“FISH ON!” I screamed, much to the chagrin of my host and good friend John Rajala, and even more so to the shock of my son Hayden (12) and John’s son Ethan (14). You see, while they were helping set up the boats, I snuck to the back of mine and made the first cast into the pristine dark waters that I hadn’t fished in over 20 years. My lure was instantly devoured by a beautiful 3 pound largemouth bass. With $1 on the line for first fish, I thusly taught my son an important fishing lesson that John taught me 25 years ago: if your line isn’t in the water, you’re not going to be catching fish. Thus began another unforgettable day at Wolf Lake camp.
25 wonderful years ago, freshly graduated from college in New Hampshire, my college roommate and I decided that the perfect way to celebrate would be to drive cross country, with a key en route destination being Wolf Lake camp in the wilds of northern Minnesota for a bit of fishing with John and a few other great friends. The competitive juices were flowing and we caught an amazing number of large bass and even larger northern pike. After 3 days of fishing and playing hard in such a magical playground, I didn’t think that any fishing trip could ever compare. Fast forward 25 years and I can honestly say that it is more fun to have your child experience what you did when you were young. Few people are able to recreate some of the magical times of their youth with their children. We did. We caught (and released) hundreds of fish. We talked smack, we fished intensely, but mostly we relaxed and enjoyed the magnificent wild.
When I was a kid, my summers in Idaho were spent at a rustic A-frame cabin, catching toads, building tree forts, fishing, being awakened each morning by chipmunks and building beach fires with a seemingly endless supply of driftwood. Today our cabin has been replaced by a large home, surrounded on each side by even larger mansions; their docks stuffed with huge boats and jet skis and every type of floating plastic toy imaginable. The wildlife is gone. Driftwood is virtually non-existent. The natural experiences I enjoyed aren’t available for my kids. I compare this to what the Rajala family has done with their properties. Wolf Lake Camp is a throwback in time and a model of conservation and sustainable forestry. The magnificent trees are even larger. Multiple species are carefully balanced. What used to be an airstrip now is a forest of Red Pine. The wild lakes are beautiful because the lands surrounding them are beautifully managed. My personal mantra for living is to leave things better than you found them. The Rajala family has done this remarkably well. They are able to selectively harvest their forests and provide products that are truly unique in quality, and truly unique in care. When the 74 year old family patriarch spends his time cutting brush, capping saplings so the deer won’t chew their tops, and reveling in the knowledge that he and his family have done things right and created something really special, you know that you have found magic. We saw white tailed deer, bald eagles, and numerous hawks. We were serenaded by loons in absolutely perfect stillness. And we caught fish….lots and lots of fish.
Thanks for an unforgettable weekend of fishing, but more so thanks for leaving your part of the world a better place for future generations.