Looking back on a lifetime of trapping, I am reminded of some sticky and downright hilarious situations I have gotten myself into. I have discovered over the years that there are two ways to go through life. When things go wrong, you can curse and swear and blame everyone but yourself, or you can sit back and laugh at the mess you have gotten yourself into.
Thankfully the Good Lord blessed me with a sense of humour. Good thing He did because I have sure gotten myself into some pile of messes while trapping. I will tell you about a couple of them.
A few years back otter prices were high and I was targeting them pretty hard. I had an extensive line out in some pretty remote country. One particular location was about 14 miles (22.5 kilometres) in off a government gravel road. The old logging road came to a dead end at a large river and, if I did not value the paint job on the truck, I could get it close enough that I would not have to carry the canoe far.
I usually use a 16-foot fiberglass canoe for trapping. They are stable for working out of and are easy to repair. This particular day I decided to take the 15-foot cedar strip canvas-covered canoe. I do not remember why, but I probably got tired of lifting that heavy fiberglass one up on the truck rack all day long.
To get to my sets, I had to paddle up the still water a ways to where a small brook dumped into the river. I would beach the canoe and walk up the brook about 300 yards (274 metres) to the outlet of a spring-fed lake. There in a boggy spot in the brook I had two #280s wedged in. It is the kind of place otter trappers dream of. The lake was boggy and the heat from that bog kept the set locations open all trapping season and, because it was spring fed, the water rarely raised more than a couple of inches.
SEE ALSO: Trapline Tales: Greasy Bill Creek, my father’s final resting place. By Calvin Kania.
That particular day in late November, I arrived at the river early in the morning. Anticipation of $200-$300 worth of otter waiting in those traps got me started early. Not a breath of wind and the sun just getting above the trees greeted me as I put the canoe in and started paddling. I remember to this day the stillness and beauty of that morning and the real reason most of us trap.
As I paddled up the river, it got wider and wider and I had to go past a small island. I was enjoying the paddle and noticed an old beaver house on the island. Well, no self-respecting otter trapper could pass up looking that old beaver house over. I pulled in, hopped out, pulled the canoe up on shore a bit. After all, I was only going to be a couple of minutes.
I looked for otter sign (cannot remember if I found any), turned to go back to the canoe and, to my amazement, there it was floating out in the still water about 75 yards (68.6 metres) away! The gravity of the situation started to sink in. Here I was in the middle of nowhere, standing on an island as my canoe, with all my gear in it, was drifting away. Anyone who knows me, knows I do not carry a cell phone. I trap to get away from all that crap and it would not matter if I did because there was no cell service in that area anyway. What to do? Quick calculations and I figured out that if I got a running start and made a good dive, I could swim that far.
Off came the waders, coat and the rest of my clothes in record time. As I stood on that island in the middle of nowhere, buck naked preparing for a late November skinny dip, the faintest of breezes came up and blew that canoe right back into the same place I had landed it. I could not believe my luck. I quickly secured it, took a few minutes to get dressed and got on my way. Every canoe I get out of now is tied to something.
Did I catch any otter in those sets? I cannot remember, but I can tell you what the highlight of that day was!
A Patch of Ice
A few years earlier in the same general area, I was running a mixed line of coyote, cat, beaver and mink sets. It was early December; everything had frozen up hard but the ground was bare of snow. I was in my old Ford 4×4 creeping along an old logging road. This particular area had been cut over around 20 years earlier. The “second growth” that was coming back held lots of rabbits (hares), making it a fantastic place to snare coyotes and cats. It was hilly country and the road meandered for miles up and down between countless lakes.
SEE ALSO: Trapline Tales: Trail-building in the high country. By Calvin Kania.
As I started down a long grade, I noticed that it had snowed just enough to cover the road. Any place the sun touched the road the snow was gone, but in shaded places it still remained. This old road was not kept up and the ditches were filling in, allowing water to run down the road in places.
About a third of the way down, the road takes a turn and was in the shade. When that old Ford truck hit that snow-covered ice it took off. Anybody who has ever experienced this will know what I mean when I say I could not feel any resistance on the steering wheel. It was like I was driving on ball bearings.
Now, I grew up in a rural area and driving on slippery dirt roads was not new to me, but I was picking up speed in one hell of a hurry and I still had a ways to go to the bottom. And then I remembered the culvert!
Not far from the bottom, the frost had heaved a steel culvert until it was half-raised across the road. Normally I just slowed down to a crawl and babied the truck over it, but that was out of the question this time. Down the hill I went, sometimes sideways, sometimes straight! Looking back, I like to think I did some of my best backwards redneck driving, but the truth be told, a few yards from the culvert, providence provided me with a small patch of gravel. If memory serves me correctly, I hit that patch with the truck pointed at the ditch and the wheels pointed down the road.
The truck straightened out, hit the ice again and I braced for impact. A few seconds later me and that old Ford hit the culvert (thank the Lord we were pointed in the right direction). Airborne we went for a few seconds, landed with a mighty crash and skidded to a stop on the road.
There I sat, gathering my wits and waiting for my hands and legs to stop shaking, covered in my lunch. I got out of the truck expecting to see the front wheels pointing in the wrong direction, fluids leaking and maybe the frame broke. To my amazement, I could not find anything wrong. After spending half an hour or so reorganizing gear, cleaning up the mess in the cab and settling my nerves some, I fired up the truck and tended gear the rest of the day.
Every time I stopped, I looked under that Ford. I just could not believe it wasn’t leaking anything. Later I did find some bent parts but nothing serious.
Oh, and believe me, that wet spot that was all over the front of my pants was from the coffee I was drinking!