Unexpected Paddle, Incidental Fish

TRIP LOG: Submitted by Muir Eaton, August 6, 2009

Statistics: Tuesday, 6 July 2009; 16 foot wood-canvas canoe, restored by TL Eaton; Two adults paddling, two dogs duffing; Launched at the mouth of Kadunce River, northeast of Grand Marais, MN; Wind was calm, temp in the upper 50’s, sunny; 27” steelhead.

We unexpectedly found ourselves in Grand Marais due to a sick dog cutting our BWCAW trip a couple of days short. The dog was now doing fine, but we still had canoeing on our minds. Looking out of the hotel room window early on the morning of July 6th revealed Lake Superior in an unusual state—dead calm. We decided that we couldn’t pass up this opportunity for a paddle on the big lake, so we drove up the shore to the mouth of the Kadunce River and launched our wood-canvas canoe. It was not lost on us that a very informative sign at the parking area warned that open canoes were “NOT RECOMMENDED” on the lake due to rapidly changing weather conditions, and the extremely cold year-round water temperatures. We checked, and re-checked zippers and buckles on our life jackets. Wading into the lake to get the dogs to load up and push out from the rocks confirmed the water temp: cold enough to cause aching in our feet in less than a minute. The dogs were in, we pushed off.

The clarity of the water was immediately mesmerizing. We paddle straight out from shore, with no real destination in mind. We watched the rocks at the bottom of the lake sink further and further beneath us. We paddled on…we could still see the bottom. We started to try and estimate the depth of the water: 20 feet? 30 feet? 40 feet? Before the rocks were obscured by the limits of light penetration, we had reached a point where it was fairly frightening to look over the side of the canoe. We agreed that is felt as if we were perched on the edge of a high-dive, or suspended over the ground in some way. It was a visual experience without an equal in our memories, and it was unsettling. We quickly focused on paddling, and a little fishing.

For the next few hours, we paralleled the shore about ¼ mile out, moving slowly, gazing across the endless expanse of water before us. It became apparent that the most notable point of land down the shore was much further than it appeared, so we reversed our course. Pods of fishing were surfacing periodically. They appeared to be sizable fish. Small caddis flies were hatching at the surface, while the dogs slept peacefully in the bottom of the boat. The rocks at the bottom of the frigid water were no longer in sight. We were trolling a large sliver spoon some distance behind the boat, down at an unknown depth due to an added ounce of weight. A short delay after steering the canoeing directly through one of these surfacing pods and the rod braced against the side of the canoe jerked heavily. I grabbed the pole and jerked back…nothing but the weight of the lure. It seemed an eternity passed with my breath held subconsciously. Another heavy jerk. This time the hooks found a home, and the weight of a large fish doubled over the rod. I asked Liz to paddle for shore, as I anticipated difficulty getting the fish into the canoe. The fish made several strong runs at first, rolling a couple of times at the surface, and generally raising my doubts about the odds of landing it. We seemed to be inching towards shore, and while the rainbow of colors sliced back and forth behind the canoe, the fish followed this path into shallower and shallower water with growing tranquility. It took a while to reach shore… maybe we were a bit further than a quarter mile out? By the time the canoe slid up against the rock beach, I had worked the steelhead to within 15 yards. It came easily to shore and I hoisted it from the coolness that once again gripped my ankles. Diamonds dripped from the fish.

It was a memorable morning gliding on a peaceful giant, and borrowing one of its fish for a few pictures.

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