Now that summer is here, it seems like a good time for a fishing story. So, grab your favorite beverage, kick back and enjoy. Oh yes, I should mention that these stories are all true and only slightly treated with embellishment when necessary to maintain your utmost attention.
It was the early '80s and my family had traveled to Sioux Narrows, Ontario, to visit friends that had a remote cabin on Lake of The Woods. It was lengthy boat ride from town and we swam, played games, fished and generally didn’t have a care in the world. It was a kid’s paradise.
There was a small, marshy bay behind the cabins where northern pike would whack a fluttered Daredevil spoon with reckless abandon. The bay was teeming with them. Plus, the cabins were on a peninsula and I could cast my way around and hammer more pike and the occasional smallmouth bass hanging off the steep ledges.
Most of the pike were fairly small “hammer handles” but occasionally I would catch larger ones and I kept a few to eat. People always complain about the “Y” bone in northern pike, but even if you’ve only filleted fish a couple times you can muddle through a pike and figure it out. I didn’t have a ton of fish cleaning experience but I gave it whirl and did pretty good. I wanted to surprise everyone so I took my catch and a fillet knife off to a quiet spot where they wouldn’t notice me. I ended up with a nice bowl of bone-free pike fillets that we planned on having the following morning for breakfast. I threw the carcasses as far as I could into the lake, figuring some turtles or catfish would enjoy the treat.
My brother and I were staying in the tiny guest cabin right along the shore. We slept on cots in an open screen porch. A slight breeze drifted through the cabin and a light chop slapped at the rocks while the occasional cry of a loon echoed across the lake. I could hear the adults laughing and carrying on in the other cabin but when the generator was shut down for the night, everything got quiet. The cabin was pitch black inside, I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face.
I had nearly drifted off to sleep when a strange sound startled me wide awake. I pulled the blanket tight to my chin, then heard the unmistakable sound of a bear growling. It was literally only a few feet away on the other side of the screen. Then, I could hear cubs cooing and probably begging for their mother to share, as she smacked her lips and devoured something. I could even hear her breathing. I had never heard or seen a bear in the wild. It tried to wake my brother but he wasn’t budging. So, I just tucked in and listened to the bears as they feasted on something nearly within reaching distance.
Eventually, the bears must have ambled off and I fell asleep. The following morning, I ran to the main cabin to tell everybody what happened. They sort of laughed it off though they didn’t completely discount it. I went back to the spot where I had heard them and sure enough there were several pike skeletons picked clean. Apparently, the waves had pushed the carcasses to shore and the bears had found them. It was pretty cool to be that close to bears, even though I didn’t get to see them.
Back in the late '90s my friend Skeeter Hicks and I traveled north to see if we could find some late-season steelhead to fish. We each carried two rods — a five weight for trout and an eight weight for steelhead.
Amazingly enough, the first fish we saw was a giant king salmon. While the Manistee is a noteworthy salmon river in the fall, I had never seen one in a stream in the spring. That thing was gigantic — I’m talking tuna-sized. It kept swimming upstream and disappeared before we got into casting position.
A little while later we spotted a huge sturgeon. They were illegal to fish but a few minutes later I took a cast into some “dark water” and snagged another giant sturgeon in the snout with an egg fly. This thing was immense. I chased it a long-ways downstream hoping to pop the fly out and eventually I was successful. I’d guess the fish barely noticed me, it had to be five feet long. Skeeter stayed upstream so we were separated quite a bit.
I kept fishing and caught a decent brown trout. A little while later I noticed something coming down the river. It was Skeeter’s fishing jacket and it was floating in a way that made it look like a man face down in the water. It was too deep to wade so I frantically screamed for help. There was a boat downstream a couple hundred yards and thankfully the guy heard me. He raced upstream towards the jacket but when he pulled it out of the water there was no Skeeter inside. He scooped up some other stuff with his net, including a baseball cap and a can of chewing tobacco.
The guy in the boat motored to shore and threw the stuff to me. I told him to go upstream further just in case and then I ran up the path looking for my fishing partner. For some reason, I stuck the can of chew into my wader pocket.
I had gone a couple hundred yards and sure enough, I could see Skeeter walking towards me along the river. I was incredibly relieved. He had his waders pulled down, and had no hat or sunglasses. He was marching … no, he was storming up the path and I could tell he was not happy. I noticed he didn’t have his rods either. Of course, he had no idea I had recovered his jacket and fly boxes, but I assumed he had lost a lot of his stuff. As he got closer he started to hold his hands out like Jesus does in the paintings when he says something profound: palms up, arms extended. Skeeter walked right up to me and blurted out, “I lost my chew!”
When I pulled his can of dip out of my pocket, he did a little dance, took a big pinch and stuffed it in between his teeth and cheek, then went on to explain how he had fallen into a deep hole and lost everything as he struggled to swim to the bank.
Eventually we did retrieve one of his fly rods. Tragedy was narrowly averted and we saved the chew. I guess all is well that ends well.