Saturday, August 28, 2021

Of Mice and Olaf

 Oh Canada, how have I missed thee.

With Canada opening the border on August 9 (but with us being in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area) we waited until August 20th to try to get ourselves north in order to get to some phenomenal fishing.  My Mother and Dad, originally scheduled to come with, decided that the threats of COVID and the process put forward from the Canadian government was too daunting.  We had to coordinate our departure, get negative COVID tests with results in hand 72 hours from the submission and be at the border within that time frame.  There were a lot of ifs.

We convinced some other travel partners of ours, Don and Nancy to go with and take my parents place, promised them some fish and well, that seemed like an easy promise. 

After our long absence (well it seemed long), the lake was the same, the cabin was the same, our award still hung on the wall, and the fish bit. 

There were still signs all over in Canada to wear masks and such and even Leroy had to abide.  It was like it was last October in the USA, where somewhat unfortunately, we've seemed to move on despite COVID around mostly die to vaccine avoidance

In Armstrong, Ontario, there was no eat-in dining.  We walked in, ordered pizza and twenty minutes later, we walked back in an carried it out and ate it.  Otherwise, save for the camp and the border, we never stopped to see anyone or buy anything.  

Gail's, the finest (only) place for food in Armstrong Ontario

 With COVID being the big concern of Canada, who would have guessed that this trip, however would be plagued by, of all things…mice.  I had figured this would be the trip of the wolf (note later) but no, it was something totally different.  Over the course of the week, our cabin would progressively be taken over by the little vermin.  It started by seeing one scurrying around in the bathroom, we found a trap and then trapped it.  By the last night, the whole gang had arrived and one got in a chair, so we took to barricading the doors to our rooms but as it would turn out, it was to no avail.  On our last night in camp, I was awakened by something running over my leg.  I was thinking that could not have been a mouse when something ran over my face.  Yuck!

My wife and I watched him poke out from under the mattress and then scurry around the room.  She went back and fell asleep and was soon snoring.  I moved to another room but then I heard strange sounds above, below, and all around me.  It sounds like one is in the lower part of the oven trying to get out.  So I got out and wrote this.  As I write this, there goes one in the bathroom.  I had to take a break from writing this to get the broom to defend myself when two were looking at me.

A week of wildlife and fishing to a place that has been closed for 17 months and all I can write about is mice, or so it seems.  Unfortunately, I’m done with sleeping in this cabin, my hearing is still too acute and my imagination is just too strong.  Oh well....sleep is overrated, I guess.

The walleyes on the lake bit like they had not been fed in two years and they seemed, two years bigger.  We caught as many as we wanted and we got into holes where it seemed they were only 18-20 inches in size, and I mean like all of them.  Mind you, the biggest two were just around 23 inches, but catching fish under 15 inches was a difficult problem to do, something everyone who fishes, wishes they had.

There goes a mouse across the living room, oh one is on the stove looking at me.  We had one trapped in a chair, we made a barricade to force the critters to cross over some extra sticky, Gorilla tape, sort of a poor man’s sticky trap, unfortunately, the vermin can walk right over it without any cause for concern.  I think that mouse went in the bedroom with my wife but well, what can I do?  Wait, one just went under the fridge, or was that the same one?  How did he just get into the counter, or is that yet another one.  I hear a noise in the bathroom and yet another one scurries out the door.

The pike fishing was spotty.  Chaos in spots and in other spots just plain good.  The weather was not conducive for pike when we arrived, it was too hot and dry, but then the weather changed and when I could convince my bride of 31 years to pike fish, we got into some fishing chaos.  Mayhen in a boat.  Pike fishing is a lot of work, but worth it when the big ones hit.  To save her arms, she geared down her walleye rod and then used a leader on light line so she could more easily cast.  She caught some fish, but on the next to last day, in a bay that has historically produced monsters, she finally changed her mind when she got a big one on, and well, even with a special second drag system all of my reels have on, her line broke and she lost it.  It is just very difficult to land something big if they refused to be coaxed to the boat on light monofilament and a small rod.  One thing on our normal pike set-ups now, nothing breaks.  One may not get the hook set properly, but no fish is ever found to successfully bite through stuff that is better meant for barracuda fishing or towing cars.

So, on the last day she was back fishing the heavy tackle and in the first bay, setting her rod down with the lure a foot or so above the water to warm her hands, a good-sized pike jumped up and grabbed it, and utter chaos ensued.  I was bringing in a smallish northern when I heard the commotion and saw the only thing keeping the rod in the boat being the reel catching on the side of the boat.  My wife grabbed it, somehow clicked on the baitrunner drag and let the fish just go out to sea. 

“I think you can reel him back toward the boat now,” I said assessing the situation, my wife was still startled.  But now it was a normal fight and in a little while I grabbed the fish, extracted the hook, and she held it up for a picture.  

At 35 inches, it was her largest fish since she caught a series of 42.5, 43, and a 44-inchers in a reel pike bonanza in Manitoba, earning her three “master angler awards” for catch and release from the province and more fully described in my book Confessions of a Pike Whisperer.

Me, I missed one in the upper thirty class momentarily losing concentration at the end of the last day and did not get the hook set properly, but I did what I had to do, earning our trophy for the biggest pike again, a 37 incher caught a few days earlier. It wasn’t huge, but well it was nice to fish again. It had been a few years since I got to “pet the beaver” and capture the "Falun Sucker Club Trophy" for monster northerns on Smoothrock Lake. There is a beaver pelt under the award in the now mouse infested cabin.  The year was basically a year fishing against myself, and the odds of no one again even getting here in 2021 was pretty high.  Just trying to get up here was deserving of some sort of award. 

My fifth Falun Sucker Club Memorial Trophy, the ugliest trophy for angling

My first award from 1985

It was worth the fish hook I had to cut out of my hand and the significant cut I had on my finger that would require stitches in another setting plus the myriad of other cuts and pokes.  As they say, your not pike fishing unless there is blood in the bottom of the boat.

The mouse under the fridge also ended up in the stove and now sounds like my two cats are stuck in the litter box.  How can they make so much noise?  Then later it was on the stove on the counters, everywhere or so it seemed.  The mouse circus was in town.  They climbed, scurried, jumped, fought, mated, and even it seemed, flew around the room.

The mouse circus, we made them do tricks, or so it seemed

The highlight of the trip was seeing a family group of wolves.  We saw them on two days.  Seeing a wolf is some sort of omen, in many cultures, but I’m not sure mouse induced insomnia is one of them.   But when you see a wolf the first time and it urinates as it watches you and the second time you see it, it lays down on a rock with a look of total disregard towards you, whatever that means cannot be good. 

We got to even see the Wolf pups

 As for other wildlife, we saw a moose driving up, but not from the water or from the air.  The birds were the usual—Canada jays, some flocks of Sandhills coming south, a breeding pair on the lake, a few warblers, lots of eagles, and many loons. 

With the cold and wet setting in mid-trip, the few late season butterflies vanished save for a few large luna moth caterpillars going somewhere to make their cocoon to survive upcoming winter and remerge as the huge green moths in 2022.  I did photograph a common branded skipper.  The only butterfly I was able to do so all week.

Common Branded skipper

Bald eagle feeding

Canada Jay

Luna moth caterpillar


All in all, a good week of fish, mice and wolves, but note to self, bring mouse traps, real sticky traps, a lot of them, and maybe also more than the usual amount of jig tails for 2022.  We also brought way too much food.  Maybe this was just another fish story but well, it IS a trip story, and with Bhutan 2021 like Bhutan 2020, Canada Fishing 2020 A, B, C and 2021, A B and C, as well as Amazon 2020 and 2021 cancelled, well we at least got somewhere once.

Some fish were almost the size of the lure

Boats waiting patiently for fishermen to finally arrive, we were the only guests at Smoothrock Lake last week

even a 31 inch pike was a welcome fighter

a photographic moment with a 32 incher

Digging out a hook of a 31 incher in No Fish Bay

a nice 23 inch walleye

I'm back out there exploring and writing about it, immunized and hopefully, full of COVID antibodies and hopefully to places with less vermin, yuck!


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