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. 

1 comment:

Tolly said...

Boy Dave,
Does this bring back some memories!
You are so right about the impossibility of replicating a trip like these today. We sure enjoyed those days and we did not even realize at the time how special they were! Keep up the publications - feels like a trip back home with each story...