Saturday, April 30, 2016

Heading to camp, can't be reached for awhile

The best way to reach us for the next couple of weeks will be by e-mail. I'll be leaving shortly for Red Lake where Nicholas, Cork and I will fly out to camp and get to work. Once there we will not be operating the generator and so will not have the telephone or be filing reports on the blog.
Brenda will be on the road attending a bunch of spring meetings with tourism groups all over Northwestern Ontario as part of her duties with NOTO (Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters aka Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario.) She will likely access e-mails each night.
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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Contact artist for your customized lures

Finescale dace, redbellied dace and fathead minnow
We were overwhelmed with requests for lures that look like native baitfish after I published a couple of posts about them. See Outstanding and Minnows.
Now you can contact our artist neighbour, Dwayne Kotala, yourself and place your own orders.
You can find him at: CrankyFinnGuy.
His direct e-mail address is:
Just a reminder of what Dwayne offers: he can paint lure bodies to match your requests as well as producing his own products.
In our case, Dwayne produced lures in various body styles that look like the various species of daces, chubs and shiners that are native to Red Lake, Ontario. Dwayne is an airbrush artist and his paint jobs are absolutely top quality.
He is also working on wooden lures that could be especially of interest to anglers of big northern pike and muskies.
And, he can repaint your old mounted fish trophies to restore them.
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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Eyes in the sky Tuesday show ice-out isn't far

Open water starts just north of Cabin 1, where the current is strongest

Ice is still solid from camp south to Trout Bay

Lots of open spots between camp and Pipestone Bay. Harriet Carlson photos
Looking south, Big Red is at top of photo
Hugh Carlson and his daughter Harriet flew over our camp yesterday and got these great aerial photographs showing a patch of open water in the narrows just north of camp.
Hugh was moving his planes from the ice to Chukuni River in preparation for the upcoming season.
We are often some of Viking Outposts first customers as they fly us from the open water at the river over the ice in the main part of the lake to Bow Narrows Camp.
I hope to do that very thing next week, along with Nicholas, one of our staffers, and Cork, the dog. I've got a couple of things I would like to do even before Brenda and the rest of the staff arrive.
By next Monday I would imagine all of the narrows north to Pipestone Bay will be clear and probably Middle and Sadler Bays as well.
You can see from Harriet's great shots that the ice in those places is sick-looking. Four or five days of sunshine and, after a couple of days, no freezing temperatures overnight will do it in.
The rest of the lake probably won't be far behind. May 8 is a good guess.
We sure thank Hugh, Harriet, Enid and Viking Outposts for taking the time to check out our camp.
We're so fortunate to have such good friends and to have the location that we do. The current in the narrows means our location is the second spot in the lake to be ice-free each year. The first is the Chukuni River, the outlet of Red Lake, right at town.
Our great spot has always let us get into camp by the opening of fishing season, even when the opener was early and ice-out was late. (That's not the case this year. Fishing season doesn't start until May 21.)
We would prefer to always boat-in of course. It's cheaper that way, but our ability to get into camp by floatplane early in the season is a godsend. 
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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pilot's first report on 2016 Red Lake ice-out

The good news is that the Chukuni River had melted enough that Howey Bay Resort owner Dave McLeod was able to move his floatplane to it last week. The bad news is that he flew all over the country and couldn't find open water anywhere else.
But don't panic, early season fishermen, there is more good news coming.
A week ago Red Lake had several days of very warm 20-ish C (70 F) temperatures that decimated the ice sheet. It appears to have melted enough around the shores that the sheet lifted, always a precursor to ice-out. But then it got cold again and lots of spots that had been open re-froze. Dave said that near his camp the new ice was one-inch thick.
But don't panic, early season fishermen, there is good news coming.
The entire ice sheet is only about a foot thick. It would only take a week of warm weather to melt it and guess what? There is nothing but blue skies and warm weather ahead in the weather forecast, including positive nighttime temperatures!
Check out the 14-day forecast yourself at The Weather Network.

So when will Red Lake breakup? Probably sometime in the first week of May. The average ice-out date for Red Lake is May 8. Fishing season doesn't begin until May 21.
That's a two-week margin of error. OK?
For those who are still experiencing chest pains and tightness in their necks and shoulders as evidenced by recent comments to this blog and e-mails, may I suggest coming later in the season in the future? You are stressing yourself out for nothing here.
All together now: Stay Calm. Be Brave. Wait for the Signs!

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Life and death scenes on trail camera

Many does with fawns were photographed
Four timber wolves caught on same camera
The next day one wolf walks by with a small deer's rib cage
I had not picked up my trail cameras for about a month and when I did a couple of days ago I was surprised at these photos on one of them. The camera had about 1,000 photos of deer, a dozen of wolves and a few of a dog.
There were so many deer pictures, before and after the wolves appeared, that it's clear the wolves didn't decimate their population.
It is equally obvious that at least one of them didn't make it.
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Friday, April 22, 2016

Hybrid solar flashlight could meet all needs

Charges with its own solar panel

USB port and micro USB port will recharge cell phones
I picked up HybridLight's 160-lumen Hybrid Solar flashlight recently and it seems to be ideal for fishermen, hunters, campers and, really, everybody.
It has a solar panel on its side that continuously recharges the flashlight. It is said to hold a charge for years.
It is made of very durable polycarbonate. It is waterproof and it floats.
If you unscrew the end cap there is a USB port to recharge digital devices like cell phones and a micro USB to rapidly recharge the flashlight, if needed.

I tried it out and the flashlight recharged my near-dead cell phone in just an hour or so.
The solar panel will charge the flashlight using any light source, even firelight!
With a full charge the flashlight is said to last 30 hours on low beam and seven hours on high beam.
That is exceptional all by itself and speaks to the efficiency of its LED bulb.
Imagine having a flashlight that never needs batteries and recharges from the sun.
HybridLight also makes a 250-lumen flashlight, an 80-lumen model, a headlamp and lantern models.
Their website is

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Artist's lures are absolutely outstanding

Lures are hand-painted to look like minnows of Northwestern Ontario
We just got the first batch of lures from our artist neighbour, Dwayne Kotala, and they are incredible. Imagine fishing with a lure that actually looks like the minnows native to your lake instead of idiotic patterns mass-produced in China. What a concept!
We gave Dwayne photos of the most common minnows of Red Lake, Ontario, and he airbrushed blank lure bodies to mimic those baitfish.
Check out the two photos below. The first shows two actual redbellied daces, the most common minnow used for fishing in Northwestern Ontario. The top minnow is the female and the bottom the male. Then look at Dwayne's reproductions, actually done on two different lure bodies. They are stunningly lifelike.
Redbellied dace, female top, and male bottom

Artist's version
These two lure bodies, the top with an unusual round lip and the bottom with an L-lip, will probably troll at about six feet of depth. That's my guess. The best walleye lure we have seen up until now has been the Shallow Shad Rap, also with the L-lip. The smaller version of this -- just a hair longer than the lure above -- runs at six feet. This depth catches walleye from ice-out until late-July.
In this first batch of lures Dwayne did four daces, seen at right.
The top two are the female and male redbellied daces.
Third from the top is a pattern that resembles a whole bunch of Red Lake's baitfish, including fathead minnow, pearl dace, lake chub and blacknose dace. Not a colourful lure but then with the exception of the male redbelly dace, most real baitfish are drab. I would suspect evolution and survival have a lot to do with that. The bottom lure is a reproduction of a finescale dace.

Dwayne created four different four-inch floaters: shown at left. They are, from the top, emerald shiner, white sucker, smelt and perch.
The details on these are outstanding. I include a close-up of the emerald shiner at the bottom just to show this. Incidentally, did you ever wonder what advantage shiners might have with their mirror-like sides? It's actually a cloaking mechanism. From beneath they look like the sky. They mirror their surroundings. With that in mind it is probably not the best idea to make a lure that is, for all intents and purposes, invisible. It needs to look like the target fish but it also needs to be seen. I don't know about you but I've never had much luck with chrome-finished lures in the past. This could explain why. Dwayne's lures are not chrome. They're bright but you can actually see the sides. I think this is great.
Close-up of emerald shiner shows amazing detail on this hand-painted lure.

Dwayne has included some crayfish lures that also look outstanding. There are times, especially mid-summer, where every northern pike we clean has crayfish in its stomach. These are deep diving lures, probably crawling down to 9-12 feet and are extremely lifelike. I hadn't mentioned
 crayfish to Dwayne when we first thought about his painting lures for us but it was a great idea. His first crayfish looked great but, hey, I thought, let me send him a photo of our actual crayfish species, Orconectus virulis -- sorry, it doesn't have a common name that I'm aware of.

The next day, Dwayne sent me images of his first two O. virulis lures. They weren't ready for my photo shoot of lures because they still had many more coats of paint to be added. Some of these lures have six coats of paint!
All of his lures also have extremely sharp, and expensive, Mustad hooks.
We've ordered another 10 sets of five lures as well as some others Dwayne is working on, including hand-carved wooden ones. Whoa boy!
Just when larger lures are beginning to work for northern pike again too!
Incidentally, a really unusual lure that will be included in a lot of the sets, if not all, is the wounded minnow, seen below. This is a floating lure that floats on its side and when twitched, dives and wiggles off in a sideways direction, just like a crippled minnow.
You know how pike love to grab a small walleye when you reel it in and it is pulling sideways? Yeah, like that!

For all those people who have ordered sets of lures, we need your feedback on how they work. Please take notes.
I'm getting requests for lures, not only from our guests, but those from other camps and even other camp operators. I think Dwayne has found a niche in the ultra-competitive fishing lure business. Just think, lures that look like the minnows in YOUR lake. What a concept!
So, we're getting more sets of five lures and the price is still just $10 Cdn per lure for a total of $50. If you want a set, you can e-mail me until May 1. After that I will be at camp and will be too busy. Hopefully Dwayne will have a web-presence by then and you can contact him directly. When he does I'll report it and put a link to it here on the blog.
(Update, April 28, 2016, see CrankyFinnGuy which is Dwayne's site.)
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Sunday, April 17, 2016

Summer residents showing up, ice-out two weeks

Red-sided garter snake

White-throated sparrow
Cork and I saw these sure signs of summer on our walk today. The red-sided garter snake, basically Northwestern Ontario's only snake and completely harmless, had come out of hibernation and was looking for some action with members of the opposite sex.
The white-throated sparrow is the bird that makes the mournful calls you hear everywhere in the summer, especially in the mornings and evenings. If you hear one calling in mid-day it just about always means it is going to rain.
The weather here in Nolalu has been spectacular this week with highs in the mid-20s C (70s F). Red Lake has been cooler but still fairly decent except for yesterday and today when it has been getting freezing rain. That was good because the lake was right on the boundary between rain and about 10 inches of snow.
I checked out Whitefish Lake near Nolalu today and it is still frozen shore-to-shore. With all the warm temperatures we're getting -- which have almost wiped out the snow -- I would guess Whitefish could break up in 7-10 days. I haven't seen Red Lake but considering the temperatures in the forecast it will probably go about May 1.
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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

How to speak Canadian, eh?

So you're coming to Canada! Beauty! (Great!)
Here's a short primer on how to speak the most common form of the language. Like, this isn't West Coast surfer talk, dude. Nor is it East Coast rapid talk, b'ye. It's what you hear just about everywhere you go in between. It's Geezer Canadian!
So why are you coming? Fishing? Take off! (No way!)
First thing, stop at a Timmies (Tim Horton's coffee shop) where for just a couple of loonies (dollar coins) or maybe a toonie ($2 coin) you can get a double-double (coffee with two sugars, two milks) ask around and find out what the fish are biting on.
Then grab a Two-Four (a 24-pack of beer) or some pops (sodas) and head for the bush (the Boreal Forest).
But before you leave town and at every town you come to on the drive, make sure you use the washroom (restroom) because it's a lot of klicks (kilometers) to the next one! With that in mind you might want to stuff some serviettes (napkins) in your pockets in case you can't wait.
Got your tuque? (knitted cap or watch cap) Got your bug dope? (insect repellent) Got your Two-Four? Then you're packed!
No seriously, you better also stuff some butter tarts (a yummy dessert, like tiny pecan pies) or some Smarties (similar to M&Ms) or some ketchup chips (ketchup-flavoured potato chips) in your knapsack (backpack) to munch on too.
By the time it's supper (dinner) you'll probably be giv'n her (doing your best) on some lake pulling in pickerel (walleyes) or jacks (northern pike). Don't get in a kerfuffle (a fuss) if there's no hydro (electricity) because this is where the fish are! Just kick off your runners (athletic shoes) and settle down on the chesterfield (couch) and say, "I'm really in Canada, eh?"

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Other 'fishermen' you see out on the lake

Bald eagle snatches fish from the surface. Jerry Olaskowitz photo.
Red Lake, Ontario, has a lot of bald eagles. In fact, it sometimes seems that there is an eagle perched on a tall tree or broad limb in every bay.
We know of about six eagle nests at the west end of Red Lake where camp is located but judging from the numbers of eagle pairs, there must be many more. The big raptors are territorial so you don't find one nest near another.
Their diet is mostly composed of fish. Their favourite method of hunting is to watch from a perch for a fish to come near the surface, then swoop down and sink their big, needle-sharp talons into it and carry it away. If there are still young in the nest, they will haul the fish back there. Otherwise they will usually take it to an exposed rock on the shoreline where they rip it open and devour it.
Our guests get great photographs of eagles, usually perched majestically on some snag. It is rare to actually capture them in the act of fishing as Bow Narrows angler Jerry Olaskowitz did in the photo above.
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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Two at a time on this lure

Bow Narrows angler Terry Ditsch pulled in two gamefish at one time with this lure. Say what? Perch ARE gamefish!
Terry was fishing during one of the first weeks of the season last year when perch and minnows are schooling by the thousands in very shallow water, looking for some warmth from the sun. Sometimes you can't help but hook one -- or two -- when you are casting.
I don't know what Terry's friend Mike Parenzan used to catch and release his big northern pike, below. It would be fun to get two of that size on at the same time, eh?
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Saturday, April 2, 2016

My own 'Old Man and the Sea' story

Lake trout on Red Lake had grown very large and were very plentiful in 1992, the first year that I had returned to Bow Narrows Camp after more than a decade working as a journalist in Thunder Bay.
It was evening and I had finished doing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen in the lodge so I grabbed my fishing rod and tackle box, jumped in the staff boat and headed to Trout Bay, just a mile away.
It was late June, the temperature was warm and there wasn't a breath of wind. My boat glided across the mirrored lake surface like a shooting star in the evening sky.
I could see other boats trolling on the far shore of Trout Bay as soon as I reached this deep body of water. Since I wanted to be alone, I just stopped where I was, near the islands at the east end. It wasn't known to be one of the bay's hot spots for lakers but I couldn't have cared less.
As soon as the boat came to a standstill I tied on a big bucktail jig to the monofilament spooled on my old Phlueger Supreme baitcasting reel. The Supreme had once been the Cadillac of fishing reels. It was given to me when I was 14 by my favourite uncle, Ervie, who basically had taught me to be a fishing guide from the time I was 9 just by letting me steer him around every time he came to camp fishing.
Although the Supreme eventually was made with a star-drag and a free-spool, mine predated these innovations. You added or reduced tension on the spool of line simply with thumb pressure. I had grown up doing this and it was just second nature. Frankly, I thought people who used the newer, more-automated reels were sissies.
There were two ways to jig for lake trout. One was to let the jig fall to the bottom then move your rod up and down several feet, making the jig bounce. The other was to let the jig hit bottom, then reel it rapidly toward the surface again. I chose this second method, partially because it had worked best for me in the past but also because it would allow me to constantly gauge the depth of the water. I didn't have a depth finder and I knew each crank of my reel handle retrieved about a foot of line. The trout had gone down to their summer depth and would be in approximately 60 feet of water. If my jig broke surface in less than 60 turns of the handle I needed to move the boat farther away from shore. If it was more than 60, then I needed to be closer. It wasn't a scientifically accurate system but it didn't need to be. In reality the trout could be as shallow as 45 feet and as deep as 70.
I adjusted my distance from shore once or twice, was satisfied and started fishing in earnest.
I let the jig fall, just keeping light pressure on the spool with my thumb so it didn't start spinning out of control and create a backlash. It took 15-20 seconds before the jig reached the bottom and my line went slack. I immediately cranked it back up and started the process all over.
The theory behind this technique is that the trout, which are usually on the bottom, see the jig as a bait fish acting in a panic trying to escape and this entices the lakers to strike.
On only my third or fourth drop I started to reel up only to discover an immense weight on the line.
I stood up and set the hook, hard. Sixty feet of monofilament has a lot of stretch to it, and many a lake trout has been lost because the angler didn't jerk the hook into the trout's vice-like mouth. After a few minutes the trout can just open its maw and the lure falls out. I didn't want that to happen.
For a minute or two I thought it possible that I simply had caught the bottom. My fiberglass rod was bent in half and I was putting all the pressure I could on the 14-pound-test line without breaking it and nothing was happening. But it is rare to get snagged when fishing in water this deep. One of the secrets to why the west end of Red Lake, Ontario, is such a fishing paradise is its bottom. Except for near the shoreline the bottom mostly isn't composed of rocks or sand -- both relatively sterile -- but of productive clay. A lake is really like a farm. If you want a good one you must start with good soil. The nutrients in that soil will feed the phytoplankton which are at the bottom of the food chain. Many links higher up the chain, in this instance, are lake trout. Unless you are near a reef, which I wasn't, there is nothing to snag on the clay bottom, nothing but fish.
So I kept up the pressure on the rod. After a few minutes, the line and rod began to throb. Sixty feet below the trout was thrashing its head, realizing the thing in its mouth wasn't a fish at all but unable to get rid of the single hook of the jig.
My rod began angling higher -- the fish had come up a foot or two. I reeled in the line and kept up the pressure and again, the fish rose, almost imperceptibly but coming up nonetheless.
I started counting the cranks on the reel handle so I would know when the fish was near surface. Ten minutes went by and I still had only regained half of my line when what seemed like small fish began swirling all around the boat. The mystery was solved when I peered down into the depths and saw a giant bubble heading upwards. The trout was expelling air to compensate for the difference in pressure from being down 60 feet and now probably at 30 feet. Although hoisting some other fish from the depths can kill them as their air bladders inflate in the reduced-pressure atmosphere, not so with lake trout. In fact, anglers with depth finders who fish the drop-and-reel jigging system can sometimes "see" trout chasing their lures from the bottom right to the surface. The trout aren't committing suicide.
The trout made its first run when it was about 15 feet from the surface. I couldn't see it but suddenly the pressure became intense and I had no choice but let the line spool slip beneath my thumb while still putting on enough tension to tire out the fish. It was either that or let the line snap in two.
God knows how fast the fish was swimming but it seemed like it was shooting itself toward the bottom. The friction of the line against by thumb got so hot I had to switch hands and use the other thumb. In seconds that thumb too was burning and I went back to the first hand and pressed my palm against the spool until I couldn't stand it, and then used the other palm too.
The fish was not only plummeting downwards, it was angling away from me and that meant it was taking out a whole lot more than 60 feet of line. I only had about 200 feet of line on the reel and a glance showed I was running out fast. I started the outboard with one hand while thumbing the reel with the other and headed in the direction of the fish.
As soon as the fish stopped I killed the motor and started regaining my line, all the while keeping the pressure against the fish. It came in fairly easily at first but I knew that was because the boat was still coasting forward. Eventually the line was straight down again and the fish wasn't moving except for periods of head-shaking. A glance at the line spooled on my reel told me the fish was probably about 60 feet away, on the bottom again.
Five minutes passed and the force on my rod reduced, the fish was coming up again or rather, was giving into the pressure I was putting on it. I slowly regained my line, counting the turns of the handle. With about 10 feet to go I could see it but I mistook the immense shape at first for two fish. This happens sometimes, you have one fish on the line and another is following it. Then it came closer to the surface and I was stunned to see it was only one gigantic fish, its light-coloured pectoral fins a foot apart, its length unbelievable, probably four to five feet.
It spooked and with a humongous swirl from its foot-wide tail, streamed downward and away again, a repeat of its earlier performance. It was traveling at a sizzling speed and I choose that adjective for a reason -- my thumbs and palms were blistered from "thumbing" the reel.
Again I started the motor and chased it and again, it eventually stopped.
As I cranked in my line I felt my grip turn slippery. Both of my hands were bleeding so badly I was having difficulty holding the reel and reel handle. I knelt down in the boat and dipped my hands and the reel in the cool lake, all the while keeping up the pressure.
After just a minute or so the fish started coming up again -- it was tiring.
I couldn't reel in the line and keep the pressure on with my hands in the lake so I stood up and continually wiped my bleeding hands on my jeans.
The fish was spent and came right to the boat this time.
When the enormous fish was alongside I saw that the line disappeared right between its big jaws. The jig was caught somewhere inside and there was no chance of just grabbing the lure and twisting it free with the fish in the water. That is what I really hoped to do. I had no intention of keeping the trout although it was legal to do so in those days. Today's fishing regulations require all trout in Red Lake to be released.
In order to unhook the jig I would probably need to bring the fish into the boat and that would prove to be something of a dilemma because I didn't have a landing net. That wasn't an accident on my part; I never used a net. The reason was I always intended to let the big fish go and would just hand-land them. Landing nets with their limp, mesh bags would often get so entangled with the fish and the lure that the fish would die before you could set them free. That is why today at camp we use the conservation landing nets. They handle big fish just fine but don't wrap them up.
The enormous fish was just a foot from the boat and rolled its big eye toward me. I spread my hand as far as I could and tried to grasp the fish over its head, behind the gills. I have big hands. I have to hunt for gloves big enough for me. The problem was the fish was wider than my hand. As soon as I made contact it spooked again and despite being exhausted took out 50 feet of line.
I reeled it back in.
This time I tried to grasp it by the tail. No dice. I got a grip but the giant fish thrashed so violently that I couldn't hold it long. Besides, it was too heavy to lift with one hand. It got loose and took off.
I reeled it back in.
My next gambit was to grasp it by the jawbone, like I would a big northern pike. The problem was the fish held its gill plates so tightly together I couldn't get my hand into the space between. The fish shot away.
I reeled it back in.
Its eyes were white with fright.  I wanted to get the hook out and go away and the fish must have wanted the same thing but understandably, didn't trust me. It was a stalemate.
We floated like that for a couple of minutes. My last option would have been to just cut the line, but I didn't want to turn the fish loose with the jig still in its mouth, not because I wanted the jig but because I feared it might end up killing the trout although in truth it probably would not have.
After all we had been through, I didn't want this to end badly.
"I just want to let you go," I told the fish.
I reached toward it but it flinched away.
"What are we going to do?" I asked the fish, its eye rolled back to better see me.
As if in answer, it flared its gills to get a "breath."
I put my bloody left hand in the water near its head but not touching it and waited.
Eventually it gasped again and in that instant I slipped my hand inside its powerful gill plate and grasped it by the jawbone.
I let the fish remain in the lake, just raised its head. It opened its enormous mouth and I could see my jig caught on one side. I had my pliers at the ready and in a second backed-out the single hook.
I let go and the big old fish righted itself. It turned its frightened eye away from me and with surprising strength, considering how tired it must have been, flicked its big fluke of a tail and disappeared into the depths.
Back at camp I told my story to my Dad and some of the guests.
"What do you think it weighed?" they asked.
 I hadn't even thought about it. It was big. It was the biggest fish I had ever caught. It was the biggest fish I had even seen. Its weight wasn't important. I never intended it to be a big chunk of meat in the freezer.
Its real value was the experience it gave me. It was so special that I have seldom re-told this story. It just meant too much.
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