Saturday, July 16, 2011

‘Almost Dashed Against the Rocks’, and ‘The Big One That Got Away’

Day eight—A last hurrah: out fishin’ on Upper Goose Lake!

14 July 2011: Dad & I woke a little later & moved a little slower on our last fishing day. One might think it would be the reverse—I certainly did. I’d figured I’d get us out onto the lake early, raring to go, desperate to take in the last hours here. Instead, I was just thrilled to take my time, to be with my dad, chat & go out onto the lake again on another sunny, warm morning with not too much wind.

When we did get into gear, we motored out towards the hump but saw someone was there & decided we’d prefer to enjoy being on our own—what has been most exciting about this week is in fact that it is like we are almost entirely alone out on these lakes & rivers.

We rarely saw other boats anywhere, & so there was a great sense of really being able to get away from the world of humans of getting closer to nature—the lake, the trees, the wonderful array of lakeshores, riverbanks, weedbeds, pines & firs climbing off the water atop sharp-angled hills or drop-off rock shorelines. Along some shores we could see so many layers of plant growth, from lichen & mosses to small brush, little trees then always & everywhere pines/firs shooting into the sky.
As if they were in the same mood as us, it was a quieter fishing day—where we either caught small or largish fish, but nothing in between.

One of our last day highlights was our daily double—we often had a few per day in fact—but really our best & most dynamic & dangerous one is the one which netted this duo of fish pictured here (below). We had been tossing about along some shorelines & staying put, we noted, was out of the question, so we decided to cast around some islands for Northern.

We would often pull the boat up one shore of an island then let the forceful winds just rush us along the shore—dad would use the motor only as a means to hold us steadier & too slow the speed at which the winds buffeted us along. As we came up to a rocky point we both had cast out off the same side of the boat—towards shore—when suddenly we both hooked fish, & not tiny fish either.

We both needed the net & someone to perhaps to net the fish as we tried to keep our fish from getting near each other or getting our lines tied up—all this as the boat was being thrust at great speeds towards the rocky shore at this island’s point. In time, with the waves rocking us at a nice clip, half the time standing, half re-sitting down in the boat looking down at our fish, trying not to break our lines & lose them, Dad managed to get his fish close to the boat, hold it there without having his line snap, steer & alter the motor direction so as to push us away from the rocks we were dangerously close to being dashed against. All the while, he managed to not tangle his fish & line up with mine!

Then, adrift at quick speeds because of the waves & wind, we pushed off past the island heading out into open waters (which was safe) & got our fish into the boat. I took this pic above of dad holding them both up—my 23 inch walleye & his 27 inch northern. Both nice fish who had fought well.

An exciting double on many levels. Both fish were too big to be keepers, so again we let them go & they vanished quckly under the water swimming away. I wondered whether they were surprised to find they were so far from their original island, or whether fish even knew these things!

& then the dry spell—well, for us. We coast along casting into other shores of the same island we had been going round. We came to the space where the island completely blocked the wind &, since we weren't having any luck then, we just bobbed contentedly, neither of us really fishing. There we ate our sandwiches & drank our beer & marveled at our surroundings.

As we did not intend to catch more fish to eat on this, our last afternoon fishing, we tried out some new spots to see how that went, then, before heading in, we decided to return to hog hollow where we had been on our fish day out.

It was growing close to our 4pm limit (we needed to get the boat in earlier so it could be emptied & cleaned). Failing to catch much, we decided to go back for a last hurrah along the hump. There, despite a little wind (the winds had died down) we found the same backtrolling boat that had been there it seemed every time we’d passed by these past days.

We anchored just as a series of other boats seemed to be heading for this spot, too. A few newcomers had gotten into camp a day early. Since everyone knew this spot, they were all heading out here for a first fish. It was almost comic—4 boats backtrolling while we hung out anchored most of the time. I kept wondering how none of them ran into each other. I think we were looking at more boats than we had encountered all week! We could all watch others catch fish, & everyone did, but it remained a quieter afternoon than other days we had been there (which in fact explained the presence of so many fishermen in one spot, too).

THE BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Dad caught a last northern (pictured below here) which I thought would be our last fish of the trip when I suddenly hooked one. I said “I’ve got a fish,” with a bit of surprise. “Is it a big one? You need the net?” Dad asked. I felt the fish wiggle & knew it must be small—perhaps not "bait" size, but not worth netting. “No, it’s a small one,” I said with confidence. I felt the fish’s sleight weight on my line as I reeled in, pulled it up feeling its feeble resistence, reeled again. “It’s a little one," I repeated, "it’s tiny, tiiinnny,” I kept saying, a bit giddy with my last cast catch & also just feeling playful about the smallness of the jiggling fish I was about to haul in.
Then all of a sudden I felt like I had a boulder on the other end of my line. I stood up to peer into the water as I pulled & reeled, keeping the line taught, a bit perplexed but carefully luring the fish upward so as to get it into the boat. It was no longer jiggling, but holding hard & solid. I thought perhaps I had just misjudged it. I knew the fish could not be far from the surface by this point, so I looked down into the water, squinting against the sun’s reflective glare. Just before the fish turned & took out drag—not something a tiny fish would do or even be able to do—I saw the head of AN ENORMOUS FISH near my line. “Oh!” I exclaimed changing my tune, “It’s huge! “It’s huuuge!” I was still convinced that I had a walleye, & if that was the case the form I had just seen part of turning & yanking out drag was going to be my whale.

My heart thudded & I thought, “Can I get this in? On my 8 pound line?” After all, I had broken the reel on my 15 lb line the day before, so to get this size of a fish in on this line would mean being very very careful not to engage in any sort of a tug of war with it at all—it would certainly win, snapping the line in a second.

My dad was also now standing & we were both looking towards where my pole had been arched almost into the water when the fish—both of them—came up next to the boat. I had indeed caught a small walleye, something around 12-13 inches, but the largest northern I’d seen this trip was holding onto it for dear life! The northern had my fish horizontally in its mouth &, as he surfaced, ripping at my poor little fish who I had on the hook, I basically could tug on the pole & line & thus pull them both round the front & side of the boat to look at them.

I knew the big northern was not hooked, & it did not even occur to me that dad was going to try & net it like that, so it was already pretty much too late by the time I had heard my dad say “bring it over here! Over this way!”— I realized what he wanted me to try to do, get it to his net, & turned the northern back to pull him towards my dad & then, it seemed, the massive fish saw something—the glint of the net’s metal frame? The dark shadow of one of the net’s ropy loops? Or even dad & I staring amazed down at the unexpected catch in progress? Or me, actually laughing at the ridiculousness of it? & then it was gone—& my little fish practically came flying out of the water into the air as it was released. It had huge teeth marks along its ribcage from where the northern had attacked, & as I unhooked it to let it go, I said “Well, little fish, I think I just saved you from a nasty northern death!” (it would survive—the teeth marks perhaps hurt & would maybe scar if fish scar but certainly it would heal)

Dad & I laughed & dad said “Let’s go home—I think that was a good one to end on” & I agreed. It was the fish that got away—but one we enjoyed even getting to see.
Eric met us at the beach & helped us get the boat up before he headed back to where he was spray-cleaning out other departing party’s boats. We unloaded our 2 tackle boxes, life vests, 4 poles, lake map, minnow bucket, duffle with rain gear & various other weather materials (sun block, bug spray, empty cans, etc) & tiny cooler. Dad then also brought up to the cabin his depth finder & trolling motor. The fishing was over—
As we packed up & prepared for our flight & road trip home, Dad fried up some little fish cakes—again another masterful “easy gourmet” recipe—bread & walleye fillets cubed, egg, spices, fried then eaten with a tartar sauce mixed with a couple drops of tobasco sauce for fun spiciness.

A lovely appetizer before our last dinner—which we ate outside of our cabin on the little picnic table there, accross from the bird-squirrel-chipmunk feeder (thus this pic of one of the baby squirrels--who are getting bigger by the day!). We said our farewells to some of the other campers we had come in with & who were staying on a second week & got in a few photos before another lovely sunset. Mostly packed & the cabin mostly cleaned, we had a last game of rummikub too (& dad won again! Argh!) It was then early to bed—as in the morning, we would have to rise at 4:45 for the long trip home.

Sun, glorious sun--fishing at Bull Moose Camp in Ontario

Day seven—Fairweather fisher(wo)men on Upper Goose Lake, Ontario!
13 July 2011: Sun, glorious sun greets us as we awake around 8:30. We have a fabulous breakfast then head off to the boat with spirits soaring high—there is little wind, the sky is clear blue and we are optimistic that the fish’ll be bitin’.

By late morning we are in t-shirts and reapplying our spf protection (regardless of which I manage to miss a few spots so have this odd set of “lines” which are literally a few stripes across my chest in front of my neck and a spot behind one arm! Wacky tan!) Our goal is to catch some nice walleye for dinner.
Within only a short while of parking ourselves over “the hump” (where the lake arches up from a depth of around 30 feet to a shallow space of around 12 feet), anchored in dad’s favorite spot, we catch a few 15 and 16 inchers. I insist we throw back any fish that is not 17 to our max 18 size, especially this early in the day, (if we catch them this early, we have to drag them around on a stringer ‘til evening). Another boat from camp comes by the hump to do some backtrolling and we watch each other haul in both walleyes and the occasional northern. Dad and I decide we should be more adventurous and try some other spots, though, so we wave farewell to our neighbors & head off to cast for northern along a few different shorelines. We cast round some large rocks and islands as well. Our Northern trolling paid off in larger walleye, too—in addition to a few that were too large to keep, we took home our limit for the day, 2 each, of a nice size (16.5, 2 at 17 and one at our max 18” size limit) for dad to bake up in this Alsatian recipe I had brought for him from Mulhouse, with Riesling and cream (super yum). We also decided to go back downriver along the beaver dam and to the rapids before heading in. But having little luck there, and feeling like we still wanted some action, we returned to “the hump”. The wind had picked up—which felt great on our skin in the heat, but made it harder to stay anchored. I was fixated on a forest fire we could see billowing up behind one shore (see pic, this is early on—that low lying cloud is actually the fire. It grows later on until we can see sort of pink-red at the base of 3 clouds of smoke, but the first is out by the following morning) On the windy hump, we backtrolled. There, dad again caught a few really good sized fish, and I caught some nice walleye, too. We even had a few doubles--as here with our almost identical 2 walleye! We were excited with our day, and just enjoyed the sun and warmth of the lake, too. But it was time to head in—after all, by the time we got the boat to camp around 7 it was 9 hours after we’d left camp (and our lunches we just had while bobbing around in the boat! So we did not get out of our boat for 9 hours—and were a bit sun-scorched, perhaps a touch dehydrated +sun & windburnt and needed a snack before dinner!) Back at Bull Moose, dad taught me to clean the Walleye. I did my best to not lose any of the meat and yet also to not accidentally take bones with it either. Though my filets looked choppy round their edges, I was proud to be doing a decent job. Certainly my dad—with his experience and his old pathologist skills too—is far better at this, as the pics show. Back in our cabin, we had our baked walleye with salad and wine, which felt very fancy for the North woods—not at all the camping canoeing experience of food from my childhood. Here, the luxury of a full oven! As the sunset fantastically once more over Bull Moose Camp, the sky began to spiral perhaps forewarning us, we thought, of rains to come on our last fishing day…

Here comes the sun again... more fishing & blogging, blogging & fishing

Day Six: Did somebody say SUN at Bull Moose Camp, Upper Goose Lake, Ontario?

12 July 2011: Chilly-stiff, dad and I wake to see that the lake is still choppy & the skies are grey. We aren't excited about the prospects of getting cold again. So we layer ourselves thickly—

I literally put on heavy fishing pants, lined rain gear pants over them, smartwool socks (thanks mom!), a heavy tank top, a short sleeved then a long sleeved t-shirt, a zip-up hoody sweatshirt, a fleece-flannel zip-up vest, then my rain gear windbreaker. Atop that, as an extra warmer, I strap on my life vest (keeps ya cozy!)

We push off with our packed lunch in the boat and decide to head to the other part of Beren’s river where we will be out of the wind and can fish along Eagle Rapids--a sort of flat, wide, waterfall space.

To get there, we head into what looks to me like a bay at one edge of Upper Goose Lake with no outlet. Dad steers the boat straight towards the back of the bay—closer and closer to what looks like a shoreline. But just as I begin to fear we will ground the motor at the back of the bay along the reeds and weedy lily pad area, there is a place where, when the boat is turned sharply and suddenly, a river reveals itself, with a wide, flat rock along one edge of the river.

We fish round that for a bit and catch some of our smallest fish ever--dad hooks a mini Northern (like that winner fish pic?) & I get many mini Walleye. In fact, I think this little guy gets me the prize for the smallest catch of the day. This little determined critter got my minnow even though my minnow was almost a third his size—notice the hand to fish proportions! I started to call any catches like this “bait”—so, instead of “Oh, I have another fish” I would ease the netting query immediately by saying—oh, I caught some bait again!

As we slowly meander upriver, the sun is chasing away each of the clouds. Within hours we are peeling off layer by layer, down to t-shirts or tank tops and our fishing pants as the wind dies down and the sun begins to toast us. The halcyon days of fishing are here!

After we cast along a rock and down some reedy areas, we troll a bit. Our most fun is as we cast in around a beaver house where Dad catches 2 perch and a northern and I catch a northen and a walleye. We then head farther along Beren’s toward the rapids.

Dad informs me that this is a spot which is usually great in the early spring season for fishing, as the fish come up to spawn and are often all around in this area. He does not sound too optimistic about us catching anything in July. Yet, within only a few minutes of each other we both hook our first fish along the rocks at the bottom of the rapids.

We catch a few more while the boat is nestled near the shore then, hot hot hot, we decide to take our lunch break at a picnic table along Eagle Rapids. After our sandwiches and beer, we cast a little off the upper side of the rapids to no avail (thus this pic of dad casting from the river’s edge back along the curve of water arcing towards the bubbling rapids).

We decide not to pull down the boat and head farther along Beren’s. Instead we admire the thousands of tadpoles pooling in the shallows alongside our boat (pictured here is one with his little legs already forming) then we push off and motor round to try another angle of the rapids.

This time, however, we keep getting hooked up on rocks and are less patient. We decide to throw the towel in & head back out to the lake for a bit to try some other spots.

I learn to drive the boat and motor us along the river, round through Southwest Lake again, then up the other section of Beren’s to Upper Goose Lake. There, our luck awaits us.

Casting, this is when dad gets his nice Northern—see pic. It gives a great fight and is caught on this fun bait—which flips and flops along the surface of the water so that when the fish goes for it you see it—this fish hit the bait three times, finally snatching it hard, pulling it underwater & getting itself hooked. Again—for those concerned about our depleting the lake or killing such fish, don’t worry—this fish swam on back to whatever rock dad had lured him away from after this photo session—the bait hooked nicely in his lip and was easy to get off, and he is too big to keep, evidently (29”).

I, too, catch a northern--but a smaller one (pictured above at the right, laying across my lap as I unhook him). By the time we head in, we have been out boating around and fishing for nearly 8 hours.

We make dinner and hang out chatting on the steps in front of our cabin (as in the pic here of dad on our sort of front stoop--the steps down from the cabin area to the mini beach area where the boats are parked) then take pics of the gorgeous sunset (seen here). A little sunburnt, we tuck in early for a fitful night’s sleep.

As you can see in the last photo below of the main center cabin at Bull Moose Camp, the moon is almost full.