An ode to dip netting

Here’s a little peek behind the curtain of how I pull together content to share with all of you.

On my computer, I have a note on my “Notes” app that I use as a repository for ideas for future articles, podcasts, or videos. When I’m ready to create something fresh, I reference that note as a starting point.

One of the first items that ever found its way to that list was an article on dip netting. I have known for a long time that this is a subject worth covering. I take so much enjoyment out of this simple activity and being able to share that experience with all of you was high on my priority list.

In a way, it’s difficult to make this topic sexy. After all, this is a very straightforward activity. You lower a net that is attached to a rope into a river. Every once in a while, you pull and see if anything has become stuck. It seems mundane but, from my first exposure to it, dip netting has meant a lot to me.

Some of my earliest memories of the outdoors have their roots in dip netting. I vividly recall many nights spent with my dad on a bridge overlooking the Pigeon River. I remember the smell of the propane from the lantern that dimly lit our surroundings. I recall the music and countless baseball games that played over the car stereo that helped provide entertainment between pulls of the net as we eagerly awaited the splashing and thrashing of the white suckers that, hopefully, got caught in our trap. And I will never forget getting my very own dip net for my ninth birthday. I still use that net to this day.

Though they are not as numerous, I also have fond memories of using our nets to pursue smelt in the Sheboygan Marina. My dad came of age in the latter part of smelt nettings heyday in the Sheboygan area. By the time I was old enough to tag along, there weren’t many of these fish to be had in our. But my dad still made the time to pass along the tradition. I still remember our best night, when we were overjoyed to come home with a whopping 12 smelt in our bucket, a far cry from the pails-full of them my dad and his dad were able to find back in the day. Still, we enjoyed snacking on our meager haul at breakfast the next morning.

I wanted to write something that would capture all of these things. However, I just couldn’t find the right angle to put together something worthwhile.

A how-to story didn’t really make sense. There isn’t much difficulty in the art of netting fish. A post that strictly shared how exciting dip netting can be was off the table because I had already produced one. I felt stuck. I knew there was more to say about this subject, but I had no idea where to start.

But, recently, I had an “a-ha” moment. Many of the aspects of my evolving relationship with netting stem from the fact I am getting older. This includes the need to savor every moment while learning to deal with change.

Not long ago, I turned 30 and reaching that milestone hit me kind of hard. It’s tough realizing you have already lived a significant portion of your life.

My birthday falls toward the tail end of the sucker netting season. This is often a small moment of reflection in my year as the seasons begin to transition and I look back on another trip around the sun.

With an increasingly-busy schedule, finding time to get out dip netting has been difficult. That is certainly part of getting older. The number of responsibilities and obligations grow. It’s just part of life.

Still, all of my trips this season have delivered some degree of success and I am grateful for that. And even though I don’t get to spend as much time chasing fish with the net as I used to, being able to pick out few nights to enjoy the outdoors as the world shifts from the bitter cold of winter to the optimism and rebirth of spring continues to be important to me.

As I have mentioned before, I rarely keep any of the suckers I catch. In fact, most years, I don’t keep any at all. So even on the best of nights, I almost always come home empty-handed and that’s more than OK with me. I just like seeing and interacting with the fish. Fresh air is nice, too. Over the years, I have learned to appreciate those things more and more.

My netting adventures also allow me the chance to catch up with friends and family, though not as often as they used to. My dad still joins me on many of my trips. Some of my friends who used to be regulars on nearly every outing are still by my side sometimes too, but their appearances don’t come as often as they used to. Work, growing families, and other commitments take precedence, which is completely understandable. So I make sure to take extra time to savor any of my netting adventures that feature company.

As for the smelt run, for a variety of reasons, in our area it is all but non-existent. But I will probably still venture out onto the jetties or mess around in the marina a couple times before I put the net in the garage for the remainder of the year. It’s not even about the fish, it’s about doing my best to remain connected to important memories and enjoying time outside. That becomes increasingly-important as I climb the ladder in years.

For now, I will continue to cherish the little that is left of this netting season and I’ll continue to be grateful for the perspective this activity has granted me as I continue to age as gracefully as I can.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also like Episode 5 of the Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast: “The Skinny on Suckers.” Listen to it below or wherever you get your podcasts.

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