I’ve eluded to it before, but it happens to be one of my big pet peeves. I’m talking about the off-hand comments that’s so often heard by some fishermen down-playing the importance of the Minnesota Fishing Opener. Comments like…”I don’t go out for the Opener…I wait until all the rookies get off the lake…I go the next weekend” or “Fishing’s no good on the Opener, I usually wait a few weeks for it to warm up and then I go out.”
What a shame! Anyone who even hints at degrading the significance of the Minnesota Fishing Opener simply doesn’t have a clue about the importance of this long-standing tradition. You see, if a person wants to be so narrowly focused on the process of merely catching fish I suppose one can also be so short-sighted in their assessment of enjoying the event. The truth is, the Minnesota Fishing Opener is actually about the people who partake in this annual ritual much more so than it is some fish (the walleye) being revered and pursued by a bunch of anglers.
As I think back to fishing openers gone by certainly there are plenty of memorable fish stories permanently etched in my mind…but foremost in that memory bank are recollections involving the people who showed up for camp. Indeed, the real stars of the show are the camp participants who add flavor to an otherwise typical fishing weekend.
Much like deer camp, the Minnesota Fishing Opener is like a standing invitation to many anglers to assemble once again at their favorite fishing hole. It isn’t necessary to write the second Saturday of May on the calendar…any angler (and their family) worth the price of his leeches knows that weekend is taboo for scheduling weddings, graduations, birthday parties, etc.
So, if the weekend isn’t all about the fish…how do the personalities of fish camp take center stage? Quite easily. Indulge me as I reminisce on just a few memorable moments from the past (note: to protect the not-so-innocent I will purposely omit mentioning any names)
Truly one of my favorite recollections was the fishing bud who backed his big old fiberglass boat into the water but got distracted before pushing it off the trailer. Then, 10 minutes later when he went back to attending to business…he determined a problem. He never put his drain plug back into the boat and now the boat’s hull was filled with water. Attempts to remove the trailer were fruitless…the boat had already lost much of its buoyancy.
Other boat landing antics involved miscommunication. At one particular busy landing the boats were backing up on the water and it was rather hectic to get the boats trailered again quickly. The landing was steep and long so it took one person driving the pickup and another hooking up the boat. As one person hooked the boat to the ratchet strap …the driver thought he heard the command to "take off." What ensued was a pickup pulling a trailer followed by a newer boat (not yet trailered) halfway up the steep cement landing. Rumor has it there were several choice words blurted out at this incident and the folks watching the drama take place claimed it was worth their wait just to experience the sight of the sparks flying from the boat dragging on the cement landing.
Of course it’s not always about silly screw-ups that etches a particular memory in the mind. Sometimes it’s about the simple sharing of time with a fishing comrade who is no longer living. I can name a handful of people whom have passed on…yet my favorite memory of that person somehow usually revolves around the short time we spent together each year in fish camp.
No doubt about it, at least for our group…it’s the quintessential male bonding experience of a bunch of guys living in relatively close proximity to one another that brings out the best (and sometimes worst) in each of us. Eventually many of our individual personality quirks are exposed…and for my group of guys this knowledge is generally kind-heartedly exploited for each of us to enjoy.
Even though new guys come and go each year from camp…I can relate interesting tales about nearly every camp participant that has ever attended. Although, some would much rather I forgot certain missteps in their behavior. Yet each fish camp participant somehow contributes a certain flavor to camp that helps create the overall experience for all participants.
Indeed, the reason we all convene on a northern Minnesota lake might be to test our tackle and challenge our fishing finesse in pursuit of Mr. Walleye, but there is so much more to it than that alone. Instead, we gather this coming weekend not only to pay homage to a species of fish and the new fishing season that begins, but to pay tribute to our continuing friendships and acquaintances who take the time annually to be part of this glorious event.
Indeed, one of my all-time favorite memories of fish camp was of an individual who brought two coolers full of morel mushrooms to camp for everyone to enjoy. What he didn’t bring, however, was any butter and soda crackers (crumbs to make the breading) in which was used to fry the mushrooms.
So, this individual set out to find a grocery store late one afternoon…but ended up driving over 30 miles before locating such a store that was open. Upon entering the store he determined there were several other items he needed, as well. Then upon returning to camp this individual soon became disheartened as he realized he had forgotten to purchase any butter (which was the main reason they drove over 60 miles round-trip). All of this only to learn that 400 feet away from where we stood around the campfire was the resort’s office, that…as you probably guessed…sold butter. Yes, we were indeed able to eat sautéed morels the next day with our fresh-caught fish…but the mushrooms weren’t the only thing being grilled as a result of this escapade.
There’s no telling what Fish Camp 2005 has in store for each of us as we venture north on Friday to continue building on this fine fishing tradition. One thing is for certain, however, and that is even if the fish don’t cooperate…we will all return home with fond memories and a certain anxiousness that fuels a passion to do it all over again in 2006.
© 2005 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.
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