Tales from the Cabin
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Dock Tales

Money can’t buy memories like these

By Mike Lein
Published: June 1, 2005
Photo by Michael Lein
My neighbors probably consider me cheap and lazy when it comes to docks. Two cabins to the east, Marv has a nice roll-in job with covered boatlift and a unique drawbridge affair that cranks up out of the water at the end of summer. Just next door, Tom has a brand new, expensive, synthetic dock, adjustable roll-in with benches and beverage holders. My homemade wooden dock pales by comparison.
I haven’t even bothered to take it out for the winter in over four years.
I have reasons for my low-effort, low-cost dock practices. Some are practical considerations. During duck season, I don’t get wet feet launching a boat from shore on duck hunts right before freeze-up – because my dock is still in. The dogs, sons, my friends and I step right into the boat and head out completely dry.
Need a place to change into your cross-country skis? Come on over to my iced-in dock and have a seat. Want to be the first to cast a crappie jig to open water in the spring? No problem. My dock is already in.
The dock is also my all-season psychiatrist’s coach, a place to sit and ponder life. The first years we owned our undeveloped lot I often went there to wrestle inner demons. Personal demons with names like Mortgage Payment, Property Tax and Sweat Equity. It was a place to reflect on the decision to spend limited family resources on five acres of north woods complete with mosquitoes, deer flies, two kinds of ticks and industrial strength poison ivy.
I have long since sent those demons packing. But I still try to visit the dock at the end of each visit to the cabin. Now the purpose is to simply revel in the beauty of the lake, to hear one last loon song or to hope for a glimpse of an otter or an eagle. This last little bit of dock time helps carry me through the three-hour drive home and the too-long wait for the next trip.
Last November was no exception. I packed my gear into the truck and headed down the hill, fishing rod in hand, for one last look at an unfrozen lake. I cast a few times from the end of the dock, not really fishing, just taking time to enjoy the quiet lake, to think about the past summer and things done and not done.
My reflections on life were interrupted when a fish rocketed out of the bull rushes and slammed into the lure. Totally surprised, I held on with both hands as line ripped off the reel and out into the lake. I never got a chance to fight back. This sneaky aquatic juggernaut quickly tangled around a solid object and left me firmly snagged. I pondered my options for a minute. It was tempting to take the easy way out – to snap the line and head home. However, that was a favorite six dollar lure on the end of my line.
My wife Marcie’s blue and white paddleboat was still resting upside down on the dock. With my free hand I flipped the boat over into the water, climbed into the wet seat and pedaled out to attempt a retrieve.
When the line was pointing straight down, I leaned over the side looking for a glimpse of the red and white lure. There it was, wrapped around a sunken tree branch and still attached to the jaw of a very big, unhappy looking northern pike. I realize that both fishermen and water magnify size. But honestly, this nasty looking critter had to be at least 10 pounds! It easily would have been the biggest dock fish of the year. I excitedly cranked the line tight as I back-pedaled the boat and tried to pull free. The fish came to life, shook its head, and was gone into the weedy depths of Crooked Lake.
I was left sitting in the paddleboat with a broken line, cursing like a sailor on a much bigger boat. But my big-one-that-got-away funk didn’t last long. I was laughing as I paddled back to my homemade dock. Marv and Tom may have spent more money on docks, but money can’t buy stories and memories like these.

Once nature wears out his old dock, Michael Lein is thinking about up-grading to a nice new roll-in dock.
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