Column: Fishing a game of expectations


By Brad Dokken - Grand Forks Herald



I took a walk to an off-the-beaten-path fishing hole the other day and lost track of the number of fish I landed when the count climbed into the 75 to 80 range.

This was fishing at its simplest — a jig and a twister tail — and the fish were voracious. I either caught a fish or had a strike every cast. They even hit bare jigs, though my hooking percentage went down; no surprise there.

It didn’t seem to matter where I cast, either. Close to shore or farther out, the outcome was the same: Fish on.

Action like that has to be experienced to comprehend, but I had the place to myself so you’ll have to take my word for it.

Had the fish been walleyes or some other much-desired species, the hour and a half I spent fishing from shore likely would have ranked among the most memorable fishing excursions I’ve ever experienced.

Instead, the fish I caught were northern pike — mostly of the hammer-handle variety. They put up a good fight, and every 20th pike or so would have been big enough to keep had I been so inclined.

The action quite literally was nonstop, but because small pike dominated the catch, the excitement was tempered somehow.

It shouldn’t have been, perhaps, because catching fish every cast — even hammer-handle pike — is the exception far more often than it’s the norm. Kids, or even older anglers who haven’t experienced fast fishing, likely would have been thrilled at the chance to catch fish every cast.

Matter of perception

The excursion was a reminder that fishing is a game of expectations. What constitutes good fishing to one angler might be slow to the next. A desirable fish to one angler might be “junk” to the next.

I’d never heard game fish described as junk until a few years ago, when a fisherman I’ve come to know used the word to describe the number of small walleyes and saugers he caught on an ice fishing trip.

“How was the fishing?” I asked.

“Not worth a darn,” he replied, using a word stronger than darn.

“How many did you catch?” I asked.

“About 50,” he said, “but most of them were junk.”

If catching 50 fish classifies as “not worth a darn,” I can only imagine how many fish it takes to raise the bar to “good” or “great.”

Fishing, then, is all about perceptions and expectations.

It’s not often I say I’ve had enough of catching fish, but it happened that recent afternoon.

I literally got tired of catching fish.

Being a tight-lipped fisherman to everyone but my closest friends, chances are I wouldn’t even be writing about the excursion if the fish I caught had been walleyes. I hadn’t made the trip to write a fishing story, after all, only to revisit an old haunt I’ve fished since I was old enough to sling a fishing rod.

It’s always fun to go back, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t hoped to catch a walleye or three, which I did last summer during an evening spent fishing the same spot.

They were the first walleyes I’d ever seen — much less landed — in some 40 years of wetting a line in the off-the-beaten path fishing hole.

Much as I’d hoped to continue the walleye streak, my surroundings made up for the letdown of catching only pike. The hike was a walk down memory lane — 40 minutes each way — and the journey was its own reward.

Besides, it’s good to have nature to yourself every once in awhile.

That definitely lived up to my expectations.

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By Brad Dokken

Grand Forks Herald