You know, the older you get the more you “reflect”.
Not talking about mirrors or smooth water here, but introspection. Contemplation. Soul searching. You know, reflection.
So here I am thinking back over my life and “introspectively” asking myself just how I came to love fishing. And why that is so. With not a lot of deep, analytical effort the answers came fairly easily. And quickly.
I started fishing with my Dad when I was probably 4 or 5 years old. Frankly, I don’t remember my age or the event for that matter. But I know Mom and Dad went to Wisconsin every year to fish and, since I was their kid, I came along. I do remember the cool woods and that wonderful Pine Lake cabin which at the time was so different from the farm and fields of Southern Indiana. The lake had fish different from the bluegill and catfish in our farm pond. Much bigger and a challenge with a cane pole! Those early years of fishing on Pine Lake were such an adventure. I sure love fishing for the adventure it provides.
Not too long after Pine Lake Dad got a bit restless, having been told “there’s much bigger fish just a bit north.” You know, the grass is always greener just up the road. So up the road we went. First to Lake Kabetogama south of International Falls, Minnesota and then a year or so later across the border to Rowan Lake about 70 miles north of Fort Frances, Ontario.
On the first trip to Rowan Lake Dad invited my cousin Kenny Wendell Ashby along. I was probably 9 or 10 so I was at that age when you can have a heck of a lot more fun with a pal. And Kenny Wendell as a good pal and about the same age as me. When Dad and some of his buddies would call it a day Kenny Wendell and I would grab the boat and get back on the Lake and fish until sunset, which in mid-July was as late as 10 PM. We’d talk, fish, tell jokes, share our dreams, and about anything else that two kids who are pals do. Probably about this time I discovered another reason I liked fishing. Friendships that just seem to bloom when you’re fishing.
By the time I was a teenager Mom and Dad had bought a small cabin in Nestor Falls, Ontario on Lake of the Woods. Dad had a buddy who lived in Nestor Falls and he would act as Dad’s guide whenever he was available. It wasn’t just that the lake was big (which it was at almost 100 miles long and about 80 miles wide) but also that the fish constantly moved around. Only someone who actually lived there full time in the summer would know when to fish where. Vic Petrie knew where the fish were.
Each time we went out with Vic he would show us not only where the fish, but how to fish. And this invariably changed trip to trip. No matter how much tackle I had in my increasingly respectable tackle box, I never seemed to have what was the rig du jour. Vic recognized this and always brought extra rigs which Dad would pay for and then divide up between my box and his. Lead jigs, floating jigs, minnow rigs, leach rigs, Lindy rigs, slip rigs, cranks. Anything out there was a possibility on any given day.
And if you actually DID have what Vic wanted you to use, God help you if you didn’t put the bait on just so. Hook that minnow too far up or back and Vic was shaking his head. Thread a night crawler wrong and you would never catch anything – gospel according to Vic. Use a too short or too long of a leader in front of your crank or spinner and expect a knowing (and pitiful) look. I never thought of fishing as technical up until we started fishing with Vic. But by gosh and by golly, it was sorta’ neat to know what to use when. Always learning something was cool. Knowledge. I like that about fishing.
After a year or so on Lake of the Woods I started guiding in the summer for a local tourist camp. They were charging guests $15 a day and as a guides we got $10. Every morning I would show up at the camp dock and meet who was fishing in my boat. Being my first year I usually got guests who were first timers or had no preference as to who guided them. Sometimes I had two plus myself in the boat, sometimes 4, one or two being kids. Experience was equally variable, vacillating between none and lots. The none could be fun since the guide was seen as “all knowing” which for teenage kid was a pretty cool position to be in. I liked that feeling. Fishermen who had lots of experience were more challenging and varied from “just handle the boat” to “you’re the guide, so tell me what we need to do to catch some big fish.” I liked the big fish people best.
Over the summer my fishermen came in all sizes, shapes, professions, and attitudes. Some would want to get on the water at the crack of dawn, others only after a leisurely breakfast and an extra cup of coffee. Some wanted to keep every fish, others could care less if they took anything but memories back home. Some days were a real challenge, others so relaxed that I felt keeping my $10 wasn’t completely fair. But every day had one common element: It was interesting. Still is today.
By the late 1970’s Dixie and I had three girls and were making Lake of the Woods a yearly vacation destination for our family. Most days we spent on the lake, but occasionally Dixie and the girls would take a day to go shopping and I would call my buddy Keith Gate to come up from Fort Frances to spend the day on the lake.
Now Keith was my best fishing buddy in the world and a butcher at the Safeway in town. He had grown up on Lake of the Woods and knew it better than almost any full time guide. And Keith loved experimenting. Since I did as well we would typically head out on the lake never knowing just what we would catch nor how we would catch them. That would be figured out once we stopped and took a look inside our tackle boxes to see what we could rig or cobble up that was different and perhaps something the fish had never seen. On more than one occasion Keith would surprise me with some odd-ball rig or bait I had never seen before.
I spent many, many days experimenting with Keith. And almost every one of them produced unexpected surprises. Usually good ones. We would jig, cast, flip, dip, you name it. Throw something into the dark water and get ready. You never knew what would be on the end of your line, but we sure as heck knew we had hit on a new bait or technique! Yea, those were some great times with my buddy Keith and just provided another reason I love fishing: The mystery of the unknown. Drop something down in the deep blackness and you just never know what will happen. Or when. Call it “mystery” or perhaps better yet, excitement. It’s probably the main thing that, pardon the pun, hooks someone on fishing. I can’t think anything that would be better to be “hooked on” than this marvelous sport. And believe me, I can certainly think of a lot that would be worse.
In 1992 we sold a cabin Dixie and I owned on Lake of the Woods and started going to Nestor Falls Fly-In Service’s remote wilderness cabins. Davey and Michelle Beaushene were wonderful hosts and provided great accommodations, almost all at catch-and-release lakes in the far northwestern part of Ontario. Sometime during the first or second trip I realized that this was simply nirvana. We ate a few fish we caught (which was allowed) and released the rest. We enjoyed the “wilderness experience” more than we ever had. I’m not sure if it was simply our age or the fact that we had fished so much for so many years that there just wasn’t much pressure to “load the boat” anymore.
When we came back from one of these trips all too soon we longed for some more “wilderness”. Funny thing, we found just hopping in the truck and towing our Lund to a local fish and wildlife area easily satisfied these cravings. Getting on the water, no phones, no hustle and bustle, just nature and a little something to provide an excuse for being there was all it took to regain that same feeling of renewal we had experienced in the far north. This was about the time I realized what I like the most about fishing. It is, more than anything else, escape. Here we can escape from being driven to being the driver. I really, really like that.
Now there are many, many more things I like about fishing, but these are certainly at the top of my list. I guess I could have (should have) added time with the kids and grandkids, but they are so busy all the time that fishing with them just doesn’t happen much at all anymore. Probably could have said I like trying out all the new gear, as rod, reels, line, and certainly baits are evolving quickly nowadays and what was great equipment several years ago is just “fair” compared to today’s so well designed gear. And new gear is fun!
Maybe I should have included the fact that when you fish you’re responsible for good wildlife management and can really make a difference by practicing catch and release along with making sure you’re a good steward of the environment. That in itself is a pretty big challenge and one all of us should feel good about.
But I have to admit that friendship, knowledge, the fact fishing is so dam interesting, the mystery, and the escape fishing provides are always at the top of my list. Put me in a boat with my best pal Dixie or any of our great friends and, you know what, it just doesn’t get any better.
We’re really excited this issue. We just added the Shimano Crucial rods to our product offering. Safe to say Not having these in our lineup was an oversight. See below for our story and why we now stock these marvelous rods. We also have some info on Jewell Jigs which are catching fish better than we ever imagined. Details are below. Brian Dolne has some Shimano info we think you need to know. There’s lots more as well, so be sure to see all of the details.
Thank all of you once again for your support. Now that we’re headed into summer we know you’re looking for that great gear along with the service and knowledge that you expect. We are dedicated to making sure your expectations are met AND exceeded. Please let me know if we ever fail to deliver an any way.