Remembering Past Minnesota Fishing Openers

The Minnesota fishing opener (more appropriately called the Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener) used to be a big event for me.   Heck, just check the history of this blog and you will see many posts dedicated to this annual spring fishing ritual during the sportsman’s year.   In most cases, it was more social than piscatorial…meaning that the true reason for the gathering may have been focused on the fish, but for many anglers it was really just about socializing with the people involved.

I remember spending fishing openers in my youth on Roberd’s Lake near Faribault, MN where my uncle had a cabin.   Oh, the lake was probably about 30 miles from my home…but distance really didn’t matter.   What mattered was spending time with my Uncle, Art, whom I believed at the time knew everything there was about fishing.   His boat didn’t have electronics, it didn’t have plush seating, come to think of it…fishing on the opener back in those days offered very few amenities.   But oh, did it offer memories of a great time spent with my uncle.

Interestingly enough some of the most vivid memories fishing with Uncle Art didn’t even involve fish.   Nope, to this day I can envision his beat up old gray lunch box he used for work each day that flipped open to reveal a coffee thermos at the top.   When lunch time rolled around he would pop that box open, pour a cup of coffee and proceed to unwrap a sandwich on white bread usually containing summer sausage with a dash of mustard.   You see, lunch was a time to sit in the boat, pause to do some reflecting on the day, if only to reevaluate the day’s fishing strategy that surely needed improvement.

As time moved on in my life the Minnesota fishing opener eventually meant traveling “up north.”   For those of you who are from out-of-state it’s important to realize how Minnesota’s big population center is largely in the southern 1/3 of the state.   So, when we say go “up north” that means to get away from life as we know it…at least for most of us.

Oh, and believe me there’s a certain mystique that tends to draw people “up north” here in Minnesota.   Sky-blue waters, singing loons, tall pine trees, and did I mention hundreds, if not thousands, of lakes in most counties.   Yeah, there’s a certain laid-back life style in northern Minnesota which beckons the true natural spirit of every sportsman.

Indeed, as I got older the fishing opener meant pointing the pickup north.   It meant hooking up with friends who owned boats and had places to stay.   It meant getting away to do some fishing, but mostly it just meant getting away for smart talk, fun times and a little fishing fun occasionally thrown in the mix.

Then after college things got more serious.   I hooked up with Ron Schara, a noted outdoors writer here in Minnesota, and was fortunate to be included in his fish camp.   Wow…what an eclectic bunch of guys that turned out to be.   All personal friends of Ron’s, from his high school band teacher, brothers, cousins, uncles, business associates, fishing industry notables…heck, just about any interesting character he could find.   Schara would often rent out an entire resort filled with a bunch of fishing hacks from all walks of life.

This is where I truly developed a deeper appreciation for what the Minnesota fishing opener is all about.   Catching fish might be the prime motivation for why we gathered, but truly what was being celebrated was the people who where enjoying the outdoors together.   Most needed a reason to be there.   Some, truth be told, may have never even stepped foot into a boat…but they were still “up north” …fishing.   Well, as far as the rest of the world knew.

Ask most die-hard local fishermen from northern Minnesota and they will quickly tell you how the real fishing season doesn’t begin until the week after the traditional opener.   Yep, that is when all the hoopla has died down, most of the “tourists” have gone home, and these locals can get serious about fishing on lakes that won’t be crowded until Memorial Day weekend once again.

But, of course, these folks missed out on all the lies that are told in fishing camp.   They never got to partake in the fabulous food and spirits shared by the gathering.   They never got teased for some of the stupid things they may have said or done.   Nor, for that matter, did they get an opportunity to brag when the top fish of the day happened to reside in your boat’s livewell.   Oh, so much can be said about fish camp when a bunch of guys (and a few gals) descend on a Minnesota lake to celebrate fishing.

Yes, I did this large group communal fishing opener experience for over 20 years and rank some of the memories that were made among the very best ones I cherish in my life.   For Minnesota’s fishing opener is a big reason to celebrate the end on another winter season and to kick off a great new season of open water angling to come.

In recent years, however, I have chosen not to participate in the fishing opener for a variety of personal reasons.  A few years the lake we had reservations on still had ice, so it was a no go.   Then there was the year my mother was on her death bed and going fishing didn’t seem like the place to be.   Then there was the year where my stepson’s graduation was two weeks away and I would have gotten divorced had I gone fishing and not stayed home working to prepare for that event.

Life happens.   As with most traditions to keep them alive they need to become a habit in your schedule.    There needs to be that desire to make more NEW memories and not just be accepting to live off memories from days gone by.

This year, more than ever, that itch to be an active participant of the Minnesota Fishing Opener again is stirring inside me.   Next year I am vowing to quit making excuses and to start making things happen again on the second Saturday of May.   Time to call up friends and start making plans.   A person is only given so many opportunities in life to attend a fishing opener…best not to squander it and later have regrets.

For those who will be hitting the water in just a few hours here in Minnesota I say “good luck fishing.”   Enjoy the catching, but be sure to enjoy the people you share the experience with even more.

She Touched A Leech!

This past weekend was the Minnesota Fishing Opener so I did what any good dad should do…take their kid fishing.   Of course, the fishing opener is much more than just fishing.   It’s a time to gather in the entirety of the experience, passed on from one generation to the next.

Our fishing outing began by stopping at Cabela’s.   You see, accompanying me fishing was my soon-to-be 8y/o daughter who has been anticipating this experience for several weeks.   What’s a good dad to do…well, you build excitement over the event because as experience has taught me…sometimes early season fishing can be downright slow.   Especially for younger children.

While at Cabela’s we were in search of a “lucky fishing hat” suitable for a little red-haired girl.   Eventually we found one that looked capable of not only blocking the harsh sun rays, but also delivering on the piscatorial fortune we had attributed to the hat.   After all, if you believe something to be “lucky” isn’t that half the battle?

Next, we had this pink, plastic Plano tacklebox that needed more “stuff.”   You know, the kind of “stuff” fishermen cram into their boxes to help complete it for just about any fishing situation.   We purchased bobbers, hooks, sinkers, pliers, lures, bait…you know, all the good “stuff” that any self-respecting fisherman should carry.

By now, our cart was filling up with plenty of fun fishing items to help fuel the fishing fires burning inside both of us.   It was about that time Elsie asked, “Dad, can we go over to look at the bait?”   Sure, that is next on our list.

We approached an employee who seemed eager to help us with all of our live bait needs.   Elsie peered into the tanks to look at the fathead minnows, the shiner minnows, taking in the lovely sights and smells that only a dedicated fisherman could possibly enjoy.

It was about that time when the employee asked if Elsie would like to hold a leech.   He took his dip net into the big tank and flopped out a big black ribbon leech onto the counter.   Elsie stared at it for a moment watching it squirm and wiggle.   As it did its little dance trying to escape back into the water, Elsie reached down and picked it up.   She cupped her hands and watched it slither and wildly squirm for about 30 seconds.

I then told her to throw it back into the water tank and let’s get going.   As I proceeded to thank the employee for his time, he made a comment that could not have made me more proud.   You see, what I learned is this employee likes to scoop leeches up and encourage young kids to play with them.   Part of it is to encourage contact with a form of bait not always pleasant to touch.   Another aspect is to learn more about the kids.

As we were about to walk away he told me your daughter just did something that most boys her age will NOT do.   “Really,” I said, “boys won’t touch leeches…what is wrong with them?”   The employee went on to explain how most young kids her age will refuse to touch them.   He actually stated how it warms his heart to see a young child so eager to explore their natural world horizons.

At first I thought, WOW!   How could inquisitive kids who come into a Cabela’s store not want to touch a leech.   When I was that age I wouldn’t have given touching a leech a second thought.   But, things have changed.   Society has changed.   By nature, and I hate to say this, but many kids are not automatically drawn to engage in such experiences like kids once were.

I never for a minute considered that Elsie would have an aversion to touching a leech.   That’s not how she is being raised.   If you want to fish you touch crawlers, minnows, grubs, leeches and other such things that fish like to eat.   Indeed, not only do you bait your own hook when fishing with me…but when you can do it safely you also remove your own fish.   It’s all part of the experience of…well, fishing.

Now, certainly I’m not saying that touching a leech is some sort of magical litmus test for whether kids will grow up to be positively engaged in the outdoors.   Nevertheless, I’ve taken every opportunity possible for Elsie to be present when I clean game and fowl.   After all, she dreams of being a veterinarian someday so why would I want to delay her first-hand exposure to the innards of God’s creatures.

And all of this is such a good reason to take a kid fishing.   Not only does it help develop a lifetime enjoyment with one of the best outdoor recreations available, but it helps to push kids beyond their normal comfort levels.   Kids need to realize how death does not only occur on video games and in the outdoors, as in life, there are no reset buttons or “do-overs” if things don’t go well.

The Curse Of Forgetfulness And Ways To Avoid It

Dammit!   I had a wonderful introduction to kick off this blog post and “POOF!!!”   It disappeared from my brain before I could even get the words down in pixel format.   This seems to be happening to me more often as I grow older.   I will walk from one room to the next and forget my reason for making the trip.   Sometimes I’ll be driving in my truck and a flood of great ideas for future blog posts fills my mind…only to be lost by the time I eventually attempt to write them down on paper.

I suppose it goes with the territory of getting older.   Forgetfulness is not a good thing.   In its worst form it could be an indicator of an underlying medical problem developing into a bad life-threatening memory condition.   To a lesser extreme it becomes a plain and simple mental nuisance.

Of course, the sportsman cannot afford to have these mental lapses no matter how slight they may be.   Mental acuity for the hunter or fisherman can often spell the difference between success or failure when outdoors.   Indeed, as a sportsman grows older I am here to proclaim concentration and memory recall can fall victim to brain synapses not quite firing the way they once used to.

Make Lists

One of the big things I have learned since turning 50 is to make a list on paper.   Or, for that matter, make them on your smart phone if this works better for you.   The point is a person has to write it down and document it.   Good ideas are like gems the do not come along every day.   It’s such a shame to waste the thought by letting it slip away into oblivion.TakeNotes

Another good thing lists provide is an opportunity to prioritize activities.   There’s simply nothing like looking at a list to have certain items jump out at you deserving greater attention.   I construct my list in no particular order (sort of as a brainstorming exercise) and then those activities with more important completion dates get circled (or highlighted in some manner).

Focus and Avoid Life’s Distractions

When I get up from my office desk and wander to another room it’s because I have a purpose in mind.   Then, about halfway there I will look over at my computer printer to discover something I printed, but had forgotten about.   BAM!   I just lost my focus.   Now, I might remember I was going into my bedroom, but I forgot why the reason was to get my wallet for a credit card number.

The same lost focus can occur outdoors.   When you’re muskie fishing and making a hundred casts per hour the monotony of the activity can cause the mind to look for other forms of stimulation.   Maybe there is an eagle soaring over the lake capturing your mind’s curiosity.   Maybe your fishing partner keeps digging through his tackle box and it has you wondering what he’s doing.   Perhaps there’s some strange activity taking place on shore and your interest is piqued.

Focus vs. distraction can be a challenging thing to overcome for the sportsman.   Inevitably that muskie will strike when your attention is diverted away from setting the hook.   When split seconds matter keeping focus can be one of the most challenging tasks asked of the sportsman.

There’s no simple solution for avoiding distraction.   I think it’s human nature to lose concentration and be susceptible to distraction as time goes on.   When a person fishes or hunts for relaxation I believe focus is not as important.   On the other hand, the sportsman who wants to hunt or fish with a serious attitude much like a pro has to develop the mind to stay honed and sharp.

Eat Right and Stay Hydrated

It should come as no surprise that a sharp mind is fueled by proper nourishment.   Likewise, a dehydrated body can play unwanted tricks on a person and I would guess many sportsmen—whether out hunting or fishing—tend to stay less hydrated than is ideal.   And obviously, there may be a reason for doing this to avoid bathroom breaks, but that can work against a person.

I’ve said it before in these blog posts how several years ago I did a story on hunting accidents and made the correlation to farming accidents.   At the time, agriculture safety specialists studied the peaks and valleys of blood sugar levels and how this contributed to poor decision making leading to accidents.

I think the same can be said about sportsmen.   For whatever reason, sometimes the sportsman just does not take the time necessary to pack with a few energy bars or a sandwich to keep their stomach from growling.   But that food can do much more than settle a rumbling stomach.   It can also keep blood chemistry in check that helps keep a mind functioning at optimal performance levels.

Honestly, I should not have to convince most sportsman to drink and eat properly.   I think we all appreciate the importance of doing so.   Yet, it does pay to give some attention to exactly what foods and liquids we put into our bodies.   Snack foods might fill a void, but they do little for providing a well rounded mid-day snack.   Likewise, grabbing a cold brew while out on a hot lake sounds ever so tempting, but that bottle of water will actually do your body better if maintaining focus is critical.

You know, getting older means getting wiser.   Or, at least I would like to think so.   Yet, part of growing older is also realizing that an aging body has shortcomings that a body half its age has yet to experience.   Yeah, it’s not fun to forget things especially when they are important to you.

As one grows older a person needs to be prepared to make subtle lifestyle adjustments to their routine in order to stay sharp and effective.   Maybe a few less beers, perhaps paying greater attention to eating properly, keeping a notebook and pen in a pocket.   It’s important for the older sportsmen to recognize as a body ages it requires different things.   And of course, a bit more sleep never hurts anything either.   That reminds me, it’s nap time and I am doing it with a tactical outdoors purpose in mind.