Good fishing partners, like Abby, hard to find
Pick your fishing partners carefully, and coddle them when you find a good one, because good fishing partners are hard to find. That's about the extent of my fishing advice.
Good fishing partners listen well, are ready to go on time and are willing to net your fish. Fishing skill is a plus but not mandatory.
My dad was my first good fishing partner, although he wasn't particularly good at fishing. We spent a lot of time in boats across Canada doing more chatting than catching. He was much better at spinning yarns than spinning reels, but our time in boats together forged the foundation for my lifetime of piscatorial pursuits, and for that I'll never forgive him.
Then there was my high school buddy, Chuck, who, as soon as we had obtained our driver's licenses, joined me on poorly conceived trips in whatever boat or canoe we could get our hands on. Once in college, we decided to save up our cases of returnable beer bottles from an entire school year for gas money for a fishing trip to the Gunflint Trail. Cardboard cases of empties lined the walls of our basement hovel. It worked as a savings plan, but the apartment smelled like a tavern for months.
When I first met Ann, the woman who still is my wife, almost 30 years ago, I was impressed with her Jeep Wrangler, but concerned that it didn't have a trailer hitch. We remedied that problem and towed my boat often to Voyageurs National Park and north into Ontario looking for fish.
I proposed to her in a boat on one of those outings on a very remote Canadian lake. I interrupted a decent walleye bite, but she said she couldn't refuse, considering she had no other way to get back to the cabin. Nice ring — now pass the leeches.
Ann has always reminded me that she's a better fisherman than I am. I can't argue with that based on all the photos we have of her with big fish, including a 48-pound king salmon in Alaska. (She dislikes the word "angler," saying "fisherman" works fine for either sex.)
After Ann came fishing partners Maggie and Abby, who not only have inherited their mother's fish-catching prowess, but also do it while seemingly not paying much attention to fishing. Just last weekend, Abby was reading a library book as I set the hook on a nice walleye.
"Need the net?'' she asked without looking up.
"I think so; it's pretty feisty,'' I answered. At age 12, she's already a proficient netter — always head first, rarely missing on the first pass, just like her big sister.
Know that Abby, four years ago at age 8, tied the camp record walleye with a 30.25-inch monster. That was 15 minutes after catching a 28-incher. Now it takes a lot on the end of the line to get her excited.
Last weekend, though, the fishing was especially good, and soon my partner (it was just the two of us on this trip) set down her library book and was up in the bow of the boat with me landing walleye after walleye.
"Need a net?" I asked as she battled a fish.
"No, it's just an eater,'' Abby said as she reeled in a 16-incher. She's mastered the art of flinging smaller fish up and into the boat without any assistance.
But after catching several nice walleyes, her interest waned. She was instead captivated by a dead fish that floated into our area that was being pecked on by a gull. She grabbed the binoculars and watched — in part horror, part delight — as the gull ripped the belly of the dead fish to shreds.
"I wonder if it will take some back to its babies?'' she said.
"I suppose so,'' I said as I worked a big pike toward the boat. "Now how about a net on this one?"
Pretty soon, M&Ms and Hershey bars depleted, the dead fish gone and at the end of a chapter in her library book, I got a subtle hint it was time to head in.
"How long are we staying out here?'' she asked.
I'm no ordinary dummy. So we headed back to the cabin. Normally, I'm not one to stop when the fish are still biting. But a guy has to measure his options carefully in these circumstances. Sometimes, it's better to better to cut bait than fish. Sometimes, you need to keep a girl happy.
After all, good fishing partners are hard to find.