Peck: Fishing is the river of life
With a 66th birthday less than two weeks away, a great gift arrived at the cabin pulling a big Ranger boat and wearing a broad smile.
Jesse Simpkins and I have been pals for more than 20 years. Fishing was the common thread, which brought us together. The epiphany that fishing is truly the River of Life didn't dawn until the following morning.
Jesse was the newly anointed marketing manager for Plano Molding Co. and I was already 20 years into a journey which goaded me into sharing the wonders of the great outdoors in print and working as a fishing guide.
Since then, Simpkins has literally traveled the world as an advocate for the fishing industry, living the dream. But you only shoot one first turkey and catch one first five-pound bass in a lifetime. I was there smiling when Jesse sprinted past these mileposts.
The fishing industry has seen quantum change in the 21st century with a landscape that has accelerated into a blur in just the past five years. Most of this change has not been for the better, a major topic between fish as we shared Jesse's Ranger with my new friend Jim Hall.
Hall is editor of Bassmaster magazine, hailing from Birmingham, Alabama. He had never experienced the wonders of Wisconsin until just a couple of days ago. Jesse laughed out loud when Hall's 27 inch walleye was finally safe in the landing net. Neither angler could see me smile as I lifted the heavy 'eye over the Ranger's gunwale.
This walleye crushed a Choo Choo lures chatterbait. Most folks with walleyes as a primary passion have yet to discover chatterbaits as a deadly weapon. But the significance was not lost on bass guys Simpkins and Hall.
For the past couple of years Simpkins has been working his tail off as marketing manager for St. Croix rods, a Wisconsin company that is still family owned in a faceless international corporate fishing business, quietly and accurately stating they make “the best rods on earth”.
On this fishin' mission, Simpkins wanted to let Hall experience a couple of St. Croix's latest magic wands. He didn't get a chance to do so until the second day of our adventure.
A darkening sky told us we would only have an hour or so to fish safely before the rains came. The chatterbait was already tied on my old St. Croix Avid series rod—which was the greatest rod on earth a dozen years ago.
Like this old guide, the Avid still catches fish. There simply wasn't time to tie that chatterbait on a new St. Croix rod, as Hall was hooking up to a walleye, pike or bass on about every fifth cast as thunder shook the water.
We were back at the cabin an hour later. Jesse and Jim were enjoying some of my wife's rhubarb cobbler, still warm from the oven, as I fried up a mess of morels and a couple of smaller walleyes we had kept for a meal.
Hall said he had caught 'just a couple' of walleyes in a lifetime of fishing prior to this trip. He didn't understand the significance of catching a 27-inch river walleye on a chatterbait until Simpkins explained it was equivalent to arrowing a 170-inch whitetail. Outdoors folks worldwide share common bonds. They always find a common language.
Knowledge of this triumph brought a smile to all sitting around the table. Hall's first taste of rhubarb and morels are benchmarks, which will stay with him for life.
When we were out there on the water, Jesse and Jim both chided me about being an “old man” amazed that somebody with a face that wore out two bodies put the first two walleyes in the boat.
Jim is only 45 years old. I've been writing outdoors stuff that long, and fishing a helluva lot longer than that.
By now both of these Young Turks have had the revelation that someone with a little more time on the River of Life put them on the fish.
Jesse Simpkins knows that when more people discover how important fishing is in life, St. Croix will sell more of the 'greatest rods on earth'.
My old Avid rod still catches fish. But the new rods are truly sweet. And a fisherman always needs one more cast.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last updated: 11:28 pm Saturday, May 20, 2017