116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
WABASHA, Minn. — At 5:30 a.m. a few weeks ago, most of the seasonal residents at Beaver Point Park were tucked into bed finishing off a peaceful night's sleep.
Briggs Mohr isn't like most of the folks in the trailer court at Beaver Point. He had places to be and fish to catch. He probably hadn't slept more than a couple of hours, and by 6 a.m. he was bright-eyed and ready for a memorable day on the water.
The thing is, Briggs is 10 years old, and his idea of the best day ever isn't about teasing the girls, hitting a walk-off home run or conquering the next level of Marvel Avengers or Super Mario.
There literally is nothing Briggs would rather do right now than spend the day fishing — anytime, anywhere, any species — especially if it's with his grandfather, Mike Wirth. There's nothing Mike would rather do these days, either, than share his lifetime's worth of angling expertise with his grandchildren.
Briggs is the oldest of those grandkids, so he's up first. He's soaking it all up like the desert absorbs rain.
It started a few years ago with adult-supervised panfishing from the docks around Wabasha Marina where about all that's required is a rod and reel rigged with a bobber and a small hook baited with waxworms, redworms or a piece of crawler.
Briggs learned to bait his own hook, unhook fish, flip small jigs and tie his own knots. Eventually, he was invited to join Mike in the boat and cast flukes for bass. This summer, he's trying to get the hang of throwing top waters with a baitcaster and continuing to learn about weed edges, eddies and current seams.
Between the docks and Mike's boat, Briggs has caught bluegill, perch, crappie, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, white bass, northern pike, walleye, sheepshead (freshwater drum) and catfish. At this point, he doesn't care what he catches, and what had him fired up that morning a few weeks ago was the prospect of fishing hair jigs for big sheepshead.
Fortunately, Mike and I knew where to find them a few days after we participated in the 19th annual Sheephead Classic: Fishing for a Cure, a fundraiser for the Children's Cancer Research Fund sponsored by Werner's Top Hat Bar across the river from Wabasha in Nelson, Wis.
Our morning got off to a slow start. Then Briggs was hooked up and giggling as a hefty sheepie put his skills to the test with a bulldogging, line-peeling run to deep water. That 6-pounder kicked off an action-packed two hours when you couldn't wipe the smile off Briggs' face.
Shortly after that first fish, Briggs wrestled a bigger one to the net. Mike put it on a scale where it locked in at 7 pounds, 9 ounces.
Instead of Briggs asking the questions, it was Mike's turn.
"There are 16 ounces in a pound, so how big is that, Briggs?" Mike asked.
Briggs thought about it for a minute.
"I'm not sure," he answered. "My math's not so good in the summer."
We caught a few more sizable sheepshead, including a 10-pounder that Briggs outlasted, before calling it a day about 9 a.m.
Two days later, Briggs organized the first Beaver Point Kids' Dock Fishing Tournament and, at 6 a.m., he was collecting the $2 entry fee and explaining the rules to eight or nine other kids. Brayden Lemke, another youngster with a passion for fishing, edged out Briggs for first place.
Most importantly, a bunch of kids came together and had some fun.
As for Briggs, he already has learned a lot about fishing, but there's so much more he won't really wrap his head around for a few more years. Someday, he'll understand the importance of conservation, ethics and the gifts nature gives us. Fishing will provide an escape, and it will produce friends and memories that last a lifetime.
Briggs has the majority of his life ahead of him, but the decisions he makes and the problems he solves now are as important as any. He may grow up to become a doctor or a lawyer or a biologist. He will grow up as a fisherman.
You can count on that.