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Submitted by-
Rob F. Sanderson
724 Edgewater,
Portage, WIS

The Last Lake
Rob F. Sanderson

           Opening away to the southeast lay a string of lakes, an unmatched liquid necklace strung together by narrow channels ways. At the utter end, like a pendant hung to a necklace by only a fine chain, connected to the others by a short length of un-navigable creek, was the Last Lake.

           All the other lakes we had fished off and on for years; every summer when we were in Northern Minnesota. There is no way you can reach the lakes without portaging, and we had them pretty much to ourselves.

           But for some reason we had never fished the Last Lake. When we came casting for bass in the lily padded bay that is the utter end of navigable waters and into which a shoal creek outlet from Last Lake empties, I would look longingly as far around the end of that creek as I could see. For no one can actually see Last Lake itself without pushing through the pads and rice and reaching the lift-over itself.

           No, a lift-over isn't much - on a canoe trip. But when you ordinarily fish around a heavier boat and the place is several hours run from your cabin; somehow you're never in a canoe when you get there, and you just never make that little lift-over out of that last bay. So you never get to the Last Lake.

           One morning this past summer the big outboard isn't working right, and I don't like to think of rowing the big boat back up the lake. So we load our tackle into our little motor canoe, I twirl the kicker, and we buzz off. "He travels fastest whose motor doesn't stall," as Harry had aptly put it.

           We plan to stop at our favorite spots in each lake. If we find good fishing, we stop; if not we move on to the next hole or the next lake. Sometimes when we fish this way, we never get past the first narrows with our fishing outfit. On other days, when the moon-pull or the isobars aren't exactly right, we get way down to the end bay, by the Last Lake outlet, and then is when that small lake has its most intriguing pull.

           This is the way it is today. In early afternoon we are casting the paddy bay at Last Lake outlet, fish stringer on the canoe bottom.

           "I've always wanted to fish that Last Lake," Harry said with a bucolic sigh.

           "I'll be the guy that makes dreams come true," I answered, and picking up a couple of paddles we push through the reeds and lilies. A shallow trickily of spring-clear water ripples around protruding stones at the outlet mouth. We each take a canoe end and in five minutes we are guiding the canoe through the near-surface rocks at the head of the shallow outlet. We are on Last Lake at last!

           We are in a bay looking out onto the main stretch, which isn't very wide. On the far shore I see tall dark green pines and white birches. I pick a solid body plug with a scale finish. The day has been cloudy but is getting lighter. As we don't know this lake, Harry and I decide to troll around the shore and see what we pick up.

           Trolling is like grab bagging. You never know what you will get. We are anxious to see that kind of fish grow here.

           "Looks like a walleye lake to me," Harry confides after a calculative appraisal.

           "We'll see," I am non-committal, a bit leery of long-range fish identification

           We keep trolling along. I let out more line for good luck. We are now almost half way around the lake, skirting a little point. Something out of the deck hits my line.

           "Clear the deck," I advise. "And take out the middle thwart to make room. This one's past weaning age!"

           We keep the canoe moving slowly so as to keep slack out of my line. The fish has some heft, all right, but I keep coaxing it up. Now the line goes out. Now in again. He splashes on the surface and Harry has him in the net.

           walleye, a beaut!

           "A walleye lake," Harry affirms himself, not even commenting on the size of my fish. Hary's memory is just as good as his judgment - if his judgment fails, his memory does too, and vice versa.

           My fish makes another trip over the point necessary. This time Harry is the lucky lad. Just as we pass the spot I have marked by a leaning branch he yells, "Contact!"

           I reel in quick and make ready with the landing net. From the way the rod is shaking I see it is a good-sized fish. The line is almost straight down now - under the boat. A bad way for them to come in. But Harry hustles him up to the surface and I sack the fish from the rear when he isn't looking.

           Another walleye! Not quite as big as the first, but about a three pounder.

           "Back over the point again," sang out Harry, and this time another hard strike hit my plug.

           A scrapper! He fights the water and runs sidewise. Finally I get him up toward the stern, Harry poises his net, and the fish is in.

           A northern pike! No walleye, this.

           "I wonder where that rascal came from?" asks Harry.

           The point doesn't score on the next trip across, so we pass on down the lake. The shore is rocky, the water is clear, and there's just enough breeze to shimmy the white birch and dark pine reflection in the water.

           Harry and I take another fish a piece, northerns both. Now we are almost back to the outlet, an entire circuit. Suddenly Harry sets his bent rod and begins to crank up line. It comes in fairly smooth, and medium walleye.

           "I know," Harry tells me with inspired light. "This lake is half and half - walleyes on one side, northern on the other!"

           What he said was true, too; in a way. For in one half we caught only walleyes, and in the other half only northern.

           The joke was, not more fish bit on the walleye side! So when we decided to quit, we had eight northern to three walleye

           "Half and half lake?" I challenged when we reached the outlet for the lift-over on the home trip. "Once half has got to be a bit better before I'll believe that."

           "Maybe," Harry answered qualifiedly. "But when a fisherman takes the better half, he takes her for better or worse!"

           Next year we're going back to Last Lake. Those walleyes were good sized, and maybe next year the better half will be more fertile.

© 2003 Chronicles of Bob