Knife Lake Opening Day Fishing Season
May 12, 2006. The wipers slapped back and forth as we headed up over the ancient mountains the crowd the northern coast of Lake Superior. The outside temp gauge stayed stuck at 37 as the clouds lowered… and the rain turned to blowing snow. An inauspicious start for a spring fishing trip to the border waters.
This long day had actually begun the night before. My original signed up and committed crew of intrepid paddlers began to collapse one by one. First my brother called, anxiety in his voice. Looming projects would force him to skip this short vacation and to stay in Philadelphia. Shortly afterwards my cell buzzed – an old camping buddy had seriously injured his back and was forced to cancel – doctor’s orders. The last straw was my 19 year old son, just back from college – he wasn’t feeling well, and for whatever reason didn’t like the look of the ten day forecast for Ely calling for rain, cold and overcast.
I sat on the living room floor resorting and repacking for what would now be a group of only three people. I sent a quick email to Lynne at VNO, notifying her of the changes and canceling the reserved canoes. I looked at the food and began to recalibrate the menus and adjust the ingredients… far easier said than done.
A pile of previously carefully packed stuff – now not needed – grew and the number of packs was reduced. It would have to since we were going from three Wenonahs to a tandem and a solo.
At dawn my first guest arrived, a friend of a friend, Gena, a recent immigrant to the States from Russia. Lean and wiry, he had an easy smile… and it turns out had absolutely no idea of what he was getting himself into. But he was game… and had violated virtually all of my carefully written guidelines on what to bring. He had purchased a brand new mountaineering pack – a huge car camping style sleeping bag, a tackle box, his own stash of Russian food, and a full length fishing rod.
I did a quick edit of his gear – tossing his new pad and full roll of tinfoil back into his car. I jammed the rest of his pack into my SUV – checked the canoes on the roof rack one last time. We backed out of the driveway and headed over to pick up our other adventurer, Steve – a fellow I had met years earlier while we both had sons in Scouting – and my annual partner in the Des Plaines River Marathon canoe race here in Chicago.
We pulled into Steve’s driveway and added his gear, squeezing the rear hatch shut with a hip check. I knew we’d be doing some very serious gear consolidation and repacking that evening, but decided to hit the road and postpone that discussion.
As we drove North the outside temps stayed at 39 degrees all across Wisconsin. Duluth came into view… and the temp dropped another degree. We had traded off driving chores, but I had the wheel again as we entered Two Harbors, stopping for coffee at the gourmet coffee shop on the right side of the road.
Arriving the Ely a few hours later, thankfully it had stopped snowing, though patches of white were visible under bushes. Lynne showed us to her new bunkhouse – which had a large front room. Working quickly now in the fading light I removed the canoes from the roof, laying them carefully right side up next to the car. I had my crew hustle all gear upstairs where we emptied the packs – started a pile of duplicate items and began repacking.
Fortunately I have a large inventory of faded and patched canoe packs and I consolidated and repacked again – finally working the number of packs down to what could actually be fit into the canoes. The two oversized sleeping bags my associates brought consumed most of a #4 pack. I think there were some slightly injured feelings as carefully selected gear was set aside and Gena’s new mountaineering pack was not used. My reasoning was validated however when we went outside and began to place the packs into the canoes. Our bulky spring gear just fit with absolutely no room to spare. We were now set. I repacked the car and we returned the canoes to the racks.
We had an early start the next morning and the rain continued with occasional snowflakes softly settling on the racked canoes.