This morning was just like yesterday morning: it rained some (though it rained more than yesterday); I woke up on accident at 0600, and then I couldn’t get back to sleep very well because it was cold. If that happens again tomorrow I’m not sleeping on the porch anymore.
I had an unattractive breakfast with Dad and some squishy sausages, and then we headed out to [what I thought was] Steve’s cove. Two people were already there – I didn’t see who they were – and we cast a few times. Then we cast some more. Nothing happened, and nothing kept happening. We sat for a very long time. Dan and Tracy came and then went. Dad hooked one fish, but it got off. Finally we marked it off as a slow fishing day and went back to the dock, no fish caught.
Dan and Tracy got back a little after us and Dad hatched a plan to go to Ritchie Lake. They said it was our funeral, they weren’t even going to try it after last night’s rain. But they advised us what kind of lures to take (copper). We had a little break and Dad had some beers and then we got in the boat.
Ritchie lake is a lake that’s a lot smaller than Crowduck. It’s a little to the south and it’s not connected. You get there by first driving your boat to the trailhead of a portage that goes there, then bringing your lures and plenty of bug spray and hiking 0.6 km to it. There’s a canoe padlocked to a tree near the lake and you take out the key you brought and unlock it and then go fishing in Ritchie. Pretty simple.
I drove to the portage. There were a lot of boats there and even a few people, people not staying at the Camp, just visitors to Whiteshell Provincial Park who were vigorous hikers. Two teenage guys with mud halfway up their shins told us that of the two trails that led from here to there, one was longer and ridiculously muddy, and the other was shorter and absolutely insanely muddy, up to your knees. We got our copper-looking lures and poles and took off down the longer one, which they had recommended.
The trail was not a trail. Not even remotely. It was a bog. There were whole inches of water standing on top of dark, thick mud. I carefully skirted around it, but I sitll got my shoes wet up to the ankles and plenty inside them too. It was impossible to stay away from the mud. Maybe if I hadn’t been carrying stuff I could’ve, but I lost a lot of maneuverability to the oar I had with me. After a few minutes of squishing, it got a little dryer, and then even ran on a nice granite rock for a few metres, but then it turned off into a flowing, prosperous stream. Dad got to the top of a hill before me and found a sign that said, Big Whiteshell, and had an arrow pointing onwards.
We were on the wrong trail.
Dad thought we could find a side branch that would take us to Ritchie. We walked on and very soon found ourselves at the end of the trail, with a scenic but disheartening view of Big Whiteshell Lake. Dad conceded we had to turn around. And so we slogged back through the water mixed with mud for long, agonizing minutes. Even though we had been through already, there were places where we were sure continuing was impossible. My favorite spot was where the path emptied into a deep pool a metre wide, flanked on either side by forest too dense to step into, and a small tree had fallen across the pool. Someone had helpfully put a few logs on top of the mud in the pool so people could walk on those, but the logs had been sucked up almost completely by the mud and weren’t much help at all anymore. Somehow, we ended up back at the trailhead. Dad inspected the triangular sign put up by the park service a little more closely and saw that, being as how it said “Big Whiteshell — .75 km”, we hadn’t just taken the wrong one of the two trails, we had put the boat in at the wrong trailhead and somehow accidentally misled the two seasoned hikers we met into thinking we were going to Whiteshell. And so we got back on the boat.
The portage to Ritchie, unlike the other, was deserted, with only one spot for a boat – a little notch cut in the shoreline with a stream flowing out of it into the lake. We tied the boat to a little rope tied to a little tree, made sure the sign said Ritchie, and did it all over again. The trail was, predictably, insane. Just like the one to Whiteshell, but a little shorter and maybe just a little less severe. It was a tremendous moment when we finally reached the end and saw Ritchie, stretching out steel gray beneath the overcast skies. Dad unlocked the canoe and we carried it through a friendly swarm of dragonflies that were keeping the mosquitoes down for us, and then we got on and pushed off. At last.
We paddled into the lake up next to a granite rock about a hundred metres away. I stuck my line in and looked out over the hills. The clouds had cleared above us some, but there were still plenty of them around, tall cotton ones floating way up above the distant forests. I took a picture. Then we did some fishing.
As we sat the wind drifted us slowly back toward shore. We ended up in a bed of wild rice, and I finally, excitedly, caught a fish, the first fish of the day, and my first fish of the trip. It was a little pickerel1 about eight inches long. We threw it back. A little later I caught a mussel somehow. It looked like it had actually bitten my lure. Periodically we had to paddle out of the wild rice and back to the granit rock. Dad caught the first real fish, a nice pike. Around then we decided idly to pull up on the rock, which it turned out was lavishly covered with bird crap, and peacefully but unsuccessfully fished off that. Failing the rock, we got back on the canoe and drifted around. The wind was really picking up. More than that, there were hulking, dark gray clouds coming up from the west. As they blew closer to us I could see torrents of rain dumping out of them. They still had a ways to go before they hit us, but they weren’t wasting any time. “Those clouds look foreboding,” I told Dad. “Yep, some of ’em are even fiveboding,” he said.
We didn’t head in, though I suggested it. Instead we headed for some granite rocks on shore. On the way there I hooked a fish. Finally! This was my first keeper of the week. It was a pike. I hauled it in and decided for the time being I’d call him “Gent”. Dad tucked the canoe into a notch you’d swear was made for it and we sat on top of the rocks and fished some more. It was very tranquil. Dad got one more, but all I could get was snag after snag. Meanwhile we watched the storm. It hadn’t come up and hit us after all. It was rolling by in front of us, always in full view over the trees we had just hiked through. It was really hammering down over Crowduck, we could see. The huge dark gray clouds had blocked out the sun and were pouring tremendous amounts of rain out of the sky. It was awesome to actually watch it take place while sitting in another lake a long hike away from it.
When we decided it had almost passed we rowed back to the put-in. Just then was when it did hit Ritchie. We got a good dousing of rain, but no thunder or lightning, and it passed pretty quickly. While it did we got our stuff out of the canoe, put the fish in the net for easy carrying, and locked it up. Then we hiked on back. And it was still ridiculous, only this time I was carrying a net with four heavy pike in it and it had rained not five minutes ago. I was glad to get back to the boat.
The water at Crowduck was browner than when we left; the storm had really churned up the place. And the boat motor was buried in the mud under the shallow water. So we couldn’t get it started or even push the boat out. Dad had me try and pull it up, but it wouldn’t budge. We also tried rocking the boat back and forth, and that didn’t do anything. We did those two things several times but it was no use. So we sat down and thought.
“Your shoes are already pretty wet… and the mud’s not that deep…” said Dad, “… why don’t you wade in there and lift it out?” And as much as I hated to admit it, that was our last chance. Reluctantly I took off my shoes and was happy to discover there wasn’t any mud under the water, just sand! But I also discovered I couldn’t lift the boat enough. It’s hard to grip a boat. So Dad took his boots off and lent me a hand. It was glorious: we pulled it smoothly up and out. No matter we were wet up to our knees; we were going back to camp! And we did.
I changed into fresh pants and Dan and Tracy came back from fishing along with Grandma and Grandpa. They were out driving in the storm, they said, and they had to turn in to shore; it was the first time in ten years they had had to get up on shore to weather a storm out. They even saw a waterspout[^2], the lake equivalent of a dust devil: Dan was behind some guy, and the guy all of a sudden peeled off left. First Dan was wondering what the hell that guy was doing, and then he saw all this mist. Then he noticed it was swirling and he said, “Uh-uh,” and peeled off straight back to East Gull Rock. Grandma and Grandpa were behind him and followed him right around.
When Dave, who is a pilot and knows his weather, heard the story, he told them that wasn’t a waterspout, it was the beginnings of a screaming tornado.
After Dan’s story he played horseshoes with me against Tracy and Uncle Joe. Dan and I lost, which is kind of sad because Tracy has tennis elbow and had to throw left-handed. After that dinner appeared – fried fish, onion rings, mashed potatoes, green beans, and salad. I had some of all but the salad, and none of that because my plate wouldn’t fit it on. I loved it. Crowduck food is in a class of its own. You can’t get fresh fish anywhere else. I ate to bursting. And then we got out the poker.
I had luck about like the first night. Every time I would get pretty nice hole cards, and then they’d amount to nothing. Slowly but surely I lost everything I won last night. We played an hour and I didn’t win a single hand. It was tiresome to say the least. Then finally I got pocket fives and won a pot, and immediately we switched to In-Between. I have no luck with In-Between. In fact Grandpa was the one who kept raking it in, pot after pot. It wasn’t even anything like fair. I love poker, but I hate losing. So tonight wasn’t a good night for me. I think I’m now back down to -$5.80.
When poker dissolved we had a look at the stars. There were clouds lining the horizon all around us, but directly overhead some stars were visible. The sky is great around here, because it’s completely black. Nothing around to taint it for a hundred miles. But tonight there weren’t many stars and none of the Northern Lights we were looking for. Lots of clouds but not much else.
Wow, this has been a long one. It’s been a heck of a day. I just wrote for an hour and a half.
There’s some dispute over whether this is what it was. Grandma says pike and pickerel are the same thing and that it might’ve been a tulibee. [^2]: I know this is wrong, but I’m about to correct it with a little drama, so hold tight. ↩