Monday, August 31, 2009

The Second, My Brother-in-Law Jeeb

Jeeb isn't his real name, it's actually Mike, until someone corrected me was John Jr. Too late, he was always Jeeb to me. Mike passed away last Tuesday after a 5 year courageous battle with kidney cancer. He was 53, a year younger than I. Mike was my wife's only brother and my favorite brother-in-law. Living on Paradise Lane in Galesville Wisconsin, his hobby farm of 120 acres sat at the end of a beautiful valley in God's Country. Here Mike is standing in a very nice field of clover he had planted. He was very proud of that clover indeed, as well he should have been!

Because Mike and I both loved to hunt and fish, we got along pretty well. Being a Norwegian from Eleva and he of Polish descent in Independence WI, it took us a while to actually get to know each other. Once established out friendship would carry on to the end. One of the first things we did together was snagging salmon in the Lake Michigan harbors and tributaries. Since Pacific Salmon were introduced into the Great Lakes, the annual spawning run occurred in late September. Using large lead cast treble hooks we would cast into the harbors and streams, working it back in long steady sweeps until the hook hit a fish and the battle was on. It was a free for all in those early years as it was a perfect solution to all those fish dying, going to waste. We definitely put them to good use (never mind they were pretty dark as they turned to their spawning stage), and of course the sport was fabulous. Catching 20 - 30 pound fish all day was something you didn't experience much in Trempealeau County! The picture on the right is of Billy Borgwardt on the left and Mike on the right holding up 5 nice salmon and 2 large brown trout we caught during one of our trips. My guess is that mess of fish went over 100 pounds. We liked salmon fishing so much that in September of 1976, Mike's now brother-in-law was getting married and at the wedding dance we decided that it would be a great time to head 6 hours east to Algoma WI and try our luck. Mike and myself rounded up my brother Steve, who had a station wagon, and another guy from the wedding, Dave Wolfe and off we went. Needless to say our wives were not very happy but I had a great excuse.............I was with your brother. Unfortunately we were pretty hung over when we got to Algoma and simply turned around and came home.

Mike taught me how to make venison bologna. This was a yearly ritual and I got pretty good at it. Being from Independence, he was a master at grinding, stuffing, and smoking nice big rings of bologna. This was handed down for generations. Well, if I was going to get into it serious I would need a sausage stuffer. Mike knew someone in Winona and one night we headed over to see if he had any. Entering the house he did the formal introductions and the customary, having a beer first, the owner of the house pulled open a trap door in the kitchen to reveal an almost straight down stairway into the cellar below. There among the cobwebs and dirt floor were a number of items including an old Enterprise brand sausage stuffer. "Well, it only has one stuffing tube and the press liner was bent but other than that it's in pretty good shape" stated our host. When asked how much, "$25" was the answer. I wasn't sure what to expect however it seemed reasonable. Today I wish I had bought every one he had as they are collectors items. It is still in mint condition today and I carry on the traditions that Mike had taught me.

Mike worked as the head foreman at the TRW plant in Galesville where they made complicated automotive switches primarily for heater controls. He was a genius when it came to plastic molding. One of the guys he worked with held an annual sheephead fishing contest. Sheephead is a common name for the freshwater drum and are extremely plentiful in the Mississippi River at Trempealeau WI. I had asked a number of times to be invited and finally in 2005 was given the chance. Joe was the coordinator of the tourney which was usually on the first Saturday in July, from Noon to 3:00. Prizes were awarded for the largest fish, the most total weight, and one for the smallest fish. Mike fished with Jake Jacobs (Highpockets) so I enlisted my friend Eric Hayes to be my partner. Eric and I are pretty good fisherman and felt we had more than a good chance to win. Heading down stream we caught a number of nice sheephead, maybe a half a 5 gallon pail, and felt pretty good. Well Mike and Highpockets unloaded their catch, 3 - 5 gallon pails of Sheephead!!!! Both Eric and I were humbled to say the least. Mike really knew how to put those fish in the boat.

The third picture is one of Mike on the last fishing trip we took together. We were on the Mississippi River and had met my good friend Kevin, who was anchored in this spot. Kevin invited us where to anchor across the same channel and we hammered the smallies. This is just one of many Mike had landed. We had a great time however by now his treatments were beginning to take a toll. Cancer is a terrible disease, one that Mike fought hard against. It was a battle that he simply could not win. I have a great friend Mark Applen who lost his son Eric by cancer at the age of 17. I am reminded of his motto: Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I will try again tomorrow. That is the courage that Mike showed, and one that I will remember for the rest of my life. Jeeb, may your long journey end in peace my friend.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

First of Two

August has been a tough month for me and my close friends and relatives. On Friday my dear friend Rich Allen passed away after a long struggle with an illness. Rich was one of those guys that you meet through a friend through a friend. Jack Taylor is one of my closest friends and deer hunting partners here in Minneapolis. Moving to the "Cities" at 20 years old and no family or friends near, the Taylor's became my family away from home. Jack and I have been deer hunting together for about 25 years. As we have grown older things have changed where as it is just us 2 that go out together any more. Jack has a cabin on Platte Lake, 10 miles west of Onamia, MN and we decided to hunt around this area. Looking for private land is almost impossible these days however Jack got a tip to call a guy by the name of Rich Allen, who has 160 acres just south of the cabin. A few weeks later Jack had secured a place to hunt with Rich. Showing up at his place the week before, our intent was to set up our stands. Well, 20 years ago Rich's land was farmed and included a cranberry bog. Today about 80% is bog/swamp with about 30 acres of high ground. Although a few guys hunted Rich's land, no one wanted to walk through the swamp to get to the other side. Luckily we had ATV's and Rich was excited to have us make some trails back to other side of his property. We did and wet it was! Jack and I had the whole back 40 to ourselves. We struggled as the trails would only last a few times before water would impede your intent. Rich always thought this was a great show and seemed to look forward to our arrival each year. As we grew to be friends my relationship with Rich grew closer. Deer hunting became our annual reunion, meeting new friends like Steve, Brett, Finn, Charlie, Kevin, Eugene, Zee, and Rich's brother Bobby from Washington. It was also a great time to develop traditions. To assure our continued welcome Jack and I would host a very special steak dinner on the Friday night before hunting opener. Using a marinade of Tabasco sauce, super hot chicken wing sauce, and hot salsa, we treated the steaks before throwing them on the grill. Everyone always looked forward to our Friday night treat. We were always grateful to have a place to hunt and be welcomed. In 2007 Rich built his dream pole shed on the property. Jack and I being capable seasoned electricians wired the entire shed including the lights. Small token for his generosity. Rich's love of his life is Mary. She has asked us if this year we would carry on the deer camp as Rich felt it need to, with a special gesture of scattering his ashes by his stand.

One of the things I enjoy is bringing new technology to people. One year I brought my Ipod and a docking station to deer camp. Rich was so impressed that he just had to have it and insisted I sell it. In the end I complied to his wishes and Rich had tunes! I suppose he felt more comfortable buy my used stuff as he would then have a ready made source for assistance, which I loved to comply. To be honest I still am not sure if he ever really knew how to use it, but I know he sure got a kick out of it.

Rich was an Army Airborne Ranger during the Viet Nam war. Although he never talked very much about his army days, stories about Rich and his army days often were related to us by his friends. He had a tattoo on his arm with a parachute and a pair of boot hanging down. People who knew what this meant also knew the hell he went through. Stories of Rich in small 6 man ranger patrols dropping behind enemy lines to provide forward initial support for the advancing troops and the tremendous difficulties they overcame were things legends are made of. Brett has told me that he made over 200 jumps. He was the guy you wanted on your side if push comes to shove. If you hung around long enough with Rich, you get the sense that he possesses those qualities that few have.

He was the genuine article for sure. One thing that always struck me was how Rich would end our phone conversations by saying "I love you Dave". I have never had a man say this to me before, and the first time it caught me by surprise. It was an indication of how Rich felt about his friends as well his confidence with himself. I will end with a simple Rich, I love you too. Rest in peace my friend.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Missing Alaska

It was a slow year for the kings, the reds returned in good numbers, 100 pound halibut are still being caught, and the silvers started showing up a week ago. Those weekly fishing reports from the Alaskan Fish and Game site are painful reminders of what being stuck in Minnesota is like this time of year. This is our leap year, otherwise we would be relaxing somewhere on the Kenai, enjoying the cool weather and an Alaskan Amber. 2 years ago their tourist motto was simple: Alaska, Before You Die! and could not agree more. To celebrate our non-trip this year I decided to enjoy a piece of grilled salmon and look through some of our pictures of the previous trips. These are all from our first real fishing trip in 2002. Our group consisted of my brother Steve, Cousin Greg, his friend Bob Bakken, and myself. Our itinerary started in Homer with 2 days of halibut fishing with a day allowance for bad weather (which is more common in August) Sure enough we did get blown off the ocean after an hours ride out only to turn around. Although disappointed, I am glad the Captain was looking out after our best interests. The rest of the week consisted of 4 days on the Kenai with a half a day hiking 6.5 miles up to a remote grayling lake. Not one of us had caught a grayling before and agreed it could be a great way to spend the afternoon. The hike was on a well used trail to Crescent Lake, about 2500 feet above the Kenai. We were warned that the area has Grizzlies and it was quite comical to see 4 grown men walking 6 miles singing Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's off to work we go. That probably scared the bears more than anything! After 2 1/2 hours of hiking we finally arrived at the lake outlet. To our surprise there was a young couple who biked the trail and had their 6 month old baby with them. So much for our great accomplishment! We found the grayling in Crescent Creek at the outlet of the lake. The water was gin clear and after about a hour we finally found the fish. Stories of 16 inch fish were soon dashed by a constant hooking of 6 - 8 inch fish. They were everywhere and all out of the same mold. Here I am fly fishing for those monster fish! The scenery was simply breathtaking as we hiked along the foaming Crescent Creek as it raced towards the Kenai.

Having arranged the use of a friends boat, the first night we pulled it to Stewart's Landing owned by our good friend Jeff King of Kings budget Charters. Arriving at his "office" with boat in tow, we asked about landing and fishing the area. His first reaction was, "you guys got a boat, don't you have a trip booked with me tomorrow." I think his expectation was that we would also cancel our trip. We would have none of that and explained we booked the trip in January and have no intention on breaking our date. I got the impression that he was impressed with our attitude and proceeded to show us where to fish, how to fish, gave us an anchor, and a few other tips. Doing exactly what he told us, we had our first and still probably our best Kenai experience. The silvers were in thick and gave us quite a show. Jeff was spot on in his description of where these magnificent salmon hold in the river. The next day the guide we were schedule with loaded us into his boat and anchored in the exact same position we were in the night before. Talking to our guide Keith, I learned he was from Brainerd MN and we had much in common, especially Mille Lacs. Well, without saying a word we started the day where we left off the night before. Keith was netting and unhooking for a hour straight. Finally he exclaimed, " Geez guys, I don't feel like I am doing much more than netting your fish instead of guiding". We laughed and told him Jeff had us anchored the night before exactly where you are now. "So you are the guys he said did well last night!!!" To make him feel more useful we asked for a ride downstream to show us similar hot spots and he was more than happy to assist. In less than 2 hours we had caught at least 24 silvers, keeping our limit of 8, and back at the landing in 3. Although we could have done as well ourselves, we gave Keith an $80 tip for his efforts and river tour. The guide trip and tip were some of the best money we spent. The first picture is me holding a very nice silver caught in our "Honeyhole". The next picture is my brother Steve holding another nice silver just served up by our expert netman Cousin Greg.

These trips have been made more enjoyable by the help of a number of people like Jeff King, Ken and Judy Marlow, Mickey, and my family. We had learned that fresh sweet corn on the cob is as good as gold and brought a couple of coolers with. It was one of the best things we did as it solidified our relationship with the locals. The year before I bought my 2001 Ranger from Frankie Dusenka. His brother Brad spent a month every year in Soldotna and had a 16 foot Lund with a 35 hp motor (max allowed on the Kenai) at a friends house in Sterling. He insisted we use the boat and gained the fishing freedom few visitors experience. All of our trips have been memorable however the trip in 2002 marked the beginning of a better understanding of the Alaskan fishing experience. If you are looking for more interesting information on Alaska please check my links on the left side. We are busy planning our 2010 trip and hope to have everything set by the end of December. As for fishing this week............well I spent 2 days helping my brother-in-law who is now in home hospice. Sometimes there are more important things than fishing. I did head to the River for a couple of hours Sunday night only to watch the water flow by. Hopefully Mille Lacs is in the cards for this coming weekend.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Boat Load of Boats

Last weeks post discussing my 2 boat purchases from Charlie gave me thought about all the vessels I have owned in my lifetime. The various boats I have owned each have a story behind them along with fond memories. 1979 was the start my my journey to where I am today. My friend Kevin knew where there was a boat sitting in a field east of Eleva. The strategy was to check out the boat then go negotiate with it's owner Paul Wichmann. $200 later and I was in business. It was a 14 foot aluminum Starcraft, probably no wider than 4 feet. Brother Steve had a new trailer and "let me use it for a few years", so all I needed was a good motor. I was talking to a customer of mine and he had a 1975 15hp Evinrude, like new. Parting with $575 I was in business!

In 1981 I was invited to fish Mille Lacs with some friends of mine. Teaming up with a guy at work who had a bigger boat, we joined them and I was hooked. It was obvious that if my love for the lake was going to sustain, I would need a larger boat. Selling off the boat and motor separately I keep my borrowed trailer and bought a brand spanking new 14 foot Lund S14DLX, the widest boat in it's class along with a new 25hp Evinrude. Unable to afford anything larger I immediately started to remodel it by adding a carpeted casting platform in the front as well as some electronics and an anchormate. This is the boat that I scared the pants off of Big Dave with a midnight cruise in 3 foot waves on Mille Lacs. He still gives me crap! My next boat was the 1985 Lund ProAngler with a 50 hp Merc, Charlies first boat. On a per year basis I estimate that I probably caught more fish out of this boat than all others. It probably had to do with being less fearful then! Next came the 1986 Lund Nisswa Guide with the same motor as my previous one except now they called it a Classic 50 as it's real prop HP was 42. This was a great motor, sort of a gas hog because of it's 4 cylinders, and was getting waxed on the water by the Japanese outboards. While fishing the flats on Mille Lacs with my good friend Mark Taylor the wind had come up and it was time to head in. Pointing the boat south against the 3 footers I could not get on plane. Whipping the boat around with the wind, I got her going and the next day promptly traded the motor for a 55 Suzuki. Great motor!! 1990 was a bad year for the boating industry. Through my wife's work we were able to bid on a slightly used 1989 Ranger 680T on a Rangertrail. This was the premier tiller boat of the day. I mounted my 55 Suzuki on it and was in business. Although it was a beautiful boat, it's hull was more like a bassboat's and frankly pounded the heck out of me on Mille Lacs. So much so that in 1993 I traded it for a new Skeeter 135T with a 75 Mariner tiller. This was a rocking boat, 17'3" long, and handled the waves like a knife through butter. It also took the longest to get used to. The boat was ordered in time to make the fishing opener however a delay at the factory in Texas meant it would miss the next truck north. The dealer charged a $300 delivery fee so I asked my brother Jon if he would pick it up for the same amount. 3 days later I had the boat. A year later I was cruising on Mille Lacs when the motor just killed. Once stopped you could smell how hot it was. Raising the motor revealed a plastic bag had wrapped around the water intake and seized the pistons. Once cooled the motor restarted and I was able to return to the landing. The next day I headed for Frankies, filed an insurance claim and had a new 1994 75hp on the back. To my surprise the 1994 was a model change and the motor was much more powerful, such that I needed a new prop. That boat often hit 40 mph. Although I really liked that boat, the fit and finish was not very good. 2001 came along and Ranger introduced their 620T with a 115 hp 4 stroke Suzuki. My previous experience with my 55 hp was enough to convince me. This boat is 20' and has proven to be everything one would want in a large tiller operated boat. It can do about 37mph yet troll at 1.8mph for total versatility. Great storage, plenty of room, can handle big water, and looks great. Today I am running the exact same boat in a 2008 model.

I did get out on Sunday. Consecutive weekends of fishing does not leave much time to get the chores done around the house, especially when the garden is in full production. Sunday evening I asked my neighbor Lory if he wanted to head to the river for a couple hours of relaxation mixed with a few beers. Fishing off a neighbors dock I rigged Lory with a nightcrawler and I was determined to get a catfish using Sonny's Stink Bait on a catfish worm. I can assure you that it definitely does stink! Back on the river stink bait works great for catfish. Last year I had caught a number of them off the same dock so I know they are there. Well I never got even a hit. In the meantime Lory hooked this carp as well as a golden redhorse sucker (middle picture). I had never seen one of these fish before so it was exciting to research the internet and see exactly what kind of fish it was. As you see in the top picture the river is very peaceful and provides a great way to unwind a hectic weekend.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Rockin' With Charlie

Tuesday was my day to spend with a very good friend, Chuck Teasley. Every year Chuck and his family attend a Bible camp on Lake Carlos near Alexandria for a week with his wife's side of the family. Depending on our schedules he tries to meet me for a day on Mille Lacs Lake and this year was a go. I met Chuck around 1980 while living at the apartments in Osseo MN. Chuck was a young banker at the local Northwestern Bank, had a chip on his shoulder the size of a cement block, and I think some of it's still there! Young, handsome, and confident, I am not sure what he saw in me other than a possible stabilizing force for all that energy. We both loved to hunt and fish and I suppose it is the thread that has kept us friends all this time. Chuck eventually got married and moved to Duluth, which meant he needed a new boat. It was a perfect opportunity for me to upgrade from my 14 foot Lund, so in 1987 I bought his 1985 Lund Pro Angler 16 foot with a 4 cylinder 50 hp Merc. That boat was a fishing magnet for sure as it now gave me the range I needed on Mille Lacs to hit the offshore flats. We even used it to fish Lake Michigan's salmon as I equipped the boat with down riggers and out riggers. In 1989 Charlie's wife was transferred to Orlando, Florida. Living down south he saw no need for his new Lund fiberglass Nisswa Guide so I sold his old boat and bought his newer boat. This was my first glass boat and certainly not my last. You can probably blame my current Ranger on Charlie's introduction to the Nisswa. You know what they say, beer comes in aluminum but champagne always comes in glass!

Today Charlie is living in Illinois, east of St. Louis, MO. Besides being a big game hunter and Mr. Mom he is a full time ISR instructor. ISR stands for Infant Swimming Resource and is a program to teach children as young as 6 months to save themselves if they should ever fall into the water alone. Chuck has taught thousands of infants and young children the skills to survive an otherwise fatal mistake. He has real life, happy tales from parents of his students on the success of his methods. Now if he only could show a little success in the fishing boat with me! After meeting at the house we packed our gear and headed up Hwy 47 to a friend of mine, Mark Applen's ice house, for the night. It's really a mistake to call this thing an ice house however that is a tale for another day. Needless to say our accommodations were first class. After a couple of pizza's at the resort bar we called it a night. At 11:00 pm the wind was howling pretty good which usually means it is only going to be worse in the morning. Never fails! Instead of getting pounded again we decided to head to the north side of the lake. After a feeble attempt to launch at the Wealthwood Landing, we final got the boat off the trailer at the North Garrison Landing. Much better! The wind was tolerable so we headed east to Matton Flat as a previous report sounded favorable. A 20 mph north wind was the result of a cold front that went through just as we arrived the night before. Heck, that is as good of an excuse as I can come up with. The wind was perfect for a drift off the north point of the flat and we missed a number of good fish. Although we only finished the day with 3 walleyes, 1 over 18 and 2 under 12, never the less it was a great spending time with Chuck. Heading back home we stopped at Lundeens for a sample of his excellent ribs he makes in the smoker I found for him as well as a couple of horseradish pickles, unbelievable! A stop for gas and an ice cream cone, it was all over. Time flies for sure.

Well this is not the end of the story. Yesterday Charlie e-mails me a couple of pictures of the fish he caught AFTER a day with me. Well, what can I say other than a little of my luck must have rubbed off on Chuck!!! He's a Chuck to love for sure. I hope everyone has a friend like Mr. Teasley.