12 year old Nick Calabrese of Taberg, NY shows off his trophy 34 lb king salmon caught on Lake Ontario around the east coast High Rocks area from his Dad’s boat “Horsin’ Around” last August. Nick was using a Dipsy Diver at about 140 ft depth fishing with a glow hammer pattern A-TOM-MIK with a Pro-Troll E-Chip Flasher. 30 minutes of fight later Nick prevailed. Way to go, Nicholas!
I read a quote by well known Montana author Jim Harrison the other day. “Death steals everything except our stories.”
It got me thinking about my old friend and fishing partner Keith Gate.
I began fishing with Keith Gate long ago. We first met when my Mom was spending time with his new bride’s father. This was after my Dad had passed away in 1969, so you can figure our friendship began over 40 years ago. We immediately had fishing in common and in no time were out together on Lake of the Woods or other area lakes fishing for walleye, northern pike, lake trout, or whatever the lakes held.
Keith had grown up in an itsy bitsy “wide spot in the road” in northwestern Ontario. Way back in the sticks on a mud and gravel road, he took me by the old house one day. It wasn’t much and it was hard to believe that he and 6 siblings along with his parents had all lived in such a small structure. Keith’s father and brothers were all guides on Lake of the Woods as well as most of the lakes that could be accessed either by road, portage, or air in the area. They subsisted on what was caught in the lakes raised in the garden, or hunted in the woods. To Keith it was a perfect life that instilled a great love of hunting and fishing in him from early childhood. And Keith was one good fisherman.
I soon learned that Keith regarded himself as somewhat of a gourmet fish and game cook as well and often I was sampling smoked lake trout or pickled pike that he had prepared. It was all good and many times I would either ask for his recipe or see if he could spare some extra for Dixie and the girls. He always accommodated unhesitantly.
Over the years both of our families grew and with that the obligations that come with parenthood. Since we lived in Indiana and Keith and his family northwestern Ontario our time fishing together was usually confined to summers when our family could venture up to the great north for a week or two. Many times I could hardly wait to get in a boat with Keith on one of the shield lakes that predominated the area. I never told Dixie or the kids about this as it would surely disappoint them. They thought our trips up north were about family fishing time. But after a few trips Keith became as much a part of the family as Dixie and the girls and it was a foregone conclusion that Dad would be fishing with Keith (and perhaps his son) a few days each trip.
Every time we arrived in Nestor Falls I was anxious to see what new lake or new technique Keith had discovered in my absence. He introduced me to jigging for lake trout, trolling over deep water for walleye, tossing deep running crankbaits off weedy reefs for northern, and most importantly musky fishing with Musky Hawks. All the while with a warm, inconspicuous smile parting his boyish face.
Keith had worked at the local freezer/locker plant in Nestor Falls, Ontario after he got out of high school. Just in case you don’t know what a freezer/locker plant is, as today they have mostly disappeared, it was a place that had dry ice and would clean the fish you had caught for you. They would also assign you a locker in the freezer that you could keep your fish in until you were ready to return home. At that time they would pack your catch in dry ice and seal the cooler with a tag so any fish and game check would let you pass through with just a cursory inspection.
Anyway, Keith was the guy who filleted your fish until he became a butcher at Safeway. And let me tell you, he was good. He could fillet a walleye in 10 seconds, a northern in about 15, removing all the Y-bones in the process. His skill with a fillet knife fascinated me and soon he was coaching me on his technique. Although I never got as good as Keith, I am proud of the fact that even today I can fillet a walleye out in less than 30 seconds and a pike (less the Y-bones) in under a minute. All thanks to Keith.
The best memory I have of Keith involved a big black bear we saw while fishing Stony Bay on Lake of the Woods. It was a miserable early June day with cold wind and rain coming down incessantly. Keith and I were dropping jigs for walleye off a point in hopes that we could catch some shore lunch, assuming the weather would clear by early afternoon so we could get a camp fire going. While we were fishing Keith tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to another rocky point across the bay. There in the water swimming toward us was a black bear.
Now Keith being Keith he started the outboard and began idling towards the bear. I reeled in my line and just about the same time asked him what he was doing. “I’m going to get us alongside that bear,” he said nonchalantly.
“Keith, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said.
“No, you don’t understand. Once a bear is in the water they’re pretty much defenseless and really can’t hurt you,” Keith explained.
Now not being the outdoorsman Keith was I figured he knew what he was talking about. To rationalize this plan just a bit more I figured that I had never really seen a Canadian black bear up close in the wild, so this would be a great chance to see one – really close. Sure, I had chased them off of garbage dumps around camps, but this was different. No garbage, no humans (other than Keith and I), just a beautiful black bear swimming towards us in the rain.
Keith maneuvered the boat towards the bear and soon we were within 2 feet of his larger-than-expected head which was now about midway along the side of the boat. Keith picked up the sculling paddle and said, “Let’s see if we can turn him around.”
Now I know Keith said the bear was defenseless, but irritating him with a paddle seemed cruel to me. I told Keith I would just rather sit in the boat and watch him swim to the nearby shore. He agreed. But instead of continuing on his original path the bear turned and soon was alongside the boat maybe less than a foot from the gunnels. “Thank goodness he’s defenseless,” I thought.
We idled forward and the bear swam alongside. This was not good in my mind. “Let’s just scoot away where we can watch him. I don’t want to be responsible for him drowning,” I suggested to Keith.
Keith revved the motor a bit and we slipped away, all the time watching the bear. He soon turned back towards the rocky point he had been heading towards. Keith shut down the motor so we could watch the bear get out of the water interrupted only by the sounds of nature. As he clamored on shore we both looked at each other with wide eyed astonishment. This was a big black bear. Really big. He glanced back at the two of us, surely with a smirk, and soon disappeared into the bush.
The weather didn’t improve and by mid afternoon we stowed our gear in the bottom of the boat and headed for camp. This particular day camp was the government dock at Nestor Falls and after about a 45 minute miserably cold and wet boat ride we arrived at the dock. As we were unloading our gear a good friend and camp owner, Glen McLeod, came down the dock to see what we had caught. I immediately told him about our encounter with the big black bear in Stony Bay. “We actually got right next to him in the water as he was swimming towards shore,” I volunteered.
Now if there was anyone on Lake of the Woods who could out guide, out fish, and out hunt Keith it was Glen. He gave us a quizzical look, shook his head, and said, “You know, Tommy, big bears like that are known for climbing in the boat and attacking anyone or anything that’s in there.”
“Huh?” I thought.
Keith’s eyes widened. He looked at me. I looked at him. “I thought you knew all there was to know about wildlife up here. Certainly about bears,” I said with a stern look.
“You know, Tom, I didn’t know that,” Keith said a bit sheepishly.
Now I look back on this adventure and smile and wish with all my heart that I could be in a boat with Keith again, even if we put ourselves in potential danger with a big black bear. Unfortunately 8 years ago Keith had a heart attack. I was back in Indiana and got a call from our friends at Nestor Falls Fly-In Outposts telling me that Keith had been working for them at their fly-in base camp when it happened. He didn’t make it to the hospital 30 miles away. I couldn’t make it to his funeral. He was 54 years old.
To this day I still miss my buddy terribly. Like Jim Harrison said, “Death steals everything except our stories.” I hope you enjoyed this one. It’s all I have left of my buddy.
This issue we have some great news!!! In-Stock the New G. Loomis GLX Jig and Worm Rods and free Collector’s Edition G. Loomis Catalog Offer. Daiwa Steez Rods still 25% off of what’s In-Stock. To add to your Daiwa Steez Rod is the New Daiwa Lexa Spinning and Casting Reels which every model is currently In-Stock. We also have several New pieces of luggage G. Loomis Luggage Bags and Shimano Borona Tackle Bags. These bags are first class quality and is a must have for fisherman. Last but not least we have also received the brand New PayCheck Baits and Eco Pro Tackle to add to our Tackle Corner that is full with the Top Tackle brands in the industry.
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