No, this is not an article about my latest favorite bean recipe. Sorry to disappoint! Rather, its a little story about an inventor, or a parts designer maybe if you will, who noticed an interesting little thing online while searching for information on running engines on woodsmoke. And yes, that is possible! Apparently, the ever-resourceful Germans found a way to run their tanks on it after gasoline or diesel shortages appeared in WW2. The process is quite simple and involves burning wood in an oxygen-poor environment, as in a woodstove, and pulling the resulting smoke through a filter to remove the tar and impurities. The resulting gas is supposed to be sufficient to run an engine.
Anyway, as I researched this interesting use for wood, up pops a little clip on how to make a gasifier from tincans. Look it up for yourself. Its quite interesting. The idea is to pull the air down and through the fire so the smoke goes beneath the fire and circulates back up, exiting over the flames and igniting. I made one and it worked. Then I got the idea that making it from stainless steel would be really neat and long-lasting. And why not larger? I got a set of stainless steel cooking pots and some special drills and grinding wheels and constructed the item you see at the top of this article. I was literally shaking with excitement at the time, constructing something that had to my knowledge, never been made before.... an invention!!!
I was extremely pleased with the result and used it all over the place, making little fires of tiny bits of wood that seemed to last forever, finding I could boil water in minutes or roast a bratwurst much quicker than over an open fire. It even worked great on the deck, with precautions, as the outside pot didn't get overly hot. The unit produces almost zero smoke so is pleasant to sit beside. I was going to patent it maybe but some personal family-type problems took all my attention and one day I noticed a smaller stainless steel version of my little firepot right there on my facebook page. Well.
So I did the next best thing and got the distributorship for Solostove. Its a neat little machine which I'll let you have for a reasonable price. :) Handiest thing you can have in your daypack, saves lugging kerosene, gasoline, naptha, propane or all that because all you'll ever need to run is treebark or animal dung if you're so inclined.
In fact, I'm still all fired up about this glorious idea! It should be taken to tree-sparse regions of the planet for cooking without oil. Maybe you can take this fine invention even farther...
Trying to remember the time I caught my first grayling.... I believe the first time I saw this lovely little northern fish was in Fish Lake all the way back to 1979. Its June in the Yukon and I have a little time off from my new job in Whitehorse at the welding shop called Jacobs Industries...still operational by the way in 2015. I owned a brand new four wheel drive Ford short-wheel base 3/4 ton truck of which I was quite fond. And after all I hadn't driven all the way to the Yukon just to work in a smokey machine shop! And here it was. A day and a half with which to do whatever I wanted. I was experiencing some financial embarrassment at the time but there was fuel in the tank and I decided to take a little drive up the Fish Lake Road to see what I might see. Nearing the lake I noticed a fork in the road and took the left and shortly found myself climbing higher and higher up the mountainside, not having a clue how the day was going to go. Oh the peaceful rapture of not knowing the trouble you are headed for!
Reaching the top of the mountain wasn't a problem and the road continued on. Why turn around? Soon I was travelling down the opposite side of the mountain on a rather steep decline. On the top of a little knoll I felt the front differential pick up an enormous boulder which clunked its way beneath the length of the chassis and out the back. Well.
Maybe that was a warning of some sort because shortly thereafter I came to the brook. It didn't look like all that much trouble and whoever had gone ahead of me had negotiated it all right and I'm in this new four wheel drive baby! After weighing it all out I decided to proceed and learned one of the great advantages of the four wheel drive. This wonderful feature helps you get hopelessly stuck many many miles farther into the bush that you would with a two wheel drive!
I was amazed at the suctioning-power of Yukon mud! Soon my right front wheel was totally immersed! Undaunted, but close to being daunted I got out the jack and messed around for a few hours with flat rocks and whatever I could find all to no avail. Now those who know me best would not accuse me of being the sort to quickly give up, but clearly I was going to have to find another way. Grabbing the rifle for protection from the ever-present (in my young imagination) charging grizzly I set out on a short-cut down to the lake. Might have been wiser to stay on the road, but this was way more interesting. Now a Saskatchewan farmboy unleashed in the enormity of the Yukon boreal has no clue what he is doing. I was totally out of my element but made the best of it as I tore my way through several miles of spruce thickets, willows and whatever and finally, mercifully came to the lake and felt the gravel crunch beneath my boots. Where was I going? Who would I meet? I really had no clue as I crunched my way along,now and then forced off the lake and into the bush, sometimes into the water to get by an overhanging bush. No distance gain comes easily in this country but eventually I heard the howling of what I took to be a pack of wolves! Excitement! And I marched on forward, eager to see my first wolves in the wild. In the end however, they proved to be no more than a pack of around 30 huskies, tethered around a small pond. Dogs owned by Ian and Sylvia Williams, whom I was shortly to meet. And oh yes, I believe I saw my first school of arctic grayling in the incredibly clear waters of Fish Lake as I made my way to the small enclave of human life at the head of Fish Lake. But more on the Arctic Grayling later!
What was foremost on my mind was the problem I had to solve! My means of transportation and my home were both mired in a bog on the fair side of mountain! I wondered what it might cost to have it extracted by helicopter but was pretty sure this would be prohibitive. Well, turns out things worked out a little better than that. I met at Ian's camp, a couple of fellows in a very rude shack. One was from the East Coast of Canada and the other from Ontario. They had a little booze and I forget what to eat and they were both kindly folk who were eager enough for the company and to help me out the next day. We drank away the long dimness of the Yukon evening, as it never gets remotely near dark in the Yukon in June. I remember Neufoundland talking at some length of how happy he was going to be to "see the Yukon in my rear-view mirror" And he told me repeatedly again and again, "You are just beginning to meet the Yukon"
I was thrilled then, the next morning as we set out in his effectively two wheel drive truck loaded with wooden beams and a jack. I didnt' know these guys and they didn't know me and they could have much more easily told me to go sweetly on my way, thank you! I will always remember them with kindness for the trouble they went to to get me out of that bog-hole from hell that morning. I admired the ease with which he got the planks under the wheels and the truck popped happily back onto solid land! What did I owe them? Ten bucks. Even then, 1979, ten bucks was not all the world! The kindness I was shown will ne'er be forgotten Bye! I was just beginning to meet the Yukon. How right he was he never did find out for he followed his hood emblem on out of the Yukon shortly thereafter, leaving me to my various mis and other adventures.
And, actually, the friendly acceptance and ready helpfulness was to become a pattern for me during my time in the territory. Perhaps we all understand the helpless feeling of being hopelessly stranded way back in the bush. Or we've been helped out and we want to pass it on. Whatever the reason, whenever I've had a problem in the wilds, I've had no trouble acquiring the help I need, even to this day. Its the rare Yukoner who will ignore the plight of a person in deep trouble out in the back country and a very fine and a good thing that is, wouldnt you say?!
Now, then, with all that out of the way, lets move on to the subject of this article, the well-not-so-elusive Arctic Grayling...
He is a wonderful fish, no doubt about it. But perhaps somewhat despised by the resident fisherman because so common in the rivers and streams of the Yukon Territory. The grayling is not particularly difficult to catch, provided you leave your spoons in the box for the pike and the lake trout. It didn't take even me all that long to discover that the grayling will not take a spoon, but are absolute suckers for a mepps or blue fox brass spinner. Some years back, on a moose hunt, maybe due to running out of small spinners I tried a number 3 and found to my delight that they tended to get the bigger ones. Toss the spinner out into the current, for the grayling is normally found in moving water, let it sink awhile, and give a little twitch on the line. That's the trigger to get the grayling to strike.
Its been an interesting observation that the grayling strikes when the spinner starts to dart away, the pike will take a spoon as it flutters on down towards the bottom and the lake trout tend to slam the spoon just as it ceases to travel and begins to sink. Personal fish-preference I suppose. At any rate, grayling tend to like to hide under a log or behind a rock in the river where the current is slack. Normally a sandy bottom is preferable to the grayling and if you find a slowly circling eddy of deep green clear water in the river, going round and around on itself and yielding anywhere near six feet of water, you'll probably dine well.
Arctic Grayling is best eaten fresh as the flesh tends to soften rather quickly. Easy to scale, the skin shouldnt be wasted. It is crispy and delicious! My personal favourite is to fry 'em in butter and add a little lemon-pepper. That, and a tin-foil wrapped mess of potatoes, carrots and onion bits, slow-cooked beside an open fire in the evening, should result in a wonderful feeling of well-bean, as you crawl into your sleeping bag and listen to the little night noises of all the nocturnal creatures going about their nocturnal business. Sweet dreams, Yukon fisherpersons!
As a young farm boy in Saskatchewan, it was always a treat to head down to Diefenbaker Lake. I don't really recall who first took me fishing there. Probably Dad. I do recall practicing casting with rubber weights on the gravel of the farmyard one spring. Of course, all i could think of at the time is that there has to be a better way to catch a fish! It seemed like forever until we could really cast a real hook in the real water of Diefenbaker Lake. Of course, my younger brother Gary out-fished me consistently which fact caused me no end of discomfiture.
In any case I persisted and every doug has his day. I remember so well staying with my cousins in a little cove where my uncle set his trailer for the weekend. There were a couple of buffalo-berry bushes rising up from the water and i decided to drop my hook between them and let it sink. This was to become my favourite technique for triggering strikes from the northern pike, a technique I still use, lo these fifty years hence. What would it take to buy my memory of that morning? The sudden solid pull on the line, watching the nylon cut the water as the 7 pounder struggled to rid himself of my hook. I was a pretty excited kid that morning. And my brothers successes were the farthest thing from my mind. The fish and excited kid with the plastic glasses and the toothy grin actually made the Herbert Herald ! Fame, glory and fine dining, all in one joyful explosion of fishing prowess! I was more hooked on fishing than the fish i caught was hooked on me.
Fast forward. Fred, Charlie, and brother Dave are out on the Bay for some pike fishing. Fred and Charlie own a fishing lodge in Alaska and a farm in Missouri and so, they made the trip spring and fall and rarely failed to stop by for a little fishing or even just a visit and a laugh or too. We had so many wonderful times over the years and I guess they wanted their brother Dave to experience the pike fishing on Teslin Lake for himself. The day went perfectly, though there was some emotion in the air as Dave was dying of cancer. It seemed impossible as he seemed energetic and healthy.
We moved around the glass-calm lake, hooking up on a lot of pike and letting them go. Finally it was time to head in. Halfway back i had the sudden urge to stop near one of my favorite weed-beds just for a quick cast or two.
Dave immediately looped a line overboard at a random spot and got the strike of his life. The fish was big enough to pull the boat and the struggle went on for some time until finally Dave was able to bring the beast near enough the boat for me to slide my hand up under the gillslit and hoist him aboard. 26 pounds and 46 inches!
Of course, these are the fish I want to leave in the lake. They're great for business. But fishermen are funny. They seem to get a kick out of catching really big fish. No idea why that is, but it is. Just no explaining the mind of the die-hard fisherman. Unfortunately for my business ambitions and for this particular fish himself, Dave was a taxidermist and i realized there would be no point in trying to get him to release this specimen. Besides, hadn't God given him this moment, this time, this special fish for the purpose of lightening his load in this life?
So, we hauled it back to shore, took the photos, which are still some of my favourites. Now, Fred likes to bring home the salmon and the freezer on his truck was absolutely jammed with fillets from Alaska. How to install Daves pike for the long ride back to Missouri? There was just one way and the contribution of all those fresh fillets was much appreciated that winter!
Now, sadly, both Dave and Charlie have been taken from this life. Fred still stops by whenever he has a chance. The connection between us is the memories we share of the many special trips out on the lake, Charlies infectious laughter when she hooked up on a good one... and many unforgettable fishing trips in the land of the midnight sun.
(to be continued...check back!)
When I first arrived in the camp near the Barrier River in Saskatchewan I was struck by the large number of people who had set time aside and traveled from afar to see if they could somehow help find the eleven year old girl who had gone missing a week earlier. Ashley and her sister had become separated on the walk back to the guest ranch and young Ashley had yet to be found.
The next thing that struck me was the great difficulty of the search. The entire river bottom appeared to be mostly a mass of willow, stretching on for miles and miles. Though forested in the higher areas, the sheer volume of willow did not bode well for the search ahead.
And ultimately, though a huge, heart-touching effort was put forward, including helicopter infrared grid searching, the Canadian military, RCMP and a great many civilians, Ashleys body was only found by a hunter later in the fall, some seven miles from where she'd disappeared into the unforgiving willows of the Barrier River.
Unfortunately, people both young and old, do occasionally become directionally challenged. And interestingly, it is often the adults who are the most difficult to locate. Children will become tired and sit down to rest and maybe even await being rescued. Adults, well, they often feel a bit embarrassed about the situation and keep on moving in hopes of seeing something familiar. This often ends poorly for searcher and searchee alike.
From my own experience I can say that it is not difficult to lose ones sense of direction in the bush. Here in the Yukon, there are normally mountains high enough to view through the tangle of brush you're travelling through. Its great to have landmarks such as mountains, but what if they become shrouded in mist and fog?
A friend and I hunted moose in northern Saskatchewan some years back. He introduced me to the area, a flat heavily forested area actually not that far from where poor young Ashley met her fate. He started me off on my own, sending me down a trail and telling me to go a hundred yards or so and veer off into the bush to the right. He would meet me from the other side. A simple plan. The best kind.
About an hour later and I'm still heading in his direction and where are Lloyd and Gerry? I slow and look around a bit and notice two hunters coming up behind me. I had unknowingly pulled a complete 180! For the duration of this week-long hunt I paid a bit more attention to what i was doing, I can tell you that! And I'm happy to report that without a compass or gps I was able to successfully navigate all over the area without becoming lost again. That bit about the moss growing higher on the north side of the tree is very true and helpful. Also, I took note of the suns position in the sky and when the clouds obscured it, they moved in an east to westerly direction. Anyway, I got away with it though i had to spend a whole day moving to the west until i finally hit the road and walked back to camp thataway.
Now, its your turn. You've left your group on a short sorte. Out of earshot of the group you're with, you spy some cute mushrooms and follow them around the trees this way and that. An hour passes and you think to head back to camp. D' oh! Now what?
I used to teach the kids a trick i learned of somewhere. I think it makes good sense for adults too. You aren't lost really, you're just a bit uncertain of exactly where actually the hell you are. Its getting late and chilly and you realize that if you choose badly, you may just have to spend the night in a swamp full of scary-sounding owls. What to do? You are home. No, I'm not suggesting denial, at least not... yet! You just decide that where you are is your home for the night. Make yourself comfortable where you are. Build a lean-to. Light a fire. Gather enough wood for the night. Make a spruce-bough bed. Home sweet home.
In the morning do you take off all your clothes and run naked and screaming through the woods hoping to find a restaurant? Better plan is to start making trails this way and that. Mark the trees on both sides as you travel so you can always find your way "home" to your camp. If you make four trails even a mile in length it is pretty likely that you will notice something familiar and be able to restore yourself to the comforts of civilization. And even if you don't, you've created a wonderful way for a search team to find you, haven't you now? And probably best of all, you've given yourself something meaningful to do which has acted as a wonderful panic preventative. As a consequence of that you haven't moved another 20 miles in the wrong direction during the night!
The personal story i related about my own getting-turned-around experience is not the only one i could have chosen. And I can tell you from my other experience that the feeling you get when you are wet and cold in a vast and soaking/freezing willow-swamp with no visible landmarks and no fire-making possibilities with night coming on is a special feeling indeed! One that might just lead someone to throw off everything that hinders and run off madly in pursuit of fine shelter and love. At least, I can imagine how that sort of panic could arise and take charge.
Of course, the best plan of all is not to become lost in the first place! But honestly, what fun is there in that?
Sorry, Jack London, and sure hope you dont mind me borrowing the title to this short piece. I personally love the story, though the ending could have been made a bit less unhappy. Incidentally, there is currently a youtube with this title which is very much worth the watch, extremely well done.
It so well illustrates, as did the original story, the folly of heading off into the yukon bush ill-preparared and over-confident. Arguably, under-confidence is also a problem, but thats another story.
Now, I'll admit that virtually all my life, I constructed fires by starting with the small stuff on the bottom and piling progressively coarser wood on top with the biggest logs right on the top, the idea being that the flames shoot upwards and best ignite the pile from the bottom up... MREEPP!!! Wrong!
Well, really there is no wrong way to make a fire if it works and everyone stays safe. But there sure are some better ones! So just for fun, the next time you feel the need for a warming or cooking fire, try this: Build your fire upside down with the big stuff on the bottom and working your way up with finer kindling and the actual starting material right on the top. Its sounds crazy I know, but it seriously is the superior method. You'll probably never go back when you've mastered the technique. For one thing, this is a light and forget it fire, if there is such a thing. Once its ignited, you normally walk away and busy yourself with that painting or whatever you happen to be doing. Your fire is perfectly capable of looking after itself while your buddy is busy re-installing the logs that rolled off his inferior fire.
Another great tip is to tear up an old pair of jeans into little pieces say, ten by ten cms, drop them in an old coffee can, add a little diesel so they lightly soaked and re-install the lid. A better way to get a fire going in the rain probably does not exist, or at least has yet to be discovered. Do NOT substitute gasoline and especially DO NOT ever attempt to light a fire in an enclosed space using gasoline. The flames blow back violently and will burn your beard right off and melt holes in your grey tee-shirt and your neck will be red for a week.
Yet one more tip i've found extremely helpful came from my late friend Dick Persons. He taught me the value of using spruce pitch in igniting a fire under wet conditions. Set on a piece of dry tree bark, spruce pitch is a wonderful fuel which burns hot, with a bright high flame, making the rest of the job childs play.
One cautionary note: Fire is like government. It should be kept small, kept confined and carefully watched.
HERE THERE BE MONSTERS1/28/2015
With a heading like "No word of a lie fish stories" it seems appropriate to begin the collection with a topic that surely no one would glance at incredulously, namely the possibility that monstrous fish or other sea creature types as yet unidentified may lurk in the murky uncharted waters of Lake Teslin.
When you have the impossible privelege of getting paid to take people from all over the world out on fishing excursions and you get to spend hundreds and hundreds of hours with the finest people in the world , "fishermen" in the most scenic watery beauty imaginable, it is only a matter of time before something odd is going to happen out there and you are going to witness a thing for which no hallucinogenic substance could have prepared your imagination.
Such was the case on a warm summers afternoon very near the quiet little village of Teslin. Today the lake lay like a pool of oil underneath a bright blue sky. It is not difficult to hook up on a decent sized lake trout near the end of June on these waters and as my client fought his fish something caught my eye. At first glance i took the eruption of spray half way across the lake to be a flock of swans, flapping there wings. But the swan explanation didnt hold water because the water beneath was all turbulent and dark. These were in fact, huge splashes of water, the sort that would occur if you drove your truck into the lake. The turbulent area of water appeared to be some 50 or 60 feet across and the splashes were all over the area. Me, I as the "guide" kept asking my client what it was and he kept reminding me he didnt know. We hastily landed the trout and headed for a closer look, but by the time we arrived the waters had calmed and there was nothing more to see. I was almost shaking with a mixture of fright and excitement as we boated over the area of action. Probably it was foolish to even go near it. Whatever it was, whether seismic event underwater or a mad feeding frenzy of something unimaginable we will have go on wondering...
Before my time a man by the name of Watson Smarch used to guide fishermen in the waters of Teslin Lake. By all accounts, he was quite good at what he did. I had the privelege of interviewing him one afternoon, and althogh I had a little trouble understanding his accent with my less-than-optimal hearing, there were a few things i gleaned that day. I thought it best to question him on the subject of monsters because of all his experience on the lake and the fact he had lived on the bank overlooking it for many years. He provided me with three stories, one involving a shot-dead floating moose which suddenly disappeared beneath the surface, another of a v-like wake coming down the length of the lake, as if caused by a large boat which suddenly disappeared. His third story was perhaps the most intriguing:
Teslin Lake is some 86 miles long and drops to a depth of 600 feet beneath the large mountain on its western shore. Some individuals were travelling by boat near the southern end when they noticed a strange serpent like creature in perhaps 10 feet of water. They prodded it with their oar or a pole until it rolled over and swam away. It had some sort of parallel bumps on its underside.
I have another story of my own experience which leads me to think there must be something to it. After all, Teslin Lake is water-connected all the way to the Bering Sea via the Teslin and the yukon Rivers. Is it therefore so far beyond the reach of credulity to suggest that something may have swum up the river and entered the lake in the last say,, oh, 10,000 years? Salmon do this every year...
Eagle Bay has seen the bottom of my boat and the splash of hopeful boatfuls of fisherpeople hundreds and hundreds of times over the last 16 years. The Nisutlin River meanders through its delta and deposits its load of silt in this Bay. Eagle Bay is named for its summer stock of Bald Eagles. Eagles are ravenous fish-eaters and love the bay thats named after them because it supports a very healthy population of northern pike, the target of our trips as well.
The boat was full as we crossed the Bay to the north shore. There is a spot here which has proven very productive of large and small pike over the years and i was eager to let the folks in the boat have a go. Avoiding an underwater obstacle I moved the boat around the island and made for the honey hole. A glance backward over the stern produced an amazing sight! The wake, rising instead of dissipating as it normally would. It grew as we watched and then began subsiding only to produce a huge dark bulge of water which rose to the height of about a yard. This bulge was now around a hundred yards from the boat and I had the distinct impression that whatever was under the water producing this enormous bulge was soon to show itself. It looked for all the world as if a large headed animal of some sort was about to emerge with the bulge of water running off its head. Alas it was not to be. If it was a creature and not some function of the wake and the bottom of the lake, it opted for deeper waters, the bulge moved on slowly losing size and disappeared from view. Six witnesses to a very weird wave which I myself had never before witnessed coming off the back of my boat...
Another native friend, Joe Bob, who has since gone the way of the swan once told me that the animal living in this lake could swallow a large boat whole, an obvious exaggeration but he sounded so sincere! Also, the man who raced into the water near the town in order to grab his daughter from the shallows as a huge reptile plotted his course for her... So many stories... The two I have personally experienced are definitely true. All I can say of the rest are I personally tend to believe well, most of them....
Not all that certain anymore just where the idea originated. They say mother is the necessity of invention or something like that. Well, the mother of this idea was the time it took me to assemble various necessities for a trip to the bush. I noticed that whether it was fishing, a paddle trip, moose hunting or berry picking, there were a certain number of small items which needed to be hunted down and assembled, items that had no idea how to stay where i put 'em!
Somewhere I came across the Frost River brand day pack and I knew I had my answer. In went my tiny Swedish hatchet, a decent compass, windproof lighter, skinning knife, spare socks for wet feet, a ball of rope. A small tarp is a useful addition, folded for compactness.
Another problem i had at the time, was that I was acting as volunteer ambulance attendant in the community of Teslin. Of course, the ambulance was well equipped, but maybe I come upon an accident scene on the way into Whitehorse sometime. So I included a tensor bandage, small scissors, tape, resuscitation barrier, and a rolled up splinting device.
One of the greatest additions has been the Solo Stove, This tiny stove requires no fuel other than what you'll find on any forest floor anywhere in the world: bits of bark, dried roots, pinecones or whatever can be burned. It burns with little smoke because of its unique design and will heat a cup of water to boiling in only a few minutes, excellent for the dry soup in a cup type of meals on the trail.
Anyway, this simple idea has saved me a lot of time preparing for my trips to town, the bush and the sea. Hope you give it a try and by all means, keep adjusting the contents to your own tastes!
Check here for periodic updates on fishing conditions, business updates and helpful wilderness tripping tips!