Something is wrong here. We are lake trout fishing on a wilderness lake 60 miles north and west of Grand Marais. It’s mid-March. And we’re hot.
Three of us are plopped at intervals across the snow-covered ice. Though we started the day in parkas and ice-fishing bibs, we have peeled off layers until we’re in shirt sleeves or long-underwear tops. We aren’t sitting in portable fishing shelters with heaters purring. We’re sitting in the wide-open atop the ice. The sky is clear except for a smattering of wispy cloudlets. The sun is actually hot — not just warm — on our backs. The wind is a no-show.
I, for one, am having a bit of trouble staying awake.
We rose early, rode snowmobiles to the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and skied a few more miles towing our fishing gear in sleds. Near as we can tell, gazing in all directions, we are the only ones in this million-acre wilderness. Or maybe on the planet.
The afternoon is utterly silent except for a distant raven’s squawk. And, much later, the staccato drilling of a far-off woodpecker.
Our world is nothing but snow-covered ice, fire-scarred ridges and the purring of our sonar flashers.
We lift and drop our spoons, enticing trout. Lift and drop. Lift and drop.
Fight is on
“There’s one,” comes a voice over the ice.
One of my buddies is on his feet now, his rod tip getting yanked straight toward his fishing hole.
I reel up and hustle to his hole to offer moral support. His rod seems to be some crazed creature performing a wild, dipping mating dance. His line pings from one side of his hole to another.
Gingerly, he coaxes the fish into the cylinder of ice that’s 2½ feet deep. Up it comes, thrashing all the way. With his rod tip held high, my friend reaches his free hand into 32-degree water and flips the lake trout onto the ice. It’s a handsome 3-pounder, dusky gray and mottled with pale spots.
My other partner has already caught three fish — two walleyes and a plump laker. But walleye season is closed, so he has sent a fine walleye meal back down the hole to grow a little more.
Lift and drop. Lift and drop.
Somewhere, honking cars bustle for position at big-city intersections. Somewhere, travelers rush through crowded stations to catch their morning trains. Somewhere, passengers squeeze inside the closing doors of subway cars. The world teems with humanity, and we will see no evidence of it all day.
An angler can get to known lake trout holes more easily than we have. We sometimes fish that way. But often we are willing to expend more calories and go where snowmobiles and other motorized conveyances must be left behind. Right or wrong, we think the fishing is usually better.
Lift and drop. Lift and drop.
Break in the action
Now I’m aware of something that sounds like a fishing rod falling from someone’s hand and landing in the snow. I look down. Yep. That’s my fishing rod.
If I cannot stay awake to fish, I figure, maybe I should just give in. I eye my sled a few feet away. It’s exactly the length of a human body.
I reel up and set my rod aside. I plump my parka into an excellent pillow. I ease myself into the sled. I feel the sun penetrating my shirt. I am gone.
After an indeterminate amount of time, my eyes blink open. I see my mukluks resting on the far end of the sled. I see blue sky. I see a distant island.
I would have been happy to be awakened by the hooting of one of my buddies playing a lively lake trout, but apparently that hasn’t happened.
I return to my work station, lifting and dropping.
We come north on these trips primarily for the fishing. We would like to take home a couple of fish to share with our families.
But I’m not entirely sure we don’t come partly to remember what it is like to be in a place populated mostly by moose and beavers and gray jays, where time seems limitless and silence cloaks the landscape. In the end, all of that may offer greater nourishment than the lake trout.
When the sun begins to lengthen our shadows across the snow, we call it a day. We put our four lake trout in our sleds. We snap into our ski bindings and begin the steady shuffle back to our snow machines.
Our friends will be back at the cabin. They will have stories to tell.