THROUGHOUT MY ENTIRE LIFE, I have never considered myself to be anything other than an “average Joe.” 

I have caught a lot of fish in a lifetime of fishing. I’ve killed my share of bucks, ducks, turkeys and such, but as many times as not, I come home empty-handed from an outing; sometimes as a result of less-than-average shooting performances, sometimes the lack of effort and sometimes just because of bad luck. I really haven’t done much to make myself recognizable to people outside of my small town and have never sought fame or celebrity status.

Nonetheless, while camping and fishing over Tipler and Long Lake way for three days last week, for a brief moment, I thought I had achieved celebrity status. I was recognized by two people I’d never met before. For a second, I thought I was really a somebody, a celebrity at least in my own mind and then, the truth came crashing down.

The last day of camping at a national forest campground on a small lake near the Pine River, I fished with Gordie, the yellow lab fishing champion of the world. Fishing out of my Old Town with Gordie guiding me from his perch in the bow, I caught some nice trout, releasing most, but keeping three beautiful rainbows between 10 to 12 inches long.

Coming back to the rustic boat landing, I noticed a couple sitting in lawn chairs simply enjoying the warmth the late-morning sun was putting out on a picture perfect day. As I neared the landing, I swung the boat around and began pushing stern first to the shore.

Almost touching gravel, I was taken aback when the man sitting there said “Hey, are you Maines?” Looking at him I stumbled out a yes, but added that he was one-up on me. Asking his name and getting it, along with his wife’s, I still had no idea who they were.

Then he said “I thought I recognized you. We read your column in the Vilas County News-Review every week.” Well, hey, I thought to myself, I am a genuine celebrity. The bright glow within me was to last only a few seconds. The next thing he said was “Yeah, I saw Gordie, saw that you were rowing an Old Town and figured you must belong to them.”

So much for being a celebrity. Not just second banana, but third banana to a dog and row canoe. So much for fame and fortune. 

Nonetheless, I then enjoyed a nice conversation with Griff and Lynn Funk of Iron River, Mich. A very nice couple, they were out for a relaxing morning, enjoying a mild breeze, bright sun and a surrounding forest starting to green up for the summer ahead. The chat made my day.

During my stay, my days had been made by trout, northern pike and smallmouth bass, all of which I caught during several hours of fishing each day. The days had been made doing some hiking with Gordie, by revisiting some country I hadn’t been in for probably 15 years and by exploring country I had never seen before, despite it only being a tad more than an hour from home.

The weather was near perfect, with only one rain shower damping the ground my second night at the campground. Even that did not bother me, thanks to the pop-up A-frame camper my wife and I have been enjoying for two years, now heading into our third.

I can tell you that no matter how much I might have jeered, smirked and otherwise demeaned friends and family members with rolling homes in campgrounds, I now realize how much nicer it is to sleep in a comfortable bed with a solid roof over your head and all sorts of other amenities that a true tent camper like I used to be would disdain.

One of my main purposes in heading east instead of northwest for my usual annual trek to fish the Namekagon, White, Marengo and Brule rivers was to fish the Pine and Popple rivers. My dad started taking me over that way when I was a young child. After graduating from high school, I never fished them again, except for one short outing on the Pine maybe 15 years ago.

My hopes to fish them this time were dashed when I saw the volume of water roaring under the Chipmunk Rapids bridge over the Pine. Looking from shore, I could see the river was maybe a scant 4 feet underneath the wooden plank deck. In this soon-to-be 70-year-old mind, it would have been nothing short of suicide to set a wader-booted foot in the river.

Instead, I fished small lakes within 10 miles of the campground. I hiked into, but did not fish, Perch Lake, which has several backpack campsites along its shore. I fished Fay Lake for northern pike and caught just two in the hammer-handle category.

I checked out several other lakes and thoroughly enjoyed an area of some pretty wild country. During my three days there, I had Canada geese and mallard ducks to brighten my time. There also was a big red fox near Lost Lake that got Gordie all excited from his back-seat perch in the truck.

When it came to fishing, I discovered Gordie has turned into a fanatic, eagerly watching every retrieve of a bright-bladed Panther Martin all the way to the canoe, going especially nuts when a trout followed it in without hitting.

He practically shouted instructions whenever I hooked a fish, especially when they started thrashing at the side of the boat. If looks could talk, his would have said “What the h-e-double toothpicks are you doing throwing that fish back?” every time I released one. More than once, I had to grab his collar before he could go overboard to retrieve a released fish.

Holding a “flippity-floppity” fish in front of his nose was like waving a red flag at a bull. Lips curled back, teeth clicking, eyes flashing and sniffing nose in overdrive, he insisted on approving each fish that came in the canoe.

When our three-day excursion was over, we sadly packed up, said good bye and reflected on being a celebrity or, at least, Gordie reflected on that status. 

I had to settle for being the sidekick.