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My Greatest Fish Tale

What is it about fishing? For me, it’s the memories that get a bit more amplified and drama-filled as time moves along. If you’re my brother-in-law or my father, the amplification starts the minute the fish is released back into the water. If you’re me and blessed/stressed with a short-term memory, the amplification isn’t always intentional. It’s a mixed bag of reality, fuzziness, and of the feelings surrounding that day or time in life. But on that rare occasion, the fuzz goes away and clarity reigns supreme.  

It so happens the biggest walleye I’ve ever landed, a hefty 28-incher, came through the ice the same day I learned I was pregnant with my first. After a few afternoon tests and an assured sense of the baby inside me, I headed out to the ice to visit with my husband and a couple of his friends. They had been fishing tip-ups all afternoon, waiting for the walleyes evening shift into the shallow bay. As soon as I joined, the guys said the next tip up would be mine (I think this might have had something to do with the restock of the cooler I did upon arrival!). I’m sure they also didn’t expect the next fish to be the biggest walleye they had seen come out of the ice in a year or more.

Here I am 2 months prego, with a Presque Isle Lake Walleye in late January 2006.

For me, catching this fish was a sign of something much bigger, a sign I was moving onto a life chapter filled with responsibility and unconditional love. I held a secret in that moment – the gift of life. I happily posed for that photo, holding that powerful, beautiful secret in my hands and heart just a little bit tighter, for a little bit longer. Thanks to that fish, I treasure and remember with clarity that feeling and moment.

My late friend, fisherman and former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice William (Bill) Bablitch, had the opportunity to give a manifesto on fishing during his time as a seated justice. In a poetic opinion on trout pond fishing, he wrote:

“Fishing is many things, the least of which to many who indulge is the catching of fish… It is the snap of a twig across the lake on a dew filled mooring signaling the approach of a deer taking the first sip of the dawn;

It is the desolate cry of a loon signaling its mate in a most haunting communication indecipherable to mere humans;

It is the screech of the owl ten feet above the river bend warning the invader of its displeasure as we approach at dusk to witness the fleetingly hypnotic hatch of the mayfly, ironically renewing itself at the moment of its demise;

It is the swish swish swish of the giant wings of the heron as it rises reluctantly from its shallow water preserve, glaringly reminding us that this is its home, not ours.

It is all of this, and more, that brings us back again and again. This is fishing; the catching of a fish is merely ancillary.”

Bill knew that it was much more than the fish – but he was also balanced enough (someone I would refer to as a “Libra liberal”) to know that on certain occasions, it IS about the fish! At one time, Bill held a Vilas County record for a 38 3/4 pound musky. That record has been broken quite a few times since then and we’re now at 51 pounds with Tom Gelb’s 2006 catch holding strong. When Bill would recount the time he caught that fish, he didn’t wax poetics about the heron and owls, but about the power of the elusive musky. And, dare I say he might have even let a little amplification make its way into his storytelling. After all when adrenaline hits, clarity is NOT paramount.  Kind of like the time I caught this Leach Lake strain musky in Duluth’s St. Louis River, or the time my husband caught this 52″ Canada monster…. Fuzzy memories maybe but hella fun! It might be a bit of a stretch to include these in this post, but another piece of advice I’ve heard and witnessed often in the Northwoods is to never pass up the chance to wax on a bit about a few of your greatest fishing memories.

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