There are many aspects of life in the northwoods that evolve as the years go by, and some even seem to fade into nothing but the history books. One such fixture of the outdoor world in the Upper Peninsula that falls into the latter category was brought to mind recently as I plied the waters of one of my favorite trout streams. The day was a good one for fishing - overcast, only a slight breeze drifting through the tag alders, bugs that were barely noticeable and hungry brookies.
I took a break on the inside of a sweeping bend that offered a pleasant view upriver and across a steep ridge that paralleled the river on the other side. These little peaceful sojourns with your surroundings are a vital aspect of fishing and help the mind drift away from those everyday concerns.
Then "WHACK," a huge splash made a noise that shook me out of the euphoric state I was immersed in, but this interruption had it's own special appeal. It's been a few years since I've heard the smack of a beaver's tail on the water as it signaled danger to any family members that might be in the area.
Steve Gappa, an animal damage control trapper and a fur trapper from Lake City, Minn., demonstrates how to make his famous “step down set” for coyotes. Gappa will be among several trappers giving demonstrations at the Upper Peninsula Trappers Association annual convention in Escanaba next week. (Upper Peninsula Trappers Association photo)
I've always been fascinated by these creatures of the rivers and streams of the region, and who can resist walking across their impressive dams to cast a line into the beaver pond or reach good bird hunting woods on the other side of the river.
There's probably no other creature that played a bigger role in the settling of the region than the beaver, either, which was highly sought after in the 1700s and 1800s for its valuable fur. The voyageurs who explored the upper Great Lakes in pursuit of beaver pelts were hardy souls who left their mark, including a trapping heritage that remained a prominent part of life in the region for many generations.
However, times changed and so did fashion, leaving beaver and other furs far less valuable. This is when trapping turned into more of a hobby than a profession and those who hung on carried on the traditions of a fading lifestyle. Furthermore, as with other outdoor sports, trapping fell victim to a society with youths more interested in computers and the vast array of organized sports that are available than to learning and perfecting the art of trapping.
Stepping in in an effort to ensure trapping would remain a part of our culture in the U.P. was the U.P. Trappers Association, which was formed by a half dozen or so trappers while sitting in the home of Leonard and Esther Lahti in L'Anse in 1962.
Since that time the association has remained active in many aspects of trapping, including education, maintaining ethical standards, lobbying for trappers rights and laws and basically working to ensure the benefits of trapping be introduced to the next generation of U.P. woodsmen and women.
One of the groups main avenues for accomplishing some of those goals is on the horizon - the U.P. Trappers Convention. The convention is set for next Thursday and Friday in Escanaba and offers a vast array of demonstrations and activities that should appeal to young and old.
The Butler Building at the U.P. State Fairgrounds will be packed with everything from trapping supply vendors and fur auction representatives to taxidermists and crafters. In addition, nationally known chainsaw carver Rick Bernier of Land-O-Lakes, Wis., will be set up in front of the building and the Normenco Sportsmen's Club will be overseeing free fishing for kids.
Among the demonstrations will be how to get involved in animal damage control trapping; beaver skinning, fleshing and stretching; a live owl show; lure/bait making; proper handling of mink, muskrat, raccoon and fox furs; predator calling; and fox and coyote trapping.
The convention is open to the public and admission is $2 for adults and free for youths 16 and younger. Camping and food will be available. For more information, log onto the website at www.uptrappers.com or call Bob Steinmetz at 906-786-6265.
Dave Schneider can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.