ishing – Back to the Basics

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Collecting dust on a shelf in the garage was where it eventually landed, a big old bucktail lure I bought years ago in anticipation of the only muskie fishing trip I ever went on. I had forgotten about the bucktail, until the day my rambunctious Labrador discovered it.

Trying to extract a fishing lure of any type from the mouth of a 65-pound dog is not a pleasant experience. Somehow I did finally manage to separate dog and bucktail with the aid of a tin snips. Don’t ask me how. The bucktail’s final cast was into the garbage.

I used to fish much more often in my younger years. But over time, it seemed, fishing became more complicated and competitive, time got shorter, and I had increasingly fewer fish to fry. Cane poles and row boats had disappeared from the landscape, replaced with high-powered boats, electronics and an assortment of lures, baits, rigs and tackle so vast it can make a person’s head spin. Fishing regulations also became more complex as time went by. But were these trends the real reason that I began to fish less?

I think not. The reason I began to fish less often was not because the sport of fishing had changed. Rather, I simply lost sight of what fishing is really all about. As Henry David Thoreau once noted, “Many go fishing all their lives without ever knowing that it is not fish they are after.”

The reality is that fishing does not have to be complicated and keeping up with the Jones’s is entirely unnecessary. Grandma and Grandpa used to catch plenty of fish with a plain ol’ hook, line and sinker and that simple approach can still work today. Fishing should be fun and relaxing, not a nail-biting, anxiety-laden contest.

A single trip to the local sporting goods store can provide all you need to be set up for fishing. For less than the cost of a fine-dining experience you can purchase a license, rod and reel, and some basic tackle. And dining on an occasional home-cooked meal of freshly caught fish can be pretty fine in itself.

Begin with the license. Individuals age 16 and older need a license. The cost is $17. A combination husband and wife license costs $25. A combination individual fishing license and a small game hunting license can be had for $29.50. Lifetime licenses are also available as described in the Minnesota Fishing 2008 regulations handbook. (This handbook can be obtained wherever licenses are sold.)

Finding a place to fish need not be difficult, either. The DNR manages a large number of fishing piers, Aquatic Management Areas, and shorefishing areas that are easily accessible and do not require a boat. Some counties and cities also provide fishing access sites. To locate fishing sites in your area, visit the Department of Natural Resources web site ( and type in the search words “fishing piers.” This will take people to a list of public water accesses, shorefishing sites and fishing piers.

Another excellent Web site dedicated to fishing is This site is loaded with information on everything from how to tie fishing knots to the types of lures and bait to use for different fish species. For the novice or casual angler, all you need to know can be found here.

Deciding when and where to go fishing is predicated on any number of factors, of course. The best time to go fishing, someone once said, is when it’s raining. Or when it’s not. But where you choose to go can be another matter. Case in point:

Years ago four of us decided to take advantage of a hot bite on a popular lake. When we arrived at the access site in our old pick-up truck pulling an even older boat, we were surprised to find dozens of ritzy rigs already lined up. The buddy driving the truck sheepishly got in line to back the boat to the ramp while the rest of us waited off to the side. And then the real fun began.

In the chaotic company of so many fancy boats, cars, trucks and trailers all trying to reach the ramp, our buddy somehow got the trailer off course. The harder he tried to straighten it out in those close quarters, the worse it got. It got worse still when some clown began to loudly chastise him for his seeming incompetence and someone else began honking his horn. And it certainly did not help when he noticed us doubled over in laughter.

Lesson learned: avoid maddening crowds.

An inexpensive rod and reel, a few worms or minnows, and a quiet spot along a lakeshore or river is all that’s needed. All the better with a kid by your side, as former president Jimmy Carter can attest. “Many of the most highly publicized events of my presidency are not nearly as memorable or significant in my life as fishing with my daddy,” Carter said.

During a family vacation, back when fishing for me was entirely about catching fish, I shared a boat with two brothers. One brother shared my outlook. The other did not. I still have a photo of the non-conforming brother stretched out on a boat seat that day, rod lying loosely across his chest, his feet dangling over the side of the boat. Napping!

I was perturbed at his nonchalance that day. In hindsight, he had it right all along.


An outdoor column from Tom Conroy, DNR Information Officer