Aug 10, 2017

Me and Rog

By: Jim Pat Patterson 

This little “quest” began with Rog telling me about his last, great Canadian fishing trip. Rog was quite familiar with the Dryden/Red Lakes area, as he had been going with his dad, grandpa and other family members on Canadian camping and fishing trips since he was a little boy.           

On his last trip in 1969, he had run into a Canadian fellow who happened to be a timber cruiser for a lumber company in the area. The fellow would “cruise” timber, evaluating the trees for harvest for lumber companies, until about noon and guide fishermen in the afternoon. He was looking for fishing clients when he ran into Rog and a conversation sprang up. He told Rog how, when the timber companies “open up” an area for cutting, they have to build access roads and this in turn meant that a lot of previously remote lakes were now open for easier fishing. Not all the lakes were on the roads, however, but you could at least get closer to them. The guide told Rog he had a few “hot ones” they could boat and portage to if Rog was willing to hire him out. Well, Rog figured this could be a fun time, so he opened up his wallet, let a few moths out, paid the guide, and away they went. Rog continued to tell me that the walleye fishing on this “Lake X” was unbelievably fantastic, out of this world.

He was headed back for a week or so this summer of 1970 with his son Jeff, and I was welcome to come along for the fishing experience of a lifetime. It didn’t take but two or three seconds before I was thanking him for the invitation and asking, “When are we leaving?”           

So, the planning began. Rog would be driving his car and pulling his pop-up camping trailer that would be our cabin in the woods. His boat would be riding on the roof of the car. Everything was going along well with the planning and preparations when all of a sudden Rog proclaimed, “I throwed out my back.” A set back! But this happened quite often to Rog, and Jeff and I figured he would be okay in a few days.           

Keep in mind, if you will, that in our day that’s what people did—they “throwed out their backs”—like, “why are you walking so funny Ben?” and Ben says, “Well, I work at the feed mill, you know, and the other day I leaned over to pick up a sack of barley and I “throwed out my back” and “Good morning, Dora. You seem a little out of shape this morning. What happened?” and Dora says, “I was out in my garden the other day and I stooped over to pull out some radishes and “I throwed out my back.” Now let me give you a little perspective on this “back thing” of Rog’s.           

There was a time when Rog decided that a wood-burning furnace for his house in Oshkosh would be just the ticket. He had access to some wood and his weekends had him putting up wood for that furnace. He stacked it behind his garage and would haul it to the house on a little blue plastic sled. One morning, while drinking my coffee and reading the newspaper, I look out my kitchen window, and there’s Rog, on his hands and knees, pulling that little blue plastic sled, loaded with wood toward his backdoor and his hungry wood furnace. He had “throwed out his back,” again.           

Now, there had been one instance when Rog was admitted to the hospital for his “bad back” and they put him in “traction,” a device that supposedly pulled you back into shape. After he had recovered from his experience, he figured he could make his own traction set-up. He improvised and fabricated a design of 2x4’s, old window weights, pulleys, ropes and some stirrups and attached the contraption to the foot of his bed. Whenever he “throwed out his back” his wife Sylvia would just “hook him up.” (Some friends offered to invest in his invention, but he told me he turned them down because he didn’t think he could find enough window weights to maintain production.)      

One morning not too long later, Rog says, “I’m good to go. I’ll just take my pain killers along and I’ll be fine.” In the middle of a June night, we headed out from Oshkosh for the Canadian wonderland and Lake X, hoping to make our camp in a one-day trip, which we did accomplish. However! As we made our way north and arrived in Stevens Point less than two hours after initially leaving, Rog stops the car and exclaims, “You guys are going to have to drive. I have to lay down in the back seat. My back is killing me.”           

Rog took some more painkillers, the drugs kicked in, and Rog kicked in jibber jabber for practically the whole rest of the trip north. Rog was in la, la land. And Jeff and I? We laughed until our sides hurt, as the saying goes. We got Rog’s whole life story. From when (he said) he was three years old and walked up to his mother and said, “Where’s my fishing pole, Ma? I’m going fishing” and when he was four years old and asked, “Where’s my gun, Pa? I’m going hunting.” Then we got to his grade school days, his high school days, his college days, his Korean War days, and on and on and on and blah, blah, blah for miles and miles and hours and hours. Rog eventually “came to,” so to speak, and said he was okay to drive again. After crossing through border patrol at Grand Portage, Minnesota and traveling down gravel, wash-boarded Canadian roads, we arrived at our camping spot near Lake X and set up our portable cabin in the woods.           

The next day, all was good and we fished for northerns on our “home lake” leaving our Lake X excursion for the next day. The fishing was easy, and we all had a good time. Fish for the frying pan, super! The only snafu was my first cast with a new red and white Daredevil, super sized. The line went “pop” and that Daredevil sailed for the shoreline like a bullet shot out of a 30-06. Rog asks, “Didn’t you put new line on before we came?”           

To which I replied, “Nope.”           

“Here. I have a new spool. Put it on your reel,” says Rog, a little disgusted with me, but not too bad. Saved by the Rog! Have you ever tried to unspool and the re-load a spool while in a boat in the middle of lake, and your partners are pulling in fish, one after another? Argh!           

It’s now Lake X day. Get the gear together, the boat ready, and motor across the first lake. Did I say the first lake? There were three lakes we had to motor across. Not big lakes, but nonetheless it meant cross/portage, cross/portage, cross/portage and finally the last little portage to Lake X. These portages were not the fun part of the day, but our high anticipation for reward kept us enthused. Finally Rog proclaims, “We’re almost there, but I don’t remember seeing that yellow-looking dirt berm up there.” Well, that yellow-looking dirt berm was a two-foot bank of dirt that the road grader had made while building the road right next to Lake X. The shore of the lake was probably no more than fifteen yards from the road.           

Wow! What a disappointment! First, an easy lake access had been made available for any and all, and we could see by the trampled area it had been heavily used by people. Secondly, we had expended a lot of energy to get there and now we were going to have to do it again, only in reverse. With us having no company map of the road system they had developed, much less any such thing as sign posts, there was no way we could walk back on the road and expect to get anywhere near our camp, in order to get the car and return for the boat and gear           

We thought that as long as we were here, we might as well put the boat in the lake and do some fishing, as Rog had been so successful the previous year with the timber cruiser. We put the boat in Lake X, motored out a ways and commenced to fish. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Not a fish to be had by Rog, Jeff, or me. Rather than a fun return trip with a nice limit of walleye, it was a miserable triple portage back to camp across those three lakes. No one’s fault. Just the way things happen sometimes.           

Later on in the week, we ran into a local Canadian and we described how our search for the “Holy Grail” of Lake X had totally failed. He chuckled a little, but he was very nice about “getting a kick” out of our plight. He explained to us how this happens. When the company roads “open up” lakes that may have never been fished, the locals discover them and word goes out. The locals come with their milk cans, wash tubs, and any old container they can find, and they pretty much clean out the lake of its fish in short order. It may be illegal, but it happens. This was Lake X’s fate, he was sure. He felt that Rog had gotten lucky the year before, getting in on the ground floor of a newly accessible lake. The super success and fun of the previous summer was not to be for us “seekers” this summer.           

We did catch a lot of other fish on other lakes while we were there, and had lots of good eating, shore lunches, and companionship, and we never had a flat tire, either, going up to Canada or coming home to Oshkosh, and that was worth a lot in 1970.

Note: One time Rog was heading to Canada with family and the boat trailer blew a tire. Problem! He had no spare for the boat trailer. Forgot! But Rog didn’t see it as a terribly big problem. He simply got an axe out of the gear, headed down the ditch into the woods, and cut down a promising looking sapling of about eight feet long. With help from his traveling companions, they tied the sapling to the axle so it elevated the axel off the road, and away they went. As the sapling wore down due to rubbing on the road, they would stop, slide the sapling out of the harness a little, re-tie it, get back in the truck, and keep going.           

As they were entering the city of Superior some flashing red lights got Rog’s attention, and he realized a cop was signaling him to stop, which he did. Rog got out of his truck and politely asked the officer what the problem might be. The officer, just as politely, replied, “No problem. I just wanted to get a closer look at this jerry-rigged travois you somehow managed to whack together. However, I strongly recommend that you obtain a spare tire before you go too much farther down the road,” and Rog did. If you see Rog sometime, you might ask him about it.