When you hook up with a steelhead on Lake Superior, you know it. Suddenly the reel drag starts to sing, and the fishing rod to which it’s attached takes a deep bow. Three hundred feet behind the boat, the big trout launches from the water, flashing like a chrome mirror in the sun. In my boat, even the dog gets excited when that happens.
And it did happen last weekend—not once, but three times. The first time, moments after I set the lines for the morning, an enormous steelhead rocketed six feet out of the water far behind the boat. It was quite the sight—just ask the dog. Side by side, me with fishing rod in hand and the dog with his front paws on the sideboard, we battled the fish to the boat. I slipped it into the landing net, laid it on the side board to remove the hook and then placed it back in the water. The dog and I watched the big fish disappear into the depths.
In Lake Superior, where anglers value steelhead for sport rather than edibility, fishing regulations encourage or require catch-and-release. Aside from the muskie, which is massive in size, difficult to entice into striking a lure and ferocious on the end of a line, perhaps no other fish swimming in Minnesota is anywhere near as exciting to catch as a steelhead. And Superior’s lake trout and Pacific salmon are certainly better to eat. So I don’t mind turning loose the steelhead and keeping lakers and salmon for dinner.
At this time of year, starting my Saturday on Lake Superior is a pleasant routine. I live just a mile from the launch, so it’s easy to spend the early morning hours on the water. In tourism, the "stay vacation" is the buzzword of the recession, referring to the fun you can have close to home. Of course, this is easy enough when you live in a place that is a favorite tourist destination of many, but nevertheless this year Vikki and I have made the most of it. So far this summer, we haven’t gone anywhere beyond our county’s borders, but we’ve had plenty of fun.
Actually, our longest drive was a run up to the Seagull Lake country near the end of the Gunflint Trail on a blueberry expedition. There were berries in abundance in the burns from forest fires a few years ago, but berry-pickers were numerous, too. It was so hot out that we quit picking after filling an ice cream pail, which was enough to supply us with an occasional treat of blueberry muffins when the snow flies.
Closer to home we’ve been picking wild raspberries, which are especially plump and sweet this summer. We prefer raspberries over the blue ones, so that’s just fine with us. Sometimes we go a-picking, while on others I just bring a pail when I run the dog. Our stockpile of sweetness in the freezer continues to grow.
On walks with the dog through the woods, I keep an eye peeled for chanterelles, an exquisitely flavored and surprisingly abundant mushroom on the North Shore. We learned of chanterelles last year and eat them nearly daily while they are in season. Not only are they especially good to eat, but count me among those who believe mushrooms are especially good for you, too.
We even have chanterelles growing in our yard, but that isn’t all we have to harvest. Still to come are crisp, sweet apples from our vintage tree, which only ripen after they’ve been touched with frost. We also have chokecherries and high bush cranberries growing in the yard, not to mention our two vegetable gardens. Dare I say it, but this die-hard fisherman has even whiled away a couple of precious Saturdays puttering in the garden. That doesn’t mean I’ve forsaken fishing. We’ve had a few meals of fresh walleyes, too.
The flavor and quality of the food we collect amazes and humbles me. Simply put, what we harvest from the forest, lake or garden tastes far better than whatever we bring home from the store. While the northwoods is often portrayed as harsh and inhospitable, during the summer Nature provides a gourmet horn of plenty. Where else can you find such delicacies as fresh walleye and brook trout, maple syrup and wild rice, or chanterelles and blueberries?
Sadly, not all are aware of the bounty that surrounds them. Perhaps they lack the means to catch fish or pick berries. Maybe they can’t identify an edible mushroom or lack a green thumb. An unfortunate few are afraid to eat anything that doesn’t come in a package. But more likely as not, they just don’t know how to go about enjoying the fruits of the land.
Someone can show you how to fish, point you to a berry patch or even help you plant a garden. Some of us were lucky enough to learn these things in childhood. Others must seek out such knowledge later in life. Whatever path you take, the only way to learn how to harvest from the land or water is to do it yourself. There is no shortcut to experience. So we’ve been content this summer to stay close to home and keep practicing our skills and reaping our tasty rewards. And when we travel we won’t forget there’s really no place like home.
Airdate: August 13, 2010