My buddies and I used to go on this fishing trip each year to Eagle Lake way up in Ontario. The resort, run by this goofy guy named Bob, would send a Greyhound-style party bus down to the Twin Cities to pick us up, and cart us across the border to spend American dollars for overpriced beer, bait and boat rentals. Each member of our six man crew would bring on board a full case of beer to keep us busy on the 8 hour trip, usually Mich Golden or some other swill. Back then, you were allowed to bring over one case of beer per guy. Needless to say, most of us didn’t have much left by the time we got to Fort Francis, Minnesota where we would make the crossing through customs into the Great White North.

The bus would pull over before customs at the local Pamida or whatever backwoods supply store was there to gear up with last minute essentials, as the only thing between the border and Eagle Lake was Dryden, Ontario, a small hamlet in the middle of nowhere that proudly pronounced on a gaudy roadside billboard that Chris Pronger of the St. Louis Blues was their greatest son. My rag-tag group of underage drinkers saw the rest stop as a bathroom break and chance to load up on their quota of more crappy beer. The other people on the bus, most of them law-abiding fathers with their impressionable young children, used it as an opportunity to pull their kids aside and explain that “sometimes people that consume too many adult beverages say things we shouldn’t repeat in front of mommy.”

Anyway, the first year we went on this trip, we got to the resort late afternoon, and all piled down to the dock to jump in our rented boats with fishing rods and tackle boxes in hand. It was a gorgeous day, the kind you only see on postcards, and we were feeling no pain. One of my best friends Mills jumped in my boat, and away we went.

The bay was as smooth as silk, and we thought we’d just troll our way out of the small inlet into the deeper water. This was muskie country, after all, and by god we were going to get one. While most of our friends zipped by us to try their luck in other areas of the lake, my buddy Mills and I calmly staked out an area around a gradual drop-off near a small island in the middle of the bay. Now, for those of you that aren’t fishermen, you have to understand that the odds of catching a muskie are something similar to finding a Conservative willing to vote for Hillary Clinton. Not good. Some people spend decades, or at least one voting cycle, and never see a single one.

Mills, however, was different than most. He had come fully prepared with what we mockingly called his Fischer-Price branded rod and reel that was barely functional. He had two lures, one of which lacked hooks. And his line was tangled up like Amy Winehouse’s hair after a night of black tar heroine. But he was undaunted by things such as best practices and common sense. Mills tossed his Lazy Ike lure into the dark and murky waters of Eagle Lake and hoped for the best.

We slowly navigated our way around the island. The sun casually worked its way down to the tree tops bordering the lake. And then it happened. 

“Hey, I think I’m snagged up,” Mills said. “I need to bring the boat around.” Mills maneuvered the boat back to where the line was impossibly caught on a submerged tree or thick bunch of weeds. I drunkenly tried to focus on his line, making sure my own didn’t get crossed up in the process. Then it moved.

“Jesus Mills…that’s no snag. That’s a fish!”

The line slowly and methodically began moving away from the boat, even as we progressed closer to where we thought the lure was stuck. Mills swiftly pulled back on his rod, setting the hook to ensure that whatever was on the other end of that line wasn’t getting away. I furiously reeled in, darting my eyes around the boat in an attempt to find the net. As Mills’ rod nearly doubled in half under the weight of the great beast, our friends took notice and swerved their boats back into the bay to see what kind of monster he had hooked into.

After 15 minutes, it lazily floated to the surface, defeated. Mills berthed the animal to the side of the boat. I quickly netted the fish, and tried hoisting it into the safety of our small Lund. As I lifted the fish into the boat, the aluminum handle of the net snapped under the heavy mass of the fish. It violently thumped to the bottom of the boat. Mills grasped it by its gill, and triumphantly held it up for the world to see, his arm quivering under the strain. This, after all, was no ordinary fish. This was a muskie.

We couldn’t believe it. And to think we had landed the sucker with inferior equipment and extremely compromised faculties. The fish came in at 52 inches, and had to be at least 25 pounds. Our friends cheered from afar, amazed at what they’d just seen. We’d been on the lake no more than five minutes, and one of our party had already landed what possibly was the most elusive freshwater fish in North America.

But, Mills had to go and ruin the moment. With the grace of a one-legged ballerina, he took the massive fish in both hands, and hossed it into the lake like he was competing for an Olympic gold in the shot put. The fish heaved over the side of the boat, unceremoniously slapping into the water. It flipped over, belly up. I sat there in disbelief, knowing that a mighty fish such as this 52 inch muskie needed to be gently coaxed back into the water to ensure proper oxygen flow through the gills. Otherwise, they die. This was like watching someone intercept a quarterback in the last minute of the Super Bowl, then walk over to the guy after the play and kick him square in the slats. No honor. No dignity.

We grabbed the fish, and tried to revive it best we could. Thankfully, after a few minutes and several attempts on our part, it gained its senses, and darted under the boat, never to be seen again. The rest of our weekend consisted of copious amounts of alcohol, my friend Mills climbing up a flag pole at 4 a.m., and several unsuccessful passes at one of our waitresses in the lodge restaurant that nearly got us kicked out. I think it was Bob’s grand daughter.

Which brings me to Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. This story has nothing to do with this fine beer. Except that the impressive fish on the beer label (while a salmon) reminds me of this adventure. And much like we gently coaxed the fish back to life, this is a beer that needs to be savored slowly. Because trust me, you don’t get an IPA like this very often. It’s one of the best I’ve ever had, full of bursting Centennial hops and a pretty high IBU rating that gives it some nice bite at the finish. It’s not quite a DIPA, but I think it’s approaching the style. Lovely citrus and caramel flavorings throughout. The bottle says 7% ABV, and after two of these bad boys, I can definitely feel it. Although, I haven’t eaten dinner yet. Maybe I’ll head up to Long John Silvers…

Rating: A

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