Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Preparing for a Boundary Waters Vacation (or any camp/canoe trip)

   I highly recommend packing weeks early for a big trip so you can be wound-up, stressed and tired around your co-workers, family & friends.  This way you avoid: (1) heading off in your vehicle on day 1 of ‘the big trip’, attempting to stay awake after 3 hours of sleep and a previously crazed night of last-minute packing, while wondering if all the pit stops have been worth the ‘caffeine buzz’, and (2) muttering to yourself and yelling at your fly rod during the first half of ‘vacation’ while your (currently annoying)vacation buddy continuously suggests you relax.   
   Prior to my latest fly fishing trip, I did just that: (drum roll) I packed early.  My vacation pal –who, truthfully, never is annoying- did tell me to relax a couple of times, or something to that affect.  Frankly, I think he was just saying it out of habit.  I was so chilled out, that while we canoed we could’ve set the beer on my lap and I would’ve kept it comfortably cold.  I was so relaxed, I should’ve worn a diaper. Oh, wait, too much information (Now my buddy will know why the beer never really stayed cold).   But you get me drift.  I…was…relaxed. 
   I hate to clean.  I am not domestic.  And something feels very unnatural about doing typical, cleanly domesticated things while on vacation.  Some ignorantly call this ‘laziness’, but the enlightened (like me) know better.  Jeez, it’s vacation(!) and all mundane thoughts of typical daily labor should be left at home.   That is why I despised the 5 minutes it took to wash the dirty camp dishes.  Plus, there was firewood to find and to cut, water to collect and to treat, a fire to successfully light, meals(campfire meals are not typical chores) to cook, & a bear bag to hang.  Of course, all this took place during the last 1.5hrs of daylight, while the mosquitoes were sucking out the last ounces of fluid from our already dehydrated bodies, after a day of paddling and fly fishing in the sun and wind, which was after a late-night of drinking the not-so-cold beer.  
   Maybe that is why my buddy asked ‘if there was something wrong?’ at times... perhaps while also wondering if I should relax a bit more….  But, fellow fly angler, you understand, don’t you?   You understand while, after a hard day of play, all sweaty and stinking, after hauling & cutting wood, hauling water, throwing rope-wrapped rocks over tree limbs and hauling up bear bags, then hauling off and smacking the insects bleeding our bodies dry, on vacation,  why it irritated me to hunker down & spend 5 minutes scrubbing dirty dishes?  Something wrong?  I was simply in the zone.  I was working hard to steal back those precious 5 minutes of relax-time I’d lost to the dishes at the end of each vacation day.
   Heck, that isn’t true.  Well... it’s partially true.  Under very specific circumstances, I admit to being lazy.  Some may say I’ve been a bachelor(ette) too long.  I’ve come to realize that if I frequently get carry-out, not only do I avoid cooking, I avoid dirty dishes piling up in the sink.  I’ve also wisely expostulated that if I knew I were going to die tomorrow, I’d regret not taking a fly fishing trip, but would not regret leaving behind a sink of dirty dishes(sorry mom—I recommend you just throw them out).
   So, what’s the moral to the story?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that if my vacation buddy is still willing to vacation with me, I’d go back to the Boundary Waters again in a heart-beat, relaxed or not, hard work to be had or not. 
   Do you know what the irony is?  Once I got home I unloaded my truck & immediately transported the mess to my living room & kitchen floors.  Then, a couple days went by.  The vacation mess remained, but I’d washed all my dirty dishes.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Nam: Friends, Fishing, Fun, and Ticks ~ The WI-MN Diaries - (Part 2, 5/2011)

    We debated:  fish smallies on Chequamegon Bay & camp on the boat, or float/camp the Nam for trout?  No bad choices here, but ultimately the weather decided.   Too much wind for the bay.  Namekagon-bound!
After a night of suv-camping, I hurried off to Hayward.    Aah, a sense of the ‘warm fuzzies’ came over me as I fell in behind the canoe strapped to the familiar old Yota.  That Yota took me on my first fly fishing adventure in 2008. 
   We pulled in at the gas station, OC and I said our hellos & we eventually headed out.  Eagle’s Landing first, then we unloaded the canoe and all of our supplies at Thompson Bridge.  This trip was sort-of a mini dry-run for our upcoming BWCA canoe/fishing trip, minus 2 days.  Surprisingly, we were cramming a lot of stuff into the canoe, but when portaging the Boundary Waters in June we’d need to scale back or be miserable.   I wondered, ‘How would that affect the beer situation?’
   Anyway, we hit the water around 11AM on Friday the 13th.  Temps were in the low 50’s and there was an intermittent stiff wind to accompany the light gray day.  The few occasions the sun appeared, it was blessedly warm & wickedly short-lived.  We shared the paddles, with OC providing tips on how to improve my canoe skills.
   Of course the day was to be filled with fly fishing but there was a target in mind.  Big nymphs with droppers, & big buggers were the main entrees.  We were targeting Big Brown Trout.  Early on, I landed a 13” Brown.  I like to think it fought ‘big’.
   During our own lunch break we banked the canoe near a bridge with a small rock dam.  I ate and looked for mushrooms.  OC started wading and fishing, then disappeared.   I heard him yell.  He had a good-sized fish on.  At that point, I had other fish to fry.  I knew my buddy had intended that I solo paddle the gear-laden canoe across the current, avoiding the little dam & rocky rapids, swing under the far side of the bridge, then head downriver.  I was feeling that the only ‘buggers’ weren’t in the fly boxes!  I was alone with no mistakes to be made.
   I ignored my friend’s yells and pondered.  I got in the water, grabbed the rear of the canoe and began wading upriver, relieved that the soft riverbed was firm enough to hold me.  About 35 yards upriver, I was in better position to safely paddle to the opposite side of the bridge.  I remained tense, however, as I paddled under the bridge, seeing and hearing the rough patches of water on my left side. 
   Perhaps my buddy was, so to speak, starting to ‘push the baby bird out of its nest’.  However, this chick was a bit miffed.   After all, the nest was holding all of our camping/fishing gear.  I let him know I was irritated but told him I didn’t know how much, as that was directly proportional to how tricky paddling the canoe directly across the current would’ve been &  I didn’t have a clue.
   At least irked to not care(very much) when he said the 22”er he’d had on broke off at the knot I’d tied, I simply asked him why those knots only seem to break when he had fish on my rod?  However, soon after, it bothered me.  I felt I’d tied a good knot & I’d checked it.  The only black and orange Guinea Bugger I’d tied was gone with the fish, too.  I’d had a good feeling about that fly.  Later, OC lost 2 more fish and one was at his knot.  The leader was replaced. 
   We landed a few fish & lost a few that day.  Come evening, I’d tied on a chartreuse/olive marabou concoction which, when I’d tied it, was told it was a good Steelhead fly.  The fishing was down, might as well experiment.  OC and I alternated rods, typically having one nymph rig set-up and one tied with a streamer pattern.  OC hooked into a fish with the marabou concoction.  He landed the bronze 11”er; his first Brookie on the Nam!
   We politely slid the canoe around holes where other anglers were wading.  At one hole, the man’s unsmiling face alone confirmed that the fishing was down.  Then I saw a flash downriver of our canoe with the man soon setting the hook upriver of our canoe.  We slipped away and cheered him on!  It was his first fish of the day.    

   We’d intended to set up camp at 4PM and arrived on time somewhere after 630.  OC had hoped for the rare occasion to cook up some trout (he’d read a book about an 1800’s Brule River guide frying the catch in bacon grease) and I’d hoped to treat my friend to his first-ever morels.  The fish weren’t legal and the discovered 'brain mushrooms' could’ve been lethal.  So, hopes put on hold, we had more time at camp to light a smoky campfire and free winged insects from an over-winter in a lidded, open-air vault toilet.  Due to tick concerns, we kept our waders on as long as possible.  I’d also worn my fleece wading pants, socks over the stirrups, for the whole trip except when I carefully dropped them for, you know….  At least the view from ‘the vault’ was pretty in that gold n green pine tree hue sort of way(yes, there is a point to this latter part of the story!).

   Later, I cooked up a BWCA menu test recipe:  chicken with cranberry stuffing.  It would do.  OC fried bacon and we ate our fill while dodging the smoke from the camp fire(it was still windy).   I hit the tent first.  He soon followed &, having forgotten cards, we played the kid’s game, ‘Connect the Dots’.  OC played it like he fishes; better than me.  However, on a fluke, I won.  That just emphasizes the moral to my story of life:  Never give up.  I guess that is why I am typically the last off the water. 

   We woke early the next AM to wind, cold and rain, & more deer ticks on the mosquito netting.  Luckily, no ticks were in the tent.  I got coffee brewing under the tent vestibule.  With coffee to warm us, I went off to ‘enjoy’ the view under the pines and OC got breakfast started.  He ate most of the half crispy/half limp bacon slices.  I pulled off a few stray crispy pieces.  Then, he threw the eggs in the bacon pan.  Wow!  Note to self:  I fry the bacon on the BWCA trip but I beg OC to scramble the eggs.  They were the best I’ve ever eaten.

   Mid-morning we packed up camp and climbed in the canoe.  15mph winds easily.  Brrrrr!  And why is it so hard to find clear, polarized glasses?  They would’ve been ideal for this gray day.  I landed an 11” Brown and OC landed more, of course.  He also landed a 23” Redhorse.  Later, I switched to a smaller, size 10, bugger and got more hits.  Due to the weather, I happily thought we’d have more of the river to ourselves.  But it was also a Saturday and I was wrong.  I found myself equally happy to share the water with anglers who also thought casting with 20 mph gusts in chilly temps was still a pleasurable way to spend a day.     

   Soon, it was after 7PM and it was getting a bit late to set up another camp without rushing ( mmmm… pizza and beer).   So, we split the reasonable rate at The Riverside in Hayward.  While OC went to the grocery store to prepare for his next day’s guide trip and to also pick up our pizza, I took advantage of some privacy and a warm shower. 

   Dangit!  Small & wiggly sore spot on butt!!  Attached.  So much for a relaxing shower.  My buddy returned with a hot pizza and I exited the bathroom strategically draped and embarrassed.  Yep, it was a deer tick.  While my embarrassment lessened but never entirely went way, what I believe he considered to be a minor inconvenience turned into his intriguing dissection.  Two breaks, one his own tick-check(1 wood tick, unattached) and the other, a luke-warm pizza break; tweezers, a safety pin,  and, finally, ice to numb the area so he could dig out the last stubborn remains, and the tick was gone.   

   What a long day!  The next morning, OC headed out early to meet his client.  I grabbed breakfast and changed my mind repeatedly on where to fish.  I always say that heaven is just north of IL & it’s Wisconsin.  But, in the evening when one is on a 7 hour drive home, deer run onto the road and one gains insight and, last year, large dents.  Deer would not run onto the road willy-nilly in heaven.  They would politely wait their turn to cross the road.  My point?  Wisconsin is not heaven, just similar.  Therefore, I wanted to fish somewhere quickly so I could get back to IL prior to nightfall to lessen the chance of WI deer attacks on my CRV. 

  So, I headed south on Rt. 63 toward home.  The Nam isn’t known for trout in this section, but remember my motto?  Never give up!  I went to Groat Landing, hiked a trail, found a hole and fished.  Waded more, saw a guy and gal dump their canoe in the river, watched a hatch and knew I would not catch any trout at this place.  With the hatch on my mind, I decided to return to my suv and drive back through Hayward to prime trout waters.  New motto: Never give up, but be smart about it.  Let’s just say I had a couple of hits, & it was sunny but still very windy.  No delicate presentations today.  Also, while I’d gone to prime trout water, I didn’t find a prime trout hole.  Time and travelling by wading boot limited my options.  So, as usual, I left the water late, around 3PM, driving a portion of the trip in the dark, but I was out of Wisconsin by then.

   Today, I’m on day 13/14 of antibiotics.  Lyme disease prevention.  I did not want to take the chance of acquiring Lyme and missing our BWCA(Boundary Waters) trip in June.  I hear the open-air vault toilets are erected in even prettier settings there, so, no reading material needed. However, I won't forget the TP and DEET.