It’s a fact that fishing is a rite of passage for most kids growing up in these parts, and I smile each time I see kids riding bike with a fishing pole in one hand and a tackle box in the other, managing a loose finger here and there to hang on to the handle bars. You can literally see the pure excitement on their faces as they commandeer a wobbly path down to the local fishing hole.
I wasn’t all that different when I was young, because even though summer meant baseball, the high dive, sunburns and Dairy Queen, fishing held a place of higher significance in my mind.
I’m a pastor’s kid. And while I was growing up in Dell Rapids, S.D., missing church wasn’t an option unless you were sick. I’m talking hospital-bound-world-is-ending sick, as it should be. Every Sunday morning, my mother would hustle my older brother, sister and me out the door in time to meet our standing reservation in the third row of Dell Rapids Lutheran for early service while Dad preached from the pulpit.
Every Sunday of the year, that is, but one.
For a week each spring, just after school was done and right about the time the peonies in my mother’s flower garden would start to bloom, Dad would load us all up on an annual pilgrimage to my Uncle Arlen’s cabin on Pine Lake in northern Minnesota. Now, there are about a hundred “pine” lakes in Minnesota, but in my eyes, there remains only one worth mentioning.
This lake was literally dammed up with fish. Sunfish and bluegills the size of a grown man’s hand – so many that they were often a nuisance. Heavy largemouth bass, hard-fighting northerns, sneaky perch and the bonus walleye. Rock bass and their red eyes, an occasional dogfish and above all, bushels of shiny, black crappies.
Some folks might have viewed this a family vacation, but make no mistake, we were there to fish. Time spent out of the boat was time wasted.
We didn’t own a depth-finder, and the only lake map we had was trying to position ourselves in the reeds about halfway between an island and the dock in front of the blue cabin. Heck, we didn’t even own a boat until I was in my teens, relying instead on my uncle’s or maybe a neighboring cabin’s boat. Regardless, we still managed to catch fish. A lot of fish.
And during the week when Sunday eventually rolled around, our regular church service was held in relative silence while we fished for crappies. No lessons were read, no sermons were given. The gospel that Sunday was seen and not heard.
No, we weren’t dressed in our Sunday best, sitting in the third row surrounded by stained glass and hymnals. But I dare say that a more hallowed time would have been hard to come by as we communed with each other in a simple, borrowed boat, with the collective hope and faith that a fish would rise.
In fact, I am convinced it was while fishing on Pine Lake with my Dad — not Pastor Johnson — where I first began to understand what “church” really was.
Perhaps the best part about our trip north each spring was that the fish we did catch and keep were naturally pre-smoked with a hint of the Backwoods Smokes cigars my Dad would puff on while we were fishing. They held a special place in his tackle box, and he used to jokingly tell us kids that cigar smoke was a natural fish attractant.
He also convinced us that the smoke doubled as an effective mosquito repellent, which to a degree, I suppose, was true. Anyway, the Backwoods Smokes seemed to be just as important to fishing as the hook and bait.
Looking back, it all seemed so effortless. In fact, the bounties of Pine Lake spoiled me so much in my youth that I now have a warped sense of expectation any time I head out fishing.
And to this day, whenever I catch a whiff of any kind of cigar smoke wafting on the breeze, I’m instantly taken back to simpler times and springtime success while fishing for crappies on Pine Lake.
When I was assembling this issue, which largely focuses on all aspects of fishing the Dakotas, I was simply blown away by the knowledge of our authors. If you love to fish, and it’s my bet you do, here’s hoping their words help you make some memories of your own this open-water season, secondhand smoke aside.
Also, take some time and look through all of the “town” ads spread throughout this issue. It’s my bet these folks would be more than happy to point you toward the local honey holes should you happen to swing by and say hi. Good luck this spring, and stay safe.