I firmly believe that every family should have one weekend a year where they all get together. My family has the Vermillion fair, and Erin’s has Canada day. I think its a great idea because then every year you know, all year, that you need that same weekend off, and you know not to make plans. I also think its important to see your family more often than Christmas.
As per the family tradition, the plan was for all of us to meet up at Lesser Slave Lake for some camping over Canada day weekend. Friday after Erin was done work, we packed the gear into the truck. I was amazed at how fast it had started raining and how hard it was raining all through this process. Needless to say I was starting to get a little grumpy, but we loaded up and headed out anyway. It was about a four hour drive, Erin somehow managed to do homework for most of that time, while I drove and watched for wildlife, we saw a cow moose and her calf.
We arrived at the campsite a few hours before sundown, up north sunset is about 11:30pm that time of year. The family rents 3 large cabins that are all attached together and share some wonderful lakefront real estate. From there a few family members stay in campers on the lot, Erin and I sported a lovely little tent we set up in an area with an excellent view. It still amazes me how easy it is to set up a modern tent, I remember when I was a kid my parents had those old tents in the garage which were essentially a mess of random poles and musty fabrics. After setting up the tent, we plopped ourselves down beside the fire for a spell and then retired to our fresh air, nylon chateau complete with a queen size air mattress.
The next morning I over slept, but that’s what camping is for. Shortly after I got up, someone came up with the plan for pretty much everyone, under the age of 30, to bike to town… for no particular reason. We had a real convoy of roughly 10 people from about age 8 to about age 25, on all type, age, and condition of bike. It must have been quite the sight, especially since, the one leading us most of the way was the youngest. While in town we stopped at a fast food joint and I bought everyone ice cream, I figured I could use the brownie points.
Upon arriving back at our campsite, we found that Erin’s parents had arrived, they intended to come the night before but were held up by the poor weather, as they were hauling a trailer and carrying a boat. They got set up and we got the boat in the water. I noticed that the strong winds coming off the lake were attempting to borrow my tent. I moved it to a slightly more sheltered area and actually pegged it down this time. Instead of lifting up and curling, it was folding in… well at least it wasn’t going anywhere.
It was then decided that, despite the wind, Erin, her dad, and I should all go fishing. We grabbed our gear and loaded up the boat. At the last minute, Erin, in a moment of pure selflessness, gave up her spot in the boat to her young cousin who was itchin’ for some fishin’. Erin’s dad was happy to accommodate him. We loaded up and headed for the small island, named Dog Island, at the far side of the bay to look for walleye. We got out there, slapped on some hooks, did some trolling, and ate some chips. Erin’s cousin caught the first fish, a nice walleye, just barely big enough to keep. We decided to throw it back, since it was the first catch and surely we’d catch bigger (often famous last words). Erin’s dad was the next to catch a fish, a smallish pike, then he caught a small walleye. I managed to wrangle in a ok sized walleye and we decided to keep this one, for safety’s sake. Then it was Erin’s dad on again, then the young cousin… those two were out fishing me six ways from Sunday, but I was the only one with a keeper in the boat. Erin’s young cousin had something special take his line. After a spirited battle, he had at the edge of the boat a very nice walleye, certainly the biggest I would see all weekend. I reached over the side and grabbed the line to haul it in, with a great thrash from the fish, it, in one motion, both snapped the line and cut my finger, and just like that he was gone. Everyone was a little sad and I certainly felt some guilt over the loss, but at the end of the day at least we know there’s still at least one big fish in that lake. It was getting to be about supper time, so we headed back to shore. Another of Erin’s young cousins and her friend were mesmerized, and a little afraid of the fish. We could hear them giggling and screaming from where we left it hanging while we stowed away our fishing gear and rounded up filleting gear… ok so just a filleting knife and beer, but that still counts as “gear” if you ask me. I watched with fascination as the fish was cleaned with a level of skill that is only granted with time and experience. It was thrown in the refrigerator for later. We helped ourselves to some dinner, then we all sat around the campfire enjoying each others company until every person had reached their own idea of what the wee hours of the morning means. There had originally been fireworks planned for that evening but we were informed they were to be delayed due to wind, and I could understand why.
The next day, Sunday, I overslept yet again, and nobody seemed to mind, maybe I’ll make that my tradition. It was far too windy for any kind of fishing that day, so some people opted to relax, others opted to go golfing. The rest of us went to a nearby hike. The hike was pleasant enough, though I could have lived without the mosquitoes. I was surprised to find that at the end of the hike there was a little lake that someone had somehow gotten a small rowboat into. Then there was what felt like a frenzy of photographs, and some cookies handed out… I thoroughly enjoyed the latter of the two. We then hiked out and headed back to camp. In the evening it rained quite hard which lead to two things. The first was a lot of me hurrying and panicking inside our cheap tent trying to get everything away from the edges to prevent any more water from coming in. The second thing the rain had instigated what was a rather sizable cribbage tournament, I had played before, but it was a long time ago. Erin and I played as a team and I feel that despite a lot of losses we played well and were close each time. The rain finally quit, and the cribbage tournament was over, and somehow the music got loud and everyone started dancing. I left at the first opportunity, on account of my two left feet, and found myself as part of a growing crowd by the fire. That day also ended just the way I like it, relaxing by the fire in good company.
On Monday, it was again windy but we opted to go fishing anyway, this time It was Erin, her dad, and myself in his boat, and then as many people as they could fit in her uncles boat. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 people, but I dont ever recall doing an official head count. The plan was for us all to catch some fish and have a great big fish fry for dinner. We battled some sizable waves to get to the island, but once there Erin and her dad started catching like it was going out of style. I, as any fisherman who isn’t catching tends to do, tested nearly every hook in my tackle box. In the end Erin had offered me a duplicate of the hook she was having such success with, reluctantly I accepted… and wouldn’t you know it, I caught a fish first cast. It always hurts to borrow a hook from someone because yours don’t work, but I’m pretty sure I bought that hook for her, so that makes me feel a little better.
After we hit our limits, we did a bit of “bonus fishing” beyond the wind block of the island, we did some of our best catching while drifting and rolling over the giant waves that only strong wind across a very big lake can create. Eventually we realized it was getting late in the day and headed in to meet up with the other boat and assess the results of our makeshift fishing derby.
If memory recalls, we had six walleye and one pike (not pictured). It was now up to Erin’s dad to fillet them, I think that’s worked its way into tradition over the years. I asked if I could help, since I really wanted to learn how to fillet fish, not surprisingly he agreed to let me assist him. We rounded up our knives and headed to the fish cleaning shack. He re-showed me the basics on the first fish, then we proceeded to start filleting. In a fury of swinging knives and flying fish parts we had made short work of our bounty, I worked as fast as I could but was only cleaning about one fish to his three… but I guess that’s the kind of speed experience affords you.
We cleaned all the walleye, while each strategically avoiding the pike that neither of us had a clue how to fillet, until finally he caved and did his best to clean it. We returned to the cabins as heroes hearing many a “thanks for cleaning those” “wow, that was fast!” and “I cant believe how much fish that is”.
Shortly after our return everyone got to work filling the deep fryer with oil, making beer batter and preparing salads. This was going to be the kind of feast that wont soon be forgotten. I opted to stay out of the way and watch the deep frying process at work, while chatting with the expert cooks. The fish disappeared onto the plates of bystanders just as fast as it came out of the fryer, after almost everyone had dished up I was excited to grab my share… and then another share… followed by another… then a few more nibbles. What can I say? It was delicious and there was a lot of it. To my surprise I only found a single bone, and I know it was from that pike! I also inquired around and only about three other people admitted to finding a bone, not bad for my first time cleaning fish. After some sitting and digesting it had become rather late and it was now time for the Canada Day fireworks display put on by the campgrounds. We all wandered down to the beach to watch. Just before the fireworks started another family tradition took place… a very loud group rendition of our national anthem, which was met with a lot of cheering and applause all down the beach, and one gentleman replied with part of the tune from “Hockey Night In Canada” and of course we all applauded that guy. The fireworks display was impressive, bright, and very loud. Sunday ended much like Saturday, pleasant conversation around the campfire until one-by-one everyone found their way to sleep.
The next day everyone was up a little bit early, we needed to be out by 10. Erin and I packed up our gear and took down our tent, but left it out for a bit so it could dry. We then headed into the cabins where everyone was showing a great display of teamwork in cleaning all the cabins from top to bottom… especially bottom since the rain and sand had led to a lot of grit being left on the floors. Everybody got stowed away, acquiring help when needed and offering it when available. In what seemed like no time flat we were stowed away and pulling on to the highway leaving the weekend in our mirrors. All that was left now was to make the long drive home, unpack our vehicles, and to start looking forward to next year.
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