Tim Mead Fishing
|Tim cooking on a reflector oven|
Phil Bloom reached to the bottom of the canoe. He dug out the rod he had already stowed. Half an hour earlier, Phil decided he had caught so many smallmouth, he took his rod and reel apart. After we broke camp near Sunday Bay, we fished our way along the east bank of Basswood Lake toward Prairie Portage.
As Phil and I paddled and I fished, we came to buddies Mike and Jim. Fish were breaking from shoreline out to 75 or 100 feet. Not like trout rising to tricos, but one here, then one there. Phil and I watched Jim catch a couple of big smallmouth. I saw a fish boil away from the shore. I cast toward the swirl, before I could walk-the-dog of my Spook more than a couple of times, I had one. Four pounder? Close.
A couple of years ago, when the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) announced its annual conference in 2017 would be in Duluth, I began to get queries, “Are you going to Quetico Park before or after the conference? And if you are, can I tag along?”
Many of my long-time friends knew of my wilderness travels, some even read my book, Quetico Adventures. Within a couple of months, aided by Phil Bloom from Indiana, I soon had a list of a dozen or more with interest ranging from “keep me advised, I may be interested” to “count me in, for sure.” Over the course of a year or more, who was on the list waxed and waned, much like the level of interest among folks who are not outdoor writers.
Ultimately, my crew included Phil Bloom, former President of OWAA, Jim Low from Missouri, also a former President of OWAA, and Mike Quinn, not an OWAA member. Mike, I recruited, after all of those certain they wanted to go dropped out. Mike has been a travel companion for many years, including a previous trip to Quetico.
Jim, Mike and I are all retired from full-time employment. Phil, however, in addition to his OWAA duties, had a job. Though he has since retired, when we traveled, he was Communications Director for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Those responsibilities limited the time he could spend. Jim, Phil and Mike all wanted to concentrate on fishing rather than portaging. I needed to put together a trip of five days with minimal travel.
We entered Quetico at Prairie Portage and paddled west. On an earlier trip (see “Alone, But Not Lonely,” BWJ, Summer, 2016) I found a nice, though not Five Star, campsite on Salchert Island in Little Merriam Bay. I was confident we could find good fishing there. By noon, we had tents pitched, lunch eaten and were ready to fish.
Early June and the smallmouth were in shallow water. In an advisory to my cohorts, I urged they bring few but varied lures to permit fishing from surface to deep. We didn’t need any deep offerings. I used only two lures the entire trip, a Spook Junior, a walk-the-dog floater, and a Pop-N Image Junior. My buddies used comparable top water lures. And we “tore ‘em up.” Jim, from Missouri and with extensive smallmouth experience on Ozark Mountain streams, kept remarking, “I can’t believe the size of the smallmouth bass here. I’ll bet I’ve caught the biggest smallmouth of my life half a dozen times. Each time I break my personal best, I catch one bigger.”
We caught pike, too. Jim claimed a 40 inch plus fish off the southeast corner of Salchert Island. Several years ago, I caught a big pike there as well, though mine did not make the 40 inch mark.
Jim told me, during the planning phases, “I want to fish. I don’t want to spook through the woods with a saw or hatchet gathering fire wood to cook.” Several years ago I travelled with Stu Osthoff, Publisher and Editor of Boundary Waters Journal, on one of his Sutton River brook trout trips. Stu cooked meals on a small two-burner gas stove. Shucks, I’ve got a stove like that. And I took it. After consultation with Stu about how much gas four guys in the woods would use, Stu guessed I would need four canisters. I took five. Used three and a little of the fourth.
I’ll grant. There’s something romantic to cooking over an open fire. Regulating the heat is key and it takes a clever eye to have enough heat but not too much. The stove worked great. And yet.
Without telling anyone, I did, however, take my reflector oven. One morning, I made one giant blueberry muffin, using the pan of my cook kit as the muffin tin. When the dough was baked with a golden crust, we cut it in four pieces. Every time I have made something with the reflector oven it has been a hit. Besides, it gave me a chance to show off.
After two and a half days at Salchert Island, we packed up and headed for Sunday Bay. Before getting there I made each of my companions repeat: There is no Sunday Bay. If there is a Sunday Bay, there are no smallmouth bass in Sunday Bay. If there are any smallmouth bass in Sunday Bay, they are all small. If there are any small smallmouth bass in Sunday Bay, they will not bite. For readers, before going on, please recite the above, starting with “there is no Sunday Bay.” When I saw Phil a couple of months ago, he was able to recite the oath.
The smallmouth bass that are not in Sunday Bay were on the prowl. Each day we went out, we battled one after another, all on top water lures like Spook Juniors or Poppin’ Image Jrs. On one journey into the Bay, while handling a two pound smallmouth and waiting for Mike to maneuver Jim into position to take pictures (thus the disadvantage of travelling with outdoor writers always trying to get the perfect image every magazine will pay good money to publish), the fish flopped and drove a hook into my thumb. Before Phil could commandeer Jim’s attention, a second flop and now I had two trebles in my thumb and I could not let go with the other hand. Thank goodness for barbless hooks. In a trice, Jim had the fish unhooked and released and me unhooked as well. It was the closest we came to anything bad happening.
Now add to the refrain above: there are no largemouth bass in Sunday Bay. On my solo trip noted above, I caught the biggest largemouth bass I ever caught north of the Mason-Dixon line. I live in the southeast quadrant of the United States and I’ve fished for largemouth in most of the famous spots from Florida, west to Texas, north through the Carolinas. The five or six pounder I caught in Sunday Bay was not the biggest largemouth I ever caught anywhere. Yet, it was a nice fish.
On the eastern extremity of Sunday Bay, pencil reeds and pond weeds extend from the shore out to water five or six feet deep. I was in the stern and Phil was in the bow. We were catching smallmouth steadily. My Spook was walking, left, right, left through the reeds. A massive boil and I had him. Big fish. Big largemouth. The fish jumped three times, from our right to left. The third time, the lure flew over my shoulder and the monster bass went the other. Phil and I both got great looks at the fish. We guessed it weighed over seven pounds. Please repeat: there are no largemouth bass in Sunday Bay.
Evening discussion often revolved around challenges to traditional outdoor writing and photography. What are the prospects for traditional paper publications that Phil, Jim and I have written for? What does the rise of blogs and podcasts portend for traditional outdoor writers? What are the challenges to outdoor recreation like access to public land, places like the Boundary Waters and Quetico Park? How do old timers like Phil, Jim and me adapt to new technologies like digital cameras? Mike, ever a good sailor, listened politely.
What’s the difference between traveling in the bush with outdoor writers and traveling with others? Not much. Lots of discussion about issues affecting the profession that would not happen otherwise. Yet, when I have been to Quetico Park with other university faculty, we discussed professional issues, like the perfidy of deans and department chairs, the short-sightedness of state legislatures funding universities, and other matters. In my thirty plus years of writing for outdoor magazines, I’ve been fortunate to meet some mighty fine people. Phil and Jim among them. Plus, I got to go into the bush one more time with Mike.
We got back to Prairie Portage in time to portage our gear and sit on the bank a few minutes before our tow to Moose Lake arrived.
Photos taken by Tim Mead and those of Jim Low used by permission.
Last updated on May 6, 2019