My brother Mike and I grew up with a dad who believed that if he worked us hard enough, we’d probably keep out of trouble. So we spent a lot of weekends under his watchful eye, cutting firewood, building stone walls, digging native plants for a retail nursery, picking blackberries, collecting driftwood and pounding nails. It taught us to avoid hard work whenever possible. We still got into our fair share of trouble.
We also figured out that one of the best ways to avoid work was to tempt the old man with any available options for going hunting or fishing instead. It didn’t work every time, but it worked often enough that we kept out of hard work and got into hunting and fishing whenever possible. As a result, we spent plenty of time wandering through clear-cut timber with our deer rifles at the ready, slinging globs of salmon-egg baits into rivers swollen with sea-run steelhead or dragging herring behind a boat in the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes we just sat on the dock outside our back door, reeling in buckets full of perch and catfish.
Dad’s no longer with us. Over time, my brother became more of a hunter, while I leaned toward fishing.
As it turned out, the Oregon woods got more crowded as the years went by. Gates got locked, even on public lands, to keep out poachers and thieves. Hunting that used to help fill a family’s freezer became a sport for big spenders and show-offs. Dependable patches of remote forest and brush got converted to pony ranchettes, hobby farms for emus and alpacas and avocational wineries by newly arrived entrepreneurs and professionals with too much time and money on their hands. Out here I didn’t get many invitations to goose pits or deer camps. Mike talked me into sharing a Wyoming antelope trip a few years back. Other than that, I haven’t hunted much. In recent years, he’s been slowing down too.
But I found success exploring Nebraska’s lakes and trout creeks. He inherited Dad’s boat and began spending more time on the water. He comes out once in awhile to spend a few days visiting some of my favorites lakes and tossing plugs and spinnerbaits at pike and bass. When I go to Oregon, he takes me fishing for salmon, lingcod and rockfish. We’ll walk out on wave-worn jetties to cast for greenling and sea perch. We took a memorable trip to northern Saskatchewan a few years back, involving 17 hours of driving and more than 500 miles of flying to reach an airstrip in a nearly abandoned mining town called Uranium City, where we boarded an Otter and flew some more, winding up about 120 miles south of the tundra.
A few days ago, my little brother turned 60 — I needed a moment to let that sink in. We’ve reached the point in life where we realize that time, toughness and finances are all working against us. If we’re going to nail a few outdoor adventures to the memory wall, it’s time to get after them. I twisted his arm a bit, and he’ll arrive late Thursday night. We’ll spend next week fishing together with a few friends. Firewood will be burned. Bourbon will be passed.
With any luck, it’ll make for a few good stories. I wish the old man was still around and hearty enough to come along. We could put him to work just for fun, cooking breakfast and rinsing out our coffee cups.
Meanwhile, my wife Maria and I have been enjoying fresh fried walleye. This is usually the time that I get a little itchy to go exploring, since the ideal time for Panhandle fishing lingers a mercilessly short few weeks. I went to bed over the weekend figuring that if I got up early I’d haul the boat to Box Butte Reservoir, and if I got up late I’d fish Lake Minatare again.
I slept in. With Memorial Day weekend launching the summer season, the parking lots and campsites at the lake were packed. But I was able to fish the same place that I’d caught a few last time, and the walleyes were still around. I landed lots of 13- and 14-inch fish — a great sign for next season if people are obeying length restrictions and catch limits. And I took a few home: two 17-inchers and one that was just short of 20. It took my wife and I couple of days to finish them off.
You only get so many good days in a lifetime. It’s the best time of year for a fisherman. Don’t miss it.