Canada and October

It was nice in Canada last week, except for the wind. In the 60s for four days, it abruptly turned cold, with a skiff of snow overnight. When giant Lake of the Woods has much wind, you have to cross the whitecaps and find someplace that is sheltered in order to fish. A fisherman becomes a hunter at such times, hunting a place that has the right depth and the substrate to hold fish.

Last week I found such a place, a spot I had never fished before. Lots of fish in 30 feet of water, most of them good-sized yellow perch, averaging 12 inches long. But the walleye were there too, and we feasted on walleye filets one afternoon that were as good as fish can get.

Of course before I found that sheltered spot, I wasted some time in less productive places. But in Canada in early October, every place you find is beautiful, with spectacular foliage and not one piece of litter to be seen. You cannot get back in the secluded waters of that giant lake without wanting to get out of the boat and go exploring.

My Labrador, Bolt, enjoyed that exploring as much as I, looking for grouse and mushrooms and moose tracks. But at one spot, he surged ahead up a narrow game trail and returned in a flash. He retreated to the boat and wouldn’t get out. You could see him saying, “Don’t go up there boss, let’s get out of here and go somewhere else.” He came across the fresh scent of a bear or wolf, I am sure, and he didn’t like the prospects of seeing what he smelled.

Unfortunately, the fishing in Lake of the Woods has declined over the last 30 years. Places where we once landed fish right and left in early October are now just fishless, and what you catch is about one-half the size of what was once there. Places where we caught big fat crappie 25 years back have none now. Of course, the guides know of secret places where they can get plenty of fish for their clients, but if you go to Lake of the Woods now in October, you will not see anything like what I experienced 30 years ago. Lots of walleye and northern pike, but they are small, and fewer crappie and bass.

The numbers of walleye and crappie you can keep to bring home are low now, and I think that is a good idea. If fish numbers anywhere were decimated years ago, it was Americans that made it happen. Twenty or 30 years ago we were a greedy bunch, and everyone thought that fishing pressure could never affect the plenty we found there. Today you can still catch lots of yellow perch and bring home 20 or so per angler. If you use light gear, you cannot help but enjoy catching them, and the 12-to 15-inch walleye found with them. Yellow perch are as good in the frying pan as walleye, in fact you can’t really tell which is which when you eat them. I keep the bigger yellow perch and when they are filleted, you have one nice chunk of meat from each side that can be fried whole, just like a big bluegill or average-sized crappie.

We caught a limit of four-to six-pound northern pike and they too are great eating. But for the color of the meat, when you eat northerns, you would think you are eating walleye. But they are slimy, and fishermen do not like to handle them. You need to find a sand bar – plenty of them in Canada – rub sand all over the pike and then wash it off. Then the fish is easy to handle and filet.

But you have to know how to take a filet, which may be two feet long on an average pike, and remove the Y-bones down the center. It is simple to do, but it is absolutely amazing how few fishermen from the states know how to do it. If you do not remove that small strip of Y-bones, the filet is tough to eat. But when they are gone, anyone who doesn’t like a northern pike filet has problems with appetite.

This country in northwest Ontario is the land of my ancestry, French trappers and Cree Indians. On my dad’s side, both his grandfathers were Canadian French and one grandmother was a Canadian Cree. As I get older, and I see the mess this country has become, I feel drawn to that Lake of the Woods country.

When I am there, and can retreat to some small cabin that can only be reached by pontoon plane or hours of portaging, I have no idea what is happening back here in the U.S. and it is the kind of peace some men yearn for. No TV, no phone, no computers, just a land where God’s face never seems to be turned away, where the perfection of natural law has not changed since the beginning of time.

When winter comes, with a pair of snowshoes, a man can walk anywhere, even crossing over miles of frozen water. Build up a supply of firewood, and fill a couple or three coal oil lamps, and be able to hunt well and fish through a hole in the ice and you wouldn’t have to worry about who becomes president, nor the kind of nation a new supreme court will create here.

That wilderness is too difficult a place for those who live here on entitlements. They will never be a problem. To survive there you have to work. But I know that if I were there for an entire winter I could easily write a couple of books that I never seem to get finished here. While there for only five days I wrote the final three chapters on a book I am about to publish.

Sometimes, seeing the situation we have in the Ozarks, with growing numbers of lazy people we all have to support, and the law and justice system we have deteriorating by the year, it seems that Canada’s wilderness is a place where peace can be found for a few of us – not many. The Canadian government is far worse than ours, but the people who survive deep in the bush are folks that live without fear of that government, because they are out of reach. If I were young and had no family, I would be there in a heartbeat, and never leave.

The book I am finishing is entitled, “Little Home on the Piney” and it is the story of my dad’s life from 1937 when he was 10 years old to 1945, when the war ended. It results from the years I spent listening to him recall his boyhood on the Big Piney River. It is packed with old photos and artwork. If you enjoyed the book, “Ridge-Runner,” you will like this one even better. The first 100 books off the press will be signed and numbered, and if you want one you can order it for $15.95 and we will pay the postage necessary to send it to you. I will personally inscribe those books to you or someone else. They’ll be ready well before Christmas.

My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. Email me at lightninridge@windstream.net. Somehow, I have a Lightnin’ Ridge Facebook thing that one of my publishing company employees set up. Ms.Wiggins, our executive secretary, keeps it going and shows me reader responses. So if you know what that Facebook nonsense is all about, you can see that. There is also a website known as larrydablemontoutdoors, where you can see last week’s photos from Canada.

Our big fish fry at Panther Creek is Saturday Oct. 22. If you want to come, please let me know by calling Ms. Wiggins at 417-777-5227.

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