Thursday, June 9, 2016


On Lake St. Joseph, in Canada, I got to be “The Other Person.”  It was a yell-out-loud, hoot-n-holler kind of thrill after you work and wait and finally don’t fail when a chance comes along.

I had a great boat partner, Ed, who netted my big girl and who did other things to manage the pike that would not have been wise for me to then attempt.  Recently, part of my index finger had been “pulverized,” according to my doctor.  While I was wearing a splint, the wires had been removed just 13 days ago.

My only unfulfilled wish was that the picture could’ve been of both Ed and me holding this fierce-fighting fish with our friend John there to share in the excitement.  John had earlier motored off to prospect other water.

Last year in the Northwoods, John had been trying hard to get me on a big musky… And he did so.  It happened a couple times on a particular day, but I’d failed to convert. The following day I was in the zone but the fish weren’t cooperative. Late afternoon we had some action and a particular fish I converted felt like +40 during the fight.  In reality, its exciting, rod-bending action became 38 inches of musky in my happy hands.  No “+40” To A River Guide Service hat (yet) for me.

Also last winter, John convinced this frugal musky-hungry fly angler to take a 5-day, Canadian trip in search of pike.  The trip cost would eliminate my musky guide trips for this year since I’ve still not received payment greater than a dollar from the Mega-Millions. However, due to my proven faith in John’s ability to plan a trip and prospect good water, I decided I should grab a rare opportunity when it was given. Ultimately, we had a great group of 5 for the trip.

I got a Visa and then on May 25 laughingly predicted John’s minor frustration at seeing me pictured with my personal-best Esox… in a net on my lap.  A thrashing head or tail from a 42-inch pike with a 15 ½” girth does not mix well with a broken finger, and my poor grip could cause the fish to fall in the boat.  I'd elected to "Play smart to fish more, then practice safe release.”

I know that John missed converting a couple super-sized pike, including one right at his boat, and First-Cast Ed had a few mid-30s. The always-funny Steve and his daughter Sam, who was a novice fly angler, daily returned last to the cabin after competing for how many pike each could get.  Yes, there were some slow moments, but we all caught lots of pike. 

While it took me until the final day on the lake, we all landed walleye on the fly.  I cheered just like it was the 42-incher, having joked previously that I would become the first walleye fly fishing guide.  That wally also came to one of my 8-inch BB’s Forage flies, just like 42 did.  Those who tie flies understand that pleasure.  Another bigger pike was coaxed to my fly that day.  After a brief fight, it was gone because I forgot to set the hook a second time.  Right after that, I got a huge snag.

During those days on Canadian water, in beautiful surroundings shared by an excellent mix of people, I experienced many firsts.  42 was a blessing, and I’d always longed to feel the weight of a big girl and feel the release when she left my protective hand.  That pike was also a grand fighter, forcing my rod tip to circle the boat, making 2 short runs, and jumping twice from the water and tail-wagging.  This was Ed’s first big-pike experience too.  To top it off, I discovered she’d also left me with a tooth.  I gave Ed my fly.  I also had my first top-water experience, and that pike was boated with the only surface fly I’ve tied. Really, the fly is an embarrassment, and I call it Ugly Big Head.

Near the cabin, I waded and landed a pike one evening, fly-line-jigged and missed fish from the dock a couple other days, found blue crayfish claws and caribou prints and felt a greater intimacy with Canadian land and water.

Despite my finger, as the days progressed I started to learn how to safely manage my own netted, small pike.  The final evening at the cabin I went out to fish before the imminent lightning and thunder arrived.  I planned to fly fish off the dock but also explore a tiny point viewed from our cabin’s kitchen window.  The point had been a popular spot for beaver, a merganser pair, and gulls.  Would fish like it too?  After fishing the dock, I made the short, rocky hike to the point.  First cast and I had a pike!  Ultimately, I netted three pike while fishing a fly over the steep, rocky drop along that point.

Thunder chased me back to the cabin and we five friends soon enjoyed a final supper, including 4 racks of barbecued ribs, foil-grilled potatoes, and baked beans, with a great salad prepared by Steve and Sam.  Since John did the bulk of each evening’s cooking, the rest of us did the cleanup.  We’d planned for one meal of walleye, but John had brought and prepared so much good food for suppers that we didn’t harvest any walleye.

That evening, I ate with my waders on, having decided to fish again after supper.  If I got one special fish or a few smaller pike then I’d be satisfied.  I would not need to get up early the next morning for 30 minutes of last-hope fishing before the float plane arrived. The second time at the dock, with waning light and a post-thunderstorm sunset, another small pike was netted.  Did I once see a long, white belly turn from my fly in the haze of deeper water?  I’ll never know, but I ended up setting my alarm for 5:15. 

The first time that evening at the dock I’d landed two pike.  The first pike managed to get the fly moderately deep.  All my solo musky have been mouth hooked, so I had to put on my big-girl pants to get the current job done. I learned to keep the fish in the net and learned why the jaw spreaders kept coming undone.  I am, by nature, a jumpy person.  Whenever the pike would thrash, I would jump and squeeze the previously-placed spreaders, allowing the pike’s mouth to again close.  Ultimately, the good fingers on my left hand held the ring of the spreader while my right hand managed the pliers and the fly.  My butt was put in charge of the net handle. The second pike inhaled the fly more deeply.  After calming myself and mumbling that I might have to catch & keep for the first time if the pike did not consider my hook removal a success, I went to work.  I looked through the spreaders in to the mouth and down to its esophagus.  I’d never seen an esophagus before.  Deep breath.  The fly came out more quickly than the first pike’s fly had.  A safe release coupled with much relief.  The big-girl pants fit well so I need to keep wearing them.

By 5:30 am I was back on the dock with the previous night’s popular Umpqua fly on deck.  Then, it was my minnow-patterned BB’s Forage.  No fish sign.  With time running out, I put on a Supercharger; a red, flashy fly created by Jared Ehlers.  Ultimately, nothing was hooked, but it was worth getting up early… 

I had a follow.  It was another broad, 40+ pike, following inches away from the gaudy fly, right toward the dock!  When I look back, she seemed to be the fishy equivalent of the slow walk while scanning the morning newspaper, followed by an unhurried turn to the kitchen to relax and enjoy a good coffee.  I’ve imagined hooking and fighting her, all others rushing to the dock, with Sam, the youngest person and novice angler, being guided on netting a big toothy critter and ultimately getting to feel the heft of that scaled, powerful body.

We all want to return to the cabin, to those Canadian waters and to its pike and walleye.  And I sincerely hope that everyone gets their own chance to be “The Other Person.”  ~Trip dates: 5/21-28/16. Story finished 6/11/16. Thanks for reading it! Twitch

Back at Slate Falls Outpost office, I was the first person with the honor of filling out the board for landing a 42" or greater pike!

View of  the 154,348 acre Lake St. Joseph just prior to the descent to our cabin.

Another view from the Otter float plane. Note that the land at the  lower right corner looks like a beaver. There were many beaver lodges on the lake, and they attracted finned toothy critters too!

John taking the time to appreciate life.

Steve, left, his daughter Sam, Ed, and I visit on the deck while John grills bbq chicken around the deck's corner.

Waiting out a morning's cold, wind, and rain with breakfast, a book, and a nap.

Ed  adds a little more warmth to the cabin on a chilly, late afternoon.

Our bathrooms 2 & 3 are located outside.

Ed was happy with small fish, big fish, in the rain, and in the rarely-seen sun.

I think this was Ed's first larger pike. It was 34" and d/t its girth it appeared large!

I put the netted 42 in the water. Ed removed 42 from the net and initiated a safe recovery (above), then I held her tail to finish the recovery. Meanwhile, Ed returned to his rod and another pike he'd hooked!

The first pike I decided to mug with for the camera. Even the pike is smiling!

Discussing a particular stretch of water.

We enter the channels on a particular stretch of water prior to entering the main body of the lake and heading the boats back to our cabin and supper.

Our cabin in the morning.

Travelling at 133 mph and 1000 feet, I enjoy a ride in the cabin of the 1961 Otter with pilot Rich as we return to Sioux Outlook.

Our group and luggage have been removed from the plane and we ready to begin the drive back through International Falls and to our home, the U.S.A.

One of 2 bears seen (at the start) on our trip as we headed through northern MN to International Falls.