North with Doc: Doc Lets Go

“Don’t do that.”

“Don’t do what?”

“You know what.”

“This?”

I was threading a two-pound walleye onto a safety-pin stringer.

“That,” Doc said.

“It’s way too early in the day to be keeping walleyes for dinner.”

“But it’s after five o’clock. In the afternoon.”

“We still have plenty of daylight left,” Doc said.

“We can pick up half a dozen just before dark.”

“But what if we don’t?”

“But we will,” Doc insisted.

“If you say so, Doc.”

“I say so.”

I unhooked the toothy darling, and eased her into the chilly water. She took off like she was glad not to be the main course for six hungry fishermen. It was the first week of June at one of Knobby’s flyin outpost lakes. On our first day of fishing our four friends in the other two boats hadn’t been seen since shore lunch, and probably were concentrating on pulling walleyes and pike from different parts of this vast and picturesque Northwest Ontario waterway.

Either that, or they were at the cabin playing cards, napping, or flipping the slick pages of magazines that typically arrive in plain brown wrappers. Since we started this tradition almost 40 years ago, we believed a vacation should be enjoyed doing whatever spins your beanie propeller, so there wasn’t much pressure to conform to anyone else’s idea of fun. I extracted an ice cold adult beverage from the redand-white Igloo, and Doc, watching me closely, said, “Put your can in this koozie. It will stay cooler that way.”

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“Nah. It’s fine,” I said.

“Just do it.”

“You’re giving me orders now?”

“Common sense,” Doc said.

“The insulation maintains the temperature longer. Tastes better. More refreshing.”

“Okay, I’ll humor you, Doc.”

I fought the can into the thin rubber sleeve Doc’s bank gave him for opening an IRA. I guess they were out of refrigerator magnets.

“Don’t do that.”

“Don’t do what?”

“You know what.”

“This?” I was threading a two-pound walleye onto a safety-pin stringer.

“That,” Doc said.

“It’s way too early in the day to be keeping walleyes for dinner.”

“But it’s after five o’clock. In the afternoon.”

“We still have plenty of daylight left,” Doc said.

“We can pick up half a dozen just before dark.”

“But what if we don’t?”

“But we will,” Doc insisted.

“If you say so, Doc.”

“I say so.”

“Now, isn’t that better?” Doc said.

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I didn’t see any difference besides the inconvenience, but I nodded and tossed my jig into the sluggish flow of an incoming stream, worked it, jerked it, essed it, finessed it, pulled in another nice walleye.

“Wow!” I said.

“Isn’t this a beauty?”

“Let’s switch to diving Rapalas,” Doc said.

“What if I don’t want to?”

“Don’t be so stubborn. I think they will produce more fish this time of day.”

“I’m absolutely killing with a jig and salted minnow, thank you very much.”

“Well, that’s just like you,” Doc said, “having a closed mind to better ideas.”

“Excuse me?” I said.

“Try the Rapala. See what happens.”

I tried the Rapala. Snagged a lily pad. Snagged a sunken tree limb. Snagged my shoe laces. Jabbed a treble hook into my thumb while removing weeds. Finally caught a pike that looked like one of those foot-long Kansas City Royals souvenir baseball bats except it had eyes, fins, and smelled like green slime. And it bit me.

“Not working,” I said.

Doc removed his Rapala’s hooks from a walleye that was about the same size as the ones we had boated for the last eight hours, said, “See?”

“See what, Doc? I’m more comfortable with jigging right now.”

“Well, that’s just like you.”

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Uh-oh. Doc was acting weird. Okay, weirder than normal. Please allow me to explain. I’m sorry to tell you this, but Mrs. Doc passed away late last fall. Too soon after retiring, an aggressive kind of cancer came to call, and stayed for the duration. As the obits often say, she put up a brave fight but it wasn’t quite enough. Those of us who have been through it, or have had loved ones attacked by it, know cancer is an evil bastard of a disease that plays no favorites. Theirs was one of those lifetime marriages.

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