Fishing & Boating in the Northwoods

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The Finest of Times

rain in the distance of Lake Kabetogama

Today’s pace is, admittedly, much different & much faster than the one I can remember from the years during which I grew up. Nonetheless, a family vacation is still one of the best opportunities to reconnect with the ones who are most dear to you.

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Hot Humid & Storms Before Breakfast

My second cup of coffee was history and I had just finished re-covering my boat. The threat of storms again this morning was finally going to produce some desperately needed rainfall. This was the second driest June that I could remember in my 30-plus years on the lake. As the thunder rumbled in the background and the rain began to sizzle through the pine trees just outside my cabin, the melodic strains of one of my favorite CD’s soothed the nerves that had been jangled by an incredibly slow walleye bite and hot, humid air that had been accompanied by a brisk south wind for four straight days.

Kabetogama pines and clouds

Jim Chappell’s CD Living The Northern Summer was on and the song “The Finest of Times” had started to play. My breakfast of eggs, hash browns and bacon sat steaming in front of me in the cool, humid air of the morning as I began to recall some of my own finest of times. According to my mother, I was only two years old when my parents had placed me in the bow of their boat as they fished a lake in northern Minnesota. Perhaps that is when I unknowingly developed my love for all things water.

Looking Forward to the Northern Summer

One of the things that my dad seemed to always look forward to? Our annual trip to Minnesota to a little town named Bagley. It was there that he had made a significant recovery from what would be a lifelong battle with the effects of the malaria acquired in the jungles of Guadalcanal during World War II. And it was there that he had found some of the peace that I believe he wanted to share with his family. We stayed in a small log cabin, one of a half-dozen or so, owned by Hank and Irene – relatives of a sort – a short distance from a small lake. Every summer until I was about 9 or 10, our family spent a week or so “Living the Northern Summer.” My mother, father, sister and I laughed and ate dinner together, swam in the lake and fished, played cards and enjoyed the simple things that life had to offer.

North of the Border

Years later we journeyed a very long way to a place called Lac de Milles Lacs in Ontario, Canada for another fishing trip or two. Again, we enjoyed the things that families enjoy together, and life couldn’t have been any better. Don’t get me wrong. Neither my sister nor I enjoyed the outhouse that was at least 100 feet from our cabin.

My sister did not enjoy the leeches in the lake either! Her desire to go for another dip in the lake was overpowered by the thought of the dozen or so that attached themselves to her legs following an afternoon swim. And there was no shower, either. The only water available came from a pump at the kitchen sink. It was always ice cold! Many times, there were complaints from my sister & me about being dragged along on all these trips. But we were a family and we stayed together as one. The fishing, by the way, was better than excellent!

reach home safely sign

But then something terrible and altogether unavoidable happened: we grew up. Family vacations become difficult when the kids get to high school. There are always other priorities. I think I almost forgot how to fish. And my old rod and reel? They sat neglected in the damp of the basement.

Graduation Gift

When I graduated from college, my father announced that he had heard from a friend at work about a lake in northern Minnesota and that he was taking me there for a graduation present. It had been years since I had done anything of that sort with my dad. Frankly, at the time, my sentiment was: “what kind of a graduation gift is this?” Well, you know what kinds of things college can often do to a person. Looking back, my response was very selfish. But the end result… Ahhh, now that’s a different matter entirely.

My sister had married and moved to California and so it was just my mom, my dad and I who tried to recapture some of the finest of times. And to be sure, we did. The trips back to Minnesota brought back some terrific memories. I had to learn to fish all over again. But it was the time together with my parents that I will always treasure. Unfortunately, only four trips were to be made by that trio. I too had suddenly decided to chase my fortunes on the left coast. My father then retired and, a year later he died. The job-related stress – and the malaria, I believe – had taken their toll on his heart. He was only 63.

Continuing the Tradition

The year of my father’s death – 1976 – was the only year that I did not journey back to the lake in Minnesota. I returned from California and for the next 25 years, my mother and I would head north every June for that special magic on the lake. My sister would fly all the way from San Francisco to join my mother and me, and the three of us continued to enjoy “Living the Northern Summer.” In 2000, my mom finally rejoined my dad.

Itasca State Park, MN

My sister continues to make her own journey every June and we still share a great tradition that really started back in the 1950’s. So, as I sit at the table this morning and look out at some of nature’s finest gifts – the pine trees, the wildlife, the lake – I drift back to the simpler and slower pace of another time. I have my own boat now and a lot of other things that perhaps I don’t need. But I have the one thing that has made me a better person. I have something that I could never live as well without. I have my memories of great times and a great family. Thanks Mom and Dad, and Patti, too for The Finest of Times!

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R. Karl

Angler, Author & Epicure

Fishing since the age of eight.  Seriously writing since the age of 16. Chef and foodie from the age of 22 years… and counting. So much to learn and so little time. I have enjoyed every minute of it all.  Whether on the water (where I like it best), in the kitchen, or at the keyboard, churning out content, I feel like I have found my place.  I am sharing it with you in the hope that some of what I love to do will rub off on you. I hope to see you On the Lake!

R. Karl