116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
GUTTENBERG — I was fortunate to grow up in a family that fishes.
Early in life, my father introduced me to everything from catfish and walleye angling on the Cedar River to shore fishing on Lake Pepin and casting for trout and salmon from the breakwater walls on the Wisconsin shoreline of Lake Michigan.
Along the way, I've fished with my two brothers, a sister, a grandfather, aunts, uncles and cousins. We've shared some crazy experiences.
The tradition has carried over to my own family.
Whether it's a 4-pound walleye or a 9 1/2-inch bluegill, nobody gets more excited than my wife, Nancy, when she catches a good fish. It's a good bet that anyone within a mile of us will know.
My daughter, Nicky, always is fun to fish with, too. One day, she caught a pontoon. Another day, she got snagged in a tree and I ended up with a treble hook buried in my shin.
I loved her amazement when she caught a giant, 14-pound rainbow trout on one of her first trips to Lake Michigan, her reaction when a catfish swam up to check out our underwater camera while ice fishing, and we still laugh about her unique method of netting a 5-pound walleye I caught one day on the Mississippi River.
I don't get to fish often enough with my son, Drew, who is busy with his own family and career, but we've made some memories chasing big fish on Lake Michigan, walleyes on the Mississippi and winter panfish on Iowa lakes. I chuckle when I think back to one of his first ice fishing experiences as a 5- or 6-year-old. He was a few feet away from me looking down a hole.
"What's wrong, Drew?" I asked.
"I dropped my pole," he replied as he fought back tears.
One family member stands apart when it comes to fishing. He couldn't cast a spinning rod, and he was worthless with the net. He was always stepping on rods. He'd eat just about anything that dropped on the floor of the boat.
Our Labrador retriever, Kirby, loved to go fishing. Sometimes, he'd pee on the floor with excitement at the mention of a boat ride.
I remember when he was about a year old and an 80-pound bundle of curiosity, enthusiasm and energy. I took him to Guttenberg to do a little walleye fishing, and he ended up with the treble hook of a jigging spoon embedded in his paw.
I tried to pin him down between my legs so I could remove the hook, but he was twisting and squirming. The hook popped out of his paw and relocated deep in my palm, and he had the line from the rod wrapped around his legs. Every time he moved, the line yanked on my hand like I was a puppet until I was finally able to find scissors, cut the line and get the hook out. To make matters worse, I was paying no attention to anything else during that chaos and hit a wingdam with the boat and did some costly damage to my engine.
Kirby liked to eat fish, too. Nancy and I had him with us one day when I caught a small largemouth bass about six or seven inches long. It fell off the hook and bounced on the deck of the boat. Kirby, a renowned softball chasing champion, swallowed that bass in midair.
One day more recently, Nancy and I were catching a few walleyes on willow cats on the Mississippi. She reeled one in, and I netted it and dropped it on the floor of the boat. I removed the hook and willow cat from the walleye and was untangling the fish from the net when Kirby decided to eat the willow cat. He ended up with the hook in the soft flesh of his muzzle, but we were fortunate it wasn't buried too deep and it came out without too much drama.
We've had other dogs who were memorable fishing partners, too. Our Chesapeake, Beau, used to leap out of the boat every time I stopped to fish a spot, and I'd have to chase him down and wrestle his 90-plus pounds over the gunnel and back into the boat. One day, our daughter's dog executed an amazing backward leap into the drink when a crappie on the deck of the boat flopped in her face. At least Kirby usually stayed in the boat.
Kirby left us a few weeks ago after 13 1/2 years. In his own unique way, he was a good fishing partner. He never complained about the weather. He never brought up politics in the boat. He never second-guessed my fishing decisions, although he made his disappointment known if I lost a fish. He always enjoyed the ride.
And despite the occasional episode of memorable mayhem, so did we.