|By Kurt Krueger
Dad was back in familiar territory last Friday night, catching brown trout on slip bobbers, one of his frying pan favorites. --Photo By The Author
THE SLIP bobber hadn’t been floating with the waves more than a minute or two when it laid perfectly flat, the kind of strike you come to expect from brown trout that race out of the depths to hit a minnow and continue upward, taking all the weight off the bobber.
It was a special “bite” because the bobber was attached to the rod being held by my dad, Leland Krueger of Marion, who had made yet another fishing trek to the North Woods that he’s been visiting for almost 50 years.
Most people call him by his nickname, “Korny,” and that might explain why he drove 95 miles to wet a line despite having thrown out his back less than two weeks ago while trying to move a pop-up camper. He’s 82, and the words he once spoke to me came back to haunt him: “Aren’t you old enough to know better?”
But the outdoor diehard, probably figuring he should at least try fishing because he can’t golf or do much of anything else, didn’t want to miss out on early season trout action that’s pretty exceptional before all the bug hatches provide more food than the trout can eat.
The depth of their hunger was proven when Dad set the hook and reeled in that fish, which measured 13 inches. There was nothing “light” about the way it took that fathead minnow. Pliers were required to remove the hook from deep in its toothy little mouth.
It’s fitting that Dad would come north to fish with me because that’s the tradition he started when I was about 5 years old. Family fishing trips to Boulder Junction and Three Lakes were a big part of my childhood. It’s my way of paying back the guy who took the time to teach me how to fish.
Once again he prefaced this trip with the words, “Just one more time. It will probably be my last.” We’ll see. If he’s still golfing next year only on the days that end in “Y,” which he tells people all the time, then he can sure as heck handle a day of getting in and out of a boat.
Besides, this is his one chance each year to get some walleyes and crappies and trout for a couple of “real” fish fries. And I don’t deliver, so he’s out of luck without scheduling some time to share boat space with his son. If that sounds a little like extortion, I’m fine with it.
Ever since Dad learned about northern lakes teeming with quality brown and brook trout, his interest in fishing has been on the rise.
He can’t walk miles in waders or take the chance of wading slippery rocks in holes of unknown depth, but sitting in a boat soaking minnows under a slip bobber — and drinking a beer at the same time — is right up his alley.
Dad grew up fishing stream brookies and millpond bluegills in central Wisconsin. The browns in lakes such as Stormy and Lac du Lune are far from native, but they taste as good as any native trout I’ve ever eaten. I’m no biologist, but the fact that their flesh is as orange as a pumpkin must have something to do with their diet.
He was in pain most of the evening we fished, pretty much due to some pinched nerves that were shooting pain around his rib cage in sporadic intervals. When it took his breath away, I got a little nervous, but then a bobber would drop and he seemed just fine until that fish was in the livewell. His resolve wouldn’t let him quit as long as the trout were biting.
It’s amazing what a limit of brown trout and a couple of martinis can do to curb pain. He was happy to have made it north, but he pulled the plug on the trip a day early, vowing to return for some walleye or crappie action after his back heals up. I’ve got no problem with that. Heck, his trip wasn’t much different than my last whirlwind turkey hunt to his house in central Wisconsin.
My appreciation for fishing with Dad has increased over the years and, every time we get together, I think about all those letters and e-mails from readers who still recall the “good old days” when they fished with their dad. Those sons and daughters are holding onto a lot of great memories, for sure.
When I asked Dad about why he tried moving that camper by himself, he offered some insight on aging: “You know, I usually don’t feel as old as I am. But once in a while, you do something stupid and it hurts. And that’s when you really feel old.”
He’s taught me a lot more than just how to fish. A retired newspaper publisher, Dad made it possible for me to grow up in the weekly newspaper business. And now that I’m a publisher, well, let’s just say his shirt gets a little tighter around the chest when people start talking to him about the family legacy in this industry.
Before he left, he vowed to share boat space with me sometime in the months ahead — Lord willing, of course, one of his favorite lines. I guess he’s not ready to quit taking trips to the North Woods for some hook setting — not yet, anyway.
The scribbler gets fishing with a lot of different people throughout the year, and it seems every outing offers some memorable moments in the great outdoors. I love taking kids fishing, including my own.
But fishing with Dad, well, that is something unlike all the rest. It could be the history we share in this sport, or maybe it’s just the laughs and being together for hours with the snowbird that I only see three or four times a year. My parents have wintered in Texas for a couple of decades now, and that’s eight months of the year.
As long as it’s possible, I’m going to keep fishing with and keep paying back the guy who taught me how to fish. That was an incredible gift, one that will last me a lifetime.
There’s just something special about fishing with Dad.