July 12, 2007 at 8:19 a.m.
Now, if Anders had a few more years on him, I probably wouldn't make such a big deal out of it. But, the fact of the matter is he's a twerpy eight-year-old, which makes his uncanny ability to consistently hook colossal fish - and out-fish me more than I'm willing to admit - both a point of considerable pride and a growing sense of annoyance. I mean, shouldn't a kid sort of work his way up to "world-class" fish? What's wrong with the tried and true formula of a youngster spending at least a few unproductive years on the water like the rest of us schmucks before hitting the proverbial jackpot?
By the way, Anders is holding a smallmouth bass in the photo. That fact alone isn't so extraordinary; after all, we do fish the St. Croix River in and around Taylors Falls quite often, which is top-notch smallie water. Also, we have a family cottage on a Vilas Co. lake in northern Wisconsin, which is also home to numbers of smallmouth bass. No, what makes this particular fish in the photo so unique is its sheer size.
After netting the bass and removing the hook, I snapped a few quick photos before releasing it unharmed back into the lake. I knew Anders had caught quite a smallie, so before turning the fish loose, I laid it against a rod blank and mentally marked the rod at the point where the lower jaw ended. It was about five inches beyond the stripping guide. When we got back to the cottage, I used a yardstick to measure from the top of the cork handle (where the tip of the fish's tail rested) to the stripping guide. That measurement was 18 inches. Add about five inches to that and I'd call Anders' smallie an honest 23 incher. Keep in mind, it's conceivable that most anglers will fish their entire lives without seeing a smallie that size. To put it plainly, a 23-inch smallmouth is as rare - or rarer - than a 50-inch muskie.
Growing up during the 70s, one of my favorite old television programs was Kung Fu. Remember that show? Well, as I'm of a nature to relate all things to fishing, I like to think of myself as "Master," the groovy old white-haired Shaolin dude with the wall-to-wall rice paper floors and a fistful of pebbles. Anders, of course, I compare to the soft-spoken Kwai Chang Caine, also known to every middle-aged person alive on planet Earth as "Grasshopper." Like the Shaolin Master, every once in a while I like to turn thoughtfully to Anders and shoot off some valuable pearl of Eastern wisdom while we're in the boat fishing, you know, just to kill time between hook-ups. I'll gently lay down my fishing rod, steeple my fingers and say something like, "The mouth of the smallmouth isn't so small to the minnow that fits inside it." After the imaginary gong quiets in my head, Anders will scrunch up his face as if to confirm my lunacy and reply, "Dad, why are you talking with that funny accent? That's like, so weird. Can we just fish?"
Anyway, what I'm getting at is that an eight-year-old is way too young to snatch the pebble from the Master's hand, isn't he? And is it right that an eight-year-old keeps an accurate account of fish caught during a seemingly innocuous outing with his dad? What kind of kid reminds his pop after two hours of fishing that "the score is 11-9," and then pastes a big cheesy gap-toothed grin on his face? What's up with that? Does he carry a little pocket abacus with him?
Of course I'm having a bit of fun with this week's column. I couldn't be happier for Anders. He's a wonderful partner to have in the boat and deserves every bit of good fortune that comes his way.
I'm writing this from the deck of the cottage that overlooks the lake. It's another beautiful, cool morning in the Wisconsin Northwoods and the fish are calling. We'll chase the smallmouth again today, but don't expect to see another fish like this one for quite some time. I think Anders understands full well how truly fortunate he was last Sunday.
Dan Brown's weekly outdoor column is brought to you by Frankie's Bait and Marine, in Chisago City, and St. Croix Outdoors, in St. Croix Falls, Wis.