ONE FOR THE BOYS

I am an "Ex-Pat" Canuck and an avid fisherman now living in Orange County, California. While I enjoy salt water fishing my true love, other then my wife of course, is fishing in northern Canada. The adventure, the wilderness and most important the camaraderie always keeps me coming back for more. What follows is a snap shot of my last trip, this time to northern Saskatchewan with three of my Canadian buddies. They call me Doddsy

ONE FOR THE BOYS

Morning came early. Not surprising given the late night and the long drive ahead. Was it the beer, the tequila or the red wine that was still playing havoc with my head? The combination I suppose. That and the brutal reality that the resilience of youth was so long ago, twenty years to be exact.

For the most part the drive was uneventful, though certainly not odor free. I'm note sure if it was the anticipation of that first cast or the need for fresh air that made us yearn for the lake to appear. I suppose the latter given the greenish tint to both Rob and Danny's complexions. Les was right the front seats were a wise choice, a far wiser choice then those last three shots that we shared just a few hours ago.

We arrived at the lodge on schedule just as the hangovers began to subside. Whether it was luck or pure coincidence, a welcome relief regardless. After locating our cabin we were all eager to hit the water. As expected the thought of that first walleye, or in Rob's case that inevitable "first snag" greatly outweighed the need to settle in. We were boys after all and there were fish to catch and tales to create. So with beers all around and a shake of hands to solidify all bets it was time to go fishing.

With the pairings predetermined off we went. Rob and I would share one boat, Les and Danny the other. The fact that neither Les nor Danny could find reverse on the motor was a sure sign of things to come. That and the fact that Danny stepped on Les' new St Croix rod gave Rob and me a big leg up. Not that we needed it, but after all a bet was a bet, and any advantage earned or found was gladly accepted.

Of course that was until Rob found the tree. You know, that same tree that Rob finds regardless of location. The same tree that appears every time Rob introduces Mr. Rapala to Mr. Shoreline. The same tree that engulfs all three sets of treble hooks and won't let go. Lets just say a full thirty minutes later we actually started to fish. Goodbye early advantage, hello reality. Rob's record intact - let the games begin.

Not surprising I was the first to land a fish. Of course Les' rockfish and Rob's tree did not count. Nor was any grace given to Danny who was still trying to tie his first knot. While not a big fish by any stretch it was certainly legal at five pounds - a keeper pickerel by anyone's standards, and bragging rights for sure. A clean release for good luck and before you could say "Mr. Happy" Les too had one on. This time a big northern, a very big northern. The biggest damn northern that Les had ever seen never mind hooked, the kind of big northern that bends your rod in two and still won't say give. The kind of big northern that one can only dream of landing - dream being the operative word. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and this clearly would not be Les' day.

You see we call it the "Danny Factor" In this instance when Danny is combined with water, boat, and motor you have limitless possibilities. Add "net" to this equation and you have created an unavoidable "cluster fuck". Goodbye fish, so long trophy, snap goes rod number two and then there were three. Les, Steve and Rob that is. Danny, well let's just say that he was swimming with the fishes when last we checked. Head first I might add, looking back up at Les from where he came saying "what, what did I do?"

A few hours later and several fish caught it was time to call it a day. Les was "skunked" as was Rob. I caught three pickerel and a decent pike. Surprising as it is, Danny won day one with an equal number of walleye and double that in northern pike. Not bad considering that he didn't have a clue what he was doing, never mind the fact that he was doing it with a $12.00 rod and reel combo that he had just purchased at Wall*Mart.

Rules What Rules

Day two started with a bang. After an awesome breakfast of Rolaids, ham, eggs and beer we made our plans for the adventure ahead. Well Danny and Steve did anyway. Les and Rob were on "KP" detail given their dismal performance the previous day. Les still bemoaning the fact that he was robbed! Not surprising, no one was listening. Well no one that is other then Les. He seemed to enjoy the sound of his constant drivel. And, let me assure you, drivel is an understatement.

What happened next is almost indescribable. Picture if you can a doorframe, lets say 8' high by 3' wide. Now imagine a fishing rod a good 6' in length. Now put that same fishing rod in Rob's hands and watch as Rob tries to exit the cabin carrying said rod sideways. Yes, that really happened. The "Danny Factor" be damned, Rob will not be outdone when it comes to mission impossible. Yes, another classic Mr. Happy moment. Though how Rob got that nickname will remain our little, or should I say - big secret.

Given the start to the morning, it was pretty clear that today would be an interesting one for sure. Danny and Steve as partners. Les and Rob the day's competition. Forget the bet, my only care now was to arrive back at the dock in one piece - hopefully dry.

Les suggested that he and Rob troll deep and that we try the other side of the island. A wise strategy designed to keep Rob well away from the dreaded "Rapala" tree, and us far from sight. Be it great planning or just dumb luck Les' strategy paid off. Within minutes of the first pass Les was onto a big fish - a walleye for sure. Then as Rob was reeling in, his lure was hit. Both fish were landed with pinpoint precision, or so they say, then just as fast both baits were back in the water for another pass. Clearly they had found the "honey hole". They netted nine fish between them, all within an hour's time. Danny and me, well that's another story.

On the other side of the island the dynamic duo had no clue of the other team's success. Danny had some luck landing several small pike but I had no luck at all. The fact that I spent most of my time tying Danny's knots, opening Danny's beers, pushing the boat off the shoal that Danny found, not to mention the hour it took to navigate back out of the shallow creek that Danny insisted would open up to the famed "Walleye Heaven" made for very little fishing. In short, the dreaded "Danny Factor" struck again, no question the cause of my misfortune.

Then it happened, just as Rob and Les appeared in sight Danny hooked a monster pike. It was easily twenty plus pounds if it was an inch and a good 6" across it's back. What great timing. We were both elated and we quickly pointed out that this fish was just an example of the many like it already thrown back - this one being the smallest of the lot.

Ignoring the "cat calls" from across the water Danny fought his fish with reckless abandon. Les, as only he would do, did his utmost to cast toward our boat in the slim chance that he would tangle with Danny's line. To some, a childish act for sure, to us, simply gamesmanship. Most unnecessary however given the fact that I had a plan of my own. Now with the fish tired and beaten all that was left to do was to net Danny's prize. With the fish now docile and still, how I missed that fish with no less then eighteen swipes of the net is still a mystery. Sorry Danny, accidents will happen. And yes, boys will be boys.

And so the bragging began. Les and Rob with a stringer for proof. Danny and Steve with a story of the one that got away. Time to fire up the BBQ, uncork the Mount Gay rum then lay back to enjoy the stars that soon would blanket the sky. Another perfect day is in the books. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Do Unto Others

Age does not always equate to wisdom. After a somewhat alcohol free day, the same could not be said for last night. At least not where Danny was concerned. With Les and me as bartenders it was a loosing proposition from the get go and poor Danny was the victim. As written on his t-shirt, one tequila, two tequila, three tequila - floor. With Danny officially done, out came the digital camera and the rest, well lets just say that Danny's wife Olga will not be impressed. Mr. Happy he is not. Nor in that state is he overly photogenic, clothed and otherwise.

I was eager to redeem myself in the fishing department so Les and I headed for our boat. A short stop at Rob and Danny's boat to snip their lines and we were off. Trolling again was the method of choice and for good reason. Within minutes we both nailed two big pickerel immediately followed by another doubleheader of the same with a few northern pike mixed in. This was proving to be a very good day - a great day in fact.

Well a great day that is for those few who actually left the dock. Poor Rob spent all morning waiting for Danny. Danny spent all morning praying to the porcelain God, cursing Les and me and wishing that he was Rob. When they were finally ready to leave (Danny able) they discovered that some damn snapping turtles had nipped their lines. Damn those infamous 200 lb plus turtles. You know that variety of unshaved turtle with rods in one hand and beers in the other.

With Rob and Danny a no show we decided to continue our troll. Several beers later and plenty of fish taken it was now every man for himself in a casting competition. Les with his silver "William's Wobbler" spoon vs. me, and my suspending green and chartreuse "Smithwick" crank bait. Not like it was ever in doubt but I won hands down. Okay, in truth we both landed our fair share of fish and we both drank our fair share of beer. Best, we both belly laughed uncontrollably at the thought of Danny's predicament. Guys can be such assholes, especially us.

Finally able to leave dry dock and with lines now retied Rob and Danny headed out. They decided to spend two hours in a sheltered bay still fishing for rock bass and perch. Danny's snores could be heard for miles, not to mention the constant snorting, belching and farting also coming from the boat's pointy end. With Rob bored stiff and with Danny still out cold it was time to lift anchor for the short troll back to shore.

With the cabin in sight and just as Rob was going to reel up and call it a day, he hooked into a very big walleye. A good twelve pound female with power to spare. After a few long runs, and several strong head thumps Danny awoke to scoop Rob's catch on the first dip of the net. Given his present state, not to mention the lengthy chum line he would leave behind soon thereafter, a yeoman effort on Danny's part. And for Rob, well let's just say a most deserving end to a very long day.

Two days in the books and as yet no one has lost an eye. Some minor liver-damage likely but all in all a rather tame start given some past adventures. It must be our age. What a difference twenty years makes. That said, with the 2" T- bone steaks, hot banana peppers, fried onions, baked beans and Danny's home made wine for dinner we're sure to test our insides yet again. Never mind Les' hot Italian sausages or the garlic that miraculously appears in almost everything we eat. We just won't learn.

Now That's A Fish

We awoke at 7:00 AM to the sound of the loons. Miraculously we all felt great. Must be the clean air. That and the fact that while we talk a big story we were all fast asleep by 9:15 PM, in bed by 9:14 PM. Hell, we don't even play poker anymore. Haven't in five years.

As far as the standings were concerned Rob had a slight lead for the biggest fish caught with Les and Danny not far behind. I was the clear leader in the quantity race, incredible given my shut out that day. No doubt a testament to my superior angling skills, my charm and my all round good looks - give me a break it's my story. Either way it was anyone's game to win, and each of us badly wanted bragging rights. After all it would be a long drive back to Saskatoon and no one wanted to spend six hours in a smelly car listening to Les boast. No one other then Les that is.

Poised and ready we all decided to take the long trip up the north shore toward what we understood would be some fast water, and, to an area that sounded like an amazing spot for shore lunch. The guides told us that it was Walleye Heaven. In fact the same Walleye Heaven that Danny tried to locate at the end of that shallow creek. Not surprising the real Walleye Heaven was in the polar opposite direction, and a good eight miles further then Danny's misguided coordinates.

We found the fast water with relative ease but it was a long ride. We also found an amazing waterfall - so far, a worthwhile journey. We were able to lodge our boats in between a fallen birch tree and two large rocks that were guarding a small island. This allowed us to sit just off the current leaving both boats within perfect casting distance of our quarry. The guide's recommendation was on the money as this was indeed walleye heaven. Using minnow tipped tiny jigs every cast produced a fish. Even the recycled half eaten minnows produced fish. It was amazing. As Rob said, "It was like hunting in a zoo." We spent a full two hours catching and releasing one fish after the other, keeping only enough for lunch, though I think that Danny consumed at least eight pounds of fish all by himself. Conservationist he is not.

Our shore lunch spot was equally spectacular, a secluded cove adjacent to the fast water at the base of the small waterfall. A five minute hike at best with no real difficult obstacles to navigate. A quick tie of the anchor ropes to a tree and a lift of the motors, a short stroll down the hill and we were ready to chow down on a feast of freshly caught pickerel with Cajon spices, sauteed Maui onions, hash brown red skinned potatoes with home made BBQ dressing and of course Les' famed baked beans with hot chili comport. To wash it all down, well ice cold beer of course.

After a short nap we cleaned camp and packed up our mess for the long ride back to the lodge, leaving no trace of our stay and just enough time for a short troll past a pre marked spot for pike. Some guys in the cabin beside ours had made the same trip the day before and while they had the same great luck with the walleye they did not do well on the pike. Always up for a challenge we were out to one up them - after all we were Canucks. I don't know whether we officially beat them or not as we only caught one fish. But what a fish it was.

Les nailed a huge musky and this time no one was going to loose his catch. Trolling a good thirty feet back of the boat this fish hit like no other taking line from the get go. It was so much fun watching Les do battle. To see our forty two year old beer bellied and balding buddy hoop and holler like a kid at the trout pond was such a treat. We watched in amazement as he hoisted this huge fish into the boat, a full 46" in length and all of 30 lbs. Photos were taken of Les and his prize from all angles imaginable and the monster muskellunge was released without harm.

A splash of the tail to signal no hard feelings and off he went, straight to the bottom. What a great end to a great day.

The Danny Factor

Needless to say Les was feeling his oats and he had no problem letting all available hear of yesterday's triumph. If my math is correct there were fourteen cabins in all at the lodge of various shapes and sizes. All but three were occupied. At last check Les had visited at least twelve of the fourteen and by number nine his fish had already grown by another 12" in length and another 18 lbs in weight. Les wasn't quite sure what the word girth meant (shocking given his waistline) so he left that detail as it. What was already a monster musky was now "Jaws". Yes, we were all jealous. Both for the fish that Les actually caught and for the fantasy fish he so proudly described.

A cocky Les decided to take the morning off from fishing in order to give us poor losers a fighting chance at his title. In that the weather wasn't the greatest Rob too decided to opt for a sleep in so it was up to Danny and me to try our luck. Rain suits on and bailing buckets in hand we headed for the dock. A quick few scoops to rid the boat of water and off we went.

The fact that Danny offered to drive was a welcome relief as I had been driving each day. The fact that this good deed put Danny at the wheel was a little disconcerting however. As you may have figured out by now, one plus one in Danny's world does not always equal two. Nor do the letters ABC always follow in line. Regardless, it was a rather easy lake to navigate, even for Danny, so what's the worst thing that could happen.

We all know that there are good combinations - peanut butter and jelly, Adam and Eve, chips and beer, rum and coke, well you get the picture. Then there are bad combinations - pineapples on pizza, wives and charge cards, rocks and propellers, oil and water that kind of thing. Lets just say that today would be a "rocks and propeller" kind of day. I know this for certain as not only did we have the pleasure of replacing one badly bent propeller, we hit this sunken island so hard we actually had the pleasure of replacing the entire bottom unit of the motor. Thank you Danny. One last time, the letter "R" is for REVERSE, not RACE.

That's the bad news. The good news is that regardless of our little mishap we did find time to catch some fish, several walleye, two really nice pike and our first, second and third bass of the trip. The last one a beautiful 3 lb small mouth that fought like any 12 lb pike both in and out of the water. Then, on Danny's last cast he caught another really big pike though this one snapped his line. As such we have no pictures as proof. That being the case he may as well have caught "Moby Dick" for without solid evidence no one with half a brain would believe a fish tale from this writer. Especially not the boys back at the cabin.

Bragging Rights

As with all our trips this one was much too short and here we were already at our last day for fishing. With bragging rights up for grabs this was my last chance. Who will beat Les' musky? Considering that I am the writer, my money is on Steve.

Rather then take another long ride to the fast water we decided, okay I decided, that the only way to beat Les was to trade quantity for quality. Besides, we had all caught a bunch of 4 lb - 6 lb pickerel in the shallows with the deep water producing the few bigger ones including all the big pike and of course Les' monster musky. So, with Les and I paired for the final day and with Les on motor duty I suggested that we troll deep in the area that Les had nailed Jaws. Les took zero convincing. First, he was smart enough to concede the quantity bet and second he too wanted another monster.

The other boat went in the opposite direction (fools as they are) and to make a long story short they did not fare well. Sure they caught some fish but nothing to brag about. Most important is that they survived the day as did the boat and motor. Now they were destined to a final night of "KP" duties, which in itself was a moral victory for us.

In that we were committed to the troll we were not overly concerned at the fact that three hours had passed without a bite. By the forth hour however, we were beginning to question our strategy and frankly I was beginning to doubt my chances at beating Les. Worse, he knew it. Certainly the quantity part was a done deal. I would win that bet by a mile but that was really consolation prize and we both knew it. I wanted the big fish. I simply had to beat Les.

With just over an hour left Les was the first to hook up. I then landed three fish in a row. Les' a decent size pike and mine, three really good size pickerel all at 5 lbs. Okay more like 4 lbs but this is the last day and I'm allowed some embellishment. Another few pike between us and then she hit. Either I had caught Jaws' half cousin or Jaws was not the only whale in this lake. I must admit even Les was excited. Bet or no bet this fish was huge. Not withstanding the fact that it took a bunch of line, on the last run I simply could not budge it from the bottom, and given the time of day I was not about to horse it.

No, loosing this fish was not an option. So we waited, and we waited, and we waited, and we waited - one full beer to be exact. Then I started to finally gain ground. Les was now sweating and my foe was now tiring. Soon a dark shadow began to appear under the arc of my rod, right where Les was standing. Forget the net, this fish was big, way too big for our net. Way too big for any net for that matter.

While really not longer then Les' musky, this baby was just as big. For the record, it was a little shorter at 45", tip to tail, but fatter by far with a near 19" girth, which definitely made it much heavier. It pulled the scale to 38.7 lbs. This was my biggest pike to date. Certainly a trophy catch and like Les' musky one that deserved to live another day. A few pictures for proof and back she went to the deepest part of the lake.

Of course that's only half the story.

Les being the gentleman and overall good sportsman that he is congratulated me on my fine effort and offered me a beer in his defeat. Then, just when I began to gloat, almost on cue in fact, he delivered the bad news. Evidently the camera that he used had no shots remaining. It seems we used them all on Danny's escapades two nights ago. Talk about, "what goes around, comes around". As such, all that I had for proof was my word and Les' recollection of the famous fish that was, or as he later recalled, wasn't. Most amazing is that Les' recollection of my monster pike seemed to lessen in length and weight at the same alarming rate as his musky had grown just one day hence. In fact, by the time we docked, my all in number of fish caught for the day (by Les' account) was, three 2 lb walleye, seven baby perch, one feisty rock bass and a half decent 5 lb pike - the latter not even legally hooked but rather snagged.

Bastard!

It's About Being Brothers

The drive back to the airport was a blur. More stories shared of trips gone by with our new ones added fresh of mind. Most stories (if not all) exaggerated, some stories (if not most) simply untrue. The writer - well lets just say that as always I cherish the moments. The time spent with buddies, the laughs, the stories both true and false, the win (all be it not recognized), and of course the memories of another trip home.

By the way, no money ever did pass hands regarding wagers - never ever does. As always everyone is quick to claim victory, either in part or in whole, and no one ever accepts defeat. All are forever steadfast in this regard. I suppose in truth we wouldn't have it any other way. You see, when we're together we're all winners. The scenery, the adventure and even the fish caught are simply the bonus.

For next year the plan is a remote fly-in trip to either northern Manitoba or northern Ontario. God knows what's in store. I hear that the black flies and the mosquitoes are bigger then the fish. Hopefully Mike and the "Nox" boys will join us as they have in year's gone by. Maybe I can even talk some new friends from California into coming as well. Now wouldn't that be a treat - The Beach Boys meet The Motley Crew.

Me, I'll be there, with hopes of creating new memories, winning all bets and telling new tales to all who will listen.

Doddsy

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