Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fumbled Fishing Rods: The Fishing Failures of a Minnesota Vikings Fan

Fumbled Fishing Rods:
The Fishing Failures of a Minnesota Vikings Fan

by Dr. Todd E.A. Larson

Watching the Minnesota Vikings lose (again) in the NFC Championship game has put me in a nostalgic mood. Growing up in the 1970s, the Vikings collapsing in the most painful ways possible became a sort of ritual, from the blocked punt against the Steelers in the 1975 Super Bowl to the "Drew Pearson" incident against the Cowboys (a Viking fan will need no more prompt than that). Hell, so meager was my Viking joy that one of the highlights of my childhood was watching the Vikings beat the Steelers in the ABC "Superteams" competition tug-of-war. Such is the sad state of affairs with Viking fans. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, read ESPN's best columnist Jim Caple's brilliant article on the subject.

All of this nostalgia--painful as it is--also got me thinking about fishing in my youth, for in Minnesota there are four seasons: fishing season, Vikings season (interrupted for a month by hunting season), and hockey season. Of the four, only fishing season lasts all year. So thinking about the epic failure of the Vikings also got me thinking about fishing, and in particular, fishing rods. And not just fishing rods, but broken fishing rods.

When I was a kid I broke more than my share of rods. I broke casting rods, spinning rods, fly rods, ice fishing rods, you name it and I broke it. I destroyed so many rods, in fact, my dad banned for a time from entering the boat house where the tackle was stored.

The funny thing is I never considered myself a clumsy angler. Take for example the first rod I can remember busting, a custom built graphite rod my dad had built for him by a talented Duluth, MN rodmaker named Bakke. It was a single piece, seven-foot medium action rod fitted with a Mitchell 308, both of which I was expressly forbidden to use.

An eight year old simply cannot pass up this kind of temptation. So one summer day when my father was gone, I went into the boat house and "borrowed" his favorite rig. I walked to the end of the dock, tied on a Mepps spinner, and began casting towards the brush pile that was replaced every spring to the right of the dock. By the way, I also lost a lot of lures in my day -- but fortunately I was an above average swimmer and snorkeler so I was usually able to retrieve them before my father found out.

Anyway, after happily casting away for an hour or so, I had my fill for the moment and decided to head back up to the cabin. Carrying the rod in front of me I must have let the rod tip dip, and of course, it caught between the cracks of the dock. A seven foot rod turned into a six footer in one second flat. Stunned, I held the rod parts in separate hands, not believing what I had done. We'll just say that when the Old Man found out he was, how shall we say, less than pleased with his youngest boy. Sadly, it wasn't the only time I broke a rod in this exact manner.

This wasn't the only busted rod from my youth. There was the time I slammed the car door on a Fenwick glass spinning rod while we were about to embark on a trip into town to fish the St. Croix. I broke a casting rod another time when I dropped a boat anchor on it. Another time I tried to pull a lure loose from a brush pile and put too much pressure on a spinning rod and watched it break in my hands. Stupidly trying to jump over a Phillipson fly rod in the boat house I stumbled and stepped across the butt, snapping it cleanly in half.

Not every broken rod was my fault. I remember how excited my father and brothers were when we first got boron rods in the 1970s. I also remember the unbelievable shock when one of these VERY expensive rods simply shattered in my hands during the routine act of casting. Bizarre doesn't describe the incident. Fortunately, my dad was there to witness it so I was not blamed for THAT one, although he certainly had suspicions I might have had something to do with it until the exact same thing happened to him. I didn't blame him, because after all, I didn't have a great track record when it came to rods.

My father owned well over 100 rods and we used them all, so it was natural that over the course of time some would break. Those worth saving were fixed and made into "loaner" rods for visitors who did not bring their own tackle. To my dad, not coming to the cabin properly outfitted was the same as declaring yourself an absolute novice, for as a tackle snob he felt no neophyte angler deserved to use his top of the line gear. My father certainly subscribed to a theory first posited in the The Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette of 29 May 1891, when the editor of the newspaper wrote:

When The damp bad weather and the clouds roll by, and the clearing sunshine comes again, we always feel like forgiving everybody for any wrong doing and asking the same for anything anybody harbors against our poor soul.

P.S. The man who borrowed our split bamboo fly rod just returned it "busted." We must make one exception to the above. Marriage is not a failure but loaning fish rods is.

If loaning fishing rods always ends about as badly as a typical Vikings season, then breaking a fishing rod, especially through an act of carelessness, is the ultimate fisherman's failure--the Brett Favre interception of the angling world, if you will. But as I sit here pondering rods and fumbles gone by, I can't help but think that without me, perhaps my dad's summers would have been far unhappier.

Think of all the broken friendships I saved for my dad by creating "loaner rods" for his non-angling friends and relatives.

-- Dr. Todd

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