Current Plans for Fishing in 2022…

We’ve been kicking around the idea of fishing in the Southwestern Missouri, Northwestern Arkansas and Northeastern Oklahoma region this year. There are a few rivers that we have been really curious about. Researching the area, it appears that a canoe will be necessary for some of them but that’s fine with me.

Our friends keep telling us to go fish at Noel Missouri for trout but I’m not interested in fishing shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of people. We prefer some solitude when we fish. And at this juncture in our lives…we’re after native smallmouth bass anyway!

Of course, so much will depend on the weather, especially how much rainfall we get this coming Spring. And lets not forget COVID! Heaven help those who try to ignore it and get on with living.

I’ve managed to track down a few fishing reports and poured over several maps so far. It definitely looks promising. Part of our desire to fish new areas stems from the sense of adventure that we like to incorporate into our trips.

We seem to have our fishing gear “dialed in” and are not planning any significant changes this year so it will allow us to focus entirely on destinations. Non-resident annual fishing permits are reasonable for both states at $49.00 each. So approximately $200 and we can fish Missouri and Arkansas for the year. There will definitely be canoe rentals, shuttles, camping fees, fuel, food etc to contend with…but things are already falling into place and we’re excited.

We can’t fast-forward through Winter so we will do the best we can. Hopefully we will be able to squeeze in a couple of recon trips between now and Spring to get a feel for what we will be dealing with.

There’s always a lot of work to do before we ever step into a river!

A Fine Compliment…

My youngest son’s Scout Troop was planning a trip to the Boundary Waters and parts of Quetico. I vowed to make sure he was ready even though I had my hesitations due to his age and stature.

I took him on several float trips down one of our local rivers, teaching him the necessary strokes and when to use them. I taught him how to read the water and how to avoid obstacles. How to navigate through rapids and eddies and how to pick the most efficient line. A kid is a kid and you never really know for sure if they’re actually listening or not.

I was suffering from a torn rotator cuff and was scheduled for surgery so never had any intention of going on said trip. But I did my best to uphold my vow. And I lamented that I wouldn’t be there for my youngest sons first trip “Up North.”

The surgery came and went with a rotator cuff repair and a torn bicep tendon surgically reattached. Late one evening I received a call from a gentleman whose son was going as one of the adults and was informed that he had been in a bad car accident and wouldn’t be able to go. He asked if I wanted to take his slot. I looked at the calendar seeing that it was 3 months post op and physical therapy was going really well. I said OK, count me in. Of course I set some conditions, mainly being that I wouldn’t be able to portage a canoe.

As it turns out, these kids were too young to handle portaging canoes or to even carry the heavier packs. I had my work cut out for me and ended up carrying our canoe over every portage. My middle son was on the trip as well, acting as the Navigator because it was his second trip up there. To his credit he worked harder than anyone and always took the heaviest loads without complaint. Bless that child because he helped his old man more than he knew. My kids are 5 years apart and the middle son hung mostly with his friends. But he and his buddy always canoed close to me because I knew all of the shortcuts and best campsites. The leader was using a GPS and those only work on straight lines so you do a lot of unnecessary paddling. But it was good to share the experience with both of them.

On the way out, I had fallen behind the group a bit, just to prolong the inevitable end of the trip. And from the canoe to my left, one of the Dads who went, smiled and pointed to the bow seat of my canoe at my son. He said, “you can certainly tell who taught that young man how to handle himself in a canoe!” Also, “I’ve been watching you two paddle for the past hour and he never misses a beat and always anticipates the next curve of the river…he’ll be a pro just like his Dad soon.”

Wow! I got choked up and all I could do was smile and give him a thumbs up. I saw my son square his shoulders a bit from a swell of pride. Thank you sir for the compliment…you made my trip that much better.

And now I know that my son WAS listening! How cool is that?

One Of The Best Men I’ve Ever Known…

My friend Dennis is a humble guy with a big heart and more patience than the law allows. He’s older than me, old enough to be my father in fact, but we’ve had a pile of adventures together. I’m truly blessed to know him and consider him a true friend. By his definition…”a true friend is someone you call for bail money in the middle of the night, a true friend asks ‘how much’ NOT ‘what did you do’?” He has a way with words that makes a guy think.

I was in the middle of a divorce and whining about how I never drank, didn’t do drugs, went to work everyday etc. And BAM! He dropped a wisdom bomb on me…he said, “those are things you’re supposed to do, you don’t get extra credit for THAT!” So true.

When it comes to politics we are diametrically opposed. And boy have we had some humdingers for arguments! But no matter what, I respect him and we end up realizing (somewhere in the political middle) that we’re really not that far apart.

I count my true friends on one hand…people I would take a bullet for…he’s one of them. Maybe in some weird way its a “Fishing Mafia” and since I’ll take a bullet for you…that extends to your whole family. Weird I know. But that’s how it is.

He and I have paddled all over the BWCA (Boundary Waters Canoe Area) and had a blast during all of it. He was right next to me when I was handed a whiskey bottle and “you betcha” he took a long pull too.

I have no idea what he saw in me and it was fate that brought us into contact. But I count my lucky stars. He has a way of reading people better than anyone I’ve ever seen.

How he put up with my youthful arrogance I’ll never know. He wanted to take everyone to the Boundary Waters. I wanted to seal it off and only allow certain people in. I was one of them of course. Youth! He didn’t understand the depth of my reverence for the area. It was hallowed ground to me and I only wanted to share it with like-minded people. It wasn’t a trip to Disneyland like most people acted…I thought it was akin to visiting one of the Great Cathedrals and demanded they show respect.

Over the decades that we’ve been friends he has begun to understand my thought process on the subject. And for that matter I’ve accepted his position as well. I’ve taken all four of my kids and my wife up there so they could get a glimpse of the splendor and quite possibly a peek into how I think and operate.

Dennis and I had talked about a trip together, just the two of us for 20 some odd years. We finally pulled it off and it was amazing. One of the all-time best trips ever. We boated in, set up a base camp and explored new waters for the first time. No schedule, no itinerary…just an actual vacation. We finally felt that we didn’t have to “earn it” by only paddling our way in.

There is not another soul that I would hunker down with in the woods. A storm so fierce that it flooded our camp and forced us to seek shelter under the tree canopy. Cold rain water pouring down my spine from a defective rain jacket…laughing like mad men and passing a whiskey bottle back and forth among the lightning and thunder claps, and daring the storm to get worse!

Good Times with True Friends!

A Day in the Life of a “Guide”

I hope you dear readers don’t mind me sharing these memories. It’s the middle of winter and I’m stuck waiting for warmer weather and the fishing to kick off. So as I sit here sipping my coffee, I’m throwing some filler material into my blog.

As I’ve stated elsewhere, I’m not “Guide Material” but on this particular trip that’s what they called me. Turns out I was more of a “Navigator/Sheep Herder.”

Day One started out normal. I was co-leading a youth group from a Lutheran Church on their first “epic adventure.” (Red Flag #1.)

As usual it took forever to get everyone off the portage and onto the water heading in the right direction. (I will speed this week up as fast as possible to keep from boring you to death.) End of Day One was uneventful and we made the 13.5 mile paddle to our first campsite.

Day Two started off in question. The kid in charge of navigation (Red Flag #2) informed us that he had forgotten the maps back in the van. Yeehaw! I must interject here that this was a co-ed crew and as such it had a Female Leader. You want to see a city person go off the deep end? Tell them we don’t have maps and we’re deep in the Wilderness. They absolutely lose it. My buddy, being the stoic he was…looked at her and said, “you wanted an adventure!”

Fortunately, I have a good memory and had a decent idea where we needed to go. So off we went.

I was doing “my thing” and we were heading where we needed to go. With all the muttering and second-guessing going on from the back of the group, I knew it was going to be a long day. And boy was it! After 8 hours of solid paddling we slipped through a shortcut that I remembered and tried to enter out onto the main body of water. Nothing doing. The wind was absolutely howling! The waves were huge. I paddled over to the co-leaders and said we need to find a campsite and sit this out. Nothing doing. They were hell bent on getting to the campsite that was on their itinerary. I cajoled them, I consoled them to no avail. (Red Flag #3)

I gathered up my flock and ordered everyone to cinch up their PFD’s and get off of their seats and onto their knees. I told them to buddy up, paddle hard and keep the bow pointed into the wind. Also, if they tipped, they needed to hang onto the canoe and let the wind push them to a shore and that I wouldn’t be able to get to them before the wind blew them out of reach. It was white-knuckle time!

The waves were so big that when I looked over to my buddy canoe they would drop out of sight after they crested a wave. What should have taken 25 minutes to cross ended up taking 3 hours. But we made it! I fixed dinner that night and made sure everyone was taken care of. I huddled with the co-leaders and voiced my displeasure at their decision. I ordered a rest day as these kids were done for and needed time. Not one single argument was presented. We had covered 26 miles of water from 0600-2115. Helluva day in anyone’s book.

The rest of the trip passed uneventfully until the last day. The weather changed big time. The temps were dropping and the rain was coming down. We were miserable. The only obstacle confronting us was the last portage. A half-miler uphill and it always turned into a muck-fest when it rained.

The kids shouldered their packs and paddles and headed up to the parking lot and the waiting van. I ended up making that round trip 3 times. Once with my gear and twice carrying canoes. My friend and I were whooped.

The rain intensified and I was struggling to get the canoes onto the van and strapped down. It’s really frustrating being cold and soaking wet trying to stow gear and lash everything down while 12 sets of eyes are staring at you from inside the warm, dry van. But it had to be done and we completed the task.

Then, from the distance I hear a voice shouting at me (Red Flag #4-or so I thought!) Standing 50 yards away was an older gentleman who was getting ready to begin his trip into the Wilderness. He and his crew had been watching us struggle to button everything up and finish our trip. He took one look at me and the van, which said “something something Lutheran Church” and asked my friend and I “are you boys Christians?” (SideNote: my teeth are chattering and I’m drenched to the bone. Picture the proverbial Drowned Rat!) I’m not going to lie…I was mad as a hornet at the lack of help from our own crew. I looked that man dead in the eye and said “not today!” He smiled at me and from behind his back pulled a big bottle of Hudson’s Bay Whiskey out and handed it to me. You betcha I took a long pull on it! I thanked the gentleman profusely and wished him well on his adventure. Finally glad to feel warm again, I headed back to the van to begin the long ride home. My friend and I agreed to down-grade it to a Pink Flag!

For the rest of you…be careful what you wish for and safe paddles!

Don’t Ever Tell Me I Can’t Do Something..

It’s April 1998 and I’m rapidly losing my ability to walk. Sciatica is killing me…pain in my back is excruciating. I was 27 years old and had recently passed my 6 months probationary period at a new job. I was left with 2 choices…put a gun to my head or go see a doctor.

The X-ray and MRI showed my back was broken in two places. I was involved in a head-on car wreck 2 years earlier, Valentines Day 1996. I just didn’t know it.

The damage was so bad that my Orthopedic surgeon pulled out his flip phone and called my insurance company direct. Surgery was the ONLY option. I remember him putting his hand over the phone and asking me if I needed time to think about it or if I was OK with surgery. This was a Wednesday. I said I was fine with the surgery (desperate for relief). I was on the operating table that Friday morning.

It was a 7 and a half hour surgery, everything a Neurosurgeon and Orthopedic surgeon could do to a lower back…they did! It took 29 staples to close up that 7.5 inch incision, the end result being that it looked like a zipper! I was classified as a 1 percenter. After I had healed from the initial surgery, the doctors said there wasn’t much in the way of physical therapy for it. They started listing off things I’d never be able to do again.

At moments like that a person has 2 choices…go with the flow or swim upstream. I mentally started swimming for the “spawning grounds!” If you’ve ever seen salmon trying to surmount a waterfall, you’ll understand. That’s what it seems like…an insurmountable obstacle. I started pushing myself HARD.

One year after the operation and I was back to playing soccer, rock climbing, backpacking and fishing. I was able to portage my beloved canoe again deep in the Wilderness (and a good fishing buddy put a handicap sticker on my canoe…lol). Six lag bolts and two rods gave me my life back. Where there’s a will there’s a way! Never tell me I’m done!!! I’ll tell YOU when I’m finished.

23 years later and I’m still going….