Artist, angler

Scott Seekins and the pleasures of urban fishing

Artist Scott Seekins fishing at the lake. Credit: Photo by Dylan Thomas

EAST CALHOUN — The meeting place was the fishing dock on the southeast shore of Lake Calhoun, across the parkway from Lakewood Cemetery.

But when the two fishermen arrived, it was clear the dock wouldn’t do — not at all. Pounding winds during the solstice storm of a few days earlier had knocked it off its mooring, and the T-shaped wooden platform floated at an angle a few feet offshore.

For the man with the fly rod, the bigger problem was the steady wind blowing out of the northwest. No way to cast into that wind, Scott Seekins judged.

“It’s like swimming upstream in this kind of weather,” Seekins said.

He pointed west across the lake, to some open shoreline just beyond Thomas Beach, where the water appeared calmer. They walked.

The artist and fishing enthusiast led the way, turning the heads of joggers and dog-walkers on the crowded pathway as he went. Seekins surely vies with Mayor R.T. Rybak for the title of most-recognizable Minneapolitan.

He was dressed in summer white, sporting a vest and shirtsleeves, with a silk scarf knotted around his neck. His black-or-white fashion sense is common knowledge to anyone who’s lived here 10 minutes, but fewer notice he almost always adds a spot of color; on this day, a blue and gold brooch.

Seekins didn’t have a portfolio along, even though he usually carries one on outings to the Chain of Lakes. It wasn’t uncommon to make a sale, right there on the path. There is no other local artist whose art and image are so entwined, and although Seekins admits that can be a “double-edged sword,” it pays to be ready when an admirer flags him down.

The outing was sketchily planned weeks earlier. Meet around 7 p.m. and fish until dusk. It should be a day in late June, Seekins advised, before the lake was too choked with milfoil, preferably a hot, muggy day, like this one.

If only it wasn’t so windy, he said.

Seekins carried an Orvis graphite fly rod, a four-weight just the right size for the bass and pan fish that school in Calhoun’s shallows. The rod, over 6 feet long fully assembled, broke down into four pieces that fit snugly in a cloth carrying case, an elegant solution for the fisherman who must travel by city bus, as Seekins does.

He assembled the pole in a grassy area near a large willow tree, tying on a tiny popper fly, a bit of cork and feather hiding a silver hook. He pulled a small, sharp scissors from his fishing bag, the kind you might find in doctor’s kit, and cut the barb off the hook. It’s harder to land a fish that way but easier for the catch-and-release fisherman to return a fish to the water unharmed.

Seekins began casting, working some line out with a practiced, metronome motion. He placed the fly about 15 feet offshore, tugged to make it skitter across the surface, and then pulled back to cast again. He took a quick look over one shoulder. He was desperate not to hook a human or a dog, a real risk when fly fisherman has 10 or 15 feet of line looping in the air above his head near a parade of oblivious passerby.

The other man, hardly a fishing novice but making his first outing within city limits, armed with a cheap Ugly Stik rod and spinning reel, clipped a neon green plastic grub to the end of his line and cast near the edge of some weeds, jigging as he reeled. He cast a second time. A bite!

A tiny sunfish more bones and scales than flesh, it was hardly one of Calhoun’s famed muskies. The wind was dead on this side of the lake, but so was the action. Seekins suggested a move.

The other fisherman wondered if Seekins had ever seen “Fishing with John.”

No, Seekins said.

It was a cult television show in the ’90s with the actor John Lurie, the other man explained. It only ran a few episodes.

Maybe he’d seen one, Seekins allowed.

The other fisherman, who intended to write a story about their urban fishing experience, started to say something else when Seekins interrupted.

“Just don’t call it ‘Fishing with Seekins,’” he said.

Why not?

“It’s be done,” he said.

And so it had, it turned out. More than one journalist had been lured by the promise of urban fishing with one of the city’s great characters. Oh well.

As a fishing guide, Seekins was fabulous, directing the other fisherman to a drop-off where he promptly landed a largemouth bass. Seekins, though, was having little luck himself, and the wind, after briefly dying down, was picking up again. Dark, choppy waves covered the lake, perfect conditions for walleye, Seekins noted, if only they were in a boat.

At dusk, they walked back to the meeting place. On the way, large balding man jogging in the opposite direction turned as he passed them, shouting: “Did you catch anything?”

Seekins kept walking.

“It’s the same with art,” he said. “They always ask, ‘Did you make a sale?’”

Fishing on the Chain of Lakes runs all summer long. Be sure to get a license.