Monday, March 16, 2009

Return to Wapagasat

Almost 6 months to the day I kept a promise to ice fish Wapagasat Lake with my wife's Uncle Andrew. This lake is near Amery Wisconsin and is a great central place to meet for a day of fishing. Along with Andrew ( in the middle) was his brother Bernie (on the right) as well as his son, and frequent fishing partner of mine, Jason (of course the only one remaining!). Bernie still runs the family farm south of Eleva, just north of Elk Creek and is a designated Century Farm celebrating over 100 years in the Rombalski family. Andrew lives in Eau Claire and Jason is here in the Twin Cities. I love these guys as they have always treated me as part of the family. Bernie's farm is over the hill from my Grandpa Roy's childhood farm. Great Grandma Anderson was well know by Bernie's parents, Ignatz and Julia Rombalski and had learned that they were very good friends and neighbors. I remember going to Great Grandma's when I was young and the highlight was the fact they had no running water other than a hand pump in the kitchen. When pumped, it gave up the best tasting water I have ever remembered. The water would run into a basin and scooped out with a metal "dipper" and served just like that. Of course this is the origin of the Big Dipper in the night sky as it looks exactly like one of those water dippers. Little did I know that 15 years later friends would be right over the hill.

Being from Eleva, of course I am Norwegian. Rombalski is truly an Independence name and is quite well respected in the area. There is always a little rivalry between the towns and neither of us mince words. My favorite joke to them is...........Why do they have ski at the end of their names........because they can't spell toboggan! Of course there are a lot of things they can do which are pretty amazing and make this Norske look pretty stupid! One of them was to out fish me by a long shot. I had the camera down and the amount of fish that swam by were incredible. Huge sunfish, schools of 5 - 7 crappie, bass, northerns, white bass, they would all swim up to my lure, give it a nudge and swim away as though my waxie was made of gasoline. The day belong to Andy and his son Jason. Bernie and I basically engaged in a hole to hole marathon searching unsuccessfully for a few stupid ones. Here Andy has a nice 9.25 inch blue gill which is a dandy fish in anyone's book. With a mess of nice crappies and a few sunfish, at least the Rombalski boy's didn't go home empty handed. Of course their short detour at Turtle Lake Casino prior to meeting us provided a great start as the guys won enough to buy us burgers once off the ice. We finished the day at the Home Base Bar on the north side of the lake and had the best 14 oz cheese burger I have had in years. Washed down with a Leinies, it just doesn't get any better than this!
I mentioned last week that the Northwest Sport show was at the Minneapolis Convention Center. This is a grand event and the 2009 show was no different as I made the pilgrimage on Thursday night and again Sunday afternoon. The first stop was to see my friends Ken and Judy Marlow, owners of Marlow's on the Kenai. We have stayed with them a number of times and have become good friends. As usual, Judy rewarded my visit with a jar of their fabulous canned smoked salmon. Before we stayed with them in August I had been to China and picked up Judy a nice string of pearls. She was wearing a blue sweatshirt and when I place them around her neck, she turned into what we now call her the Queen of the Kenai! They have a wonderful place right on the Kenai River away from the congestion of Soldotna. Their son Neil handles the guiding and along with a beautiful boat in Seward, he guides on the Kenai as well. In 2006 we had scheduled 2 ocean trips with him. We went out the first day and it was very rough and the fishing was difficult at best. The second day Neil informed us that we would not risk going out for the second day. It was in mid August and for some reason the sockeye run on the Kenai was late and huge. Neil was heading back to the Kenai so we asked if he would be interested in showing us some red (sockeye) salmon fishing. He agreed and along with my brother Steve and his son Kevin, we drove the 90 miles to the cabins. My uncle Jerry and his son Mark had decided to stop at the Russian River to try there luck from shore, which in retro spec was a big mistake as they saw it rain all day while you see we had nothing but blue skies and an unbelievable catch. We boarded Neil's boat and headed downriver to a shallow gravel bar area where we could tie up the boat and fish from shore. It was an interesting shoreline with a huge path worn where the bears had walked up an down this portion of the river. Red fishing is simple but requires one to acquire the knack. With a plain hook, a 3/4 ounce sinker, and a 6 foot leader below the sinker one would simply fish the 15 feet of water near the shore, casting a short line 45 degrees above you and allowing the line to drift until it literally gets passed through the mouth of the hundreds of fish swimming up river next to shore. When the drifting line suddenly changed its feel, set the hook! These fish were caught within 90 minutes and I would venture to guess we released at least 3 for every one we kept. It was one of the most memorable times of many that I spent in Alaska. Marlow's is a great place and if you have time check out their website

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