Hooked! Anglers offer stories about the people — and the fish — that got them hooked on fishing
From Lac Courte Oreilles to Lake Superior, anglers share stories about those who introduced them to fishing. Tom Heinrich, Hayward Our house always smelled of fish. Either my mother was mixing batter for a muskie fillet or my father was cleaning ...
From Lac Courte Oreilles to Lake Superior, anglers share stories about those who introduced them to fishing.
Tom Heinrich, Hayward
Our house always smelled of fish. Either my mother was mixing batter for a muskie fillet or my father was cleaning fish in the back room. From Winters Point of Lac Courte Oreilles, my parents carved out a living from a little resort. The shoreline was rocky, the drop-off too quick, the water seemed too cold for tourist swimming.
But people came for the fishing - muskie, walleye, smallmouth bass - and the talk of fish. Maps of the lake, marking favorite weed points, rock bars and hidden logs covered tables or were stapled to walls. Dinner conversations debated the correct leader knots, muskie rods, hellgrammite hatches and ways to fish crayfish.
By age 5, I could navigate the fishing pier by myself, throwing hooks with night crawlers toward smallmouth beds. At 8, I could solo the boat with the 5-horse out to Frenchman’s Bar a half mile away.
At 9, my parents taught me to cast and fish the Suick, the wooden plug that both viewed as the only way to catch a big muskie. It was heavy, so I heaved it. Then, in cadence, they would count - one, two, three, pull - so I would reel for a three-count, then pull it, creating a wounded-minnow action. It was a bit much and often dangerous as I zinged the plug left-handed in a boat that featured right-handers.
Fishing was always fun - riding the large swells of the lake in a small boat, bouncing off the seat, enjoying the follow of a big fish, sneaking a crayfish on a spin-casting rod off the back for smallies, throwing plugs at boats that passed too close. Or that muskie fever of playing out a big fish with heart throbbing, hands shaking and eyes flinching when the fish tailed. It was cool to wear your canvas fishing pants to town, the ones with the fish blood staining the fabric.
Eventually, I turned to trout, because I was 21 and the time of Lac Courte Oreilles seemed old. But late in my parents’ years I returned, escorted my dad away from the 2003 World Series and we trolled muskie plugs on a wet, windy day. He caught three small muskies that day with two of his Labradors hopping on the gunwales, nosing the fish when released. Upon our return, his wife met him at the door and asked if she needed to get out the frying pan. Then she unrolled a lake map and talked muskies for hours. I still have that map, the stories and the Suicks today.
Barb Sather, Bennington, Neb.
How did I get interested in fishing? Was it a person or a fish?
I didn’t realize it until you asked that question, but now I see it was both. I would have said it was my dad, Joe, who got me interested in fishing. He taught me how to bait my hook, spit on it for good luck and take off my own fish.
Dad was the one who planned yearly fishing trips from Omaha, Neb., to Lake Okoboji (in Iowa) and later to Minnesota because he loved fishing so much. He was the one who would start cleaning and oiling his fishing reels in January because he couldn’t wait for that fishing trip to get here.
Dad was the one who organized our night-crawler hunts in the spring after a good rain so we would have plenty of bait. He buckled me in my bright orange puffy lifejacket when we got in the boat and let me drive the boat with him; both of our hands on the motor. He let me catch the minnows in the minnow bucket for him with my own bare hands. And he always made sure that sometime in that magical week we would find a good bluegill hole so we could pull in fish after fish until we had a full basket and were sure we were the best fishermen and women on the lake.
But there was one special fish I still remember. As many kids do, I decided one day to try fishing on my own from the end of the dock. I baited my hook, spit, put on my bobber and cast out my line. No fish.
I waited a reasonable amount of time. No fish. So after a while, I had a brilliant idea, as only the best of us fisherwomen sometimes have. I was going to turn around backwards on that bench and fish off the back side of the dock. I got my bite and reeled in what I now know was a pretty large perch, but I was convinced it was a “rainbow trout” because it had an orange stripe on its belly.
With my chest all puffed out, I marched up to the cabin and showed everyone my “rainbow trout” and told them about my secret fishing spot. And my dad said, “I think that is the biggest rainbow trout anyone has ever caught in this lake.”
Hooked! It was my dad and that fish. And at age 68, I still love to fish and still remember that day.
Bob Liedtke, Buffalo City, Wis.
I grew up in Milwaukee, Wis. My father was an avid fisherman. When I was 2, he decided his little buddy was old enough to go fishing. We were headed to a pier on Lake Michigan. My mother was worried I'd fall in so made him tie a rope around his waist then around my waist. If I went in, he could pull my out. Despite that clumsy arrangement, I took to fishing like a duck to water. That is where it all started, and I am just as nuts about fishing at age 74 as I was at age 2. Thanks, Dad.
Greg Massoglia, Saxon, Wis.
I have a unique answer to who hooked me on fishing. It was both of my grandfathers and my childhood buddy’s dad.
I always associated my two grandfathers as two types of fishermen, although both were diversified. My paternal grandfather, Joe Massoglia, was a very good stream fisherman. Many times he would come home with his limit of brook trout. He was stealthy and would sneak up on a potential hole in a creek and would flip his line in the hole. He always told me to treat brook trout fishing like stalking a deer. He gave me my first rod and reel. I caught many brookies with that setup, learning eventually how to sneak up on holes, pay out line from my reel and flip the earthworm into the stream.
My maternal grandfather, Donald Meredith, was a walleye fisherman. He introduced me to boat fishing. He had a 15-foot Meyers Aircraft boat with a 22-horsepower Mercury Kiekhaefer motor on it. He would fish the Kakagon Sloughs all the way up to Brush Point in Chequamegon Bay. One day after my constantly pestering him, he took me on the “sloughs.” I caught my first walleye, which was 28 inches, jigging a double-tail black Mr. Twister grub on a black jig head. My grandpa was never a catch-and-release guy, and me being a 7-year old in 1969, not many people were putting back fish.
A few years later my grandpa was feeling down because my grandma had passed away so I talked him into going back to Brush Point. I hooked into a 12-pound northern, and when my grandpa netted the fish he had a smile from ear to ear. I then realized that fishing meant more than catching fish - it also provides needed therapy.
My last influence was my neighborhood buddy’s dad, Richie Wiercinski. Richie had a boat at Saxon Harbor. It was an 18- or 20-foot boat named the Norita Jean. In my eyes, the boat looked like a freighter. One day Richie took me and my buddy, Johnny, out of Saxon Harbor. It was a gloomy day, but we hooked into a laker. His boat had outriggers with bells on them. When the bells rang indicating a strike, Johnny reeled up the down line (similar to a downrigger) and Richie had me hand-line the laker in with Richie netting it. I was beyond thrilled. I was so proud to bring that fish home for supper. I always thanked Richie for letting me go. I was hooked on lake fishing.
To this day, I think of my Grandpa Joe. When walleye fishing turns on, I think of Grandpa Don. And every time I launch my boat in Lake Superior I think of Richie Wiercinski. All three men have passed away, but they are still alive in my heart.
Dave Delawyer, Deer River
Over 50 years ago I was fortunate enough to have my grandpa living right next to me.
He was retired and I was a pre-teen kid looking for daily action! “Gramps” was always there to give it to me. With all of our excitement we enjoyed together, the fishing was the greatest.
The first thing I learned from Gramps was that you fish for whatever was biting, and you didn’t take more than the family could eat. The tool of trade was a 12-foot cane pole with a red and white bobber. Gramps didn’t care much for the new-fangled spinning rods and reels.
We caught northern, walleye, bullheads and panfish all on our cane poles.
My grandpa introduced me to fishing when I was 6 years old, catching bullheads in a creek. When we caught a 5-gallon pail full, it was time to go home.
One time, fishing in the lake, he got a really big fish on. When it wanted to run, he would just throw the cane pole in the water and let it go until it tired out enough for him to get hold of the pole again. This went on for quite sometime, until we figured it was tired out enough to land.
When he lifted the pole to bring the fish in, low and behold it broke the line above the bobber! Our new strategy was to chase the bobber until the fish went deep and the bobber disappeared. We did this for the rest of the day with our 14-foot Alumacraft with the 9.5 Evinrude motor.
At nightfall we gave up. Gramps said, “We’ll be back here at daylight.” We were there at the crack of dawn, and we patrolled the bay with military precision. We were just about to give up when we spotted the bobber slowly moving through the weeds. The bobber had accumulated a big bundle of weeds around it that Gramps referred to it as a bale of hay.
We could never get close enough to the fish to get hold of the line or even get a Dardevle hooked into the bale of weeds with my cane pole. Gramps had me shut the motor off and row very quietly towards the bobber, but to no avail.
I finally convinced Gramps to let me put a Redeye (spoon) on and cast it with the new-fangled spinning reel and rod. I eventually got the hook set in the weeds and let him reel it in. It was a beautiful 13-pound northern that took us two days to catch!
I finally got Gramps to upgrade from the cane pole, and we spent many a day fishing as Grandpa and Grandson. Gramps passed away when I was 20 years old, but he instilled in me the love of fishing and being able to spend quality time on the water with someone you admire and love.
Clark Nelson, Two Harbors
I was only 3 when my grandpa took me fishing at his secret spot. It was opening weekend for walleye and northern pike fishing so we decided to fish for northern. Once we got to our secret spot, we threw in some bobbers with sucker minnows on them.
It was slow at first, but when my grandpa went up to the truck to grab some minnows, I got some action. I was day dreaming at first, but I snapped out of it when I noticed my pole was bouncing toward the water.
I looked for my bobber and I didn't see it.
I yelled, "Grandpa, grandpa, I have a fish."
He yelled, "Reel it in!"
I was nervous. It was my first time reeling in a fish by myself. I started reeling and in less than two minutes, I had the fish up to the shore. Once I got the fish to this point, my grandpa had made it to where I was and he helped get it on shore. When we got home, we measured it and it came out to be about 35 inches long.
I still love fishing just as much as I did then. I want to thank my grandpa for making this story possible and my seventh-grade English teacher for teaching me to write properly.
Rob Scott, Crane Lake
Who hooked you on fishing? The answer to that question is easy for me. It was my dad. I have had the opportunity to grow up on the Minnesota-Canadian border way before the Voyageurs National Park or the Boundary Waters Canoe Area were established. Also, being the son of a fishing guide didn’t hurt, as the life lessons of fishing became etched in me at an early age. My father - or J.C., as the locals called him - was respected not only for his ability to catch fish, but his conservation approach and attitude to the area and fishing specifically.
Lesson One was pretty straightforward: No fish are ever caught while sleeping (either in the boat or your bed). A little fresh water from the minnow bucket took care of the former and being left behind definitely took care of the latter.
Lesson Two: Make sure you have bait on your hook. After many hours of not catching anything and watching my dad catch enough fish for both of us l would then check my hook. I must agree that there is not a fish in Minnesota or Canada that looks like a No. 5 Eagle Claw.
One day he cast his silver spoon and got Mr. Big on the line. I watched him work the fish for the better part of an hour. The next thing I heard was the snap as the last of the line left the spool, and my dad saying, “The trout beat me.” The point he always made was that you never lose a fish, they just beat you once and awhile. That was Lesson Three.
Lesson Four: After a day of guiding and cleaning fish that we caught, one of the customers told me that since we got so many walleyes to get rid of the northerns. They didn’t want them. So I threw them away to make them happy. After they were gone I dug out the Northerns from the gut pail and filleted them up. If you catch it and keep it, you eat it.
The last lesson and one that has been my fishing compass is understanding the difference between fishing and catching. If your basis for being out in God’s country and participating in the sport of fishing is only to fill the livewell or impress others with the fish you caught, you never met my dad.