We heard the sounds before we could identify their source — the chatter of happy kids, the thumping of footsteps on a floating dock.
Phyllis, the yellow dog and I were approaching the pond at Duluth’s Hartley Park on a warm July evening. We were headed for the dock to see if the dog needed a cool-down swim. But when we saw five or six kids on the dock, all wielding fishing rods and flinging lures into Hartley Pond, we knew we’d find another swimming hole.
The scene was classic Minnesota. The kids — both boys and girls, maybe 5-10 in age — were lined up on the dock, flinging lures or baits into the pond. All manner of tackle boxes, backpacks, water bottles and assorted fishing gear was placed at intervals along the dock.
Each of the young anglers brandished a fishing rod. Most of the kids had the real stuff — longish rods, serviceable reels. They looked as if they’d done this before.
Unseen at first were the parental units. Then we saw them sitting on the porch of a storage building well away from the kids but close enough for voice contact. Two moms, it appeared.
As we approached, one of the boys in the group dropped to his hands and knees on the dock. He had just landed a sunfish of some variety, and he was performing the hook-ectomy on it now. Neither mom made a move to offer him help — he didn’t need it.
With the sunnie pinned to the dock, the boy went at the hook from a couple different angles and finally worked it free. Anyone could see he had had some experience in the procedure.
He held up the fish, silhouetted against the evening light, to show off his catch. He didn’t have to get the attention of the adults nearby. They were already watching him.
“Nice one!” one of the women hollered. “That’s your biggest one yet.”
“No,” the boy shouted back. “The last one I caught was bigger!”
“Oh! OK!” the woman replied.
With that, the boy gave the sunnie a fling out over the water. It traveled in a lovely arc against the sky, landed with a splat and disappeared beneath the surface. The boy was already prepared to start casting again.
This, I thought, was kid-fishing at its finest. No hovering parents baiting hooks or offering casting critique. No one worried about a backcast impaling another kid’s earlobe. Nobody was concerned that one of the miniature anglers might fall off the dock into the water.
It was all pretty wonderful.
This was summer. This was pure fun. This was fishing in its simplest form.
Rods swished through the air in the evening light. Baits plunked into the pond. Small hands reeled feverishly.
Phyllis and I moved on down the path along the lake with the yellow dog. We smiled at the presumed mothers.
We had seen the future of fishing in Minnesota, and it was good.
Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com or find his Facebook page at facebook.com/sam.cook.5249.