The Wide Angle: ‘The old man and the lake’

Published 5:32 pm Tuesday, July 9, 2024

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Here I am, just days removed from getting home from a family location in northern Minnesota, getting ready to tell you a fish tale. An honest to goodness fish tale, filled with drama, comedy and more than a little bit of shenanigans.

Sadly it’s also about the one that got away.

Fishing on Bad Axe Lake, just north of Park Rapids where Isle O’Dreams Resort is located, has always been something of a roaming target. For the families that have called this place a week’s worth of living for so many years, this has hardly been a mystery. While we know there are fishing holes better than others, they sometimes shift across the lake or simply become non-existent.

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Some years the fishing has been great, and other years it’s been less than great. Like, let’s go to the grocery store and pretend  we had a good day on the lake sort of bad. This year opened as a struggle, but by the time it was all said and done we got the fish needed for a meal. It just took us a little longer to find the spot and ultimately came down to a life-long friend of mine who found a little-known spot on the lake’s south end.

It was a spot where fish had been caught before, but not exactly crappie — our family’s fish of choice. We’ve caught bass in that location and on occasion, northern pike, but not much in the way of crappie.

But this isn’t a story of crappies. Rather, this is a tale something more akin to the ridiculous, but first a little context.

I term our family as accidental anglers. Generally, we use small, worm-like jigs for crappie. You readers — um, yes … you in the back — might recognize these as Mister Twister and the like, which we’ve used throughout the years.

The accidental part is that often, these lures have helped catch bass and northern. I fish approximately six days a year so it’s not like I’m an expert. I know just enough to ensure my lure and line stay out of the trees — most of the time.

So it’s not entirely surprising to pull in said bass or northern from time to time using these small little lures. Why, I have no idea. There are a variety of colors, but as I voiced this weekend, I’m not sure these play much of a part in angling success. Certainly not where I’m concerned.

With this part of the story set, perhaps you’re thinking I pulled in a lunker — a term I’ve heard some say when referring to bigger fish.

Well, kind of.

Friday, July 5, was our last full day on the lake before leaving the following Saturday. Not much happens that day and personally, I’ve used it to just sit around the cabin, watching life pass me by from the comfort of the cabin’s deck while I bake blissfully in the sun I’m not out in much. As that same friend once said, “I’m a wonderful shade of alabaster.”

This day, I decided that a cold beer and some fishing off the dock might be a good way to help wrap up the week. It should be known that in years past we’ve done quite well off the dock. Not so much this year.

A couple small crappie and the lone sunfish was about all I had to show for about an hour’s worth of angling efforts and ever crisping skin. Having deposited the sunfish back in the lake, I made one more cast and began reeling when something took the line. It wasn’t the biggest hit on the line, but there was definitely something there.

“A bass?” I thought.

The fish didn’t come to the surface right away and instead just kind of sat there for a moment. Maybe this should have been my first clue. I’m not entirely sure what I expected when the fish finally came to the surface, but a muskie was not one of those things. Especially a really large muskie.

It should be said that I’m not an expert, but I know a really big fish when I see one and an estimated two and a half to three feet worth of a really thick fish is big to me. Shocked by this turn of events with the utterance of “Oh (fill in the blank)” I went into something akin to panic mode because there was going to be issues with my  “Old Man in the Sea” moment. Namely,  that getting a muskie to the boat isn’t easy, especially when the line you’re using is for pan fish and not the Loch Ness Monster.

Yes, of course I’m exaggerating.

Luckily, another family friend was floating in his boat off our dock so I had both an advisor and a witness to the fiasco playing out. Of course he gave me this advice with something of a smirk as I struggled to get some sort of advantage on a fish that was clearly having its way with me and unless I’m imagining it, was laughing at me.

At one point it circled once and then started swimming deeper into the lake where I knew life was only going to get more comical for anybody watching. I was trying to keep tension on the line, but he was just swimming away like it was just another Friday afternoon.

Finally, I got him turned around and started to make some progress before he took to the weeds. Amazingly, though, the line hadn’t snapped yet and so I kept up as best I could, the rod bending under the strain and the reel making a whining noise as the muskie began swimming again.

That’s when I really started going over the problem I had. First of all, I had been in this fight for about two minutes, which made me wonder how much longer this would go on. Secondly, what was I going to do if I got him to the dock anyway? I was by myself with only my better half on the deck and our friend in the boat. The dock itself is about a foot and a half off the water and I was reasonably sure the net would bend anyway and even if I do get it to the dock, I’m still by myself and risked getting pinned by the fish, which would have been humiliating.

Pinned by Rick Flair? Sure. A muskie? Not so much.

It was at that moment when all of us taking part came to the same conclusion. I was not catching this fish. There was just no way I was getting this fish to the dock, much less it on the dock no matter what kind of stupid plan I rolled around in my head. Our family friend probably knew this and ultimately, the muskie knew it.

Tired of the part he was playing in this farce, the muskie swam to the surface, broke the water’s plane, snapped its head once and was gone, having successfully bullied me out of lure and clearly guffawing by now.

Muskie are bullies.

I looked up and asked our friend, “You saw that right?” Luckily he did and by that point my better half had joined me on the dock and had seen the final act play out as well.

And I don’t even have to pay them to lie.