Thursday, June 11, 2009

Here fishy, fishy

A Minnesota version of “The Deadliest Catch” took place this past weekend, as I traveled north with friends to Lake Vermilion for the annual walleye challenge. The fishermen are challenged in many ways, while the walleye are only challenged by how best to avoid us, and insure that we’re cold, wet and frustrated.

I have fished Vermilion with my friends, Ed and Gary, for many years; you would think by now we would be experts. Well, we may know our way around the lake, but we sure can’t seem to hit the right weekend, nor find hungry fish. I remember when we first started fishing Vermilion, over 25 years ago, and arrived in the Iron Range town of Tower to visit our friend, Ol’ Johnny. That year, and every year until he moved away, he would greet us with comments like, “You shoulda been here last week, eh.” Or, he’d offer this opinion, “Weather’s bad, eh. I bet they’ll be bitin’ next week, eh.” We always seemed to miss the best fishing by a week. Eh.

In those early years, there were as many as 14 of us, in 5 or 6 boats, equipped with CB radios, plenty of gear, and as many cases of beer as we could haul out to “our island.” Camping in tents, we fished as much of the day as the sun would allow, cooked our food over fire or camp stove, and slept soundly each night lulled by rolling waves, just a few feet away. They were great trips, and to this day we still reminisce about the many adventures we had. There were sunburns and snowstorms, flipped boats and broken props, drunken sailors and constipated newcomers. We saw it all.

Slowly, over the years, many of our fishing friends dropped out. Family demands, career moves and personal priorities took their toll. Camping on the island eventually gave way to the local park campground. Then, as the group shrunk down to just the three of us, we first tried a couple of different cabins, and for the last 4-5 years have been staying at the casino hotel. Instead of parking the boat among the jagged rocks that line the island, it now gets safely tucked into a slip at the marina each night. Instead of planning meals for cooking over a fire, we now simply check the menus at the two restaurants in the hotel. If the weather is uncooperative, instead of hiding in damp tents or huddling around a fire for warmth, we now use the down time to watch a movie, try the casino, or sit in the hot tub. And, instead of determining how many cases of beer we each will need for the trip, we joke about whether the three of us can finish even one case between us!

We have had occasional good years, when weather was on our side and limits were achieved, but I would hate to have to depend on our prowess to provide a steady diet of fish. It’s almost like there is a walleye god who sees us arrive and decides to send in a cold front, or coldly laughs as he sends the word around the lake that the city boys are back – GO DEEP! It seems like the fish we do catch must be the stupid ones who don’t understand, or the teenage fish that don’t listen!

Nevertheless, we always go back. We always have a good time, and we always laugh about how we should have been there the week before. The food is good, the friendships are solid, and it just doesn’t get any better than fishing on a northern Minnesota lake.

Heading for Home, by Dennis Sterner. Pen and ink with acrylic.


John said...

I love hearing the stories of past years! Maybe one day you'll make it a father/son trip and I'll get to go along. Until then, I'll keep catching fishing, camping on islands and drinking as much beer as I can fit in my stomach.

mamamouseiam said...

Hotel? Hot tub? You're getting soft!

It's been awhile since I've been fishing, but I don't recall getting skunked very often. You guys should take some fishing lessons from me! ;-)

Great painting! Heading for Home is one of my favs.

Laura said...

I love the stories you tell about "your island" and that you guys have kept up the tradition! This summer will mark the 9th year my friends and I have continued the tradition of "Wadfest," a weekend at the cabin with our college crew. It started with lots of beer, questionable food (if we remembered to eat not DRINK our meals), tubing down the river, and sunburn. Over the years it has definitely tamed down, we eat AWESOME meals (that we plan weeks ahead and cook ourselves) and sleep in tents so the pregnant friends and babies can sleep inside the cabin. And it's only getting better! I hope someday we're looking back at 25 years and reminiscing...

Auntie Fluffy said...

This was fun to read! However, I'm sounds like way to much fun!

I love the painting!!! Is it in available in prints??? I've got to have it!!! It so reminds me of dad... :o)