May 20, 2011

Cold Waters

I've never missed a Wisconsin fishing opener until this spring, and it hurt to spend the first Saturday of the month painting boats on shore rather than rocking across a lake with my buddies, but I knew I'd miss certain things in order to live up here: Fishing trips, weddings, the comforts of familiar surroundings.

Such is the price of animalization...

Fishing opener is one of the most important holidays for me, and I try to explain this to people, but most fail to grasp the importance of shivering in a boat floating above cold waters. Saturdays in early May are rarely balmy, favoring hard winds and some form of precipitation most years. Since the water temperatures are also frigid, the fishing itself is also usually poor. But it doesn't matter. If I can be out there I will be out there with a smile on.

The Minnesota fishing opener was one week later than Wisconsin's, but being so much further north, I was sure we'd be seeing some nastiness from our friend Clearwater, who'd only dropped her winter-time ice on the preceeding Wednesday afternoon. Me and the boys worked out a scheduling change so we could work in the morning and then fish the entire afternoon in pursuit of Lake Trout - a finicky mystery of the deep that only nears the surface when the water's the coldest.

That's not to say cold waters will lead to actual catches. Lakers are tricky fish.

After trolling and casting the steep shorelines and numerous rock reefs of Clearwater from noon until sun-down, the three of us had nothing to show for our efforts, aside from the usual wind-burn and ideas (good or bad) on how to improve our tactics.

On Sunday we were back at work, but before dinner I set out again (in a canoe this time) to slowly troll a Little Cleo around our neighborhood bay and the adjouning "General Sherman's Reef"... Again, nothing was interested. Surely Ol' Sherm was giggling at my rustiness, watching my lure drift by as I struggled to keep my canoe in a straight line against the clipping east winds.

I've seen some slow fishing in the early season, but going Oh-for-Two didn't sit well with me. I was hungry for Lakers din-din!

On Monday afternoon we decided to give Clearwater a break, opting instead for a stocked Rainbow Lake down the way, but that, too, proved impenatrable. While I had a trout follow my lure to the boat and turn away, and I saw two more chasing each other (not me spoon) in the shallows, we got skunked for the third straight day.

Things were getting serious in camp. Drastic measures were required to unlock these cold waters. We decided to give the finicky trout a break.

Tuesday night we put a canoe on the tow boat and motored down to the back end of Clearwater to portage into a 'secondary lake' - that is, one step out from motored lakes. Generally, the further you get from the motors and cabins up here, the better the fishing. A simple concept, but it's not a condemnation of the perimeter lakes, either. We could have continued bashing away at the deep mysteries of Clearwater's Lakers, but by Tuesday we just wanted to put a fish in our hands.

And it worked. We landed three small pike trolling rapalas in the shallows, and returned to camp happy, even without a fish dinner on the table.

Kwas and I had off on Thursday, so Wednesday night we paddled back into another new lake that had a single campsite and was best fished early in the year, since it was shallow and weed-infested by mid-summer. By noon on Thursday we had landed ten pike, most of them small with a few in the mid-20s. It appeared we were the first to use that campsite this year, as dry wood was plentiful.

Today is Friday and for my first week of fishing in the Boundary Waters I've managed eight pike with nothing big, and been shut out on trout.

But I've also been able to fish every day of the week, and it's only going to get better as the waters warm, so I'm perfectly happy with the results so far.

The trout still haunts me, though, so I think my best bet will be getting after them at first light, before work, when the lake is glass calm. When it comes to Lakers you can never guarantee anything, but I'm fairly confident the next week will be better than the first, and that extends beyond fishing altogether.