish together. So many memories held in that little green canoe.

Back to the other day. I decided to take the Pack canoe out and do some fishing. So I slid it into the minivan and loaded up my gear and headed out to a nearby lake. When I got to the landing the shoreline was loaded with bullrushes that had blown into the shore on the previous windy day. They covered the landing and there was no real easy access onto the lake. Luckily the Pack is only 33 pounds, so I managed to hoist it and drag it over the rushes and into a few feet of water. I threw my gear in, put on my lifejacket and hopped in.

For the first time since last using the Pack I had some trouble getting my leg hoisted in. I was unsteady and feeling like it would tip. After a few tries and eventually holding onto the dock, I was in. I started to paddle and it felt tippy as I went side to side paddling. I braced my knees tensley on the sides of the inside the canoe and got my bearings that I was in a canoe, not on a kayak. It took a few minutes of adjusting and I was off to the fishing spot.

There was no wind and the lake was very still, so I just fished and drifted and got pulled by the fish I was catching. Always a relaxing time and this was no exception. Except I was still holding my knees to the sides to brace myself and keep from feeling like I was going to tip.I was tensed up and barely moving in the canoe. It was then that I realized how much I have come to enjoy a kayak over a canoe.  

In my kayak, I can flop into it without the feeling of tipping or dumping all my gear out. Maybe it is being closer to the water level, or a different center of gravity, but I have never once felt like I would tip in my kayak. In fact, I squirm all around in the kayak, dangling my legs off the side, or sitting side-saddle when my back needs a break. And I have never tipped the kayak. Also being closer on the water it seems like my kayak paddles with less resistance. It glides across the water with a few strokes of the paddle versus really having to dig into the water to move the canoe. And when a speedboat flies by,in the kayak, I can just roll with the wake. But in the canoe I always feel a need to point into the waves coming at me for fear of dumping over sideways.

After fishing the other morning, I came to the realization that the Pack Canoe, while being an awesome vessel, no longer fits my aging body and needs like my kayak does. So after years of saying I would never sell it, I decided I was going to do just that. I put the ad on Marketplace. Within about an hour of listing it I had about 10 people wanting to buy it sight unseen. The Pack canoe is a well sought after canoe due to its size, weight tolerance and it is made from Royalex, a compound that is basically unbreakable.

The first person to respond came out early the next morning and put the Pack in the back of his truck. He pulled out the cash and gave me an extra $10 as he was grateful I let him buy it. That little canoe is now at a cabin in Wisconsin wIth lots more grandkids tooling around in it. It will more than likely outlive that generation of paddlers and move on to the next. 

It was kind of a hard decision to sell the little Pack canoe, but after spending the day out on the lake with it, I was made aware of my limitations these days with arthritis and balance and the aging process that visits me at times. I no longer am a canoe paddler, but my kayak will do its best to get me out on the water whenever I am able.

I can spend hours floating along in my kayak, enjoying the warm sunshine, the gentle breeze and the frequent pull of a fish on my line. Sometimes even one big enough to haul me around the lake. And if needed, I can hook the trolling motor up to the bigger kayak or haul the boat out to a lake. Still so many choices on how to get on the lake for this Minnesotan. I’ll see you on the water, I’ll be the one with the lime green kayak, a fishing pole in my hand and a smile on my face. Stop by and say hi.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Hannah Savana Gets Hitched to the C.O.W.

After a Summer of getting the house sided and all new trim and needing to be around the house, as of last week, it is finally 100% done. It looks great and after the amount of storm damage we had from a storm in May, we are hoping that from here out any bad storms and hail and wind will bypass our house. It was a hassle and a half getting the insurance claim figured out, making sure the contractor didn’t forget anything on the list and most of all getting all the nails and screws picked up and scraps out of the yard. It’s been over 3 months since the first day we contacted the contractor to finally being completely done. But finally we are free from having to be home monitoring it all. We are free!

Last January when my Best Half retired we had many plans to travel around this Summer going to lots of State Parks and also out to South Dakota for a bit too. And just take off on a whim if we wanted to. But besides the home repairs lasting forever, there also was the issue of gas prices near $5 a gallon in early Summer. It was also a good deterrent for traveling very far. But lately as gas prices are coming down we have gotten into the planning mode once again. 

We decided to take a 4-6 day jaunt with the dogs and try out Hannah Savana and how able she is to pull the C.O.W. (you know,,,our cabin on wheels). Once we decided we were finally going to do a mini trip the next decision was when to go and where. As Summer is nearing another end, we needed to figure out weather and time and location.

We talked about going to South Dakota and driving around the Badlands and Black Hills and then come home. We talked about taking a few day trips around the state and be home every night. That actually frees up being able to leave Max and Zoe home alone for the day. Doing that we could load up our e bikes and ride some great Minnesota trails, or better yet take the boat and go fishing for a day. It all sounded awesome.

We finally decided we would take our getaway trip leaving on Labor Day and coming home around 3-4 days or sooner depending on the weather. And after some back and forth conversation about where to go, we decided we would go to one of our favorite state parks in Minnesota, Bearhead State Park. It is up north from us between the towns of Tower and Ely Minnesota. As the crow flies it is about 10-15 miles from the BWCA (Boundary Waters Canoe Area) which borders Quetico Provincial Park in Canada.

For anyone who has never been to that area, it is some pristine bodies of water and shoreline full of tall pines and birch trees underneath deep blue skies. There are 1000’s of lakes to explore and fish. Pretty much my idea of what heaven may be like when I get there. While I like to go pretty much anywhere traveling and seeing the sights, up by the BWCA is one of my very favorites.

Once decided where we would be going it then came down to just packing and hopping in Hannah Savana and heading out right? Not so fast. Packing for a September trip in Northern Minnesota requires packing for at least 2 seasons, hot and freezing cold. So that meant packing not only shorts and t-shirts and flip flops, but also long pants, sweatshirts, red Buffalo plaid flannel shirts, and shoes with wool socks. And also rain gear. It about doubles what a person packs when you head North.

Since we had the dogs, we decided not to take the E-bikes, but I did pack my small kayak to do some hard core fishing. Having Hannah Savana makes it possible to just slide my 9 foot kayak on the bed in the back, still leaving lots of room for 2 100 lb dogs to sleep on the floor. Another advantage to once again having a big van to go with the C.O.W.

Clothes packed, food stowed away in the camper, it came down to loading up the  fishing/kayaking supplies like a life jacket, fishing poles, tackle and most important a paddle to go with the kayak. I woke up the night before we left freaking out that I  wouldn’t remember my paddle and the whole kayaking part was ruined.
The morning to leave finally arrived, our friends and neighbors down the road agreed to watch the chickens…(how could they refuse, their last name is Egger, I kid you not). Our chickens would be in good hands with Mr. and Mrs.Egger!

It was time to hit the road. Only, now that we are both retired, that didn’t happen until 10 am. It felt almost…illegal…leaving that late in the morning for a vacation. In previous times we would have everything packed the night before and be heading out at 4:30-5 AM! It was close to 10:30 in the morning when we hopped on the freeway heading North. It was LaborDay and everyone who had been up North for the holiday weekend was making their trek home to wrap up the Labor Day weekend. We were just a few of the cars headed North. One of the advantages of being retired I guess.

Well we drove and drove a little more and arrived at Bearhead State Park. As we were driving in, we were trying to remember the last time we had been here and all we could think was that it had been a really long time. It had been many years ago we had been here, with some family and friends and then maybe just the two of us once afterward. It had been at least 10 years or more. Unbelievable how time passes so fast.

After we had the campsite all set up, which honestly doesn’t involve much when hauling the C.O.W., we brought my kayak down to the shore. I have a little 9 foot kayak that I finally had the guts to drill some holes in it and put some tracks to mount a fishing rod holder. And I was able to finally put in some pad eyes for an anchor trolley. My Kayak had just gone from “ I like the little kayak” to “Dang this thing is perfect now”. It was evening by the time we got done setting up and dropping off the kayak, so supper was reheated from the night before and we just kicked back a bit and went to bed early…listening to the sounds of the loon calling from the lake. 

It got down into the 40’s the first night and I have to say I woke up early with the intention of going fishing, but the thought of getting my backside wet and cold in the kayak had me rolling over and sleeping a little longer. But then it was time to hit the lake.

I have to say that my Best Half is not the passionate fisherman that his spouse claims to be. He is content to sit in the boat and read or even stay on shore and not even get on the water. I’ll just say it here and now…he’s not originally from Minnesota so never really experienced lakes, fishing and just being out on the water. So I can’t fault him for not wanting to go fishing with me. But that being said, I will say I have the best spouse in the world. Not only does he put up with me and my fleet of boats, kayaks and canoes, he encourages me constantly to go fishing. He will sometimes go and other times stay back. Never once have I come home from fishing to have him upset because I was gone too long. 

Being up North camping has not changed that either. Since we were pulling the C.O.W. we couldn’t pull the boat, but my kayak fit perfectly in the van, which meant only one person at a time on the water. And my Best Half has encouraged me to go out fishing as long as I want…the whole time up camping while he stays back with Max and Zoe. I charged up the 2 way radios so we can be in touch if needed…as he says…”In case you tip and find your way to an island, I can come rescue you”. He really is one thoughtful guy. I am the one who has the best deal in town in this marriage.

I have been thinking about the past few days and all that we have done and seen. I am in the C.O.W.  listening to a content exhausted dog , Zoe, snoring and yelping out in excitement as she did today when she was swimming, She has given the phrase “dog tired” a whole new outlook. And Max, who spent today diving off the dock with Zoe and fetching sticks, let’s just say he is in a deep sleep with his legs moving doing the dog paddle in the air, just like he did in the lake today.

I’ve spent the past few days waking up early to be out on the lake in the kayak, to see the fish jumping out of the water to greet the day and watching a big ball of orange rise up on the horizon and vanish the mist off the lake. For me it is a spiritual moment watching that. I feel like a small spec in the greater scheme of creation. And yet I feel so connected. I feel humbled and awestruck at the same time. 
Minnesota you never cease to amaze me with your beauty..

Sunday, September 4, 2022

It's August and Time to Go Fishing with My Brother

Last week was the annual fishing day with my brother and sister-in-law. Each year around August, for about the past 25 years, we have gotten together to take a day and go fishing. His birthday is in the beginning of August and as a birthday present for him, we go fishing together and then have a fish fry afterwards. My brother and I have so many memories of fishing when we were kids. And each year we just keep building on those memories. 

During this past year my brother had major back surgery and while he is doing great, there is still a need for some caution and taking it easy so he doesn’t strain his back and have pain. So once we figured out the date, they decided to come up the day before the fishing expedition so he wouldn’t be in a long car ride and then sit for hours in the boat. They would stay in the C.O.W.(cabin on wheels) with all the amenities of a cabin.

My Best Half got the camper all parked and leveled as best he could, put water in the tanks, turned on the gas for hot water, and plugged it into electric in case the a/c was needed. It was all set, even with 2 chairs and a small table in case they wanted to sit under the awning in the evening.

They arrived around 4 and we showed them their space and helped unload their gear into the camper. And then we all went into the “Big house” as we called it. Tacos were the order of the day for supper. Homemade salsa with chips from my sister-in-law and we sat and chatted til supper was ready. We chatted about the upcoming day of fishing and previous fishing trips over the past 25 years we had been doing this. 

Most of our fishing trips involved each of us in a kayak and fishing near each other. There were a few times when it was windy so we tied a rope to each other’s kayak and one person had an anchor down. And no matter what, each year we did the kayak fishing, my brother always, and I mean always, wound up in the water. Whether it was getting into his kayak or just slipping as he was walking into the water, he wound up completely soaked. 

Last year was the first year he didn’t get soaked. I’m thinking it was because we took the boat and were being overly cautious because of his back. He was a month away from surgery and had a lot of pain. Or maybe it could have been that in the past I may have possibly let go of the kayak when he was getting in. Sometimes as the years go by, little sisters need to get back at big brothers for years of torment when we were younger.

Well evening came and we all sat just about dozing off in front of the TV, so we headed to bed. Them to the camper and us to our own bed. It was all of 9 PM. We all rationalized it wasn’t that we were old, it was because we would be getting up early in the morning to hit the lake. Not too sure we convinced ourselves of that, but we were all sleeping by about 10.

Morning came and it was a little chilly, around 55 degrees, but beautiful blue skies and the sun shining and warming up the air. A perfect day for fishing and hopefully followed by catching a bunch of fish for a fish fry. The days before and the days to follow our fishing day were full of clouds and rain and thunderstorms and lightning, so we were all pretty grateful for the perfect morningwe were having.

We got to the boat landing and put the boat in. It has always been my job to get the boat ready to launch while my Best Half backs the trailer down the ramp. As my brother was carefully stepping into the boat, I realized water was rushing into the boat. In my excitement to get on the lake, I forgot to put the plug in the drain. Water was coming in by the gallons! 

My brother got out back on to the dock as fast as he was able, all the while water still rushed into the boat. My Best Half ran to get the trailer to load the boat on to it so we could drain out all the water. Meanwhile water continued to flow into the boat. Boy did I feel like a rookie at the boat launch. Luckily there were no others waiting to launch their boats. 

After about 10 minutes of draining water from the boat, we launched it again. This time with the drain plug in the boat. You don’t have to hit me over the head twice. I wouldn’t forget that again. We all got in and headed to the fishing spot I usually go to when I am by myself. 

We were the only ones on the lake most of the morning.The calmness of the lake made it possible to see the fish in the water by the boat. Loons were calling and big fish were jumping out in the middle of the lake. It was the perfect day to be on the water fishing.

The fish were biting non-stop from the moment we put our lines in. Some were too little to keep, and they were coming fast and furious, so we were picky about the size we kept. As the morning went on and we were getting closer to leaving, we started to keep the panfish to have for lunch. By the time we headed to the boat landing, we had a huge mess of sunnies. We'd caught our limit.

Back at the boat launch, I got the boat back up on the trailer. Once again, my job is to wade into the water and reel it onto the trailer while my Best Half fanagles the trailer down the ramp. Once back on the trailer, I pulled out the drain plug and a little more water came out from the previous fiasco of launching the boat earlier. When the boat was on the trailer I realized the boat was crooked and I wasn’t able to put on the springy things that hold the back of the boat to the trailer down. 

So once again my Best Half backed the trailer into the lake and I slid the boat off into the water and back on to the trailer straight. Only to realize, once again, foolish me forgot the drain plug. Water came rushing into the boat. Once up on the trailer, the boat gave up the water inside it, so it was all good. This time it seemed like it was more than the first time with no plug. I will never live that down from the fishing party. I am such a rookie.

When we got home, I got out my filet knives and went to work on filettng the fish, all 35 of them we had kept. I am the only one who knows how to filet fish. So for the past 25 years, this has been my brother’s birthday gift. I filet the fish, and  my brother sits and looks through some books on the table with my Best Half. My Sister-in-law got the other food ready. After the fish were ready we sat down to fresh sweet corn picked from the yard, fried potatoes and a huge platter of fresh sunnies. It was the annual feast of Summer.

The afternoon went by fast,eating and talking. Pretty soon it was time for them to make the trek home. It was another most memorable fishing time once again. My brother and I had time in the boat to remember fishing with our parents and older brother when we were just old enough to be trusted not to throw the fishing pole overboard. In Minnesota that is about 1-2 years old. 

Our mom was the one who loved to fish. Our Dad would take us all out in the small boat and let our mom fish while he spent the whole time baiting hooks, taking fish off our lines and countless hours untangling our lines when we would try to cast at the same time. That man deserved a medal after a day in the boat with my brothers and me. I have so many memories of our mom cleaning fish after fish while our dad sat at the table with a beer. I've realized over the years that may be why I clean the fish in my family.

It was another memorable day on the record in August. 26 years of the annual fishing event only gets better with age. Here’s hoping for another decade or 2 of our annual fishing expeditions with my brother and sister-in-law. Happy Birthday Bro!