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Sam Cook column: The trout don't know how lucky they are

Sam Cook

Well, we're not headed up to the canoe country to go lake trout fishing this spring. Or so it appears.

The ice has us.

Four of us make the trip each spring, close on the heels of ice-out, when the fish are hungry. We paddle across the border, into the Canadian wilderness, where the lake trout season is already open. Typically, we make the trip in early May, sometimes even starting in late April.

A couple of years, we've had to skirt expansive rafts of rotten ice on large bays. But we've nearly always made it. This year, the ice won't let us make that early trip. Simply pushing the trip a bit later won't work because the other demands of our collective lives complicate our schedules.

We understand: In the greater scope of life, this kind of problem doesn't rise to the critical level. It's unfortunate. It's inconvenient. But we can deal with it.

But it isn't the lake trout, or even a skillet full of sizzling fillets, that we will miss most. This trip is mostly about four lifelong friends who just want to be together in country we all love. We all get together throughout the rest of the year, chasing pheasants or walking up sharptails or just sharing meals. But the lake trout trip is like nothing else we do all year, even other trips to the canoe country.

In some years, ours are the first boot prints on the portages. Sometimes ice or snow remains in the shady bays. The country is just awakening from its winterlong sleep. Last fall's leaves, perma-pressed by the weight of snow, pave the portages. Often, the first tender shoots of new aspen leaves are beginning to unfurl.

It isn't uncommon, once we've reached our destination in the wilderness, to see no other people for the duration of our stay. Woodpeckers and flickers yammer. A ruffed grouse nearly always drums behind camp. At night, in the beams of our headlamps, we watch walleyes scouting the shallows for food or spawning gravel. The wild shrieking of loons, just back from Florida or Georgia, echoes off the ridges.

It feels as if we are the only people on Earth, that we are visitors in a natural system of life that would endure beautifully for eons without our presence.

By day, we forge farther into the canoe country to the hallowed lake trout waters. Two by two, we troll on the frigid lakes, awaiting the vicious take of ravenous lakers. We keep two or three for dinner and release the rest.

Midday, we lay up on some sunny point, pull out our simple lunches and doze while the whiskey jacks swoop in for crumbs.

Back in camp at night, we make a fire that feels as good as it looks. We set about solving the world's problems. We eat more crisp fillets than we should. The loons take it from there, offering up an evening concert.

If you do this for four or five days in a row, you find that you become a wholly reinvented person, and one you happen to like quite well. This one knows how to not hurry, how to use forgotten muscles, how to listen to the land. You would like to somehow hold onto that person and get to know him better.

But we'll have to forgo all of that on this revolution around the sun.

The ice has got us.

SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or scook@duluthnews.com. Find his Facebook page at facebook.com/SamCookOutdoors or his blog at samcook.areavoices.com.

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