I had backpacked across Isle Royale with three sub-teenage kids once and remembered the experience very fondly. We had wandered among moose (the world's densest population of this the largest of the deer) and heard the calling of the wolf by night in this "Island without a wheel" World Heritage Zone. I had tried to catch a few fish for a bit of variety in the cousine, which varied between trail mix and what my loving offspring referred to somewhat disparagingly in calling their benevolent provider "Chef Alpo".

The wonderful wilderness of Isle Royale has a lot of good things going for it, but easy access to the lakes on the island is not one of them. The glacial lakes are very frigid for starters, and contain freshwater leeches of the next discouragement to wading, as well as dropping off steeply to very great depths. So, I stood there longingly with my backpack fishing rod saying if I ever came back this way I would come equipped with some way to access the lakes on the island. And I did.

When I returned a decade later, I had well planned an excursion for a number of friends who were all first-timers in this area particularly, but also in wilderness generally, so there were some rumors of a revolt based in creature comforts. I was the only one who seemed to be seeing wildlife, perhaps because most wildlife is not deaf, and I heard a great deal about the three B's: bugs, blisters, and bathrooms--and how nice it would be if the National Park Service could eliminate the first two and furnish the third. But I had brought along in my backpack a creature comfort access of a different type. I had purchased a couple of inflatable rafts to use as a backpackable accessory for just such an occasion, and pulled them out after the camp had been set up for the evening, and blew them up and stocked them for a bit of a launch onto Chickenbone Lake, the apex of our planned and permit-granted circuit hike.

What a good idea! It worked superbly well, and I paddled the raft out into the lake and spotted a cow and bull moose wading through the shallows grazing the vegetation on the bottom. I began to cast toward the shallows, and had several hits even before I had silently paddled slowly toward the moose. The big bull raised his head and swung it slowly in my direction, water dripping from the velvet covered palms of his antlers--the fastest growing tissue on Isle Royale in the late summer season as the days begin to shorten noticeably. I flipped my spoon toward his feet and it was hit instantly by a heavy northern pike, who tussled under the weeds until I could bring him carefully toward the raft. Now, Esox Lucius has long sharp spines in his fins, and much sharper pointy teeth in his snapping jaws, and I did not want him to exercise any of these fine points inside the raft which was the only thing that was holding me on the surface over deep water a short cast from a bull moose standing in the shallows contemplating what it was that I seem to have just taken away from him.

I looped a length of parachute cord around the pike's head and through its gill covers, and tied the end to the loop on the front of the raft. I now had a stringer, and it was already loaded with one pike, when a second hit the spoon and I fought him around the moose as I tried to make as little commotion as possible minimizing surface splashing. I heard a splash behind me on the bank about as far from the moose as I was. I did not turn to look until I had the second pike on the stringer. I heard it again and turned to look. What a reward! Two otters were using the steep muddy bank for a slide, and had luged down the incline to slip into the water and corkscrew around, one holding a flopping bluegill in its mouth. This was an idyllic paradise in the isolated North Woods! I had just taken a picture of the bull moose, and had tried to shoot the elusive otters, when a loon came by at close range and posed for me before diving. I limbered out the rod, and was fishing when I started to move away toward the center of the lake. I caught another northern, and when trying to string the third one on the cord, I realized that the other two were pulling the raft and me out into the lake. What a good group of stories I would have to tell over the northern pike fillet supper we could all enjoy--and I could tell them of my proximity to the moose, the otters and the loon, and my would-be "outboard motors" pulling me in the direction that I had wanted to go anyway!

I paddled toward camp, stopping to fillet the pike and return in triumph to the happy campers with dinner ready for preparation. When I got there, they were gone. They had packed up and stolen away in a mutiny from the trek leader and permit holder, since they remembered that at least there was a bathroom back at the NPS boatlanding, and they could escape this forsaken place where there was nothing much to see anyway.

Fresh northern pike fillets, like wilderness, moose, otters and loons, are not for everyone.