The Last Windrow: Remembering a time when fishing was so much simpler

Before modern day technical devices came on the scene a simpler way of discovering where fish hung out was practiced.

Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Give me a willow branch, some line, a bobber, a sinker, a hook and I'm happy.

There was a time of no technology in the fishing world. A time when anglers were not seen staring into a box in the boat.

Instead, fishermen were left to their own devices as to how to pull a walleye off the bottom or entice a bass out from a weed bed. I and many others of my age experienced that world.

Minnesota's fishing opener happens next week. And there is big news in the fishing world. This year, Mother's Day will not coincide with the Minnesota fishing opener! Due to the way the calendar works, this year both Mother's Day and the fishing opener will happen as late in the month of May as is possible.

This will ensure that fishermen and fisherwomen will be allowed to take Mom out for dinner without developing a guilt complex.


But, back to my theme on fishing technology. Before modern day technical devices came on the scene a simpler way of discovering where fish hung out was practiced.

I fished the Big Sioux River with one of my uncles who was known to catch catfish with regularity. A small tin box held all the tackle he needed. Inside that box were a few hooks, some sliding sinkers and a few split shot sinkers.

That was it. His light load enabled him to climb out on deadfalls that lined the river bank and drift his baited hook beneath the tree trunks. He needed no depth finder or other modern day electronics to find a hungry catfish below his farm boots.

My first foray into Minnesota fishing came on a small northern lake. To locate a sandbar where a walleye might be residing, we were given a 12-foot bamboo pole by the resort owner. The owner directed us to the north end of the lake and told us to prod the bottom with the pole until we hit the sand bar, located 8 feet below the surface.

The technique worked. We found the sandbar but evidently the walleyes had decided to vacate the space and we came back to the resort with an empty stringer.

A guide friend of mine related that in his heyday a different method of following a sandbar was used. His boat would carry a dozen or so steel stakes with a hook on the upper end. Anglers would drive these stakes at intervals along the sandbar and hang a small kerosene lantern on each.

The lake he fished was known to be especially productive after dark. Anglers would then troll the outside edge of where the stakes were placed, following the lights. It must have been a glittering site!

Electronic fishing came on the scene in the late '60s and early '70s. One of the first units on the bait shop shelves was the red box carrying the Lowrance brand. Compared to today's exotic models, this unit simply measured the depths and bottom cover in the lake.


All at once fishing secret spots became less secret. The new technology enabled anyone with a "box" to search and find a lake's structure. All at once you could see the terrain below your boat. The use of this technology revolutionized fishing. And it put more pressure on the fish resource. The other side of the coin.

The Minnesota fishing opener will happen next week. Boats and trailers will be heading for public accesses across the Walleye State. Every other holiday pales in comparison, especially this year when we have COVID-19 a bit on the run.

Got your shot yet? I've got mine.

Close up of a Creek Chub.

But I still remember this kid who got a thrill catching his first fish, a creek chub, out of the west branch of the west fork of the Little Sioux River on his Uncle Reed's farm. I caught the fish using a willow branch, some line, a bobber, a sinker, a hook and an angle worm.

My dad said I wanted to take it to bed with me that night. Didn't happen.

Good luck to all who will be plying the waters!


See you next time. Okay? Stay safe!

John Wetrosky - Last Windrow.jpg

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