After 44 years of writing this column every week, I can tell you this. Some are a lot harder to write than others.
This is one of the hard ones.
You see, I’m saying goodbye.
It’s time to hit the “Shut Down” button on the old computer. But before I do that, allow me to look back over the past 44 years.
I started working at the Journal in 1965 as a summer intern. One of my first stories was a feature on the now-long-gone Sioux City Gun Club. The camera I used was a 4X5 Speed Graphic, a bulky thing, complete with bellows. I came to work full time as a reporter in February 1966.
In those days, the Journal was at the corner of Fifth and Douglas streets. A parking ramp stands there today. The editor who hired me was Erwin Sias. If you’ve followed this column very long you know I have written about him many times. He was among a small handful of men whom I count as among the best fishermen ever.
He and another Journal employee, Marc Cox, the farm editor, wrote outdoors in each Sunday’s Sports section. I marveled at the quality of their writing and the exotic fishing trips they each took and wrote about.
Meanwhile, I was doing some outdoor writing myself. I was writing and selling stories to outdoor magazines. I never cracked the Big Three (Sports Afield, Outdoor Life and Field & Stream) at that time, but I was regularly published in Fur-Fish-Game, farm magazines and some others.
In the spring of 1973, Marc Cox was killed in a private plane crash on his way home from the Minnesota’s Governor’s Fishing Opener, an event he had attended for many years. Being the only reporter on the Journal staff with a farm background, I was selected for his job, which consisted mostly of writing for and editing the Farm Weekly tabloid.
Shorty after, Sias asked me to co-write the outdoor column with him. Of course, I quickly accepted that assignment. I abandoned magazine freelancing and concentrated on my column work.
I still remember my first column. I had discovered the Little Sioux Watershed and its hundreds of fish-filled farm ponds. It was like a man dying of thirst in the desert finally finding a canteen of water. And I drank deeply, the charms of farm pond fishing.
I also had small children and they loved to fish. Farm pond bluegills are perfect for kids. Non-stop action. Kids and farm ponds. That was the column.
I don’t remember what the next column was about, but in those days I had joined Sias and his friends each fall fishing perch at West Okoboji and wrote columns on each trip. There were a lot of them. One winter we fished every weekend from Labor Day to Memorial Day. When West Lake finally froze over usually in mid-December, East Lake had sufficiently thick ice for ice fishing. The Okoboji’s are where I met and fished with C.J. “Cap” Kennedy of Rock-a-Roo jig fame, and Jim Stone, who knew the subtle patterns of West Okoboji better than anybody.
We also headed to the Alexandria, Minnesota, area each spring to open the bass season. There we were joined by Lacey Gee, Si’s friend who owned the Wapsi Fly Company in Independence, Iowa, Bob Brown, sports editor of the Fort Dodge Messenger and their outdoor columnist, and others. We usually spent five days up there fishing crappies, bluegills, and walleyes before the bass opener.
Fran and I and the kids began taking vacations at Lake Vermilion in northeast Minnesota in the mid-70s. This unique lake has 1,250 miles of shoreline and over 365 islands. Sias spent his youth there each summer because he suffered from asthma. He started guiding at the big lake at a young age working out of the resort where he stayed. He and Lacey continued to fish the lake each year right through the 1970s.
To this day, after all the other lakes across the country and Canada I have fished, I would still pick Lake Vermilion as the best fishing lake on which to spend the summer. Winters? Not so much.
Sias retired from the Journal in the late 1970s and moved to northern Idaho, where he fished every day until the day he died.
That was about the time I began spending a week in Canada, mostly Manitoba, first with Lacey and then with Bob Brown. I think over the years I have made 55 trips to both Manitoba and Ontario, not counting trips to Lake of the Woods, which have also been many.
All of my vacation time was spent at fishing destinations with Fran in tow. It wasn’t until we visited our daughter in Hawaii that I came back without a column.
Even when I spent 10 days in Israel covering a tour with Sioux City constituents, I came back with a column. I fished the Jordan River for a little bluegill-looking fish called St. Peter’s fish. I knew that because I had one for lunch at a restaurant in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. You would probably recognize it by its proper name, tilapia.
Our vehicles had stopped at a pull-out to observe a point of interest and I noticed a man fishing below in the river which flows out from the lake. I hurried down and was allowed to make a few casts and a photograph. I didn’t catch a fish, but it was enough for a story.
Bob Brown and I were the first American writers to document the great channel catfish fishing on the Red River at Selkirk, Manitoba. At least that was what we were told by the Manitoba tourism bureau. We fished it for two days before a fly-in trip for walleyes. We couldn’t believe it. We had fish up to 28 pounds and they averaged 17. We planned an extra day to fish the river from then on and eventually both of us caught a channel over 30 pounds.
Selkirk is also where I caught my biggest walleye so far. Each fall big “greenbacks” migrate up the river from Lake Winnipeg and gather below the dam. My fish weighed 13 pounds, 8 ounces on certified scales. I also caught a 12-4, a 10-2 and several in the 8-pound range the day and a half I fished there.
Brown kept a trailer at Brainerd, Minnesota, for many years. We spent a lot of time there fishing small lakes. Sometimes we’d hit five lakes a day. Mostly we caught largemouth bass and big crappies on jig worms, but occasionally we’d Lindy Rig for walleyes.
I’ve written a lot about fishing the Missouri River both in Iowa and throughout South Dakota over the years and more recently the northeast South Dakota Glacial Lakes region.
I wish I knew how many lakes and rivers I’ve fished over the years, but I don’t. I do know that my readers came along on almost each one of them.
I’ve written about just about everything I can think about when it comes to hunting and fishing. That’s what happens when you have a deadline each week for 44 years with no time off for vacation.
I’ve written about fly tying, jig making, making plastic worms and terminal tackle and even building split bamboo fly rods, my main hobby over the past 20 years.
I’ve written about trout fishing, bullhead fishing, walleye, northern, muskie, bluegill, crappie, smallmouth, largemouth, perch, goldeyes, paddlefish and probably a few other species that escape me right now.
My favorite columns have been stories reminiscing of days gone by. I have written about jackrabbits, snow geese, skunks, traplines, Rocky Mountain pack trips, camping, predator calling and many, many others.
I’ve often been asked if I have a favorite column. Not really, I’ve answered. But the one that got the most feedback from readers and on the internet was “The girl, the trout and the bikini, or How my career as a professional fly fisherman swam away.” I wrote it in 2005 and it was about fly fishing the Yellowstone River in Montana. And, it is a true story, mostly. If you want to read it, Google it.
In the 1990s I began magazine freelancing again, writing over 100 features. Game and Fish magazine was my biggest market.
Over the years I have given more fishing seminars, classes and other appearances throughout Siouxland than I can count. I have always loved to share information I have learned about fishing. I have been a lifelong student of the sport. From the beginning my goal was not to specialize on one species of gamefish. My goal was to become versatile enough to be comfortable catching any freshwater game fish.
For about the past 20 years I’ve been working closely with Gary Howey and his Outdoorsmen Adventures television show. I have joined him as co-host, host or cameraman on about 18 to 20 episodes a year. We have been close hunting and fishing friends for well over 30 years. I will continue working with him.
Over the years I have won many awards and recognitions for my outdoor writing, but nothing compares to being named to the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Communicator. That honor came last year. I’m proud to say that Gary and I will be officially inducted together at the Sioux Falls sports show this Saturday. I held off official induction hoping he would be named this year so we could do it together. Professional walleye fisherman Ted Takasaki, a friend and another Hall of Famer, will conduct the ceremony.
Just because I’m not writing the column any more doesn’t mean I’m giving up the outdoors. Not a chance. As long as I can still hobble around I’ll be hunting and fishing. It’s in my blood.
It’s not easy to walk away. My byline has appeared in the Journal for 52 years. That may be a record. My final thoughts, however, are to you, my readers. I give you my heartfelt thanks for reading my column over the years. You are the reason I kept it up for so long. Thanks. And, farewell.