It was the middle of June many years ago, and it was the peak demand time for minnows. June is typically when the camps and stores are the busiest with fisherman and so minnows are high in demand. My nephew Chris and I had flown all morning fighting a strong wind. We barely got enough minnows to fill our orders, and the prospects did not look good for the next days’ orders. To top it all off I was fighting one of the worst colds I have ever had and I could barely even talk. I had a terrible sore throat and a bulging head. Chris and I went up to the lodge for lunch and got the map out. After going over some possible new lakes to try, I didn’t have a good feeling about any of them so I told Chris, “I think we should fill both planes full of traps and head to a new area to which we had never been”. This area was 130 miles northeast of our base, up near Cat Lake, where we had about a dozen bait blocks.
Looking out the window of the lodge, the Southwest wind was blowing at about 30 mph, with gusts up to 40 mph. Being in this business, whether its windy or not, whether you’re sick or not, you still have to produce bait... a lot of people are depending on us! I hated to ask Chris to join me, as he was a relatively new pilot at the time, but I knew his potential and that he wouldn’t have a problem with what I was asking of him. I figured the biggest challenge would be getting off the water, however, I knew once we gained altitude and headed northeast downwind, it would be a smooth and quick trip. As usual, Chris was all for it, so we started packing the two planes. I had the Super Cub and Chris the PA-11.
First things in the planes were traps, and then we each brought a sleeping bag, a couple cans of beans, and a loaf of bread with some butter; we had room for very little else as far as cooking utensils, so this would have to do. It was already getting to be late in the afternoon so I looked at the map and picked out a lake in the midst of our bait area. This lake was called Lang Lake, which was about a 10-mile long lake running east and west. I knew that we would have to find some sort of a shelter on the lake or make one, but we had no idea what we would find! If we had to, we knew we could sleep outside, as it was warm with clear skies. After getting both planes loaded with traps, sleeping bags, axe, and a little bit of food we each grabbed a copy of a good map of the area, and we were off!
We fired up the planes around 4:00 pm. I had hoped that the wind would start to die down as the day went on, but no chance of that! I figured it shouldn’t take us more than an hour to get there with this tail wind. If we could quickly find a place to stay overnight, we should have enough time to get a couple of lakes set up to check the next morning. It was a little rough taking off in the 2½-foot waves, and once we were airborne we had to climb to 5000 feet for it to smooth out. There is nothing worse than having a bad head cold when flying at higher altitudes! Once at 5000 feet, heading Northeast for the Cat Lake area, the tail wind gave us a nice 155 mph ground speed. In a Cub, 155 mph is REALLY moving!
After about 50 minutes, we were in new country for the very first time, looking for Lang Lake, where we would spend the night. I could see it in the distance about 5 miles away, so I told Chris on the radio that I was going to drop down to 2000 feet to scope out a good place to land. On the Southwest end of the lake, I could see a long sand beach with some sort of old tent camp. It looked like something a mining exploration company may have left behind. With an offshore wind at the camp, the beach looked like it would be an ideal spot to secure the airplanes overnight. I radioed to Chris as I was circling at low altitude to let him know I was going to land; it was very rough in this wind, which was still blowing at a good 30 mph.
I told him we would land both planes and check out this tent. We both landed into the wind and 2-3 foot waves. As we approached the beach we finally got into some calmer water. We each pulled our aircraft up on the sand, but my rope would not reach anything to tie on, so I pulled it up as far as I could. This was just temporary while we scoped out the old campsite. Chris was able to reach an old log with his rope on the PA-11. We walked up to the old tent site. I felt like crap and could barely talk. The site looked like it had been used about 4 or 5 years earlier, and had been abandoned leaving about half an old mining tent on an old wood floor; one half of the tent was rougher and caved in, while the other half was still standing in the gusting wind. There was enough old lumber there that we figured we could make a couple of beds and sleep under the half of the tent that was still “standing”. This would be fine as there was not a cloud in the sky, just a strong wind.
As I was looking for a place to make my bed, Chris yelled “Oh shit!” I turned around to the lake and my heart sank as my Super Cub had worked itself off the sand beach and was already half way across the narrow lake. It was only about 200 yards from hitting a rocky island, so I hollered to Chris with my squeaky voice, “Untie the PA-11and start shoving it out!”. As he was doing that, I ripped my clothes off as fast as I could down to my undershorts. As Chris was hand propping the PA-11, I jumped on the float. I told him to taxi as fast as he could toward the plane with me sitting on the float in my shorts! Taxiing downwind in 2-foot waves without swamping the plane was quite a chore. With my near-naked body on the float, it was starting to dip under the water. We had to push it to the max to get to the Super Cub before it hit the rocks. As we approached the plane, I told Chris that we had one chance to make a sweep between the drifting plane and the rocks. I told him when I figured the time was right, I would dive off and swim to the Super Cub. This had to be done just perfectly because if the plane ever got downwind of me, I’d never be able to catch it swimming.
As we were about to make the “interception” between the rocky island and the Cub, I timed it the best that I could, dove in and swam as fast as I could in the large waves. I reached the right float, climbed aboard, jumped in and hit the starter. I immediately gave it gas and right rudder at the same time and got it turned around literally seconds before hitting the rocks! We then got back to the beach, and you can bet we really tied it up good this time... no more swimming for today! I got dried off and dressed, feeling even worse now... it was near 6 pm, and we still had to go get some minnow lakes set up to check in the morning. Once again, we took off in the wind, and found 3 lakes to set our traps in.
We got back to the campsite around 8:30, tied the planes up good, made a fire, and ate our beans and bread. At this point, I was so tired and felt so horrible, all I wanted to do was roll out my sleeping bag and get some sleep. I picked a spot under the remaining half of the tent, on my wooden cot about a foot off the floor made of rough lumber. At this point, I probably could have slept standing up, so I crawled into my sleeping bag, and oh boy, did it feel good! The sky was clear and there was a nice breeze to keep the bugs away.
Around 11 pm, once darkness set in, I could feel something on my head. I have slept with mice before, but never experienced this many mice at one time! I had 3-4 mice on me at all times. I then zipped up my sleeping bag right over my head, so they could not get in. All I wanted was 5 hours of rest, so I tried to get back to sleep. The mouse traffic didn’t seem to bother Chris too much as he was snoring, and the snoring didn’t seem to bother the mice either. I shone my flashlight over and he had mice running all over him too!
I had just fallen back to sleep again for about a half an hour when I was awoken by a loud crack of thunder. There was a storm coming and all I could think was “ARE YOU KIDDING ME??” Well at least I was situated under the “good” half of the tent. Next thing, a heavy downpour started. So far, I was dry, so once again I tried to go back to sleep. After several minutes of heavy rain, I could feel a heavy weight over my body. I stuck my head out of my sleeping bag to find a big bag of about 20 gallons of water over top of me. The old tent material was damp but not leaking, so I thought I could go back to sleep. Around 12:30 a.m., the worst thing possible happened – the bag of water broke on top of me and completely soaked me! There was so much water for a second or two that I thought I was drowning! I was now lying there totally soaked along with my sleeping bag and clothes. As bad as I felt about the way things were going, I had to chuckle “how bad could it get?” I couldn’t sleep in the wet bag anymore, so I pushed it back and let the mice do what they wanted; they can’t possibly eat me in a few hours!
The rain stopped and the wind FINALLY went down. It was now time for the mosquitoes to come around. Lying there in my wet clothes, I was a very inviting target for the bugs. I got up with my bug spray and emptied the can on myself. I will never forget the loud hum of the bugs. They were getting to Chris too, as I could hear him slapping himself steady! I lied there in misery until about 3:00 am, when we got up and made a fire on the beach, brewed some hot tea, and toasted bread over the fire on a stick for breakfast. Once it got daylight enough, we checked our traps, got a few minnows then headed home. When I get back to the camp, and into the shower, I thought I had never felt anything so good! When Karla asked how our trip was, I had to tell her “I don’t have the energy to tell you right now....” I will never forget my and Chris’s first trip to the NORTH!! Oh, the things we will do for minnows…