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Posts tagged ‘fishing’

Shore Dinner DeLuxe

Editor’s note: this is the second of a 3-part journal entry, preceded by “Sojourn” (ACZ Archive, August 2015), and followed by “Return to Civilization” (ACZ Archive, September 2015) – Paz

 

 Sunrise

Sunrise

I awaken before sunrise in a tiny green and tan canvas hut to the sound of morning bird song and critters foraging about on the forest floor, what seems like inches from my bedroll. I can’t even remember the last time I slept alone in a tent. I was probably fourteen, camping on Scout Island on the Great Sacandaga Lake with my family.  Best rest I’ve had all year.

Up and out, get the coffee going first thing. Percolating coffee on the stovetop. Turn the heat down when it starts to perk to prevent scorching. How do we know when it’s done? No automatic drip or brew-and-pause or beeping sounds from the Keurig. When it looks like coffee in the glass, it’s done. No, that’s tea. No, it’s getting there. Patience. And finally-coffee! The littlest things seem like luxury at camp. This is a perspective I shall try to retain when back in the modern world of convenience and comfort.

It’s probably between 6:30 and 7 am, Joe steps out of the woods from the direction of his camp. We share the morning coffee minute briefly, then we’re ready to hit the water for the early morning rise. Greg and I strike out on the AquaMarie, head for the favorite hot spot with hopes the morning would bring a better result than yesterday. Joe and Bowin in the Tracker cruise past us as the engine on the AquaMarie begins to give us some trouble, trouble that would dog us all day. Overheating, fuel-starved, stalling.

Bowin lands the first keeper of the trip, a big bass, 18 to 20 inches or so. The rest of us snag sunfish and toss back the 10-inchers. At mid-morning we retire to camp and place Bowin’s bass inside the minnow trap so it won’t be eaten by the beasts that comb the shores for chain-ganged fish, unable to flee.

We’re feeling the pressure to catch fish now, expecting thirteen people in camp for dinner. By noon we have one fish. We troll, we drift-fish. We head for the dropoffs, we head for the inlets, we head for the weedbeds. Finally, by late afternoon, we’ve begun to add some keepers to the live well. Greg and I each add a nice bass, and Joe crosses the lake to hand off several nice fish. We’re well on our way to a traditional Forked Lake stringer-full of fish dinner.

Forked Lake Stringer

Forked Lake Stringer

By four o’clock, we’ve landed a little more than twenty pounds of fish, all bass this year. I set to work scaling and filleting the fish, then washed the fillets off in the crystal clear lake water from which they were liberated. I did the cleaning in the woods, away from camp, and carefully cleaned up the area including the leaves drenched with fish stuff. Then the remains were moved farther into the woods, a couple of hundred yards, away from campsites and the trail. This is black bear country, and we didn’t want to invite any into our camp (or our neighbors’!) Behind each site is a bear safe. A steel box in which to place your food to deter bear raids. The box has a heavy steel lid and not one, but two spring-loaded clasps that latch into hasps to keep the box closed. I typically use just one latch. I figure if there’s a bear smart enough and dexterous enough to open one spring-loaded catch (sometimes tedious for me), a second one would only make it aggravated.  Who wants an aggravated hungry bear in camp?

The bear safe

The bear safe

Joe whipped up a batch of beer batter, and heated oil in the big cast iron dutch oven over the open fire at his camp. Joe’s wife Danielle, their son Luke, and the other guests arrive in camp and preparations begin for a Shore Dinner DeLuxe, complete with grilled potatoes with onion and garlic, chips galore, watermelon and a number of other complements. In fact I can’t remember all the great offerings on our table.

Joe dropped fresh batter-dipped fillets in boiling oil, and in few minutes we were partaking of one of the finest meals in recent memory. Everyone had their fill, and plenty was left over, including some fish. And we were worried we couldn’t catch enough!

As darkness closed in on the day, those not staying took their leave. Joe ferried a couple folks to the launch, and others took the trail, a quarter-mile hike, back to the parking area. As we cleaned up, we marveled once again at the bounty of fish. So much fish we had leftovers, even with all the people we fed.

“Next year, we should keep just one fish each. Any more is a waste.” Joe stated, and I agreed.  “We brought way too much food this year.”

Somewhere around nine o’clock, Irv and his boy Collin bade us good evening and headed back to their camp. As is Saturday camp tradition, the remainder of us gathered around the open fire as the cool July night settled in. A wide variety of topics were discussed, not the least of which was our hard-won victory at fishing to feed the clan. One by one, the weary campers nodded off in their canvas umbrella chairs, Sparky finally retiring to his camp. The last one awake, it must be around eleven, and I thought of a regular Saturday night at home. Wondered if my wife (and dog) were watching monster movies on Svengoolie, falling asleep on the soft couch (or deep carpet, depending on species).

A call to my campmate, and Greg stirred. We headed back to our site next door, incarcerated the food supply in the bear safe, and hit the hay for our last night in camp.

Alone again in my little tan and green canvas hut. I fell asleep to the gentle evening breeze, punctuated by calls of the loon. Slept like a hibernating bear.

Next time: the return to “civilization”.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Sojourn

Editor’s note: this is the first of a 3-part journal entry, followed by “Shore Dinner DeLuxe”  then “Return to Civilization” (ACZ Archive, September 2015). – Paz

 

“I can’t believe we’re finally here.” Joe says as I unload gear from The AquaMarie, and begin to pitch camp.

“Like Christmas in July,” I reply, “it only comes once a year.”

Just as children eagerly await the annual return of the man in the Red Sled, Joe and I dream all year of this trip.

Sunrise in camp

Sunrise in camp

Our annual return to Forked Lake did not disappoint us in any way, living up to its legends.

A beautiful, crystal-clear glacial lake, great fishing with big smallmouth and largemouth bass, the solitude and quiet of the High Peaks Region.

A bit of change in personnel this year added new variety. With a six-month-old baby, a two-year-old and their eight-year old daughter at home, my son Ryan had to be excused from the camping trip this year, a sacrifice to domestic service. This has become a father & son tradition over the last four or five years, and Ryan was somewhat disappointed and apologetic about being unable to attend. Joe was concerned that we didn’t have Chef Ryan (who studied and considered culinary arts before becoming a nurse) or his recipe for fresh bass. I assured Joe that I knew the recipe, and was confident we’d be able to cook fish on our own.

New faces this year as our friends Greg (another guy we work with), and Irv (a guy that previously worked with us) signed up for the adventure. Along with guests in camp Saturday night, it was an action-packed and fun-filled weekend living up to its promise.

This year we reserved 3 campsites side-by-side, as we have in the past. Sparky was at site 8, Joe at 9, and I was at 10 with Greg. When Irv arrived Saturday, he managed to get site 7. Weather was perfect for sleeping in tents, fishing all day, and gathering around a fire in the evening. Certainly it was a high point for the mosquitoes. We should be glad they’re doing so well, and in no danger of being placed on a threatened species list.

Mosquito buffet

Mosquito buffet

Even in this impressionist photo (a grand term we apply to all out-of-focus and motion-blurred snapshots), you can see the universal signs of flailing and swiping ineffectively at the blood-sucking parasites, followed by the leaning-in to the fire until your eyebrows singe. Here the group sacrifices a child to the insects, forcing him to walk around those seated in an effort to draw the bugs away. (Irv’s boy Collin, a very active child that entertained in camp until bedtime.)

Friday reports from Joe and Bowin held that the fishing bounty was a bit off this year. Tried-and-true hot spots produced no action, and the few scattered takers were of modest size, some the legal minimum. Having arrived at noon and tasked with pitching camp, I had but a couple short hours in the late afternoon to put into plying the waters for our unseen quarry. My results brought a poor trend down further, as I landed nothing.

Sparky and Greg arrived late in the day, having worked the Friday and hurriedly packed to flee the mayhem of modernity and make their way to the quiet piney north woods. There was more than enough food and beverage to feed the six of us Friday night. As always, something about the outdoors and fresh, open air served to enhance the taste and satisfaction of the meal of delicious venison sausage. All-the-more fitting, the meat stuffs were the product of previous woodland adventures, the harvest of Joe’s hunting season.

Joe’s wife and second son Luke were scheduled to visit the Blue Mountain Lake Museum with some other family members on Saturday, bringing them within 12 miles of Long Lake and the Forked Lake Campground. After their excursion, they planned to join us in camp for a shore dinner of the bass of which we rave, and the most scenic of places to catch and eat it.

Now, of all times, we actually had a goal of catching fish. Normally a leisurely pursuit and friendly competition, we were charged with producing those bass we speak so highly of, and  we were getting a lukewarm greeting. The favorite hottest hot spot produced absolutely nothing. At the second-best hot spot, Greg & I each pulled a keeper out of the weed beds, both around 18 or 20 inches. Meanwhile, peppering the south shore with casts, Joe & Bowin ponied up with their fair share, adding a few more keepers to the live well. (Bowin had produced the first keeper on the morning shift. We locked it inside a minnow trap “cage” to protect it from the Cayman. (See ACZ Archives, July/August 2014; Off The Grid; The Storm Approaches; The Storm Strikes for explanation of the Cayman cage.)

The water was calm, smooth as glass, and Greg’s top-water lure got frequent strikes, but they proved to be sunfish, pumpkinseed and small bass. Greg tried his patented grappling method a couple of times with good result, presumably he was becoming concerned with eating today, and was willing to take whatever he could.

Patented Polerstock Method

Greg’s Grappling  Method

“I’ve never felt pressure to fish before.” I told Joe as we tried to determine what quantity of fish we’d need for a big shore dinner with company.

“I don’t know if we’ll have enough,” Joe reasoned, “so we may have to fill in with other stuff, maybe burgers.”

Throughout this stay there was a noticeable lack of loon activity. Normally, we’d see dozens of loons in the course of our fishing. They’d corral fish and dive, popping up hundreds of feet from where they entered. At night, the maniacal call would echo around the lake, reminding us of the origin of the term “Loony”, and the phrase “Crazy as a loon”. There were a few birds and a few night calls, but a mere fraction of the usual. I wondered if this was an indicator, a corollary to the lack of feeding game fish. (Or fish that wanted a Texas-rigged rubber worm, at least.)

Next time: Fabulous Shore Dinner, and more thoughts from the piney woods.

Take care and keep in touch.

Seek peace,

 

Paz

The Storm Strikes

Squall line horizon

Squall line horizon

This is the third of a 3-part journal entry, beginning with Off The Grid, followed by The Storm Approaches.  -Paz

 

For Saturday night’s dinner we motored over to Joe’s camp  a bit before dark. Joe filleted the fish that were not eaten as they sat on the stringer in the water. We decided it must have been a cayman that ate our fish, even though they’re not indigenous to our area.

We gorged on fresh-cooked foods as the light faded into darkness, and upon finishing our meal we felt a couple of raindrops fall. Then pat-pat-pat they picked up their pace. Then, BLAM! It started to pour!

We must preface this with two backstories.

First: While I do my best to shun possessions in a zen way, I am one of  those over-prepared people, and this is especially true when on a sojourn. For camp, not only did I bring three changes of clothes in a barrel bag (and like a hundred pairs of socks because I can’t stand wet socks), but also a dry bag with the “last bastion” set of emergency clothes (head-to-toe including briefs, tee, pants, shirt, sweatshirt and dry shoes). Additionally, of course I brought my slicker, just in case we had to strike camp and pack out in the rain forecast for tomorrow.  I brought none of these things when boating to Joe’s camp for dinner, and was wearing just an overshirt, trotting off into the cool July evening.

Second: Joe & Bowin are “absolute minimalist” campers. They each carry a pack of their own gear, and one pack of camp gear. They sleep in hammock tents, hammocks designed for camping that have a mosquito net and rain fly. So at Joe’s camp, there is no tent. There’s no tarp, no pop-up, no lean-to. Nothing whatsoever for shelter.

BOOM! Goes the thunder, as suddenly, before we could toast an after-dinner marshmallow, a storm rolled over camp like a bulldozer. Rain fell in torrents as Joe & Bowin scrambled to put their blankets in the privy, the only place hereabouts that will remain dry in this next hour. We huddled under a tree, and as the thunder rolled again I doubted the wisdom of doing so.

“We should leave now!” I said to Ryan. “This could keep up for hours. We should get back to camp before it gets any worse.” I’m a bit nervous, frankly, that we’re across the lake, in the dark, in the rain and lightning, without shelter, a change of clothes, a fire or even a jacket. I don my fishing vest as an extra layer, some minute measure of rain shedding and warmth.

“Let’s wait it out. I think it’ll pass.” Ryan replies, as he nurses a beer relaxedly from his 32-year-old, peak-of-fitness, immune-to-rain-and-cold perspective.

The rain continues. It came up so fast Joe didn’t save his clothes, only his blankets. The fire was hissing its way to an early death as the firewood stacked on either side of the stone fireplace soaked up the water. I realize that our camp is not rain-prepared. Our firewood, too, is getting a shower, and even if—I mean when–we get back to camp, there would be no warming flames. I can’t recall what else is on the picnic table; lanterns, the camp stove, and..?

Another roll of thunder and the rain keeps up its steady downpour. Now I’m just starting to work on panic. There’s no trail out of here, so our only exit is via boat across the lake. My light-duty clothes are soaked. I curse myself for not even wearing a sweatshirt, let alone remembering the slicker. For not covering the firewood (even though rain was not expected). For putting myself out here on the edge with a 15-year-old and a couple of thirty-something, husky guys in their prime. Now here am I, at 55 years old, with a bit of a heart condition if you must know, stranded from camp without as much as a trash bag to hold over my head. Honestly, it’s not my head I’m worried about. Too much rain for too long, and a guy like me is going to get a serious chill. This is not good when your blood-pump is half worn out. A little hypothermia could spell trouble. Okay, so maybe I won’t die on the spot, but I have only three nitro pills around my neck, and we’re hours away from any kind of medical facility. In my best zen sense I am at peace with dying, but I don’t want to spoil the camping trip.

Generally, I’m pretty cool in a crisis. I can assume control of a hazardous or emergency situation and think faster than a rabbit in headlights. Problem now was, if I become incapacitated before I can take over, I’ll be useless to the entire party.

“I’m hiding in the privy.” I said, as I made my way to the outhouse, expecting a couple of takers to follow me. We’d figure out how to fit and it would be a great story to tell. No one followed. They waited and stood in their overly-manly, carefree way (even the 15-year-old) under that tree. Talking, soaking up the rain, waiting for lightning to strike the 70-foot poplar that was their shelter.

Joe in camp

Joe in camp

What if I’m stuck here for hours? Well, it really was not uncomfortable in the outhouse, now that I wasn’t getting rained on. I started thinking about how one would sleep in a little outhouse all night, still worried my wet clothes would plunge me into a trembling chill. About then, just as the other guys had suspected, the rain started to let up. I suppose the whole shower couldn’t have lasted longer than half an hour or so.

As the squall line moved off to the southeast, the lake quieted to a calm, and the night air seemed to feel a bit warmer. We made our wet way to our wet boats, pumped the bilge water out of the AquaMarie, tied a line to Sparky’s canoe, and bade farewell to Joe & Bowin. They refused all invitations to come to our camp, sleep in a dry tent, get some dry clothes.

“We’ll be fine.” Joe said, in his usual manner, taking everything in stride and making us believe they would, in fact, be fine.

We towed Sparky’s canoe under the running lights of the AquaMarie and a waxing full moon. The water was smooth as glass as Ryan rode shirtless in the bow seat, embracing the evening air, the spray of the boat, the light of the moon and the adventure of it all.

The little flashing light we posted at our camp, thankfully surviving the storm, appeared in the distance. Home! We docked the boat and tied up Sparky’s canoe for him to retrieve in the daylight. I dug around in the bottom of the wood pile for the driest pieces of wood and found a wax fire starter. In a few minutes, we had a little fire going and were in dry clothes, the storm just a memory. Sparky returned in dry clothes to share some of the warmth and the first retellings of the tale. We wondered about Joe & Bowin. Hoped they, too, had a fire by now.

Moonset

Moonset

 

Tomorrow we would strike camp. Joe & Bowin would roll up their hammocks and be at our camp for coffee in the morning. Sparky would pick up his canoe, way early, as I was just waking in the tent. Ryan would be eager to get home to his wife and my 18-month-old granddaughter Ellie (and her big sister Maddie).

And I would regret leaving this place. Take one last look around, then another. Maybe one more. I would not be in a hurry to escape Forked Lake, the High Peaks, the Adirondack Park, our beloved time in the piney woods. I learned a bit about myself on this trip. I faced my limitations.

And the best memories, the “moments” we are bound to remember and relive, were not of sleeping in a tent or catching fish, nor of boating or cooking on the fire.

This year was a great trip, filled with stories that can be exaggerated and amplified as the years pass.

“Did I ever tell you about the time a cayman ate our entire catch of the day and we almost starved?”

How about the time we weathered a hurricane by mustering in the outhouse? Or the time we crossed the lake at night in a storm? Or the time I flipped the canoe and could have drowned?

Sit down, if you have a few minutes, and I’ll tell you about the most wonderous time I had with just a few of my favorite people, and some amazing adventures.

Oh, and how I almost died. But I didn’t.

Be at peace,

 

Paz

The Storm Approaches

This is the second of a 3-part journal entry beginning with Off The Grid and culminating with The Storm Strikes. -Paz

Mists of morning

Mists of morning

 

Awake at dawn, I step out of our tent into a perfect July morning. The temperature hovering in the mid-60’s, a thin, misty fog covers much of the lake, the sun is just climbing over the hill to the east, and it begins to burn a hole through the magical veil of vapor. The coffee has just begun to percolate when I hear Joe’s boat motor approaching. Ryan arises and immediately begins to prepare breakfast; eggs scrambled with crumbled bacon and cheese. Within a few minutes, Sparky joins us for morning victuals, and so our day begins.

Scout Island, circa 1971

Scout Island, circa 1971

 

I am reminded of those August mornings, awakening on Scout Island to the sound of small waves lapping the shore, making rhythmic sounds as they strike the Honey Doll, moored with her bow facing the wind. Forty-or-so years later I still recall a morning when, around age 15 or so, I awoke with the sun and crept to my 11-foot boat The Li’l Skipper, and rowed out onto a fog-covered lake for “the morning rise”, an angler’s term for breakfast time among the fishes. As I quietly pulled in the oars my focus was on preparing baits, casting, trying to perceive any drift. There was not a stir in the air, nor a ripple on the placid water.

I looked up from my industrious activity to find I was completely surrounded by fog. There was no island, no shoreline. No boats tied up across the bay at Vandenburg’s Point, no motors pulling out of McMurray’s Boat Livery, no clamoring of bathers and boaters unfolding and consuming the beautiful summer day. Silence. I remember it like yesterday. The first time I felt truly alone, isolated and entirely one with the nature and world engulfing me. Perfect peace.

Today there is a full Saturday before us, and a lake full of fish awaiting us. We hit the hot spots and land some lunkers. By noon we have a stringer full of bass, and a surprise catch as Joe pulls a nineteen-inch land-locked salmon out of 15 feet of water. We return to camp for lunch and place our 20-pound stringer of fish in the cool lake water. I’m a little conflicted by this, keeping the fish on a chain only to await their death and consumption. It occurs to me to clean and fillet them now and put them on ice. Better for the fish and for our dinner. Alas, the lake, the sun, the water and the fishing beckons, and we return to our activities, leaving the stringer tied to a tree root, the chain gang of fish flopping occasionally.

Joe's Landlocked Salmon

Joe’s Landlocked Salmon

Stringerful of dinner

Stringerful of dinner

After lunch I decided to take out the Ranger 16′ canoe for some silent-approach fishing. My first cast meets with a strike and my mind turns to landing the fish, completely forgetting canoe rules. I rise slightly and snap the rod back over my shoulder to set the hook- and this is too far for the canoe. She tips, she swamps, and in a second I am in the lake. Thankfully, the flotation vest makes maneuvering easy in spite of the fact that I’m fully clothed including fishing vest, sweatshirt, long pants and hiking boots. Ryan comes alongside with The AquaMarie, and pulls the old man into the boat. Back to camp for a change of clothes, and we’re right back at it.

Folks that ply the waters of our world are always looking to the sky. Sailboats seek the wind, and we all keep a watchful eye on the cloud formations. By afternoon, the skies to the northwest held tall thunderheads just beyond the next ridge. Curtains of rain could be seen falling on those beneath, probably 20 or 30 miles away. The forecast called for a front to move through tomorrow, so this must just be the leading edge, but the wind made some hauntingly familiar wave patterns, and we could smell the rain.

Storms Approaching

Storms Approaching

We changed our dinner location from our camp to Joe’s for tonight. We wanted to fish “the evening rise”, on either side of sunset, and it would be dark by the time we arrived at Joe’s and began to clean our stringer of dinner. Ryan and I stopped by our camp to pick up the stringer and a few kitchen essentials, and as I pulled the stringer out of the water I was shocked to see half of the fish were devoured! Something had been feeding on our captive (and probably dead-by-then) fish. A few were whole, and the rest had varying degrees of remains. One just a head, one completely devoid of innards, and most upsetting, the salmon was simply gone!

We arrived at Joe’s with the sad news of his salmon’s disappearance, but we had plenty enough fish flesh to feed our tribe. Sparky canoed over from his camp, and we would tow his canoe as he hitched a ride back to camp after dark. Our boat is the only one with running lights, hence the decision to have dinner at Joe’s camp again. Chef Ryan cooked up the fish in the cast iron cookware over the open fire. A side of fresh mashed potatoes with onion, and for veggies, sauteed fresh zucchini. Served buffet style on the picnic table, we gathered around the fire for the best meal ever in camp!

Night in camp always feels like we’re going back in time. A time when people lived like this every day. It’s a big world out there, and it’s no surprise that people banded together in cave clans, and shared the warmth and safety of a fire at night.

Fire ring

Fire ring

Sparky

Sparky

Bowin

Bowin

We ate our fill of the fine fresh food, lamenting the loss of the salmon and inhaling the fresh-cooked bass. Just as we were finishing our second helpings and considering a toasted marshmallow, I felt a single drop of water on my head. “Pat, pat, pat” went little taps on the leaves.

“Is that rain?” Sparky asked, and as he finished the sentence, the pat-pats picked up their pace, and the skies opened.

 

 

Next chapter: The Storm Strikes!

 

Be at peace,

 

Paz

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