Fish and Chips

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By Saturday afternoon, I had hit a point where it didn’t really matter how soaked everything was. What had started off as a wet heavy snow during our snowmobile ride to the portage, had slowly transitioned to a sleet after the sun fully came up. Our packs where covered in snow, everything in them soggy, my mittens water-logged from wiping snow off the flasher screen every few minutes and my already heavy ice fishing jacket and bibs were even heavier. There was actually a sense of relief with succumbing to the fact that nothing was going to be dry anymore and it didn’t matter. We stuck it out for a few more hours just in case the lake trout changed their mood, but it would ultimately be a one-fish day.

I shoved my wet jacket and mitts into my wet pack for the walk out. I reveled in a fresh pair of gloves that were only partially damp from being in my pack all day. The intention had been to ski in but the wet heavy snow proved to be too sticky for my cross-country skis to be very effective and one of my brother’s bindings had broke on the way in, so we walked the 2 ½ miles back to the no-motor line of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Ironically, the last time I was in this exact spot I was in a desperate paddle to get back to phone service amidst terribly gusty winds deeming the lake unnavigable for our friends (probably for everyone, we just got lucky) . Yet something about these moments of misery has a way of making you smile in hindsight, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as “type 2 fun” and something I would diagnose my brother with a bit of an addiction to.

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I, too, find myself craving type 2 fun to a lesser extent, and often when I do, I turn to him for ideas. Something about challenging physical limits and pushing your comfort zone is so rewarding. It adds perspective to the otherwise overlooked amenities of daily life and gives me a bit of a chip on my shoulder for the week ahead. If I can get through some of the things I have, I can do anything. But in addition to that feeling, I have to admit I was also craving the sweet flesh of lake trout. The taste brings me back to childhood trips to Canada, always paired with fried potatoes and Grandpa Bedad’s recount of his day of fishing.

As we trudged through the last half mile to the snowmobiles, I looked back to find the clouds lifting a little and smiled at the wildness of it all. Trout or no trout, I’m grateful for this place, for the shared love of it that keep weekends like this on my calendar…and also grateful that my brother will likely send that fish home with me!

With a long drive home on Sunday we opted to fish a local lake for a few hours in the morning. I vividly remember getting the flasher set up so that I could face into the sun. It was just rising over the treetops and warmed my cheeks, I reached over and took a sip of warm coffee out of my thermos and thought, “Wow, this is SO much better than yesterday.” Not thirty minutes later I saw a mark cruise in, I slowly lifted my jig higher until I felt the bite and set the hook. Even this ~20” laker put up twice the fight any North Dakota walleye could. My brother raced over and helped me get it up the hole. I could almost taste the baked trout and fried potatoes already.

When I recalled my weekend around the office lunch table Monday, folks laughed and said “so you did all that work for one trout huh?” I unapologetically replied “yep,” because they didn’t know about the secret chip on my shoulder, they didn’t get to the feel the sun warming their face surrounded by red pines and migrating swans on Sunday, and they definitely weren’t having wild, fresh, lake trout for dinner that night.

Cayla Bendel

Cayla is a conservation professional that resides in North Dakota with her husband and pudelpointer, Finley. Together they enjoy avidly hunting, fishing, and otherwise frolicking their way through the seasons.

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