(Dear readers, how about welcoming another guest blogger? This time it’s my husband, Barry. He’s recently back from his favorite place on earth. Want to guess where that might be? Hint: It involves boats, fishing and the Great North! –Kathy)
Another Isle Royale fishing tournament is in the books.
And the crew of the “Miss Laurie” is back on probation again this year.
Isle Royale is a 45-mile long island 50 miles offshore from the Keweenaw Peninsula in Lake Superior. Thunder Bay, Canada, is 25 miles to the north. It’s a wilderness island, a U.S. National Park of boreal forest, rock cliffs, moose and wolves. Black bear and whitetail deer, so prevalent in the Upper Peninsula, Minnesota and Canada, don’t live there. It’s that isolated.
It’s also lake trout fishing heaven. My favorite place on earth.
Four and a half days each July the crew on Captain John’s 31-foot fishing boat convenes for the Isle Royale Boaters Association annual meeting and fishing tourney. It’s the highlight of my summer—with the possible exception of celebrating my wife (your blog host) Kathy’s birthday which often coincides on the third weekend in July.
About 30 boats arrive between Wednesday and Friday of tournament weekend and we have more fun than people should be allowed. The friends are wonderful, the fishing is fantastic, the food is superb and there are assorted refreshments involved. It doesn’t matter if the wind is howling (30 knots for three days last year) or the temp is in the 40’s (fishing in gloves, winter hats and deer hunting clothes three years ago), it’s always wonderful to be there. It’s a place that defines rugged beauty.
The four of us on the Miss Laurie have won the tournament two or three times in its nine-year history, but not for the last couple of years. It doesn’t matter. We take our fishing very seriously, catch a ton of the best-eating lake trout in the world, and enjoy every second of those precious days on The Big Lake, and nights on the dock. I have become the morning timekeeper for fishing days and we were never up any later than 4:10 a.m., brewing coffee on a grill in the pre-dawn darkness, the boat ready to head out for another day. It’s serious business. “The big ones bite early” is the mantra on the Miss Laurie.
That said, we’ve got to be the craziest crew on the lake. Hence, our probation has been invoked once again this year. “Aggravated Captain Abuse” is the current (and usual) charge. What’s wrong with wiping your fish-slimed hands on the captain’s pants a half-dozen times before lunch? Trust me, we have more fun than any four Yoopers (UP residents) on a fishing expedition should possibly have. We’ve been on double probation, double-triple probation, and until it was mysteriously revoked, lifetime probation. Losing the fish tournament and that half-full can we snuck in the captain’s sweatshirt hood before he bent over to wrestle something out of a storage locker did us in again this year. He still loves us, otherwise he wouldn’t invite us each year, right? Besides, he needs a crew to pull 500 feet of anchor line.
An Isle Royale fishing trip is not something we take lightly. Depending on which end of the island we beach her at, it’s either 90 miles or 80 miles, across Keweenaw Bay, through the Portage Waterway (Houghton-Hancock), and about 50 miles of open Lake Superior crossing. The good ship gets 1 mile per gallon. This year at Windigo (west end, 20-some miles from Minnesota and Canada) the Park Service concessions company had gas priced at $5.40 per gallon. That’s 80 gallons, just to get there. Don’t do the math. It will make your head hurt!
It’s worth every penny, especially when the captain is buying. Just being on the island is an incredible experience. We live in the northwest Upper Peninsula, which some think is wild enough, but the island, its forest trails, its rocky shoals, history of shipwrecks and rugged living is something else. The island has a long story of commercial fishing in dangerous waters, failed copper mining expeditions and logging. For the past 70 years it has been a protected wilderness park, the least visited national park in the U.S. with only 15,000 visitors per year. Most are day visitors or adventurous hikers who come on one of the four ferries that serve the island. We boaters are in the minority, especially with the fuel prices these days. The 2000 census listed no permanent residents on the island.
When my time comes my request is to spread my ashes at the island. It’s illegal at a wilderness park, but what the U.S. Park Service doesn’t know can’t hurt them, right? PS—do it at night!