As I had related in the "Gone Fishing" post of last week, our recent family fishing expedition was the first time my son-in-law had fished since he was five when there was the unfortunate incident with the crawdad, a cat and Tim's big toe. By the way, I just found out that the cat was named "Pickles". That bit of information is really neither here nor there, but an attack-cat named Pickles just tickles my funnybone.
Anyway, our proposed trip came up at a family dinner last month, the night before my daughter's graduation from graduate school. Her father was there and proceeded to tell everyone about a time we had gone backpacking and canoeing in the Boundary Water Canoe area somewhere north of Ely, Minnesota. There were eight of us on that trip; four couples. Stan, Cheri, Homer, Loretta, Jim, Judy, Don and me. We had decided that we would have a fishing tournament; men against women. The day before the tournament, Cheri and I decided to go practice. Fortunately, before we set out in our canoe, I overheard her husband say to Homer "Do you think they'll know what to do if they catch a northern?" Homer didn't think so, and doubted that we would catch one. He did, however, think that it would make for good entertainment.
Hearing that, I knew there was SOMETHING about northerns that was different from the bass, trout and perch I'm used to catching. We had a good day of fishing and caught bass after bass after bass. Being one who was raised that if you catch it, you clean it, I was becoming aware that I was going to be rather busy that night before dinner.
Suddenly, I felt the strongest tug I've ever felt on my line. Let me amend that; I felt the strongest tug on my line outside of inadvertently catching a five year old boy downstream from me when trout fishing. Since we were out in the middle of a lake, there were no five year old boys around us and my line was definitely in the water, I got a bit excited. I am not one who likes to fight with the fish. I know there are those fishermen who enjoy that more than actually catching the fish. I prefer to get the fish in the net. They are more likely to end up in the skillet that way instead of breaking the line and swimming off to freedom.
But this fish wanted to fight. He swam under the canoe, behind us, in front of us and back under the canoe. Cheri asked "do you have the Loch Ness Monster?" I can't remember if I answered. I was strugging to reel in whatever was down there. Finally, I saw something coming closer to the surface. Then I saw teeth as the snout of that fish broke the surface. It had tiny sharp teeth clutched around the hook and line. THAT'S what the guys were talking about. I was standing in the canoe now, Cheri nervously trying to balance it so we didn't go over. I pulled my rod up...and up...and up... and finally saw the tail of that thing come out of the water. Cheri helped me out by getting it in the net.
We sat down, gasping to catch our breath, the fish on the floor of the canoe. Most of it was in the net; but then it started flopping. Damn! I covered it with the net, grabbed my stringer and looped two of the links through it's gills. I went to get the hook out of it's mouth, saw those teeth and opted to cut the line with my knife instead. I would get the lure later during the cleaning process. We dropped the stringer into the lake and paddled back to our campsite. We had plenty of fish for dinner that night and the next.
The guys came out to help us beach the canoe and asked how we did. Cheri held up the stringer of bass and they were amazed and congratulated us. Then she turned around, gestured towards me and said "you ain't seen nothing yet."
I held up Moby Pike. There was momentary silence as jaws dropped to the pine needles that covered the ground at our campsite. Then my husband stood on a rock, pounded his chest, pointed at me and said "That's MY woman!"
We secured the stringers on a log crossing a small inlet next to our campsite. It would be a few hours before dinner and since there were no refrigerators, the fish got to live a little longer.
Now, where we were camping, in the Boundary Water, there are only three campsites allowed per island. We hadn't seen very many people; yet somehow word went out that a northern had been caught. Canoers started paddling up to our campsite asking about it, and we showed them. I was asked what kind of lure I used. It was one that Stan had loaned me, a fuzzy yellow thing with a fringe. So I answered, "it's a fuzzy yellow thing with fringe." That was the wrong thing to say, apparently. Stan corrected me, "No, no, no. It was a yellow spinner with a skirt."
Yeah. That sounds better.
My husband really wanted us to take the northern home and get it stuffed and mounted. But we were three lakes and three portages away from the outfitters at Ely, and I reminded him what it was like lugging the canoe and our voyager packs on the portages, much less lugging a northern. So we opted to take photos and then eat it.
Don and I went down the trail away from the campsite to clean Moby Pike. Let me briefly describe my husband (now my ex) to you. He's a city boy. Born and raised in Chicago. He was used to catching fish at the fish counter at the Jewel Tea grocery store in Chicago. This canoeing and camping trip was outside of his realm of experience. But he did well -- until I cleaned the northern.
First, I dug a pit to bury the head, tail and innards. Then I sliced down the fishes' underbelly with my knife. He got very quiet. Don, not the fish. Well, the fish was quiet, too, at that point. Then Don pointed out in dismay that the heart was still beating. I quickly and cleanly beheaded it. He pointed out the heart was STILL beating. I cleaned out the cavity of the fish, dumping everything into the pit, retrieving the yellow spinner with the skirt. The heart laid there in the pit. Don said "It's still beating." I covered it all up with dirt and set about to finish cleaning the fish and cutting it up into pieces for for dinner.
We had a wonderful fishfry that night and all agreed the bass and pike were delicious. Don said he saw a totally new side of me that day.
He also started sleeping with one eye open.