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The Last Windrow: Thrill fo fishing is still present

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I can already hear the sound of outboard motors roaring away from the public accesses across Minnesota, heading out to the first open water fishing of 2014.

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It has been a long winter. It has been a longer spring with ice leaving the lakes just in time to allow the governor to actually drop his line over the side of a boat into liquid water instead of down a hole cut in the ice!

It is a festive time of year for those, like me, who have spent a lifetime chasing fins and scales. Those spring trips early in my life included a sojourn to Buck Hageman’s pasture where the whiskered yellow-bellied bullhead resided in the depths of Whiskey Creek.

My first cast came amid a herd of mooing Black Angus stock cows who had come to the banks of the creek seeking a drink. I was in their way and they let me know it, but the bullheads didn’t care and I usually came home with a few for the skillet.

There was no real “opener” in Iowa, not in my county where the only water to be found was in a creek as described previous or the Big Sioux River or a farm pond somewhere.

There were no traffic jams on the highways. There were no bait shops open 24 hours a day. The sports pages of the local papers rarely, if ever, paid any attention to the fishing exploits of a farm kid.

Fishing was low key at best.

That all changed when I moved to Minnesota in 1970.

Sometime in March or April, talk at the coffee shops, church halls and on the sidewalk suddenly started to include the words “fishing opener.” Anglers started showing up at sport shops buying hooks and sinkers and getting new line strung on their reels. New lures appeared on the walls and there was always some special lure that no angler could live without! Fishermen are suckers for anything they don’t already have in their tackle box, and price is no object when it comes to securing those items.

I was no different. My simple Iowa tackle box carried some slip sinkers, split shot and a few hooks. That’s all one needed to latch on to a bullhead or a catfish or a carp.

I soon found out that in Minnesota I needed a lot more “stuff.” I proceeded to join the circus and soon I needed a new and bigger tackle box and it was promptly filled to the brim. Some of those lures have yet to catch a fish, but they have sentimental value!

The first job I had in Minnesota was a fisherman’s dream. I was hired to work at the Nisswa Bait Shop, a Minnesota institution owned by Marv and Judy Koep.

Suddenly I was exposed to 10,000 lures, thousands of gallons of minnows, hundreds of pounds of leeches and a crowd of anglers that plugged the aisles of that little shop along Highway 371.

On opening weekend you could not move in that little place. Smoke rose from the cash registers as they heated up from the cash drawer opening at record pace. The experience was about as much fun as one could have and it left all who worked there exhausted by Monday morning.

That shop is now a part of Minnesota fishing history, but the legend of it will remain forever in the archives of all those who stopped there and shared lies and stories and watched the guides come and go. That experience is one thing I truly miss about the “opener” and I’ll never forget it.

So, as the vehicles pulling boats fill the Minnesota highways this weekend, I’ll remember back to that first cast into Whiskey Creek in Buck Hageman’s pasture and think how many great days and experiences fishing has brought into my life. The thrill is still there. And this year, at least around here, we’ll not have to worry about fishing among ice chunks!

Good luck on the water, wherever that may be!

See you next time. Okay?

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