East of Ely - The Manitou Boogie, Part Three

by David Krikorian

This is the final chapter of my trip to Frank Befera’s cabin that took place a quarter century ago. So far the other two columns covered the trip up to Manitou Lake, the Befera Cabin camp and the secret wall of fine liquor, both of which you can still read on the Ely Echo website. Now it’s onto the second day and a cloudless morning of fishing.
The seven of us took off early in three boats with a plan to rendezvous for shore lunch at an island campsite five miles to the west of the cabin.
I was with Frank’s son, Tim who had been given specific orders to arrive on time and with at least four trout. I understood why Frank had done this the instant Tim informed me we would first spend a couple of hours on his favorite smallmouth lake a short portage off of the east end of Manitou Lake.
Our first casts with Tim’s leeches brought in some nice smallies, and in less than an hour we had bagged our legal limit, so Tim, already attired for the moment, jumped off a small cliff and in for a swim. The jump was short for him, but for me the twelve-foot leap in my underwear seemed a little steep.
We dropped off the bass back at the cabin and began trolling for lakers around 10:30, with me obviously more concerned about Frank’s deadline than his carefree son. An hour later we had landed six beautiful trout, keeping four as ordered. We raced over some twelve miles of water to the rendezvous island, showing up ten minutes late to a dour look from Captain Befera who was holding up a giant cast iron fry pan like a war club.
The others in our party stood there holding their beer cans, grinning, and waiting to see what came next. That was the first and only moment of my life when I can say that I received a telepathic message, as it was transmitted into my brain directly from Frank’s glare. Tim instantly proceeded to clean the dozen-trout catch of the morning, as I gathered wood needed to build a smokeless cook fire. I helped Tim after with the filleting just as Frank sat the fry pan on the coals.
Frank poured a full gallon of cooking oil into the pan before dipping the fillets into his pre-made beer batter, and then he waited for the oil to heat to the perfect temperature, which was determined after he broke off a few Ohio Blue Tip match heads and tossed them in, waiting for them to ignite in the hot oil as I took a few steps back just in case a sudden inferno should envelop us.
The pan was three-feet wide and large enough to fry half the trout at one time with room left to throw two cans of new whole potatoes in with each batch. Who would’ve thought those spuds would be so darn good fried into golden hush puppy nuggets, yet combined with the fresh lake trout, we all knew we were being treated to the best shore lunch of our lives.
Frank, the Master and Commander cook, managed to prepare an entire twenty-pound turkey for dinner that night along with a full menu of summertime specials, ranging from sweet corn to fresh-grown house salads dressed with his special Italian blend of vinegar and olive oil from the old country.
Later, after all the others had hit the bunks, Frank, Tim and I told jokes at the kitchen table, while cleaning the smallmouth we’d caught in the morning. We had a bet going as to the weight of those fillets, which I won with my guess of twelve-and-a-half pounds. Then Frank brought out some old photos of Mondale, his Secret Service detail and a few other historic dignitaries that had been secreted to the cabin for their own security.
After a discussion of how he believed the golden worm-patterned backs and purplish red-orange fins of the Manitou lake trout were unique to planet Earth, Frank Befera told us he was a little freaked out since he was turning seventy later that year, which seemed odd after seeing him steamroll his way in the kitchen that night.
Years later I ran into him in Duluth. I’d heard he’d recently had a bad stroke, and I could see it in the way his tall physique had shrunk. Yet he strode right up to me, grasped my hand and smiled after pointing a tired index finger at me.
“You still fishing, Dave?” was all he said, and all he needed to say to make me feel like an old friend.