Far away places

It is a place where you can find bear tracks around the cabin, and hear timber wolves in the middle of the night, and there is no indoor plumbing. So when Kent Caplinger staggered out in the darkness about three in the morning to answer natures call, the eerie cries of nearby loons sort of made the hair stand up on the back of his neck. Kent didn¹t detect the big Canadian beaver swimming around our boat only a few yards away. When surprised, a beaver lifts his body in the water and smacks the surface with a broad heavy tail, and it is a sound of havoc magnified by the calmness of the wilderness setting. As that huge beaver clobbered the lake surface with his tail, the surprise of it was considerable. Kent may have finished what he started, and he may not have, I don¹t know. But he went from a little bit groggy to full alertness, and the quietness with which he had left his sleeping bag to steal from the cabin without disturbing the rest of us was forgotten upon his re-entry. And his eyes were still bigger than normal at breakfast! A week in Canada is more than just a week of fishing. It is a challenge of meeting and overcoming obstacles you just can¹t plan for, a week of no communication with an outside world, not knowing the latest news and not caring. It is coping with difficulties, and actually enjoying the absence of modern comfort. It is the closeness with old friends, a realization of what it is like to be small and insignificant and absorbed by mother earth. It is being something like men were a hundred years ago, and learning a little more about yourself. If spring comes on time to northwest Ontario, the fishing during the last week of May is unbelievable. If it doesn¹t it can be work, but it is still great fishing, even then. The species of fish in Canada all spawn in a short period of time, all pretty much together, when the water temperature is only in the fifties. Walleye and bass may spawn months apart in the Ozarks, but not in Canada. All species are spawning in a two-week period except for the lake trout which spawns in early October. Rich Abdoler and I have made dozens of trips to Canada, and Kent has fished there often in years past. But our friend Dennis Whiteside, an Ozark river guide whom Kent and I have known since we were in college at M.U., had never been there. For him, it was a real experience, because Dennis caught more big fish than any of us last week, at least 3 smallmouth well over 4 pounds, and several over 3 pounds. But we didn¹t get the topwater fishing we expected to see because they weren¹t spawning yet. We caught a lot of bass, but we worked at it, and caught most on plastic grubs or spinner baits. I hooked and landed two 19-inchers which would have exceeded four pounds, both on medium spinning gear with 6-pound line. On such tackle, Canadian smallmouth outfight any fish I have ever seen, pound for pound. They are never as long as our Ozark fish, for their size. You can catch a 20-incher which might weigh five pounds, and all of them are wide and fat, like footballs because of the girth and width. Few ever exceed 20 inches, including the bona-fide six-pounder, seen occasionally in Canada. Northern pike are easy to catch, but 90 percent of them are less than 30 inches in length and they are so long and skinny they don¹t weigh much. If you actually fish for big northerns, you need to use steel leader and larger lures, because the bigger ones will cut your line. A northern of any size will give you a big fight. Rich Abdoler landed a big one I didn¹t see, and I caught one that would have weighed about 6 or 7 pounds. I hooked and lost a bigger one that would have weighed a few pounds more. He got too close and snapped the line on my spinning reel. You catch a bunch of them fishing for bass, and if you want to land one on light line, you have to give him line, and wear him down slowly, out away from the boat. If he gets close with any fight left in him, a northern of any significant size will break or cut lighter line. We found some huge black crappie, and caught quite a few of them. Whiteside landed one that was close to 17 inches, and while I have seen several Ozark crappie of that length, none of them were nearly as wide and thick and black as that one. The walleye fishing was really tough, and we only caught a few that were big enough to make a good meal. But we did have a great meal of fresh fish one afternoon, thanks to Kent¹s fish frying ability. We took our own boats, but had one morning of fishing from some pretty tipsy canoes on a portage lake. One afternoon there was a big storm and some ice-cube sized hail fell briefly, hail that was different than anything I have ever seen because it was actually soft and slushy even as it fell. The next morning it was 34 degrees, and the north wind behind the front really shut the fishing down for awhile. While folks back home were wearing t-shirts and sweating, we were wearing heavy jackets and building a big fire in the stove at night. And the cabin, with no electricity was a good place to sit around and argue about important things like whether or not a northern fought harder than a bass or whether or not a pine marten was any threat to ruffed grouse. We heard ruffed grouse drumming everywhere along the shores as we fished, there must have been hundreds of them, making me wish I could return in the fall to hunt them, as I did years ago before it became too expensive to bring a shotgun into Canada. A drumming male grouse sounds like an old tractor from decades ago, trying to start on a cold morning. Rich and I found a bunch of Canadian morel mushrooms, which are similar to ours, but different, with more of an antler-like development and a rusty red color. They seem to grow plentifully around the lakes under pine trees.