Fish Stories

A summer's day at the docks of Southwest

When I was a young boy, I spent many summer days on the Lake Harriet fishing dock by the band shell.

One particular day, I was fishing while my brother and a friend dug worms in Roberts Bird Sanctuary. I got an enormous strike and saw the flash of what appeared to be a very large northern.

With no familiars around and wanting desperately to land the fish, I did the logical thing.

I yelled.

"SOMEONE GET A NET! I GOTTA NORTHERN!"

One of the bigger boys nearby turned to get his net. At that point, the enormous pike fell off my hook, revealing a very small sunfish that I had caught -- and the pike had tried to eat.

I stood embarrassed and silent, the puny fish dangling from the end of my line.

"Nice northern, kid," said the older boy, with derision.

On a recent summer day, I decided to walk the lakes and see how other fishermen and fisherwomen were faring.

Troy Stennes of Bloomington fishes for muskellunge almost every day, and on the days he doesn't take his boat out, he comes to the West 47th Street dock at Lake Harriet, he says.

"This is a real good dock as far as location -- deep water close to the shore, right off the weed line," he says. "There are a lot of crappies, perch and carp. Where the carp are active, there could be muskies."

He started muskie fishing 6 years ago and caught his first one on this same dock -- 42 inches and 20 pounds, he says. "You have to have patience. You have to spend a lot more hours than you would for a walleye or a bass," he says. "They call it 'The fish of 10,000 casts.'"

On this day, Stennes is casts his "slammer creeper." He brought only three of the eight specialty rods he owns. "They have rods for jerk baits, for buck tail, for crank baits and all-purpose rods," he says.

Before reeling in the bait for another cast, he makes several circles in the water with the lure -- just in case one is lurking.

"Muskies will follow the bait right into the dock," Stennes says. "A muskie will look at it and swim right behind it. Sometimes you can get them to strike right at your feet."

"I have had 36 follows at this dock."

Hooper Lombardo is knee deep in Lake Harriet, holding the net while cousins Amanda and Adam Biehauser cast for sunfish and crappies.

"We come here a lot," says Hooper, who was taking a break after his fishing line snarled. He had cut out the knot but hadn't re-rigged his pole yet.

"We were going for carp this morning. We had corn," he says, "They are spawning; it's a little too early."

Adam watches as his sister struggled to get a small fish off her hook and took a break to help her out.

"It was peeing on me," she exclaimed.

Standing on a dock at Cedar Lake, Cliff Jones says that when he and his boys go fishing, they always grab a kid who doesn't fish -- "It teaches them patience."

This day, Jones and sons Wesley Brown and Aarion Jones brought neighbor Isaiah Martin. It was his first time fishing.

"I think it's cool. I like it when you catch big fish," says Isaiah, hands apart, inching wider, demonstrating the size of his biggest fish.

Isaiah is not so keen on taking the fish off the hook, however. Aarion helps him free one fish; then Jones patiently cajoles Isaiah to take the next one off on his own.

"They are pulling them out like sardines," Jones says. "The big ones we keep; the small ones we throw back. Before the day's out, they are all going back in the lake. I just want the guys to feel good about the fishing."

Jones works nights as a machinist, and takes his boys fishing during the day several times a week. "Now that school's out, we'll probably go more.

"It's either yard work or fishing. I prefer fishing myself," he says.

"It's a good time to talk to the boys. I don't have to yell at them. I have one boy entering high school. We have some things to talk about."