Thanks for all the fish

Alex Cruickshank - Out of Bounds

Logical thinking has never been a strong suit of mine.

For whatever reason, I seem to think differently than most. My view of the world makes perfect sense to me, but often leaves my friends shaking their heads and asking, “What were you thinking?”

Such was the case last week. I mentioned to my co-worker, Melanie Béchard, that I had ideas for two more columns—and that I would write them both before I left the Times on Friday, April 13.

One of them was the one you (hopefully) are about to read and the other was my good-bye column that ran last week. Now, in my head, it made perfect sense to run the good-bye column last week because I was leaving.

It never even crossed my mind that it might make more sense to run this column and then the good-bye one after I was actually gone—as Melanie so astutely pointed out after the fact.

The long and the short of it is that you are going to get one last column from me before I leave you all in peace. So without further ado, here it is—my second-to-last column that is really my last column.

In my year at the Times, I had the opportunity to experience several things I never thought that I would. First and foremost on the list was fishing and the coverage of fishing tournaments.

I spent most of last summer at various fishing tournaments across the district and, as I’ve stated in this space before, despite some initial trepidation, I came to enjoy them.

As a result, when Times’ publisher Jim Cumming approached me to do a story about ice-fishing back in January, I was open to the idea.

The problem was finding time to get out on the lake. Hockey season is pretty intense and from January until roughly mid-March, I spent the majority of my time at the rink.

However, it was during one of my many trips to the rink that I ran into former Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship winner Clint Barton.

Clint and I had met the previous spring while he was coaching baseball and was nice enough to inquire as to how I’d been since the end of the season.

During our conversation, I mentioned I was looking to go ice-fishing and he immediately offered to take me out once we both had some free time.

Well, our schedules finally matched up on Easter Monday. Clint and his son, Colin, picked me up after work that evening and we made our way to the south arm of Rainy Lake for my first ice-fishing experience.

As we approached the lake, I casually asked Clint how we were getting out on the ice. When he told me we were going to drive out in his truck, I must have looked a little panicked because he immediately told me not to worry and that the ice was thick.

I’ll admit I wasn’t terribly convinced. It’s been relatively warm for a few weeks now and I had visions of headlines that read, “Sports reporter goes through ice.”

My fears proved unfounded as, a few minutes later, Clint showed me just how thick the ice actually was—a good 30 inches—as he augured a few holes for us to fish.

With the holes drilled, it was time to get a quick lesson in ice-fishing.

Colin handed me a rod and introduced me to what would prove to be my secret fishing weapon—the Vexilar.

For those who might not be familiar with this wonderful invention, let me explain. The Vexilar is basically a radar system. It’ll show you exactly where the bottom of the lake is, where your hook is in relation to the lake bottom, and any fish that might be in close proximity to your hook.

As I learned last Monday, the Vexilar is pretty handy because the best way to catch anything is to drop your minnow-disguised hook just above the lake bottom and occasionally twitch the line.

The Vexilar screen also is very easy to adapt to if you are in your mid-to-late 20s as it resembles the earliest home video game systems.

Poor Colin, a Grade 9 student at Fort High, stared at me with a blank look when I told him the Vexilar reminded me of an old Activision game console.

I then had my first brush with feeling old as I tried to explain “Pong” to him (but I digress).

Colin then explained that if I saw a fish on my screen, I should raise the lure to a position slightly above the fish and then wait for a bite. If I felt a bite on the line, I was then to set the hook by jerking the rod into the air, at which point I would then reel the fish in.

No problem.

With the instructions firmly in mind, I was ready to fish.

The first hour passed pretty uneventfully. Again, I must have had a discouraged look on my face as Clint told me the fish wouldn’t really get biting until the sun set.

Turns out Clint knew what he was talking about.

I got my first bite around 7:30 p.m. and promptly disgraced myself by trying to set the hook with the gentlest “jerk” motion of all time.

The fish must have known I was new to the sport, though, as he agreed to hang on to the hook despite my weak attempt.

It turned out to be a nice walleye that met all the “keeper” regulations and I was pretty excited when Clint told me he’d fillet it for me to eat later.

I caught two more keepers over the next half-hour, but I still was setting my hook like my arms were cooked spaghetti noodles. As such, Clint told me to set the hook hard the next time I got a bite.

Five minutes later, a blip showed up on my Vexilar screen and I set about trying to get a bite. When the fish did finally bite, I jerked the rod hard.

It’s a good thing I did,

Immediately the line started to spin out of my reel. I turned to Clint and told him I thought I had a northern on the line. He replied that he didn’t think so.

Again, it turned out Clint knew what he was talking about.

After much reeling, and Clint imploring me to keep pressure on the rod, a four-and-a-half pound walleye emerged from the hole attached to my hook.

I was thrilled. I think Clint and Colin were a bit shocked.

We admired the fish long enough to get the hook out before releasing him back into the lake. By then, the sun had almost completely set and it was time to pack it in for the night.

On the drive home, as I tried to get feeling back in my toes, I couldn’t help but think the fishing gods had seen fit to make my last fishing experience in town before I left a memorable one.

I’m going to miss my sporadic fishing trips onto the lake. If you’d told me that a year ago, I’d have told you that you were nuts. Now I’m trying to figure out when I can get back for a visit and some fishing.

I’d like to thank Clint and Colin Barton for making me feel like a pro on the lake and for cleaning and de-boning my fish for me. I had a lot of fun, thank you.