November Day in a Canoe
by John Holbrook

Early November can be a most curious time in Minnesota. Some years it can already be winter with several inches of snow on the ground and ice forming on lakes and ponds. Other years it can be quite mild and a definite extension of Indian summer. That seems to be the case this year, thankfully.

Such weather can bring tough decisions to those of us who hate not being on the quiet waters of Lake Hubert in late fall. Sure, the boats and fishing gear have been put away. Yes, the fish will not be biting. Certainly, there is more danger involved when the 40 degree water temperature leaves no room for accidents. However, I did store that canoe very close to shore. The paddles are just inside the boathouse. And, what if I just stay close to shore? This week, that temptation was too much to ignore. On a perfectly still, warm afternoon, I launched that canoe with, of course, a fishing pole as a companion.

There is a bittersweet euphoria that comes from doing something like this, something akin to skipping school on a beautiful spring day. You know you really shouldn’t be out on the water in a canoe this time of year but just like skipping that May school day, the element of a bit of danger adds to the excitement, and the enjoyment. Finally, this adventure can be easily rationalized for, indeed, this very well could be my last time on the lake for several months.

Thus, I am soon on the water and start my paddling slowly parallel to the beach. It is easy from this vantage point to view my neighbors’ yards and to see how they have stored things for the winter. Looking down, many shells and clams are visible as the water is exceptionally clear this time of the year as it is too cold for most algae growth.But neighborhood yards and dead shells soon lose my interest as I gaze towards some nearby reed beds. Could there actually be fish over there, especially this time of the year?

A few minutes later, I am on the outside edge of that reed bed, at the limit of how deep I should be in a canoe. A dozen casts with a rapala yield nothing but that was all that could be expected. Well, one more toss towards the deepest section of the reeds certainly won’t hurt. Absentmindedly, I slowly retrieve the lure when I notice a dark green shape following intently. It is about a five pound Northern and it is definitely curious about this strange shape in the water above it! The fish actually swims close enough to gently bump the lure but then sees the canoe and flees quickly to deep water. I am not disappointed at all. “See you next spring and thanks for the thrill,” I say to myself.

By now, a breeze has come up blowing me into deeper water. There is no excuse to stay here any longer. It is time to go in, pull the canoe out of the water, and flip it over for the winter. It was great fun being on the water again. The sound of the paddles breaking the quiet waters was like gentle music. Finally, seeing the big fish was an unexpected bonus.

And, like the kid who skipped school and didn’t get caught, I will now quit any more November canoe rides while I’m still ahead.