An old friend, big fish, and new adventures

It took me a while to realize it, but I am a bit of a homebody.

Not to say that I don’t like adventures and new experiences. I just enjoy a certain level of familiarity and the comfort that comes with it. I’m not averse to trying new things per se, I simply pick and choose my opportunities in a calculated way.

This certainly leads to missing out on some chances and, if I’m honest, I sometimes kick myself for that. But being selective about when and how I step out of my usual surroundings help me try to keep the stress and anxiety in my life at a minimum.

Recently, I had a chance to venture away from home and it was an opportunity I simply couldn’t turn down.

During the last several years, I have regularly received pictures from my friend JT, an old college buddy who is a Minnesota native. These photos generally include a vast array of large fish he catches in Potato Lake just outside of Park Rapids. His family has a cabin there and that lake provides most of JT’s fishing opportunities throughout the year.

Fishing is one of the many things that has forged the bond between JT throughout the years. But, for whatever reason, we haven’t done much fishing together. Earlier this year, we decided to change that.

Earlier this year, we began making arrangements to meet up at his family’s cabin. To up the ante, we selected a weekend when we could participate in an online bass fishing tournament. We spent the following months exchanging ideas on tactics, gear, and (of course) fish pictures.

As the week of the trip arrived, I spent most of my free time organizing my gear and travel necessities. While I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the nearly eight-and-a-half-hour drive, nothing was going to deter me from enjoying the weekend ahead. I wasn’t going to miss a chance to fish with a friend I hadn’t seen in over a year, nor was I going to deny myself the chance to catch a few fish of the quality he regularly encounters.

The truck ride up was smooth and uneventful. I was surprised at how quickly the time seemed to pass. It’s amazing what determination and focus can do.

As soon as I got out of the car, we got straight to business. I unloaded my tackle and JT and I immediately began assessing our options.

About five minutes in to the conversation, JT looked at me and asked, “Did you even bring clothes?” At that point, I decided it was time to quickly unpack my non-fishing-related cargo. With that taken care of, we hopped in the boat.

Our rig for the bulk of the weekend was a 12-foot aluminum boat with an equally old 10-horse outboard that JT had acquired for the low, low price of “free.” I was asked to bring boots along because the boat “leaks a little.” The ice cream pail sitting behind the rear bench quickly made me realize that this beauty came as advertised.

The tournament format was pretty simple. Each competing angler gets an identification code. That code must be included in every fish picture. Fish are placed on a trough-style measuring board and photographed. Those photos get uploaded to an app. The five longest fish count toward your score. The angler in your region of the country with the highest score wins. Largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted Bass are all fair game.

As we set out to our first spot, images of all the big smallmouth JT had sent me in recent months began rushing through my head. I stared at the faded Bass Pro Shops measuring tape in the front right of the craft contemplating how our fish would measure up. We had a real opportunity to be competitive this weekend and that added a level of excitement.

JT warned me that fishing was slow in the morning. But that didn’t do much to temper my expectations. I was confident we were going to get on a few fish and they were going to be big.

We spent most of our time on shallow water spots: humps, points, sandbars, and the like. We were, as JT called it, taking a “run and gun” approach, frequently switching rods to offer up different presentations and never spending more than 15 minutes in a given spot. However, action was hard to come by. JT had scored a small northern pike but that was all we had to show for our first couple of hours.

As sunset approached, our luck began to change our while drifting a large hump. JT boated a solid 17-inch smallmouth on a top-water bait, adding to his relatively meager total from earlier in the day. He now had three fish on the board.

Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I decided to switch over to a top-water bait as well. I’ve never had much luck with this approach at my local spots, but I had a feeling Potato Lake would offer up a different experience. As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened.

On several occasions, the calm water erupted as a bass launched itself at my bait. That experience alone provides a unique brand of excitement. One minute you’re enjoying the serenity of a peaceful lake, watching loons hunt, and bald eagles soar. Then, without warning, you’re treated to a shot of a adrenaline straight to the veins.

The trick is managing that drastic shift in emotions. Setting the hook too soon can pull the bait right out of the fish’s mouth. In other cases, the fish misses the bait entirely despite the impressive display of aerial acrobatics.

After coming up empty on a handful of strikes and daylight running low, I switched to one of my old standby lures: the Rapala F7. I managed to land a few small bass. At least I was on the board.

We headed back to the cabin and enjoyed some pizza and cold beer while I caught up with JT’s parents and we mulled over plans for the morning.

The next day, we were up and at ’em bright and early, probably an our before sunrise. We each snacked on a delicious oatmeal muffin, straight from the oven (courtesy of Mrs. Tix) before heading down to the dock.

A modest north wind was blowing, a factor we would need to take into account as we implemented the strategies we discussed the night prior.

We want back to top-water tactics since that yielded the most success during our last trip. We worked reeds and points in areas that were protected from the wind. Early on, a solid pike came completely out of the water as soon as my bait hit the surface. I fought the fish to within yards of the boat when the 30-plus-inch specimen seemingly decided it had enough, opened its mouth, and simply let the bait go.

After coming up empty at the hump that produced fish the day before, we moved to a sandbar that immediately showed signs of life. On my first cast, a large walleye followed my spinner bait all the way to the boat before thinking better of striking. JT had a bass follow on his first cast.

Before long, JT had scooped up a couple of smallmouth in the 16-inch range. He now had five scoring fish and was sitting comfortably in second place in the standings.

We tried a new post near a weed patch before heading in for lunch and I was able to land a 10-inch largemouth. It wasn’t much, but I now had three fish on the board.

After quickly scarfing down some re-heated pizza, we shifted our attention to Plan B: a pond just down the road from the cabin that was a largemouth bass haven. We loaded up a pair of kayaks, made sure our tackle was in order, and hit the road.

JT had this spot in his back pocket, just in case we ran into the type of slow fishing we encountered on the lake. He was very confident as we discussed our plan on the truck ride over. As it turned out, he had every right to be.

With the gear unloaded, I sat in my kayak, a royal blue job with a shark face on the front. JT pushed me off as he tidied up on shore. I lofted a few casts with no luck. I have spent very little time in kayaks in my life and even less time attempting to fish out of one. I was a bit nervous about the whole thing.

When paddled out to me, JT asked how many casts I got in. He seemed surprised to find I hadn’t had a bite despite only three attempts.

We made our way to the far side of the pond and began fishing in earnest. It was about noon and the sun was directly overhead as the wind continued to persist. The bay we were floating in was relatively shallow and surrounded by weeds and lily pads.

“Got one,” JT yelled out shortly after he put a line in the water. I looked over to see my friend pulling on a doubled-over rod while the fish thrashed in front of him.

A short while later, I was hooked up with my first fish. It measured out at just over 14 inches, my largest of the weekend so far.

This is when I began to understand the level of thought that goes with fishing from a kayak during a tournament. Landing a fish, unhooking it, finding the measuring board, getting a good picture, and safely releasing the fish, all while floating in windy conditions requires a level of organization that I don’t always possess.

To be honest, the first couple fish were frustrating, even though all of them helped my score. Keeping lines from tangling, making sure my gear doesn’t shift around too much, trying not to get hooked or finned when a fish is in the boat, it’s a lot for someone with almost no kayaking experience. It felt like chaos.

But the fish just kept coming with bites on seemingly every cast. Eventually, I got into a groove and I began to embrace the chaos as an added element of fun rather than a detriment.

We found fish in the shallows and began pulling out largemouth after largemouth on frogs, Whopper Ploppers, Rapalas, and chatterbaits. Once the top-water bite slowed, we moved to deeper pockets where we found even more fish.

As the day went on, we systematically covered water and made sure we didn’t leave any spots unexplored.

At one point, I got a hook buried in the knuckle of my left index finger. JT paddled over and kindly performed a small, on-the-water medical procedure to dislodge the hook because I didn’t have the stomach for it. After that hiccup it was back to fishing and back to padding our scores.

All told, I ended up with 32 smallmouth. JT had at least that many of his own to his credit. He left the pond still in second place in the standings with over 84 inches of fish. I was now in third with just under 79.

In the six-plus hours we spent on the pond, we estimated we had over 150 bites. Though many of the fish were cookie-cutter specimens in the 15-16-inch range, catching them was an absolute blast. Largemouth are hard to come by where I’m from. Consistently finding some of this size, in these numbers, is nearly impossible.

That night, we feasted on some cheesy chicken hot dish for dinner as we went over our photos and scores. We agreed to give the lake one more shot in the morning before I had to make the trek home.

The next morning, we pushed off the dock just before sunrise with the plan to run-and-gun to our most successful spots. We were swinging for the fences now, hoping to find a fish or two to put us over the top. It didn’t take long.

On my very first cast, I scored a 17.5-inch largemouth on a spinner. This ended up being my largest fish of the tournament and put my top-five total at over 80 inches.

We found a couple more bass that didn’t help our scores along with a handful of pike.

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the cabin and say our goodbyes. I am incredibly grateful for the hospitality JT and his family showed me. Before I hopped in the truck, we already started making plans for next year.

I ended the weekend with 41 fish, 38 of them bass.

When the dust settled on the tournament, JT finished third with 84.75 inches of fish in his top-five. I took fifth with 80.50 inches, by far the highest total I have ever recorded in one of these events.

On the ride home, I reflected on a great weekend filled with friendship, beautiful scenery, and plenty of fish.

Once in a while, there are certainly benefits to not being a homebody.

Robotic Swimming Lure review

There’s a saying that some lures are made to catch fishermen, not fish.

While there is certainly some truth to that statement, not all flashy baits are inherently money traps.

But I must admit, when I first saw the Robotic Swimming Lure, my excitement probably kept me from thinking as clearly as I should have.

My brother-in-law posted a video of the lure on my Facebook wall. The battery-powered bait was shaped and colored like a shad. A small propellor fixed to the nose moved the bait about in a swimming motion. I was immediately taken by the lifelike action.

I had never seen anything like it. So, naturally, I quickly bought one. At a hair under $26 it is, to this day, the most expensive lure I have ever purchased. But I couldn’t wait for it to arrive at my doorstep.

This lure is offered in a variety of sizes and patterns. I chose the 5.12-inch common shad because it had the closest resemblance to the live minnows I use.

Once I had the lure in my possession, I didn’t waste any time taking it for a spin. I brought it to a couple of spots that I knew for certain were home to a host of hungry bass and northern pike.

I decided the best course of action was to fix the lure to one of the included steel leaders and place a bobber above it.

Here is what I learned:

The Perks

I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s worth calling out again: the action on this lure is awesome. It swims around in an incredibly realistic and sporadic motion. When it comes to authentic presentation, this bait gets high marks.

One of the benefits of the realism is that, in theory, this lure could take the place of live minnows. This saves both money and hassle. A live minnow will catch you one fish, if you’re lucky. This lure could and should produce many fish without the need for replacement. Plus, you don’t have to deal with keeping your minnows alive.

The charge on the battery lasts a respectable amount of time in normal water conditions, though cold water shortens the lifespan of the powerpack. The lure is easily charged with the included wall adapter and cord.

Some critics have mentioned the risk of polluting your favorite waters with electronics if the bait would break. While I abhor littering as much as anyone, I must say that if I had a fish hammer my lure so hard that it broke apart, I wouldn’t waste any time going online and buying two more. I’ve caught thousands of fish in my life and I have never encountered one that was so enthusiastic about a lure that it destroyed it in the process of striking.

The Drawbacks

Cost is the most obvious drawback here. This type of price tag should come with noticeable results. While even the best baits have slow days, there shouldn’t be many of those when dropping nearly $30 on a single lure. Generally speaking, this one requires a bit too much patience for my liking.

One of the other issues I encountered was the weight of the bait. All those electronics packed in the body mean you’ll need a sizable bobber in order to know when you have a bite.

While I am a big fan of the motion the lure provides, sometimes it’s a bit too enthusiastic for my liking. With its aggressive darting about, it won’t take long for your bobber to be a few yards from where you left it. Keeping the presentation realistic often requires a fair deal of slack in your line. If you’re fishing in a location with substantial current, you’ll need even more. This can delay the hookset, which can lead to missing fish or, worse, letting the fish become hooked deeper than it would have been otherwise.

The Ruling

Overall, this bait is fun and will catch fish on occasion. I like it. I want to love it, but I can’t. The fact is: I have lures that cost a fraction of what this one does that produce much better results on a more frequent basis.

If you’re looking to try something different and you have a few bucks to spend, give this bait a shot. But if you’re looking for a game-changer, this isn’t it.

Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast – Episode 12: Inside the mind of a professional angler (w/Josh Blosser)

It’s Episode 12 of the Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast! 

Professional angler Josh Blosser competes in Head2Head Fishing’s Professional Walleye Series and was the winner of PWS Event 3 on Mille Lacs Lake. He joins the show to give us an inside look at the life of a pro tournament angler.

This candid conversation highlights what it takes to fish professionally, gives a glimpse of Josh’s fishing mindset, and provides you with tips that will help you catch more fish. 

Listen to the episode below or wherever you get your podcasts. Like what you hear? Be sure to subscribe on your podcast platform of choice. 

Be sure to follow Josh on Instagram and Twitter.

If you enjoyed this show, you may also want to listed to Episode 7: Head2Head fishing with Matt Tratz and Andy Cleveland.

Benefits of barbless fishing hooks

On the vast majority of my fishing trips, I’m practicing catch-and-release. In fact, last year, I released 98.6 percent of the fish I caught.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m against keeping a few fish to eat. I’m just picky about which fish I keep and work hard to make sure I’m not taking more than I’ll be able to eat in a reasonable amount of time.

The reality is: the more fish you come into contact with, the more important the treatment of those fish becomes. As I’ve continued to learn more about best practices for the proper handling and release of fish, I’ve started experimenting with a new tool: barbless hooks.

Until recently, the only barbless hooks I owned were attached to my small smattering of flies. But, as I’ve found myself catching and releasing higher numbers fish on a more frequent basis, I’ve continued to look for ways to increase the safety of the fish I’ve come into contact with. The best way to do that is by mitigating risks.

Utilizing barbless hooks seemed like a logical step. I’ve found there are many benefits to going barbless.

It’s safer for fish

First and foremost, barbless hooks are safer for fish. The purpose of a barb is to keep the hook in place as the fish is being pulled in. Hooks with barbs do more flesh damage than barbless hooks upon both entry and exit. This can impact the fish’s ability to feed as it normally would or, in extreme circumstances, can lead to permanent injury that may cause premature death.

By limiting the number of sharp edges on a hook to a single point, you greatly reduce the risk of injuring a fish while fighting it.

Easier releases

Proper catch-and-release requires getting the fish back in the water quickly. Utilizing barbless hooks makes this process significantly easier. With only a single, straight point to remove from the mouth of the fish, unhooking becomes incredibly quick due to the relative lack of resistance. This equates to less time out of the water, which is healthier for the fish.

I’ve also found that fish caught on barbless hooks are less likely to be hooked in problematic ways that require the assistance of a pliers or jaw spreader. This means less instances of desperately digging around the mouth of a fish hoping to get your bait back. In turn, the opportunities to injure a fish while unhooking it become greatly reduced.

Often times, it’s not the placement of a hook that injures a fish, it’s the removal. Barbless hooks streamline this process, reducing the chance of something unfortunate happening.

It’s safer for anglers

This part is often overlooked but, barbless hooks are safer for anglers too.

Anyone who has spent significant time fishing has likely found themselves with a hook buried in their hand. It’s an unpleasant experience. But the barb is the component of the hook that is doing the most damage.

When that’s removed from the equation, dislodging a foul hook becomes quite simple and much less painful.

Barbless hooks are also easier to remove from boat carpeting, clothing, and nets.

Assessing the downfalls

Are there downfalls to barbless hooks? Sure.

Without a barb to maintain hook placement during the fight, you may find that fish get off the line a little easier. However, you can help counteract this by maintaining steady pressure on the fish as you reel it in. Slack is always your enemy, especially when utilizing barbless hooks.

It takes a little practice but, once you learn to walk the line between horsing the fish and overplaying it, you’ll be just fine.

On my first trip out with my new pack of barbless hooks, I connected with an 8-pound carp. The fish took all the drag it wanted for a couple of minutes before I worked it to shore. As I took the fish out of the net, I noticed the hook was still solidly in the roof of the carp’s mouth. It seemingly hadn’t budged an inch.

That experience went a long way in selling me on the viability of barbless hooks.

The other challenge with barbless hooks is that they can be difficult to find at your local tackle shop. But if you are willing to go online, you can find a variety of outlets that sell a host of sizes that can be on your doorstep in a day or two. A little planning goes a long way.

Overall, it seems both of the notable downfalls can be easily dealt with and they certainly don’t outweigh the benefits these hooks provide.

If you’re going to practice catch-and-release, strongly consider barbless hooks.

The best baked salmon recipe

Each year, I am lucky enough to enjoy catching some of the bountiful salmon that inhabit Lake Michigan. Below is the best baked salmon recipe in my collection. Read on for an ingredient list, step-by-step instructions, as well as tips and substitutions.

Basil-Parmesan Salmon Recipe

  • Olive oil
  • Two, eight-ounce salmon fillets, skin removed
  • Salt, to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup Mayonnaise
  • 5 Basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Step 1: Coat baking sheet lightly in olive oil. Then pre-heat oven to 425° F.

Step 2: Place seasoned salmon on prepared baking sheet.

Step 3: Sprinkle desired amount of salt and pepper over the fillets.

Step 4: Chiffonade the basil leaves. Mix them in with the mayonnaise and cheese in a bowl. Stir until combined.

Step 5: Gently and evenly spread the mixture over the top of the salmon with a spoon.

Step 6: Place baking sheet on the middle rack of your oven until the salmon flakes easily and the spread has browned slightly, about 10-12 minutes.

Substitutions and Tips

This dish can be super rich. I actually prefer it that way. But if you want something a little more refined, there are two options for you.

The first is adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to the fillets prior to seasoning with salt and pepper. The acid from the citrus will help balance the richness of the topping.

Another method to contemplate is pairing this protein with a fresh side salad. Again, for the sake of balance.

Be sure to check on the salmon at around the 9-10-minute mark. If the fish is close to done, but the mayonnaise and cheese mixture isn’t showing signs of browning, move the fish up the top rack for a minute or two. If you take this route, be sure to keep a close eye on the fish to avoid overcooking.

When to switch fishing lures

Picture this: you’re out on the water at one of your favorite fishing spots. It’s a beautiful day, but the fish just aren’t biting the way you had hoped.

That’s when the inevitable question comes to mind: “Should I switch lures?”

We’ve all been there. It’s frustrating. And to complicate matters, there doesn’t seem to be a good answer to that age-old question.

That’s because the “right” solution varies based on each scenario.

Here are a few things to consider when contemplating making a change:

Why did I choose this lure?

When you decided to tie a certain lure to the end of your line, you made that choice for a reason. Before going with an alternative, it’s important to consider why you picked this bait in the first place.

Odds are, this bait has been successful for you in the past when targeting similar species in similar conditions.

If nothing else in your tackle box is checking these boxes, you may be best-served by sticking it out. There is no substitute for firsthand knowledge.

However, if you simply wanted to try a new bait or had this lure referred to you by a friend or someone on a message board, it may be worth trying something different after you gave your first shot a proper college try.

Are there actually fish here?

This may seem like an obvious question, but it’s important that you have the right answer.

If you are lucky enough to have a boat outfitted with electronics, be sure you are using those tools. What are they telling you? If your screens are empty, the lure has little to do with the lack of bites.

If you’re fishing from shore or don’t have electronics on your boat, look for signs of activity such as fish surfacing or birds feeding on baitfish. If things seem a little too quiet, you might want to check out a different location.

No matter how much success you have had in a spot previously, you are never guaranteed to have the same experience.

Am I presenting this bait correctly?

Sometimes, when fish seem tight-lipped, it has nothing to do with *which* bait is being presented so much as it is *how* it is being presented.

First and foremost, make sure you are being consistent with your retrieval speeds. If you are all over the map when you’re reeling in, odds are, that’s the problem. It can be easy to neglect this crucial part of the process as you become increasingly frustrated.

Some lures lend themselves to more than one presentation style. For instance, stick baits can utilize a straight retrieve, or they can be show differently with jerks and pauses. Explore these options.

Covering water is also crucial. Seemingly minor changes in water conditions can move fish around within a spot. Maybe the fish you found under the dock or near a rock pile are now suspended in deeper water. The presence of a predatory fish could have moved your target species into the weeds, in hopes of safety.

That’s why you need to thoroughly work a spot before picking up a different bait.

A little trial and error can go a long way.

Are there other factors at play?

Time of day, weather, and location can be three of the biggest factors that contribute to fishing success. If you’re not in the presence of active fish, odds are, what you’re throwing at them doesn’t really matter.

It’s possible the high sun has made the fish a bit lazy. Other times, early and late in the year, sunlight can be your friend as the rays heat the water to a temperature that promotes feeding.

If a front has come through recently, or the day you are fishing is particularly cold or warm compared to previous days, the bite could have slowed.

This is where an outdoors log comes in handy. You can reference previous trips to this location and potentially decipher patterns of information that hold true on your best days.

Perhaps another angler was in this spot recently and pulled a bunch of fish out of your sweet spot just before you arrived. That will certainly slow things down.

So before you go changing baits, be as confident as you can that the bait itself is actually the problem.

How much time do I have?

The decision to change baits should be impacted by how much time you have. If you’re not in a rush, try to stick it out with your primary choice for a little longer.

But if your time is limited and you need quick results, don’t be afraid to move to a different setup. This is particularly true if you have advanced knowledge of your spot.

This is a balance between giving a lure enough time to do its thing while avoiding the insanity of trying the same approach over and over again and expecting different results.

Do I have a Plan B I believe in?

If you aren’t confident in your backup plan, changing things up doesn’t make a lot of sense. Fishing with confidence is important. You are more likely to work a presentation correctly if you believe in it.

I may still make a change if I don’t believe strongly in my second or even third options, but I keep those baits on a short leash.

There’s something to be said for dancing with the one who brought you.

At the end of the day, pulling the trigger on a lure change is an incredibly personalized decision. But taking a second to step back and critically assess the situation can help guide you in making the right call for you.

Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast – Episode 7: Head2Head Fishing

It’s Episode 7 of the Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast! If you love fishing, you won’t want to miss this show.

Nathan is joined by lead commentator Matt Tratz and tournament director Andy Cleveland of Head2Head fishing for a high-energy conversation discussing the origins of H2H, what it takes to run and broadcast professional fishing tournaments, conservation, and more. Then, Matt and Andy preview this week’s Professional Walleye Series event on Lake Wisconsin.

Listen to the episode by using the player below or tune-in wherever you get your podcasts.

Follow Head2Head Fishing on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube or visit h2hfishing.com for more information and to watch any H2H event. While you’re on your phone be sure to follow @theguidedlifet.v on Instagram. 

Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast – Episode 6: Crazy4Chrome – Steelhead revisited

It’s Episode 6 of the Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast!

In this show, Nathan revisits the topic of spring steelhead and shares what he has learned since he first touched on the topic in Episode 2. Then, Bailey Adamavich of Crazy4Chrome Guide Service stops by for a deep dive on steelhead. He gives tips on techniques, equipment, and more while providing a little insight into the life of a guide.

Listen by using the player below or subscribe to the show on your podcast platform of choice.

For more information on a guided trip with Bailey:

Visit: crazy4chrome.net

Call: 920-946-8915

Email: adamavichbailey@gmail.com

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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