Catch and release

Fishing on the open water keeps me in the moment, sometimes for many hours on end

Dave Nimmer, who cherishes the serenity of his fishing trips this time of year, shows off a freshwater catch — a bass he caught and released.
Dave Nimmer, who cherishes the serenity of his fishing trips this time of year, shows off a freshwater catch — a bass he caught and released.

In my life, I’ve struggled with mindfulness, keeping my attention to the moment at hand, the here and now. Too often, I’ve worried about something I did a week ago or wondered about something I should do a day ahead.

Buddhists, Trappists and therapists would say that keeps me from the joy of the journey.

Well, I’m about to get mindful. Summer is coming, the water is soft, the air is warm and my boat is floating — in a little lake in Washington County.

Once in that boat, and on the water, I’m totally, utterly and serenely involved in the moment. I am in the outdoors. I am fishing. And for those moments, minutes and hours, all is right with me and the world.

It’s been that way since I can remember, fishing as an 8-year-old with a hand line on Squirrel Lake in northern Wisconsin or casting as a 12-year-old with a Shakespeare Wonder Reel in Upper Michigan. Fishing and water bring me peace.

In the past 30 years, I’ve probably spent the equivalent of a half-year sitting in my 14-foot AlumaCraft, a gift from the staff of the Minneapolis Star when I left in 1978.

Most of that time my fishing buddy, Jim Shoop, was with me. Some days we caught dozens of crappies. Some days we landed a dozen big bass. And on a few of the days we hauled in a northern or two, weighing upwards of 15 pounds.

And some days the fish didn’t bite. But we always think they will.

The promise of something more

That’s what it is about fishing: The possibility is always right there, right now. But it’s more than that. It’s the bald eagle soaring overhead. The osprey hitting the water like a rocket. The beaver slapping her tail when you’re too close. And it’s the silence, that comfortable quiet.

Don Shelby and I once spent 12 hours in his old bass boat on the Chisago Chain of Lakes north of the metro.

We cast our lines. We changed our lures. We ate sandwiches. We glided along the shoreline. We drifted across points. And we spoke out loud for no more than 10 minutes all day. We had no need for words in that communion between old friends.

I once tried to persuade my former WCCO Newsday colleague, Marcia Fluer, that fishing is a spiritual experience. She rejected that notion after spending a midnight walleye opener with me at Lake Darling in Alexandria in 40-degree weather.

I still contend, however, that the combination of open water, green trees and fishing friends is good for the soul, especially now that I’ve grown older and wiser.

Weary, but still swimming

When I was growing up, Dad and I cleaned and ate every legal fish we caught — even bullheads and white bass, not generally regarded as tasty table fare. These days, I let most of the fish go — catch and release — especially the big ones (like the bass in the picture). These are fish with a few battle scars and, like me, slightly worn and weary, but still swimming.

These days, Shoop and I spend more time appreciating a light breeze, a blue sky, a warm day and a fishing partnership going back 50 years. We’ll end the season this year with another old friend, Ron Handberg, my former WCCO boss.

We’ll be at Pickerel Arm in Ontario, 150 miles north of the border. It’s a real taste of the outdoors — gravel roads, granite shorelines, cedar trees and rocky islands.

I’ve never worried about much up there, except keeping my hat on, my line tight and my feet dry.

Dave Nimmer has had a long career as a reporter, editor and professor. Now retired, he has no business card, but plenty to do. Send comments or questions to [email protected].