(And a Canadian beer for one pike Deceiver and three grayling dries…)
My dad was an adventurer – not the adrenaline junkie type – but the type who yearned to see what was around the next bend of the river. I think that might be a pretty common characteristic of fly fishermen. Although Dad preferred his casting rod to a fly rod, he certainly had a bad case of “next bend” syndrome - a condition that forces you out of your car and into your boat and even out of your boat onto your feet.
I don’t think it got worse as he got he got older, just more obvious. When he maybe should have been out with the local mall-walking group, he was trekking through all kinds of wilderness, fishing rod in hand.
He didn’t care much if he caught a fish; he was mostly interested in seeing a new piece of the planet. The beauty of it was that I could talk him into going to all kinds of places. (Peer pressure isn’t necessarily a bad thing.)
One August, we flew into Munroe Lake Lodge, just a bit south of the tree line in northern Manitoba. It was August and the pike were out of the shallow back bays and into the deeper cabbage beds. If we found some cabbage, we found pike – solid fish from 6 to 8 pounds. With enough bigger ones to ones to keep the anticipation levels high.
However, lakes at that latitude are not incredibly fertile. Being unguided, we roamed all over Munroe Lake’s 12 mile length to find cabbage beds. We saw a lot of beautiful things– sand eskers, shed caribou antlers, stunted black spruce, and cabbage beds, too! The cabbage bed residents loved to slam our offerings. But not always… As pike are prone to do, they would often merely follow. And then watch, and maybe even grin, as we figure-eighted and frothed the water.
Surprisingly, the most effective flies were on the smaller side. Bunny leeches, tan Whistlers, and white Deceivers from 4 to 5 inches long were deadly. An intermediate line seemed to get just the right amount of depth.
As a change of pace, we fished for grayling at the mouths of inlet streams. None were bigger than 10 inches but they were great fun on dry flies and a 3 weight.
One evening, the lodge owner mentioned that trophy grayling could be found down the outlet at the far end of the lake. “Just float down through the riffles until you get to the first good pool,” he said. He had me convinced as soon as he mentioned trophy grayling. And it didn’t take much to get my Dad on board. (Remember what I said earlier about peer pressure.)
The next morning, after a long boat ride down the lake, we eased our 16 foot Lund and 20 horsepower motor into the current of Munroe Lake’s riffled outlet. That particular boat and motor combo is typical issue at northern lodges. A lot of people use boats like that for chasing walleye in Minnesota. They are not exactly drift boats.
We had on chest waders and it was kind of fun – hanging on to the gunwhales, half-walking and half-riding the boat down the river. We went about 100 yards and then I looked at my Dad, who was 71 years old at the time, and said, “We’re gonna have to DRAG the boat on the way back. Are you sure we should do this?”
He muttered something about him riding and me dragging and off we went. We probably covered a half mile of river before we found the spot the lodge owner was talking about. It was a beautiful deep glide with large boulders on the bottom. We fished it hard but only managed one sixteen inch grayling.
Our exit from the outlet didn’t involve the same exhilaration as our arrival. It was hard, exhausting work. Instead of riding on the gunwhale, I grabbed it and pulled. Dad was at the back of the boat and, despite his earlier threats, pushing like crazy.
It took us over an hour to get back up the outlet and onto the lake. We were panting and sweating and beat. Our excursion had netted us only fish. Was it worth it?