Last weekend brought blue skies and bone-chilling winds, but many anglers braved the conditions to scratch that fishing itch. As I drove around the area, I found the Tomahawk/Minocqua chain to be fairly quiet. I expected as much, as there is a no-harvest limit on walleye on the chain in an attempt to return the fishery to its former glory as a walleye angler's destination. As time goes on, it seems less accepted by some anglers, but popular opinion does not always follow sound science. In the Northwoods, however, there are so many other lakes within a proverbial stone's throw that there was no shortage of anglers in the area.
I did see dozens of trucks on the roads towing boats, but it is certainly not what it used to be. In years past, opening weekend of fishing season was second in excitement only to the opening of gun deer season in the fall. There are still, and I believe always will be, the diehards who will hit the water on opening day no matter what. But there are many others willing to wait for warmer weather. So much has changed that it is difficult to pinpoint any one cause of the tempered enthusiasm many feel. It was good to see some things had not changed, such as the enthusiasm of the smallest anglers.
I stopped at the dam on Lake Nokomis over the weekend where many residents choose to fish from shore. I was told the dam had just been lowered, so the fishing would be negatively affected for a few days. But one young man around the age of five still showed the enthusiasm and excitement for the sport I remember having at that age. I asked him if they were catching any fish. He immediately threw his pole down and told me Carrie caught a "huge one" and we had to find her right away. He ran around the people milling on shore until he found his target. Carrie Laabs had caught herself a nice northern just as I was pulling up. The little guy was so excited about the fish, which was almost as long as he was tall, I don't think he would have been more excited if he would have caught it himself. Even in the cold and the wind, it was refreshing to see someone so into fishing.
As a tournament angler, I think it is great to be reminded of why we got into this sport, reminded there is a little kid inside of each of us who still loves to just catch fish. That little kid does not care what our boat number is or that we need to upgrade a 14-incher or two to have a shot at finishing in the money. That little kid still lives in all of us who stand while the national anthem is played before take-off with butterflies in our stomachs and in each of us who catches a good fish and takes a moment until our hands stop shaking before making the next cast.
I think sometimes we forget. We get caught up in the competition of it all. We get caught up in who can get to that "secret spot" up the river first and who is sitting on "our spot" they never fished before they saw us there. We get caught up in the "local guy" vs "tournament guy" mentality.
Sometimes we forget. We forget that little kid who was so excited to catch a 6-inch perch. But I believe that little kid is still there - in all of us. I am lucky my job reminds me every day of that little kid. I have the opportunity to talk to kids like those running around at the dam on Nokomis last weekend. I was reminded of why I fish - why we all fish. There is competition, to be sure, but there is also the excitement of just reeling in a fish, of not knowing what is on the other end of the line, of learning more about the sport we love, and passing that love on. That, to me, is why we fish.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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