I had been hunting with my dad and got separated when he went down into a creek bottom after a downed pheasant. Even though I had been in the area several times, I had no idea how to get back to the truck. The movement turned out to be Dad and I was greatly relieved when he finally came over to where I was.
Being in the woods had always been a lot of fun to me, but this time it was different. As I shared my fears and apprehensions with my Dad he did something I thought was a miracle, he showed me how to make a compass out of a needle, a leaf and a mud puddle. He said, “the needle will always point north.” I said, “NORTH? What about South, East and West?” Dad got a kick out of my statement and brought it up numerous times in the hundreds of hunting and fishing camps we shared over the years. One day, shortly after that particular hunting trip, he gave me a little brass compass and said, “This compass will always point you in the right direction, remember that.”
It’s been more than 50 years since that day in the woods when I thought finding my way home was impossible. Now, I am deep in the woods of Manitoba fishing for northern pike and walleye while my lifelong hunting partner, my father, is after bear. As an octogenarian he’s as independent as a hog on ice and trying to help him won’t accomplish anything. He wants to do everything himself, which reminds me of my nearly three year old grandson, Jonah Aaden. Dad’s motto is, “If you can’t lead, get out of the way.” I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
We left Denver three days ago and this afternoon we finally made it to our destination, Gold Sand Lake Lodge, in northern Manitoba. Two airlines, three motels, customs and a very bumpy ride during a downpour in a truck with no shocks would have taken it’s toll on a man half his age, but not him! We no sooner arrived at camp and he was already asking when we could go out.
In June, the sun remains above the horizon for 21 out of 24 hours this far north. We didn’t have to worry about getting back before dark since it was nearly non-existent. We ate a quick snack, gathered our fishing gear and headed to the boat dock. Our guide who only went by the first name of Nelson, is of Athabaskan Indian decent. He even looked the part with a bandana wrapped around his forehead, sunglasses that protected his eyes (and thoughts), plus a leather jacket that kept him dry.
“Nelson, where are we going today?” I inquired. “Out on the water” was his retort. He wasn’t much of a talker, especially for a guide; most guides I know can talk your ear off in the morning and put it back on in the afternoon.
What Nelson lacked in communication skills he more than made up for in his knowledge of the lake. There were no electronics in the boat, yet he’d take you to drop offs and runs that produced. We rigged our medium action Lightning rods with four pound test, a roadrunner jig and a white Mister Twister curly tail grub.
As we cast toward the bank it didn’t take anytime at all for the jig to hit bottom and I estimated that where the jig hit was in about four feet of water. The water was the color of root beer so you couldn’t tell the depth just by looking. As I popped the jig it began to flutter and take more line, I could feel the familiar tap tap. I raised the rod tip only slightly to take the slack out of the line, felt resistance, and then set the hook.
What Nelson found was a drop-off that went from nine feet to fifteen feet. Most walleye anglers know that this is the depth of feeding walleye.
On the last day of the trip we were getting our gear together for the trip back to the sates when I dropped my shaving kit and out fell that brass compass Dad gave me over 50 years ago I didn’t see it when it fell nor when he picked it up and never said a word to me. We went fishing when a storm came blowing in out of the west. The wind was howling and Nelson was completely drenched from the fight with the wind so he decided to get to shore and wait it out. As Dad and I sat in a blue plastic tarp trying to keep the rain out and keep what warmth was left in, Dad reached into his pocket and pulled out that brass compass and said, “I didn’t know if you still had it after all these years”. I just looked at him and smiled.
He said, "Do you remember what I said to you when I gave it to you?" I admitted I didn’t have a clue. He then said, “I taught you from a very early age how to find your way in the woods using a compass whether it be brass or a needle on a leaf. From that moment until now you’ve never gotten lost in the world. I know there have been a lot of things that could have taken you down some trails that could have been detrimental, but you didn’t take them. I believe it was because your Mom and I decided early on to teach you to love the outdoors and we believed if we did that, you’d never get lost.
He then gave the brass compass back and said “You know Jonah Aaden might be needing this soon!”
I agreed. I went home with a greater appreciation and a new mission for that little brass compass.