Saturday, September 22, 2012

BWCA 2012

Few minutes ago I turned my Paul Bunyan Duluth Pack upside down and shook all the dust and bark and decaying organic matter onto my basement floor.  Swept it into a little pile that I started a while back and pushed it to an out of the way place; it’s a decoration.  Suppose about nine or ten days since I returned to the southeast corner of the state from BWCA.  Took all the reels out and set them to air out.  Folded up dry bags.  Right above my head there as I set some Greg Brown playing I listened to a mouse scurrying in the cavities of the basement; further adornment that really doesn’t worry me but I suppose I’ll get him at some point.  Looked through my flies; dozens of streamers and poppers.  Then I ran out the door and started sprinting down the street around 1020 PM.  This was the result of restlessness accumulated by way of being inside all day in September.  If there are sins against God, I would probably count that among them.  Couple hundred yards down the road I kicked up a whitetail deer that intersected my path at a perfect perpendicularity.  These deer live in a polygon of 22 acres that is exactly 115 long strides from my front door.  I’ve stood in the cold winter nights and spied on them.  This one though, just cropping close some folks’ lawns.  Now, now have the Black Bottle out, trying to think about how this weekend can be fulfilling.  We know we can’t relax in the traditional sense.  Sitting around doesn’t do it.  Weekends are free time, not time to do nothing; vastly different takes.  During free time one must execute on chores/projects, spend quality time with loved ones, breath the free air and engage natural settings.  At night, socializing, drinking, cavorting, cursing, debate, low level gluttony, fascination, dreaming, laying in the cooling, downward push of a fan; these things are all acceptable.  Listening to Greg Brown – the one true singer/songwriter/gardener/fisherman makes the list too.  Woven through it all is a thread of facilitating and watching your kids/family be happy.  For example, tonight: ten kids attending a BMX birthday party.  Doing laps at the park at the end of the block.  Complete Nirvana for them.  Dude, dude, sick, dude were the main words used.  They were filling lungs with good air, laughing, chumming.  Kids of a few different types jammin together and it was cool.

On the Paul Bunyan Duluth Pack: it was purchased some years ago; maybe 6-8.  Duluth MN.  I figured if I was buying one, I’d buy the biggest one they made.  My take was that if I had a pack on, I had a pack on.  Doesn’t matter how much it weights.  The comfort level is the key.  I suppose this has come to be confirmed.  These BWCA trips – they are focused on fishing.  We aren’t light packers; we aren’t trekkers.  We get in and dig in and get away from people.  This year I used damn near every single thing in that pack.  Getting better with age.  Two items of clothing went unused, two reels and one rod (back ups) stayed cased the entire trip.  Everything else though had its character adjusted by yet another BWCA stint. 

Because there is always a conversation and struggle related to why one does something, let me state it plainly (it’s been stated in more rambling sessions in the past): we do not go to the BWCA to deliberately play voyageur.  We do not buy “canoeing gear” per se.  Our gear is old; worn and most of it is multi-use.  The purpose of the trip is three-fold: (1) spend time with those whom you do not often spend 4-5 days with; (2) get away from screens and electric wire; (3) engage the fish of the north woods.  Pretty much that simple.  We’re not playing at anything.  In the course of doing what we do, one could say that we dabble in “canoeing” and “voyageurism.”   That’s fine; a fine thing to say.  This analysis comes up because the term “tourist” floats through consciousness.  You can feel in walking around Ely MN that you are probably not well-liked.  Folks going to jobs in the morning see the canoes on the truck.  Locals in the restaurant  surveying your scene.  Nothing to do about it but keep to yourself; head down and move on through.  Sometimes you might feel like saying hey, I’m not here to treat this area like a playground; I’m here to romance the damn place.  They put up with a lot though; all the folks coming through the town; think of it.  I might scowl. 

All said and done, we were diverted by fire to choose another lake.  We sat with a USFS staff person for a while and looked at a map.  This person was apparently wise and a deliberate thinker and talker.  He asked questions like “what are the auspices of your trip?”  He helped us out and I made a point of thanking him.  Turns out we traded paddling for portaging.  Cut the paddle by 75% but increased the portaging by maybe 400%.  175 rod jaunt (2800 feet).  Not a bad deal for people who don’t like sitting in canoes for extended periods.  Might as well say it though: carrying a keg of beer bolted to an old firefighter respirator mount 2800 feet can put some wear spots on your back and hips.  But it is what it is.

The Camp

On the way in, we passed a couple.  The woman said a wolf had just crossed in front of her on the portage path.  Wolf or coyote I asked.  Wolf she said. As we went about our business it occurred to me that we should ask them where they were camped.  The lake we were aiming at had only ~5-6 sites, and the fire had diverted folks.  Good chance it’d be full.  But if they just vacated one; we had it if we wanted it.  Turns out this was good; indeed we got their site.  And it was a good site.  It offered a beach, which is rare in BWCA.  Large particle size granite sand beach.  Good shelter from wind.  Good tent site.  And solid fishing right out front.  Wolves baying the moon back of camp.  Sounded like 50 yards away but who knows.

The Fish: SMB

We had no lake map.  This is important.  Might take them for granted.  Very important to have one in hand, IMO.  Without one, we went exploring the bays adjacent and near to camp.  We were fortunate to find good water: vegetated shallows giving way to rocky deeper water 7-10 feet.  The three bays nearest our camp showed this pattern.  And one was full of deadheads.  In short, the fishing was easy.  We caught probably 20-25 fish per day between us.  Our pattern being fishing 630 AM to around 9 AM.  Sporadic fishing here and there in the daylight hours.  Rounding out the day 5 PM to 730 or 800 PM.  SMB ruled the ratio maybe around 60/40 or 65/35.  They came pretty easy to poppers, streamers and Dad’s topwater lure.  They were around one step down on the size spectrum with respect to our normal water, but they made up for that with numbers and eagerness.  In a given day we’d catch a bunch of fish in the 13-15” range, a few in the 16-17” and usually one or two fish 18” (one legit taped 19” fish smacked a popper).

The Fish: Esox

The year class that is now 3-4 lbs was everywhere on this lake.  We scaled a few with digital scale.  They came from where you’d expect them to come.  Ate all variety of flies and Dad’s surface plug.  Can’t say for sure but I figure I picked up 20+ pike on flies.  Half of which came on poppers.  I say this recalling that in one span of ten minutes I landed four pike, standing in one place (a great spit of rock going out to deeper water; they were hanging on the edges).  And each afternoon’s lazy fishing showed 2-3 pike.  And a whole lot of pike ate poppers and streamers while fishing for SMB.  I’d say 20+ easy.  So that means most pike I’ve caught in one outing.  No really big ones though.  Did have this encounter, which was notable:

Dad napping in tent.  I took popper and started laying it out in radial fashion, wading the water on the point just off camp.  A few casts in, I hooked what I took to be a SMB.  Always a moment of wonder as you figure what size fish is on…    this one appeared to come to the surface and show a small tail. Oh, small fish, okay.  Small SMB maybe 13-14”.  It dove back down and I let it go a bit.  Then some pressure on the fish; wanted to get it in and move on.  And then, significant and instantaneous confusion: fish felt a lot heavier.  Started wondering about the apparent small tail I thought I’d seen.  Put some pressure on but the fish didn’t move much.  More pressure.  Not much movement.  Felt like a suitcase full of cement, in fact.  I started to get excited and confused for just one second but then I eased toward a realization: the tale you always hear was playing out here: something big grabbed this fish.  And I had no chance of landing it.  This giant pike stayed locked onto that SMB for a good 20-30 seconds.  It came up and rolled on the surface and gave me flash of its size: well into mid, maybe high double digits I figured.  Big gator fish.  It did let go.  As it should have.  Good story.  See bite marks in fish picture.  Big ass fish with big ass teeth.

Couple notes regarding pike: Dad’s plug made a lot of noise.  And the SMB encounter doubled down on that: big, noisy stuff was getting fish.  So I pulled out an old wine cork popper.  The thing sounds like a bass drum stick striking the water.  Comically loud.  It caught fish.  But it was a light wire hook and didn’t last long after pike mauled it. Because it was my loudest popper, I decided to keep it on with no hook, and put a streamer on with it (to look like dead or dying fish).  This worked pretty well; caught fish.  Sucked to cast though.

Second: pike are horrible catch and release fish.  Simply stated.  You have to squeeze them and poke and prod and rip at their mouths.  What a contrast to SMB (made for C&R).  It got to the point of bordering on annoyance: having to handle the pike.

Finally: clouser half and half in red and white was simply deadly for both pike and SMB.  Fish ate the hell out of anything that resembled a baitfish (e.g. clousers), but the red and white seemed to be especially sought after.

On the way out we were faced with whitecaps.  We sat in a lee, looking across a lake and wondering.  We simply could not paddle across it, due to wind direction.  We would have swamped.  We ended up calculating angles and knowing that anything we hedged on going into the wind we’d have to give back to the lake when we made a turn at some point.  It worked out that we paddled a good angle into the wind and then, in an interesting twist, we let the wind push us at an angle backwards toward the landing while we slowed/ruddered.  An atypical approach but it worked.

Thank you KLW for yet another good BWCA chapter.  Maybe you noticed how I told a couple people that you’d been attending BWCA for around 30 years.  I might be just short of half of that by now; not sure though.  We’ll keep at it.