Mike's Meanderings State Park Stories

Sniffin’ Out My Catch In the BWCAW

It’s that time of year again. Get the group together and break out the BWCAW maps and books. Research some lakes that hold the types of fish you love to catch. Decide if you want to go short or long on the portages. (This one is always a major point of contention — the younger the legs, the more reluctant they seem to be toward tackling triple-digit rod portages.) Pick an entry point. Then get to work attaining a permit for that Boundary Waters entry point on a day that will work for your group.

Travel group for the BWCA at Big Moose Lake
The group has grown a bit since those early trips, and now the kids are in on the planning.

During these Boundary Waters planning sessions the talk always seems to drift back to past trips. Although I relish reliving the good times, I cringe a little at this point of the night. Inevitably the topic swings from fishing successes, ultimate explorations and great campsites, to one particular topic I’d rather avoid. Those discussions always land hard on my most embarrassing BWCAW moment of all time. It doesn’t matter that the folly happened on only my third trip ever into this glorious wilderness. Pay no mind that I was a mere 21 years old at the time. The story still brings a crimson flush to my face that could match the feathers of the brightest father cardinal.

This Oughta Be Good!
I’m guessing that by now your curiosity is at least a little past high alert. I suppose I was dumb enough to open this can of worms, so I might as well finish it. The story (from MY point of view) goes something like this …

It was day six and reality was starting to set in. Less than two acres of cool, ultra-clear water stood between the tip of our Wenonah canoe and the old jeep parked back at the landing. This BWCAW journey was perilously close to over and, up until now, I had put at least one fish in the boat every single day of the trip. My boasting had irritated my other three travelling companions, as their luck with the rod and reel hadn’t been quite as good as mine. But now time was running out as we dropped into the water after our final portage back onto the Kawishiwi River.

Kawishiwi River walleye in the BWCAW
Walleyes are good eatin’ in the BWCAW. Good thing I brought my fishing rod!
Smallmouth Bass catch near Lake One
A chunky Boundary Waters “Football” shaped Smallmouth Bass always adds some fun

Casting My First Shutout?
The chiding had started a couple of lakes back. “Where’s that Mike Magic now?” And, “How many fish have you caught today, “Roland”. My pride couldn’t let me float by this last fishy-looking haunt without throwing at least a few casts. I think it was on the third cast into this final backwater hole that I felt it hit. It wasn’t really much of a fish, just a snake of a Northern Pike. But by the whoops and hollers I was letting out, my co-canoers must have thought I was reeling in a 50-lb. muskie! As I lifted the fish over the side of the canoe I started trash talking. Something along the lines of, “A fish in six straight days. When would you guys like me to show you how it’s done?”

Large Northern Pike in the BWCAW
My biggest fish of the trip (but not the culprit of what was about to come next …)

As soon as those last words crossed my lips the fish wriggled free from my grip and splashed back into the water, Rapala still impaled on its toothy upper lip. The drop into the water caused the monofilament line to pull taut on the descent, as it was still attached to the fishing reel. As the fish hit the water the hook was dislodged from its lip, causing the lure to shoot straight up at an alarmingly fast rate. The tightened line produced a bow and arrow effect and that flying Rapala was right on target for the middle of my face.

So Close I Can Smell It!
When the commotion was over the double set of treble hooks had managed to stay clear of my eyes, and as I reached up to grab it, I noticed it was stuck right on the tip of my nose! We all started laughing as I had a long orange stick bait hanging from my honker. A few pictures were snapped (fortunately they have been lost over time) and I went to work to remove the lure from my face. There was no pain whatsoever, so I figured it was just stuck on the surface.

Rapala lure hooked in nose
A “Reenactment Photo” of that dreadful, yet hilarious moment!

On the third or fourth try to dislodge the hook, panic started to set in. The hook was buried past the barb, right in the fleshy tip of my snout. I grappled with that Minnowsotan bait (as the Rapala billboards call it), but to no avail. Eventually I gave up the fight and we finished our paddle to the portage where our car was parked. When we arrived on dry land a few minutes later my friend, Kevin, took over the efforts to remove the lure. His luck with my nose was on a par with his luck fishing over the course of the week. He even tried “The Art of Manliness” approved String-Yank hook removal technique with absolutely no success.

After about 10 minutes I was going cross-eyed and Kevin was ready to surrender. He removed the balsa wood body of the lure from the treble hook, leaving just the 3-pronged hook stuck on my face. We loaded up the car and headed down Fernberg Road, back towards Ely. The drive was about 40 minutes long, but with my eyes constantly scrunching in to check out the balancing hook, and the steering wheel on the wrong side of the vehicle (it was an old mail jeep that had a European-style steering wheel on the right side for easier mail delivery along rural roads) I managed to feel like I was going to throw up from the dizziness.

Meandering Mike and Kevin with a pair of trophy fish
My friend Kevin and I with a couple of pike closer to the size of the one that caused yet ANOTHER ISSUE with My Poor Nose!

Hooked on Embarrassment
When we finally pulled into the parking lot at the Ely hospital I climbed out of the jeep and skulked inside. As I approached the front desk the admitting nurse looked up at me and casually stated, “This is a joke, right?” When I assured her that I was dead serious, and the hook was hopelessly stuck she chuckled a bit, sent me to the waiting area and said, “The doctor is going to love this one!”

After what seemed like an eternity I was finally ushered into a room and the doctor gave me a shot of Novocain in the snout to numb the area. He carefully threaded the hook out a newly-formed hole and clipped the barb off before sliding the eye of the hook back toward the spot where the point had first penetrated. A second later the hook slid completely free from my face. Excitedly the nursing team carried in a cardboard cutout of a fisherman.

They explained that each fish hook that is removed from a patient gets hung in the exact same spot on the cardboard fisherman. The fingers and ears of the cutout were riddled with hooks, but there was a bit of ceremonious pomp and circumstance as they stuck my de-barbed treble hook into the schnozz of the cardboard angler. They bubbled with enthusiasm as they told me this was the first time they EVER had the opportunity to hang a hook from the nose! My cheeks turned a new shade of red as I sheepishly slunk from the room, not feeling like such a spectacular fisherman at the moment.

The Walk of Shame …
As I returned to the lobby my travel companions were ecstatic that the wait was finally over. The ribbing started the moment they spotted me and was relentless for the entire 4-hour drive back to Minneapolis. My enthusiasm for my “catch of the day” was now much more subdued. But in the end, I could still take credit for having a real nose for finding fish!

Have you ever had a tussle with an unrelenting fish hook? Did you free the hook yourself or were you “stuck” with a trip to the ER like me? Share your gruesome story with us in the comments box below or shoot us an email at ParkYourselfOutdoors@gmail.com. (We’ll eat it up like a hungry Northern Pike devouring a wounded minnow, because Misery DOES LOVE Company!) No hook story to share? Post your best fish picture here instead!

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2 Comment

  1. I love your retelling of this story, Mike. I hope they gave you some antibiotic cream to use on the “extra nostrils” that the hook made in your nose!

    1. Thanks Terri! It does make it much easier to breathe when you have holes all over your honker! I don’t recall any antibiotic cream, but they did give me a tetanus shot (in the shoulder, not the nose!) since the metal hook had been in some pretty unsavory places before piercing my skin. Too bad the incident didn’t happen in this day and age. I could have just left the lure hanging there and started a new fishing jewelry fashion trend!!

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