November up north rarely sees 70 degrees with no wind. It was a chance to get out one more time to my favorite little secret fishing lake, take out the solo canoe and see if I could bring home one fish for dinner. Turns out it the lake gave me that last fish of the season and more fun with the rest I let go. A northern for dinner fresh out of a cold lake in November, you can’t beat it. Trolling around taking in the sights, a brief landing and a look around in a magical cedar stand and some warm sun on my back was enough to write a column about without the drama of what happened on way back to the portage.
I always see bald eagles on every trip to this lake. I’ve seen wolves in winter there, deer on the shore and otters swimming in the shallows. Fishing this lake is usually about bass, one after another, that we always release. Most days we land a pike and in spring a few crappies for the fry pan. It takes some work to get to the lake and there are rarely any other people on the lake or on the shore. It’s a gem of a find in the middle state land and forests of big white pine and cedar. I could take you there, but you have to blind folded the last 10 miles, it’s that kind of special place.
As I drifted away from the bass rocks and headed toward home, a lone adult bald eagle soared east from near my landing. In the red pines on the point, another eagle was oddly standing on ground as I neared shore. The adult with its white head up close is massive. This one was wet and sitting in the woods. It sat oddly unperturbed as I paddled within 30 feet, strange to say the least. I took a few I phone pics and paddled on to the landing to pack up and portage out. Fileting my fish, I noticed a flash off the point as that eagle flew a few feet out and landed smack in the water just off shore.
Now that is really odd, must be something wrong. I got back in my canoe and paddled over. It was floating like a duck and flapping its wings weakly. I felt helpless knowing an eagle with a powerful beak and massive talons can inflict sever injury. I pushed the bird towards shore with the bow of the canoe.
It stood on a submerged rock soaking wet and shivering, head drooping and looking sick, very sick. This poor bird, the symbol of our Republic, a fierce predator and scavenger was dying of what likely was lead poisoning. The symptoms were there. Its a slow death over a few days of agony all from ingesting just a few pellets of lead shot or a lead jig head found in fish guts on shore. All I could do was leave it to die and try to come back the next day to retrieve the body. I paddled back and portaged home and felt a deep sadness and helplessness that still makes me wonder if I could have done more.
The next day the bird was gone. No sign of a struggle or a kill or even a feather. What happened I won’t know but the bird with it’s head bowed, and shivering is a lasting memory I won’t forget.