7/8/2014 4:10:00 PM Catch and release fishing or catch and eat, both are good
Ron Kuecker Outdoors Columnist
Saturday night after the "Fourth" the weather settled down a bit at the Pope County cabin. The grandkids, Anna, 7, and Bensen, 11, had been waiting to do some serious dock fishing. Enough of the fireworks. Most kids love fishing but it seems to me these two more than most. Maybe it's because their mom, Julie, also loves to toss a leech or cast a spinner bait even though teaching and mothering prevent her from getting her fair share. Well, the evening was pretty good, just ahead of a 3 a.m. thunderstorm and falling barometer like it usually is. The southerly wind, always good for fishing, was still strong enough to keep the buzzing, biting Minnesota mosquitoes blown away. I had told them I would clean the fish and fry them up Sunday if they had some luck (this grandparenting ain't easy). In my experience that's an added incentive to any fisher but more so to kids. While most seem okay to buy all their food at the grocery store, it seems to me whether it be hunting or fishing, youngsters consider it really special to see food go from the field to the frying pan. Not all though, I'm certain. They started by catching some eating-size bluegills on small leaches, tossing back the first few as they seemed to have their bellies filled with eggs. We later squeezed a couple and it wasn't eggs that came out so we started saving a few believing the half pound beauties were males. The basket came out and we had a handful of good ones before darkness set in. Then Bensen wanted to toss a few leeches from the point rather than the dock. First, a pound or so large-mouth bass hit the leech, then cleared the surface with a leap before giving a really good fight that would even make a snobby trout fly fisherman happy. We put it in the basket to round out the bluegill fry. One more toss. An immediate strike. It happens quite often. Not showing nearly as much fight as the smaller bass it came ashore. Then the screaming started. Remembering what I had told them about not attracting a crowd, they stifled their screaming a bit. Anna came running to me where I was starting a campfire. All she said, in nearly a whisper, as she held her hands widely apart was, "big fish"! The big bass, caught on a small hook, with a small leach on four-pound test line would measure 20 inches in the light of the garage a few minutes later. After some pictures and a couple of dips in a water bucket to get some oxygen it was time to make a choice. I said, "Bensen, it's your decision", return him to the lake or fillet him tomorrow. We were soon standing at the shallow shoreline, testing him for good life, then watching him swim easily away even in the now-near darkness. Tomorrow we'll have a fish fry, tonight we did some catch and release. Good choices grandkids! Do red hooks work? One of our cabin neighbors is Bernie Berberich, formerly a farmer northeast of Comfrey. He's one of the few old, grumpy Ron will let fish off his dock while he's gone. He always gives me reports of his success of the nice bluegills he catches off that dock. It's usually only for a few days when conditions are just right and I'm not there. One day he made a slip and mentioned the fact he always uses a red hook to catch them. So, I bought a few good ones in a packet and hung them on my fishing stuff wall in the garage. I found out later they attracted both kids and fish. Anna Mae had caught most of the bluegills on a red hook. Watching wildlife I ran into Kim Anderson, former Citizen publisher, at a youth baseball game a few weeks ago. He and his wife, Terry, had been on an Alaska tour earlier and the guide had told them the majority of bald eagles there die by hooking their claws into big salmon. Being under involuntary muscle control they can't let go and are drowned. Then on a Brainerd area lake after their return they saw an eagle dive, hook its claws into a big fish, think muskie, and be dragged along for a great distance before getting free. Catch and release? Richard Barker, who lives and farms just south of Jeffers spotted three fox cubs playing near their den a few weeks ago. It seems most of us really enjoy seeing those red fox attempt a comeback after being devastated by both mange and a larger carnivore, the coyote. Son Scott looked off our dock a few days ago, at first thought he saw a stick appear on the surface. Then he saw it move and recognized it as the long, skinny neck and beak of a double crested cormorant. It had just caught a six- to eight-ounce bluegill and was attempting to swallow it, which it did. He could easily, watch it move down the bird's slender neck. Remember Leech Lake and how an overpopulation of cormorants - thousands - depleted that huge lake of perch before DNR action was taken.