Trying new things has never really been all that appealing to me, no matter what it might be.
But when I was invited to go walleye fishing on a body of water I’ve never tried before, I simply couldn’t say no.
About a month ago, I received word of a Fulton man who was big into fishing for walleye on the Mississippi River. I already had a couple of other outdoor stories I wanted to highlight, but I kept Barney Barnhart’s email on my desk. We developed a plan quickly, and set a time and date to go this past Wednesday.
Walking out to my car after work on Tuesday night reminded me to dress warm for the occasion. The temperature hovered around 20 degrees at 8 a.m. as I left my house for Fulton Marina, but I came just as Barney wanted me to: No tackle box, poles or bait needed; just a bunch of layers of clothes.
Now, I had never met Barney or his good buddy Fred Reedy before Wednesday morning. One might think it would be awkward fishing for hours with people you’d never met before, but awkward moments of silence didn’t enter our boat.
Barney and I barely dipped our Rapala crankbaits at the first wing dam when Fred reeled in a nice 22-inch walleye. And then a 20-incher 2 minutes later. After all of 5 more minutes, Fred found our first eater of the day, a 17-incher. Then came the biggest fish of the day 6 minutes later, a dandy 28-inch walleye that tried to stay on the bottom without shaking his head. Fred brought in a 23-incher just 2 minutes after Barney netted the 28-incher.
Here I am, 20 minutes into the day, and Fred has five walleyes already. I didn’t want these guys thinking I was all writer and no fisherman. Simply put, I needed to get on the board.
We raced around to three other wing dams on the Clinton, Iowa side of the river in Barney’s Tuffy Boat, equipped with a 200 horsepower motor. I’m used to a 15-horse motor that my family used during three excursions to Ontario, Canada. Needless to say, I’ve been feeling the windburn the past few days.
The temperature began to climb all the way up to a balmy 35 degrees, and still one person had caught all the fish after 3 hours of trolling wing dams. Then I felt it, a sharp hit. Fred urged me to take the reeling-in process slow to be sure not to pull the lure out of its mouth.
Into the net swam a nice 20-inch walleye, my first fish I had ever caught on the Big Muddy. It was exciting, and while catching a fish was great, the knuckle bumps from my new friends were even cooler.
Thirty minutes later I caught the biggest fish of my day, a nice 24-incher that behaved similar to Fred’s 28-incher in the fact that the fish’s head didn’t move much as it tried to outmuscle me. Fred caught another nice one, and just as Barney said he was going to resign to full-time net duty, he hooked a nice 21-incher. The whole boat was on the board.
We tried a couple of other wing dams, broke into the sandwich and chip bag, and kept casting away. The current was strong throughout the day, which didn’t play into our favor. Fred called it a day around 1 p.m., choosing instead to wait on a whitetail to pass his stand than wait for a walleye to grab his rig.
Barney and I put another 2 hours on the water, which resulted in just three more fish. And that’s why it’s called “fishing,” not “catching.” We parted ways around 3:15 p.m., and agreed that we needed to plan another day to get out on the water.
You could poll 100 fisherman (no pun intended) on what the beauty of fishing is, and you might get 99 different responses.
If I had to answer the question, my experience with Barney and Fred would speak volumes. Fishing is a sport that can bring complete strangers together all in the pursuit of one thing: fun. And fish too.