An Afternoon on Crocodile

My friend Mike was planning a canoe trip last winter—and he asked me what I knew about Crocodile Lake….because I’m an outfitter.  I’d heard some about the walleyes in Crocodile…I sort of knew the general area of that entry point.  But in the end, I hadn’t been there.  To be fair, it was winter, and in the winter I’m a teacher.
But now it’s summer, and since Mike is actually coming to Tuscarora with another dad and their sons—I thought I ought to know about Crocodile…because in the summer, I’m an outfitter.  And I also thought our outfitting manager ought to know about Crocodile, and our outfitting manager’s dog Mack also ought to learn how to get in a canoe.

How to load the boat It’s just a bonus that the outfitting manager happens to be our son Daniel, and since I can never get enough time with him in a boat in this lifetime, and since it was a sunny day—we thought we should go and get to know Crocodile.

I dutifully took note of the East Bearskin parking lot/landing, I paid attention to the map, and the campsites.  The portage was 100 and something rods, it was slightly muddy…but then, somewhere in the middle of that portage, I started losing details, and just falling into that canoe trip rhythm.  That unload, portage, load, paddle…. the sparkle of the sun on the waves.  The lake was basically water, rocks, and trees—just like that last lake.  But this is precisely what I love about it.

Fishing Crocodile
We fished a little, we didn’t catch the walleye—then again, it was a hot day, around noon…it was really all about the casting and reeling, and steady conversation.  At one point Daniel wanted to know the year Andy and I first started coming up here.  He really wanted to pinpoint the source—he is so grateful for having landed in this section of woods, for growing up in this rhythm.

Mack First trip

I know exactly how another guest named Ed caught the walleyes in Crocodile last week, slip bobber, 5 feet down, wait for the school.  I know how to get there, I know what campsite I’d go for.  I can now confidently tell Mike about Crocodile—as an outfitter.

But I also was reminded what it IS about that trip.   I got to hang out with my son. I love it that he loves the woods like I do. We chatted long enough to get around to the real stuff, the things that make him happy, the things that make him worry.  We got to be on a lake. We got to paddle some, hike some, carry some. I got a little tired and a little sunburned and a little sore.   I’m confident that Mike and his crew will find the rhythm that they’re looking for in Crocodile.  It’s easy enough to pass on info about the location of campsites and portages and fish.  It’s infinitely harder to communicate what it IS about the rhythm of being in the woods that is so satisfying and…perfect.  I’m not so good at explaining that part–but I sure wish (because I’m an outfitter) that I could give that afternoon on Crocodile to everyone I know—and his/her son, and even a puppy.

-Sue A.

9 Responses

  1. Nita Wolf says:

    Hi! I appreciate your posts so much, Sue! It’s like hearing from a friend and we have only stayed with you one time. Thanks for your lovely written observations.

  2. Debe says:

    I love love love reading your posts and can’t wait to get back to the north woods….and how did Daniel grow up so quick?! 😉

  3. Jerry says:

    As usual, such a wonderful read. Makes me wish I was a dragonfly on your rod and could listen in to the conversation!

  4. Nicely said – because I paddle and like the woods.

  5. Jamie Fisher says:

    Dan is outfitting manager?! That’s awesome. Sounds like another beautiful summer is getting underway. And Mack! Oh, I need to meet him.

    Thanks for letting me catch up through your posts, Sue. Over the years I’ve heard a lot of your stories about time with your family in the woods. The stories have gotten sweeter as I’ve gotten closer to the Ahrendt family, but I think I’ve also started hearing the stories differently as I’ve gotten older. I’m starting to get it now.

    Miss you guys! I’m always thinking about you.

    • Sue Ahrendt says:

      James….will you be visiting soon? We miss you too! You’re one that we’ve talked about at the table a couple of times. Just so you know, you have that kind of status around here. Were your ears ringing? Make us one of your weekends this summer. Mack will follow you anywhere you go. THat’s the kind of guy he is. xo

  6. Michael says:

    Well this is Mike. And although it’s been a month since we paddled out on East Bearskin, there isn’t a day since that I haven’t thought about it.

    We arrived at Tuscarora on June 15. Father’s day (as well as my 44th birthday!) Warm greetings all around. It was great to see Sue, meet her husband, her son and even of her parents who were on site to lend valuable hands. The heart and soul of the place was clearly evident, a testament to all the Ahrendt family!

    The four of us – Ray, his son Chris (13) and my son Elliot (8) – had exactly one father son trip under our belts, from 2013, and we were all super excited to embark upon trip number two. So excited that the boys had their poles out of the car and were racing to the Tuscarora dock before even checking out the bunkhouse. “Oh well,” I thought. “They can learn to pack out another time. It will be good for Elliot to practice casting.”

    No sooner had they left than in came, Elliot, bursting through the bunkhouse door and gasping for air. “Fish! Fish!! There’s a FISH!!! You’ve got to come quick!!!”

    Now it must be said that Elliot had caught exactly zero fish our last BWCA trip. So fervent was his desire to reel in a fish that I found myself literally on my knees each night, praying for his wish to come true. It didn’t happen on that trip and I was quite sure it hadn’t happened on this trip either. Even though the lake was just down the road from the bunkhouse I couldn’t imagine Elliot had made the round trip that quickly, let alone casted AND landed his first BWCA fish.

    So I played along. Certain that he had a snag or maybe that he and Chris hatched a prank involving “just joking” as a punchline. Anyhow, Elliot was long gone towards the lake so I jogged good-naturedly along trying to figure out when and how Elliot had become such a good actor.

    What I saw will when I turned the corner won’t ever be forgotten. Son, Elliot, dancing on the dock. Chris, proudly holding Elliot’s pole. And a completely respectable smallmouth on the line. Elliot’s first caste – a miscast mind you – was a winner! And we never looked back. Good times were a-comin’ !

    The portage between East Bearskin and Crocodile was a bugger for sure, just as Sue predicted. At one point on the stretch I told Elliot I was losing my focus. That I was coming unglued. The bugs were hammering away, footing was shaky and the aluminum boat had started to settle my spine a bit. Elliot shouted some encouraging bursts from ahead on the trail, and then proceeded to suggest that he sing me a song “to take my mind off of the pain.” Away he went, bellowing out Christmas Carols and anything else he could think of. I could have cried with joy. Eight years old and doing his part to be helpful, encouraging, thoughtful… a team player.

    Those themes kind of took up residence for the five days we were out. I could have cried each night when we cooked and ate the day’s catch. I could have cried when Elliot started, halfway through the trip, taking his own fish off the hook. Or when we silently drifted our boat alongside a swimming beaver. I could have cried when, of all the places we could have pulled off to collect firewood, we picked a spot where there lay a full moose skeleton for us to inspect and marvel at.

    Tenting four nights in a row with my eight year old. Just the two of us, paddling our last night to the far end of Crocodile where the water pools deep and the air was perfectly still. All that… and more. It was only thirty days ago and I have every reason to believe I’ll remember it just as vividly for thirty years.

    I’m grateful to Sue and to Ray and Chris and of course to Elliot. I’m especially grateful that such an incredible setting is in our backyard, just up the road. To enjoy. To explore. To learn from and through. So yeah. Spend an afternoon on Crocodile (if you can endure the portage). Or anyplace else in the BW for that matter. Just save some golden memories for me. ~mm

    • Sue Ahrendt says:

      Mike…this is a such great story, I’m just trying to figure out how I can post it on it’s own page here. Got any photos?