Confession: The editor of the Mille Lacs Messenger has been fishing exactly twice this year, for a total of about 20 minutes.
Neither time was on Mille Lacs.
Mille Lacs, to me, is one of nature’s insurmountable obstacles — like the north face of the Eiger or the source of the Nile. Fishing Mille Lacs is like determining how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It’s a question without an answer, a Zen koan, a riddle that can never be solved. The Walleye Whiffer is as indecipherable as the Rosetta stone. Reading a Humminbird, like translating the Dead Sea Scrolls — all Greek to me. Ditto GPS.
I’m also bad with motors. If the boat starts, the day has been a success. Why spoil it by getting skunked?
I am one of the world’s worst fishermen, but for some reason, when I have a fly rod in my hand, I catch fish.
I caught two trout the first time I tried. I caught two steelhead the first time I tried. I caught two salmon the first time I tried.
On my first outing this year, on the Rum River below my house, I was wading back to shore, having given up for the day.
My fly, a giant streamer given to me by Mille Lacs legend Jerry Crawford, was trailing behind me when the bass took it. I turned, laughed at my luck, and landed it, a muscular 12-incher that put up a good fight. I walked home with prepubescent grin.
That wasn’t the most memorable part of the day.
Earlier on, standing in thigh-deep current, I lost my footing and fell on my butt on the sandy bottom, up to my neck in river water.
Upon regaining my footing, I felt what I thought was a crumbled up piece of paper in my back pocket.
But I had no back pocket.
I dug into my shorts, took hold of the thing, pulled my hand out and screeched like a little girl.
A crawdad scuttled across my palm and dove into the current.
Thank heaven those pinchers never found purchase in the crotch of my swim trunks.
On my last outing, this past Saturday, I donned my fishing vest and launched a little kayak I bought earlier this summer.
I paddled to the eddy below the rapids and took a look at my fly. It was the streamer Jerry had given me, but that little bass I’d caught earlier this summer had torn loose the tail.
All that was left was a giant hook, an ugly plastic head, and a thin strand of shiny floss. I cut it from the leader and patted my vest pockets for my box of flies. Nothing. I was stuck with that useless fly.
Before I could tie it on, though, I needed new tippet — the thin line at the end of the leader. When I took out the 10-year-old 4x mono, a moth flew out. No kidding. The stuff was probably so brittle that the current alone would break it.
After a dozen casts in and around the rapids, the line went taught, the pole bent, and I had a nice little fight on my hands.
The fish took air twice — not a giant, but not bad — and I took my time bringing it in for fear of snapping my tippet.
I grabbed it by the lip, drank in a long look at 15 inches of tiger stripes and deep brown, almost chocolate color, and set it free.
After paddling back to the riverbank, I stood up and felt something in the back of my vest.
My box of flies, of course.
The moral of the story? Go fish.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.