Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fishing with Jimmy

As stated, my surgery has brought out a number of well wishes from my friends, including a surprise e-mail from an old friend, Jim (Jimmy) Tollefson.  Jim moved to Scottsdale, AZ many years ago however when we were in our mid to late teens we were the best of friends.  Jim's dad, Gyle Tollefson was a fantastic man, worked at Armor's in Eau Claire, and had a nice farm 3.5 miles northwest of Eleva.  At the age of 14 I used to ride my bike everyday to the Tollefson's, help with chores, then did what every country kid did, have fun.  Our adventures ranged from riding Jim's mare through the woods, fishing trout in Lindsey Creek that flowed through the neighbors, or simply playing in the hay loft, the storage area above the main floor of the barn.  All of these adventures solidified my relationships with Jim's family, his dad Gyle, mom Marine, Sisters Judie, Pat, Lowie, and Tami, as well their husbands , Jim Rose and Harry Goodermoe.  The Tollefson's were a tight knit family and getting to know them was like being invited to be part of their family.  This relationship eventually got me invited to their annual August fishing trip to Lake Nipigon, Canada.  You can only imagine what this meant to me!  Here is a picture of Jim and I at a celebration of Jim's mom, a few years ago.  What a couple of guys.

My first trip with them to Canada was an adventure that could never be duplicated today.  At the age of 15, I was accepted by the Tollefson's including Gyle, his brother Bud, his brother in law Orville Sather, a number of sons and in-laws like Jim Rose as well Jim's dad Hub, a few friends like Danny Van Pelt, Knute Gehring, then the 2 teenagers, Jim and I to join them for a week in Canada.  Jim Rose was married to Pattie Tollefson and his father, Hub Rose was in charge of my well being.  I could not have been in better hands.  An interesting note Hub's wife, Mrs. Rose as we called her, was my math teacher for all 4 years of high school, something you probably would never see today.  Leaving on Friday after everyone was done with work, our destination was an old loggers cabin located on Crown Land, near the outlet of the huge Lake Nipigon, north of Thunder Bay, Ontario.  Known as Fort William/Port Aurthur it had just changed it's name.  We would leave Eleva around 5:00 Friday afternoon pulling our own 14 foot aluminum boats, stacked one over the other on a trailer.  Driving all night our first stop was Duluth to eat at the Black Bear.  I could tell you stories but that is for another day.  Arriving in Grand Marais, Mn around 1:00 AM, we would stop for gas before pushing to the border.  Arriving at the Pigeon River border crossing we would be across the border by 3:00AM,  would continue pushing north to Thunder Bay arriving about the time the liquor stores would open.  Once stocked up our final destination was McDiarmid, and Indian village on the southeast shores of Lake Nipigon.  Here we would launch our boats, readying the journey across the bay and down the lake to our destination.  First we needed to fill out gas cans, as well a couple of 16 gallon tanks for the week.  Our boats were quite small and the weight of the gas proved to make the trip quite interesting.  Before the final push off, we would buy ice from the ice house.  This was a large storage building that held ice cut from the lake in the winter and stored in sawdust.  Even in the heat of August, they would scrap the sawdust away, wash the ice off and cut it into usable sized chunks for the coolers.  This ice was to last all week, keeping the beer cold, providing ice for drinks, and keep our catch fresh.  This is certainly an experience I doubt anyone would ever see today.  The journey from McDiarmid to the cabin was about 10 miles across the water.  This was a long way to go in small boats, overloaded with gear and gas, hoping the waves would stay calm until we rounded the corner, heading south towards the cabin.  Having the wonderful experience to go there 3 times, the last was the most interesting as our flotilla was delayed by a huge log raft, miles long, being towed to the entrance of the Nipigon River, only to be pushed down the river and floated down to a staging location.  Talking with the tow Captain, this was the last year they would transport logs in this fashion, across the lake and down the river.  Modern technology would use roads to haul out the logs.  It was a site to be seen for sure as we were seeing history come to an end before our eyes.  Waiting for at least an hour for the log raft to clear, we continued our journey.

Arriving at the Loggers Shack was always exciting. Located just on the bay next to the dam area, it featured a large dock, dock house, a large cabin with a bunk room, mess area (real wood stoves), storage rooms, an outhouse, and an incredible wood stoked sauna.  Down the shoreline towards the dam was an unusual old building with dates carved into the wood from back in the 40's along with their fishing success.  It was understood that the old wreck of a house was actually owned by the Prince of Wales as his wilderness vacation home, when Canada was wholly under the control of the English Crown.  You could tell it was once a beautiful building.  The logger shack itself was an abandoned building that was used by fisherman and hunters like us. I was never sure how we were assured occupancy however eventually the Canadian Government destroyed them, preventing groups like ours to utilize these facilities.  Interesting that I went to Google Earth to check out the area and discovered that I could see both the dam and the location of the Logger Shack which we stay near some 38 years ago. 

All of our fishing were for northern pike.  Most of the time was spent below the dam in the bays off of the main river channel.  These bays were bridged by real log booms that stretched across the entrances to keep logs that were sent down the river in the channel from entering these bays.  The booms consisted of large, often 3 feet in diameter or larger logs strung together with huge chains.  In order to fish these bays we would literally jump these booms with the boat, finding those large logs that were more waterlogged that sat low in the water.  Once across, we would fish the large flats that were stump filled bays, loaded with northerns.   Returning to the shack, someone was always in charge of filling the water jugs from the middle of the river, just below the dam.  Somewhat dangerous, the water was clear, clean, cold, and fresh.  It served as our drinking water during the stay.  A special treat was to go and fish what Jim called the Inland and the Inland, Inland lake (see the second photo).  Not their real names however they describe their location perfectly, a couple of fertile, weed filled lakes off the main body of water. Contrast to the clear cold water of Lake Nipigon, these lakes were full of northerns of all sizes.  To get to the Inland, Inland lake was quite an adventure as it consisted of a mile and a half of a tight switchback channel  ending in a smaller lake, above the first lake.  Weed filled, Gyle would often catch the largest fish of the trip, usually well over 45 inches and 25 pounds, on a large bucktail only he would bring up.  One time as we entered the channel off the main lake into the first lake, Hub let me troll a black and white daredevil spoon and caught a nice walleye, then another and another.  Nope, we weren't keeping walleyes, only northerns!  I suspected knowing then what we know now, we could have spent all day catching delicious walleyes, we just didn't know any better.  Our goal was to bring the big fish back to Eleva and show off the catch to all of our friends.  It was some of the greatest times I had fishing.  One story that always stood out was the tradition of never criticizing the day's cook.  Sitting at the picnic tables inside for breakfast one morning we were served pancakes.  As they were set on the table, Jim Rose grabbed one and stuck it into one of the cracks in the table and it stood straight up!  Before Jim removed it the cook saw his antics and looked right at him and said, "Is there anything wrong?"  With one smooth motion, Jim grabbed the upright pancake, threw it on his plate and exclaimed "Nope, just the way I like em!"  It was a classic moment for sure as no one could hold back the laughter.

These pictures of the aerial views are from Google Earth.  It is fantastic to be able to go back and look at where we really fished and what is looked like.  Of course in the 70's we had little of what resources are available today.  Maybe that's what made it so memorable.  Unfortunately Gyle, Bud, Orville, Hub, Knute, and Danny are no longer with us and thinking back it seems like it was just yesterday when I was with these guys.  Everyone needs friends like these guys and I still hear Gyle in his big booming voice making those expectations for us.   At the time, that trip cost me a whopping $35.  Although a lot of money back then, it seems ridiculously cheap now.  Jim and his family including his relatives like Roger Tollefson, the Sather Boys, his brother-in-laws Jim and Harry remain dear friends to this day. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fly Fishing Adventures

Last weeks post brought a comment from a fellow fisherman by the name of Bryan McMurry.  He dropped a note introducing a book he wrote called "It's Not About The Fish".  Intrigue by the title and after looking at his website, I decided to order a copy.  Arriving on Monday, I just finished reading it today and it is purely delightful.  It is amazing how our experiences and philosophies are the very similar.  Although the book is about his experiences fly fishing, they apply to many experiences we have all had.  If you are interested in checking out Bryan's book you can see it at http://www.bryanmcmurry.com/.   

Bryan's fly fishing stories bring back a few memories of flyfishing in Alaska.  In 2002 we hiked over 6.5 miles up a well marked trail to Crescent Lake, south of Quartz Creek along the Sterling Highway.  Crescent Lake is well known for it's grayling, some being trophy size, and having never caught one, we were intrigued to have a chance at this unusual fish.  It took us about 2.5 hours to hike up to the lake outlet through a simply beautiful valley along Crescent Creek, which was rushing to meet Quartz Creek.  The hike brought us to the 2500 foot elevation through well documented bear country.  Making plenty of noise going up and down, I suspect the bears were focused on the salmon run going on at the Russian River as well Quartz Creek.  It still was pretty nerve racking.  We were disappointed to discover the grayling were not even close to the 16 inch range touted in all of the books and reference literature.  The biggest we caught could not have been more than 8 inches.  Still, the grayling is a beautiful fish with the sail like dorsal fin and the metallic platinum/rainbow colors. 

Our next fly fishing adventure in Alaska was in 2008 when we flew across the Cook Inlet to fish a remote small river called Polly Creek.   Hiring a charter airplane to drop us off on the beach we fished the first half mile of the river as it dumped into the Cool Inlet.  This promised to be a great place to ambush silvers as the came in on the high tide.  Because high tide was a good 8 hours away, we were relegated to fishing a few holes and the riffles between what was regarded as the honey hole, down to where the freshwater met the salt water.  It took about an hour to feel our way around the river and soon found the fish.  Here my brother Steve has a very nice Chum (or Dog) Salmon on his fly rod.  This was a very nice fish, maybe over 12 lbs however after about 15 minutes it snapped his line.  It was the prize hookup of the day. 

Having caught a few Humpy's that were sitting behind the rocks, we soon discovered the mother lode of Dolly Vardon trout.  These sea run trout follow the salmon runs into the streams and gorge themselves on the eggs of the spawning salmon that may end up free drifting in the current.  They are handsome fish with almost fluorescent orange spots and white lined fines, like a brook trout.  Locating them in a stretch of the river over 100 feet long, we used a pattern called the Egg Sucking Leech to fool quite a few Dolly's 14 to 20 inches long.  It was really fun to concentrate on our fly rod skills to catch another species found in Alaska.  If you notice, I have white tape on my glasses.  Prior to our plane ride, I had a pair of good Costa Del Mar interchangeable lens sunglasses.  Upon being dropped off I could not find my glasses, although I did have the replacement lenses.  Anyone who fishes these conditions know how important polarized glasses are for seeing fish.  Well, my brother Steve had a cheap pair of regular glasses as a spare so we removed the worthless lenses and using white tape from our first aid kit, taped in the polarized lenses.  Although not the prettiest, they did the job just fine and kept me in the game the rest of the day.  On the way back our pilot mentioned a pair of nice sunglasses that were left on the counter.  Not hearing it, it wasn't till the next day my cousins put 2 and 2 together and we went back to the Soldotna Airport to claim my long lost glasses. 

I am still healing and not as well as I would have expected or liked.  The Sportshow is this week and I look forward to seeing Ken and Judy Marlow from our Alaskan adventures as they are simply wonderful people.  Hopefully I can talk my brother into buying a nice boat this weekend!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Chuggin' Along

Patience is a virtue and I am certainly exercising every bit of it I can muster. Sitting home for the second straight week has me thinking that things should be progressing faster than this!  I guess it reminds me of an old Rodney Dangerfield joke....................I get no respect, when I was a kid my dad got sick and tired of me running around in circles so he nailed down the other foot!  Oh well, time will pass.  I am still awfully sore and have severely underestimated the extent of the healing process.  Luckily I have started cardiac rehab today.  My condition is different than the standard bypass surgery patient, however the healing process is the same.  I am bound and determined to be back to a winning form by fishing opener.  I think I'll make it.

One of the great benefits of being laid up is all the nice attention one gets.  From comments on my posts to a slew of get well wishes, all serve to remind one how fortunate I am with all of my friends, relatives, business associates, and neighbors.  One guy that has stood out has been my Uncle Jerry.  Jerry is my dad's youngest  brother, living in Boise Idaho.  If one would blame anyone for my love of fishing, you could definitely point to Uncle Jerry!  His mother, my Grandma Myrt would always compare me to him, our love for fishing was legendary.  Living in a small town in Wisconsin really limited fishing to the local rivers, streams, ponds, and if one was lucky you could hitch a ride to fish the Mississippi River near Alma, Wisconsin.  Jerry had left Eleva while I was quite young so most of my knowledge of him was passed on by my Grandma Myrt.  Apparently he was drafted into the Army where legend has it they could not wait to get rid of him, but kept him anyway to add to the torment.  Although after the Korean War and before Vietnam Jerry would proclaim it was not the most pleasant time of his life.  Upon being released from his own personal hell, he started school in Montana to become a forest ranger before shifting gears to become a dentist.  Back in about 1966 my dad took my brother Steve, Grandma, and myself out to visit Uncle Jerry.  A memorable trip, we traveled though the Black Hills, The Big Horns, and Yellowstone before arriving in Boise on the third day.  Apparently my dad must have made a deal with Uncle as both Steve and myself had all of our teeth fixed, no small task!  I still have fillings intact from that visit as my dentist compliments me all the time on the great work he did.  Intertwined with drilling teeth and filling holes, we managed to get a ton of fishing in.  Jerry is an excellent fly fisherman, virtually unheard of back in Eleva.  There we learned the correct way to hold and cast a fly line, using a book held between your elbow and side as to assure the proper wrist action.  They don't teach fly casting this way any more as it is more free flowing these days.  I guess I will always prefer the "right" method!

Jerry and I have a very special relationship.  I received a fabulous get well card from him last week wishing me well and as a bonus sent me a number of pictures he knew I'd appreciate.  The first picture is a very nice 36 inch rainbow trout out of  the North Fork of the Clearwater River in Idaho.  When you compare the fact that a 18" trout was a huge fish back home, this is a definite trophy.  The next 2 pictures are proof that Jerry still has a sense of humor!  Holding this 25 pound carp caught in the Brownlee Reservoir, on the Snake River, it must have provided an epic battle.  He included 2 pictures of this magnificent fish, with one showing an uncanny resemblence to himself.  He should know better!  One thing the carp does represent is the great fishing we both experienced in the Buffalo River back home.  Although there were fish in the river as large, we seldom caught anything over 10 pounds.   You can take the kid out of Eleva, but you can't take Eleva out of the kid.  I'll bet Jerry enjoyed catching the carp as much as he did that nice rainbow he is holding.  I like that!  Sharing the same level of excitement and appreciation for our past accomplishments, I am sure that the good Lord has a special place for us as I could not explain heaven any better than spending eternity fishing with my Uncle Jerry. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Well I made it through surgery with flying colors (according to my doctor!).  I am not sure that my body would necessarily agree however at this point I will trust them.   With the exception of surgery on one's brain, it  is probably the most invasive surgery there is.  As pictured on the left, you can see a normal thoracic aorta in the white box verses a thoracic aortic aneurysm showing the bulged out artery.  When these babies blow, there is little that can save you, you simply get that Oh Crap look and say goodnight.  Leading up to the surgery I was asked many times if I was nervous and my response was always a resounding no!  I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to fix this problem.

The surgery lasted about 7 hours.  My pre-op nurse asked me a few questions, discussed briefly the procedure, then warned me of what it would be like when I woke up (He told no lies there),   Being surprised how quickly this all happened, in a fleeting moment I was struggling against a breathing tube shoved down my throat.   The surgery included cracking my ribs and spreading them apart to get at my heart.  Once the chest was opened up the heart lung machine was put in place to maintain my blood as they stopped my heart.  There were 3 main objectives during the surgery.  The first was to reposition my coronary arteries to an area further down the aorta as to not interfere with the actual replacement.  The second was to determine the condition of my aortic valve and replace it with either a natural pig valve or a permanent mechanical one.  I had previously decided to go with the pig valve as they only last 15 years, they do not require one to take blood thinners as the artificial ones do.  The great news was that my original valve was in great shape so we left it alone.  The third was to replace the aorta with a Gore Tex type membrane.  This will last the rest of my life.  An interesting note, my wound is super-glued together!  It is a very unobtrusive wound and although it is rather long, doesn't look as though it has been opened through to the inside of the chest cavity.  The staff at the University of Minnesota Hospitals were fabulous as the surgery was almost routine.

I will be stuck at home for another couple of weeks recovering.  I am still pretty weak and the pain killers offer no mercy.   It's a great time to get caught up on my spinner rig supply as well I am researching lead line trolling for Mille Lacs.  This year's Northwest Sportshow will be a focal point for acquiring the right equipment for lead lining and it's techniques.