October 11, 2004

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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A Day Away

By John White

My first thought was that my day was shot. High in a tree branch was my little foam popper, one that had successfully boated any number of nice bluegill. A fly tyer would recognize the small green thing as a "Gurgle Pop." You make it by laying down a small tail made from bushy end of a squirrel, then add rubber legs to a foam body. Color doesn't matter. This one was green and incredibly effective.

I used this particular Gurgle Pop for the first time last summer fishing with Wes Konzin on one of his nameless lakes. Since it has been battered by both bluegill and largemouth bass. That thing in the leaves was a mess of a fly. Ragged and edge-worn. A leg missing. Yet, you grow attached to a fly like this. Like a couple of old poppers in my box that have been hit so many times paint has worn off the edges. Old troopers! This was a foam version of an old trooper, hanging listlessly from a tree branch just high enough it couldn't be reached with an extended paddle. At least it is in a tree on a peaceful lake; a lake that isn't a cul de sac nor one that will ever have its ambience destroyed with the sound of a jetski or ski boat. This is one of a handful of 15,000 Minnesota lakes that are preserved for quiet moments, for a day away.

After two weekends of community festivals I was due a day away. With the canoe tied down to the "granite-green gas guzzler," I was off as soon as the rains stopped Sunday morning. Nice and humid. Not that hot nor really that humid. Not even close to those 90/90 days my sister says hit the south this weekend, but warm and humid enough to give you a sense of summer. Warm and humid enough to erase those blizzard days of winter.

At first the guzzler was headed toward St. Cloud. I had my mind on a stretch of river running through one of those towns near Cold Spring, and indeed, it might be Cold Spring. High, granite bluffs face toward a small park and landing. Looks like a smallmouth might be niched in there somewhere. With a canoe you can hit several such spots in a day, and after that, I wouldn't know where to go next. On some days this wouldn't be a major concern, but on this one I knew I would need to find some semblance of solitude. At the Spicer bend I found myself heading north. Itasca? I could be there by noon. Park Rapids? I read a piece lately that says there are some 200 lakes and rivers within ten minutes of leaving a Park Rapids cafe.

For whatever reason the guzzler veered left once again at Belgrade and pulled up a half hour later at a lake access I have had not seen for a few years. An RV park across from the lake has been expanded threefold, and the few fishing boats you used to see in the common spots were nowhere to be found. Instead, waterskiers bounced across waves and wakes of the towing boats.

Forty-five minutes later I was back on the highway. Minnewaska was flat. You could see that from the bluff overlooking Glenwood. A long line of boats waited at the Starbuck access. I skirted around and found a spot at the very end of the parking lot with water access. Before the second boat was backed into the water I was paddling toward the weedbed flats. As calm as the water looked, and it was basically a windless day, the boats on the big lake had me rolling. The noise was worse. Within 20 minutes my canoe was strapped back on top of the guzzler and we were off in search of solitude.

Somehow, subconsciously, I knew this little lake would be my destination. Yet, it would take two noisy and busy lakes for the image to rise. As I paddled through the lily pads and the swimming beach I smiled realizing that quiet here might be challenged by a laughing child splashing in the water. And, that is just fine by me.

There was a moment when leaving Minnewaska that a heritage lake came to mind. With a five-bluegill limit and a healthy population of bass and northern, chances of hooking into a "bull" bluegill are quite good. This is a no-motor, no electronics body of water. Still, I came here. With the old green Gurgle Pop tied on, I cast into the shade below a wooded hillside - a shallow area close to deep water. On my third catch I had a bluegill that put an impressive bend into my flyrod, a fish large enough to douse thoughts of the heritage lake.

While unhooking the fish, a man eased up in a kayak. "Don't see many people who fly fish. Looks fun." For a second I thought of handing him my rod, and as we chatted, I cast. That's how my Gurgle Pop ended up beyond reach in the tree. I wasn't paying attention to what I was doing.

He was helpful, although neither of us could reach high enough to salvage the little green popper. A few flies later I tied on a yellow Gurgle Pop I happened onto in the bottom of my canvas pack. It must have fallen out of my fly box at some point. A windfall, perhaps.

What a lovely place. Nestled within an oak savanna, this lake is well protected from wind. Even on days when whitecaps rule some lakes, this little jewel is still relatively calm. Besides the occasional interruption of children's laughter, the main noise was that of an 8 year-old fishing with his grandfather. No matter what the kid did, he banged something against the hull of his aluminum canoe. The patience in the stern was noteworthy as the old man, with his white hair clasp in a pony tail beneath a cool straw hat, tried to coax a fish onto their hooks. This would be a futile desire, although the two seemed to share a timeless moment they will both likely remember.

A moment or two later I entered my own timeless moment - when all was right with the world. A nice pocket with extended shade, and some very nice fish ambling about. Life couldn't be much better. Legs stretched out. A comfortable seat. A slight breeze caressing the shade. I started the day with a frozen bottle of water, and the ice was mostly melted so the water was just perfect, and there was plenty of it. Just sitting there fishing a day away. These are the moments that give justice to the bumper stickers: a bad of day fishing is better than a good day of work. Or something to that affect.

All good things must seemingly end, or so another saying goes. A favorite fly in a tree branch; a moment of comfort and quiet solitude in the shade. ~ John White


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