May 21, 2012

Capsized on Caribou Lake

Capsizing a canoe is rarely a choice, and it's also rare that one would make that choice in May. But this has been a really warm spring, and therefore, I think the decision was correct. I'm not sure I would've made the same choice, given the chance, but it's impossible to know.

Erik and I wanted to put some walleyes in the freezer so we paddled four miles out to the far end of Caribou Lake the other afternoon with dark clouds to the north and calm winds out of the south. It was an ideal afternoon for paddling. We passed four guys on the portage over from Clearwater carrying their loaded canoes in teams of two. They hadn't caught any walleyes. I wondered why they were leaving the lake now... primetime was near. We saw four other canoes on the lake as we paddled east, one of them had a stringer of fish hanging off the back of the boat, and every campsite was occupied. The lake was busy. The air was very warm, the water was also warm. We got to our spot and started jigging minnows, and I caught a little pike right away. A saw-whet owl squeaked at us from the hilltops. I switched to one of the bigger creek chubs, hoping for something monstrous. But nothing happened.

There was not enough wind for drifting. Eventually we gave up on live bait and decided to be more aggressive. We started trolling crankbaits along our favorite section of shoreline. On the second pass Erik caught a nice 16-inch walleye. I took the picture above and Erik put the fish on the stringer. Luckily the camera is waterproof. I put it in my pocket, then I bombed my rapala away from shore, and then I heard a commotion and the canoe rocked quickly to the left and then hard back to the right, all the way over on its side, and I twisted my neck to keep my eyes level with the water as it touched my right knee, and then my arm... I sort of jumped out and pushed back on the canoe to keep it from rolling completely and the water was not so warm anymore. I spun around and Erik was in the water behind me. Either I couldn't breath or I couldn't talk, I wasn't sure. We were in deep water but fairly close to the shoreline, and somehow everything had stayed in the boat besides us. Even my fishing pole was floating in the boat, which was filled with water but upright. I'm not sure how it ended up there. I still couldn't talk, but we both started swimming for shore with the boat on our right, my knee-boots were full of water but I didn't have difficulty swimming. Then we were on the rocks and we gathered our gear by the cedar roots. Finally I caught my breath, the shock of the cold water loosened its grip on me.

What happened?

The walleye almost got away. I mentally tied the stringer to the canoe but I guess I didn't, Erik said, and I looked down and saw the walleye swimming away with the stringer, so I decided to dive in after it. I had to laugh. I tried picturing it. What would I have done? He said he caught it by the last loop on the stringer somehow. I knew we would capsize, he continued, but I jumped in anyways. I couldn't let that walleye and stringer get away.

We still had an hour of daylight left so we wrung the water out of our clothes, I emptied my boots, and then we got back in the canoe and resumed fishing. The saw-whet chimed again. The air was still really warm so we were fine even though we were still wet. It had been years since I had capsized, and Erik had never capsized before. We made it through 300 miles of Quetico together, with a fully-loaded canoe across diabolic waves and never came close to capsizing... We laughed, thinking about what the people on the campsites on the opposite shoreline were saying about the show. Well, I said, we gave them a professional demonstration on how to handle the situation.

After a few more passes and no fish, we turned for home one final time, and just before we ran up into shallower water I felt a ting-ting, and then a heavy strike. I set the hook and gave a yep, calling for the net. And then we had a second 16-inch walleye! Erik attached it to the stringer and then threw the stringer safely in the bottom of the boat. The sun was down and we had about an hour of visible light so we gave maximum effort across the three miles of Caribou Lake. We had just enough light to keep the headlamps in our pockets through the portage, which was good since they may have not worked anyways, and as we finished the final mile of paddling on Clearwater a planet rose and shined brightly in the west - probably Mars. Back at camp we cleaned our meat, and then I drove back to my cabin and put on dry clothing. It was well after ten. I had the next day off. I was mighty thirsty. My arms felt electric.

May 7, 2012

Nighthawk Lake

The rain stopped on Saturday afternoon so I took a hike in search of The Big Black Boulder. After swamping my boots and locating the large erratic, I came upon a small lake that looked appealing with Lima Mountain in the background. I did some research back at the cabin. Nighthawk Lake has pike and walleye and, since it is a long way from other lakes within the BWCA, and over a mile from the nearest access point, I am guessing it never gets fished. Although I will probably chase lakers on Minnesota Fishing Opener this Saturday, I plan on coming back to Nighthawk with a canoe and some big bucktails in the near future.

Full logbook entry from the hike and more pictures on Wild Almanac.