Back in 1992 I made the decision that if I was going to be the best outdoor adventures writer that I could be I was going to have to add winter camping to my play list.
I may have bit off a pretty good-sized chunk of reality when I chose to hike 132 miles on The North Country Trail in February for my first real experience in what has become one of my favorite parts of this way of life.
Ashland and Bayfield Counties are where I have done my hiking and this week I hiked into the Porcupine Wilderness Area near Drummond with Michelle Chiaro for a go for it, get away from people kind of trip.
Tuesday, June 1st
High 73, low 44
No motors or wheeled devices are allowed in the 4,500 acre Porcupine Wilderness Area and that along with billions of mosquitoes keep out 99.99% of all humans. I had warned Michelle that getting to our destination, which would be on foot, carrying packs and a canoe and pulling Otter Sleds would be challenging and as she found out today, it was.
My partner for this adventure had the full suit for skeeters but the physical aspect was tough, and I loved it. As soon as we arrived at our campsite, two trips in, I built a smoke fire and that eliminated many of the mosquitoes. Next, we built camp and then rigged up the canoe and started paddling for what I was hoping would be some incredible bluegill fishing.
My plan was to hit the spawning beds, anchor near them and live large. If that did not work Plan B was to drift with ice fishing jigs and leeches over deep water and see how that worked out. Neither plan was fool proof as we were catching so many 3-6 inch gills instead of 7-10 that it was a bit frustrating. Towards dark we ended up picking up a half a dozen and my thoughts were, the previous weekends cold spell had postponed the spawn.
At dark we headed to camp and had a blast around the campfire and had zero cares about fishing.
Wednesday, June 2nd
High 71, low 45
Guess what? We didn’t bring Ruby! Guess why? Ruby and her boyfriend “Cleo” another golden retriever are making a family. If everything works out there should be a litter around August 1st.
Today we had just as much fun as we did around the campfire last night. We put about ten hours into the canoe over two experiences and this morning found one small spawning bed.
Our tactics all day were drifting, anchoring, and hunt for fish. We did well on our first outing but tonight we laughed constantly and kept 17 real nice gills and crappies. Unfortunately, my stringer kind of messed up and 7 got away. Like I always told Selina when she was growing up and we missed a duck, or a big gator broke our line at the hole when ice fishing, it gets to live another day and that theory really does help.
Ice fishing jigs with leeches or worms were the ticket and my friends, they do year round as well as waxies or spikes. We paddled back to camp at 9:30 in an excellent mood and I have to tell you that this entire adventure I kept thinking about all of the good times that I have had in this neck of the woods.
At least 40 nights in the winter and as many in the summer. I taught Selina how to backpack here when she was 10. Back in ‘92 I taught my golden retrievers Star and Ben how to pull sleds here even though I had zero idea what I was doing.
Once I had my Jeep Eagle parked here in very cold weather for two weeks as well as “Old Blue” my Chevy pickup on another occasion and both times I had to use my campstove placed under the oil pan to start them after running the stove for an hour and putting my sleeping bag on the hood of the truck for insulation. It was always a one-shot deal and there was always two secrets, don’t try to start the truck too soon and don’t burn the truck up!
This trip was a good test for my back after a canoe injury a month ago and by God it held up just fine and I figure in another month when I turn 60, I will just about be hitting my prime.
Smile even when you don’t want to!
Contact Mark Walters, a freelance journalist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.