Monday, May 16, 2011

Plan B? Almost as good as Plan A

I had one of my better tirades in draft form at the end of last week, a rant on why none of the amazing 'breathable' fabrics were really breathable at all for perspiring middle aged paddlers, and Blogger had some sort of glitch and the disappeared into some nether world. The weekend kind of pushed that into the background though, with a perfectly unplanned dose of fun. The original plan was to kayak fish Bark Bay and slay the Coho salmon, which are in close this time of year. 25-30 knot northeast winds kind of put the kibosh on that scheme since Bark Bay faces northeast and served as the perfect receptacle for wind and waves as they curled around Bark and Roman Points and funneled straight into the bay.

Podman, BDaehlieOfMahtomedi, and I were up at 5:30 with the plan to meet RangerMark at the DNR landing in Bark Slough. The morning ritual at the deer camp is to stumble out the door, turn on the propane tank, and relieve one's self off the north deck. It was raining and the north wind was blowing hard enough to make northward bladder emptying a fairly sketchy proposition. We did head down to the landing, rendezvoused with RangerMark, and decided that breakfast at the Village Inn in Cornie was the wisest choice at this point. There was no sign of the wind dying down, either by personal observation or the always reliable NOAA forecast out of Duluth, so we returned to camp, grabbed a big bag of seed mix, and our foursome took a 3 hour walk around the property, doing the Johnny Appleseed, or in this case Johnny rye-fescue-clover seed, thing. Lunch and a beer at camp and all of a sudden the sun was out. After driving all that way with my boat on the roof I needed to paddle. My compadres' were seduced by the sunny yard, spring smells, grouse drumming in the woods, and Summit Gold Sovereign, Lake Louie IPA, and Pod's 'Three Hearted' homebrew. I needed to paddle however, and saddled up and headed for the mouth of the Iron River, 7 miles north of camp.

The waves were still rolling in but the river launch allowed me to punch out through the surf and paddle the rollers between the Iron and Port Wing to the east. I did do my mental 'paddling alone in bigger conditions' safety check. Dressed for immersion-check. Paddle float and bilge pump-check. Spare paddle on front deck, easily reachable-check. Radio, cell phone, gps-check. Wind direction that will blow me into shore rather than into the shipping lanes or the 25 miles to the north shore-check. Helmet for surfing.......duhope!! I told myself I would not succumb to the urge to spend an hour surfing and I didn't. I only wound up spending about 45 minutes. The plan and my good, safe intentions changed, like the mornings decision not to paddle,due to evaluating conditions. I was able to surf the swells out in the lake and get some nice rides. As I turned around to head upwind, I noticed that the wind was dying down. The forecast 5-7 footers, really 3-5 footers in actuality, had dropped down to pretty much 2 footers with a few 4 footers sneaking in. A pure sand bottom at the mouth of the Iron River and a nice place to turn around in the river after the break made me decide to play a bit. I had a half dozen lovely runs with only one near capsize that was averted with a timely high brace. BD and RM couldn't stand the suspense and wandered over shortly after I got out of the boat while Pod manned the grill back at camp. The lake had really died down by this point and it was a beautiful May evening on the south shore of Gitchee Gumee. Burgers, beer, and a blistering hot sauna rounded out an excellent albeit unanticipated day.

Sunday morning found Pod and I on the slough, listening to the rejuvenated north wind howl through the pines and waves crash on the south shore of the bay. We paddled out to the mouth of the Bark River, a sight that always makes my heart glad as we round the bends in the river and are suddenly rewarded by the sight of Lake Superior in all her glory. Paddling the bay would have been OK and so would have kayak fishing, unless we got a fish on. Then a person has the rod in hand and not the paddle. The unguided boat always broaches then wants to turn upwind, usually just as the fish is at the boat and the net on the back deck is needed. We paddled the slough, enjoyed the waterfowl, and called it a good weekend.

Once again the lake was the boss. Through discussion and what we felt were sound decisions, we took what she offered us and had a good, safe weekend on the water. Skill levels, the crucial comfort level, the wind and waves, and just plain experience and gut level intuition steered us to some good options for marginal conditions. That macho 'by god we came here to fish coho and dammit, we're gonna fish coho!' attitude was nowhere to be seen. It has no place on this body of water nor on any other body of water. Be flexible and find your paddling fun where the conditions and your personal experience level offer it. In other words, paddle smart this summer.

*Iron River images courtesy of BDaehlieOfM*

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