Wednesday, December 18, 2013

TWO SHOTS: Free download

Check out TWO SHOTS, which is available for FREE on Amazon Dec. 19-20.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sad day

One of my favorite authors died this morning. Minnesota’s Vince Flynn, who wrote 14 books and was at work on another, had been battling prostate cancer and died at 47.

It’s a sad day when someone dies, let alone someone so young. But I was a little surprised by the lump in my throat when I saw the news come across my Twitter feed.

After all, it’s not like I’d ever met the man. Sure, I’ve read all of his books, heard him on the radio, and watched him on TV.

Part of the reason for my strong reaction was that Flynn was a guy who worked his way to the pinnacle of success. You can read more here. But the short version is this: Flynn was diagnosed with dyslexia in grade school; decided to write a book later in life; wrote that book; couldn’t find an agent or publisher; self-published that book; became wildly successful.

It’s a story that should resonate with anyone who appreciates the rewards of hard work, and especially with those of us who find Flynn’s story pretty damn inspirational. As a self-published author myself, Flynn is an iconic figure and his story is a constant reminder of following a dream, believing in yourself, and reaching your goals no matter the roadblock.

Rest in peace, Vince.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Was that a fishing opener to remember? Or forget?


The 2013 walleye-fishing opener in Minnesota will go down as – if nothing else – one of the most interesting I’ve experienced.

In recent years, my group has gotten into spending the opener fishing for rainbow trout. The action tends to be better for trout, given the water’s still relatively cold and the fish are near the surface, and it’s fun to just troll around aimlessly on Bad Medicine Lake, which is among the state’s most beautiful waters. Previous to those Bad Medicine trips, I’ve hit spots like the Upper Red Lake on the year it re-opened to walleye fishing, and Rainy and Vermilion as part of the Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener. I’ve had varying degrees of success, but each opener has been cool in its own way.

Wine and waders. All in all, an odd opener.
Had the ice been off Bad Medicine on opening day this year, we would have gone there. But it wasn’t. So the plan was to fish the lake on which our deer shack is located. (In the interest of being able to return, I’ll keep the lake’s name close to the vest.) There’s a river running through the lake, and the thinking was, A) the current would help speed ice-out, and B) the walleyes would be in the spawning mode and near the area where the river enters the lake.

When we awoke Saturday morning, ice still covered perhaps half the lake. So rather than put the boat in and risk the wind shifting and pushing a sheet of ice toward us, I went into the woods and did a little deer scouting, hoping to find a new hunting spot for this fall. I also hoped the sun and wind would make quick work of the ice. That didn’t happen.

So Brian King and I decided we’d walk down to the river and fish along its shores from where it entered the lake to the first culvert. The first thing we saw was the wake of a fish in submerged grass in extraordinarily shallow water. We never got a good look, but it had to have been a northern pike. We picked our way through the woods along the river, which isn’t an easy thing to do when you’re toting tackle boxes, 6-foot fishing rods, and a cooler (which became lighter the more ground we covered). At some point, we gave up on fishing and just looked at ducks and deer trails. We wet our boots tramping through marshy areas, and saw just a few northern pike and suckers. It was evident the walleyes weren’t in the river.

Fishing at dark at the river mouth.
After dinner that night, Brian and I – and Brian’s dad, John – went back to the spot where the river enters the lake. The plan was to wade into the water a ways, and fish minnows below slip bobbers. By this time, the sun was down and stars twinkled in the sky. The wind had died, the only sound was the plop our bobbers made when we cast them, and the scenery was fantastic. There wasn’t a fish to be had, but that was OK.

The night was so quiet and peaceful that a flopping fish may have ruined it, anyway.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Happy May Day!

Is it just me, or did May Day used to be a much bigger deal than it is now?

I grew up in the small town of Detroit Lakes, Minn. Lived there until the summer before fifth grade. On the lake. Best place to live. Ever. So much fun. Really hard to move. Thinking back to the move to the Twin Cities still hurts a little bit. Am I still talking? Sorry.

Anyhoo.

For whatever reason, I have really fond memories of May Day in Detroit Lakes. It meant cups full of candy (I especially remember those wax candy soda bottles) and, as far as I remember, warm weather. It meant going door to door, but for some reason, I don’t remember exactly what happened at every door. I want to say we rang the doorbell and ran away, but how the heck do you collect any goodies by doing that? Or maybe we put candy on the doorway, rang the bell, and then ran? That would make sense, so long as everyone else did the same thing. The truth is, I honestly don’t remember.

But while I look back fondly on the broad outlines of May Day, there’s one that’s forever etched in my mind. It wasn’t a pleasant May Day, but my reaction to it only solidifies my belief that May Day once was really important. It was in gym class at Rossman Elementary School in Detroit Lakes. Don’t recall exactly how our class got into trouble, but it was the end of the day and we had to stand with our noses faces the gym wall. When my mom came to pick me up at school that day, I distinctly remember saying: “This has been the worst May Day ever!”

I still remember saying it like it was yesterday, and I felt at the time that year’s May Day had been wasted. Had I known then what I think I know now – that May Day is just another day; and that people today don’t seem to have the appreciation for it they once did – I probably would have been even more crushed.

Hard-hitting stuff, huh? Anyway, Happy May Day!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Odd fishing opener on tap

The Minnesota fishing opener is three weeks from tomorrow. That’s what the calendar says, anyway.
Brother John with a rainbow trout from Bad Medicine a few years back.

As I sit and look at my white lawn and watch the wind blowing snow off the tree branches, it’s hard to imagine fishing in open water in three weeks. Just this morning I cleared several inches of snow off my driveway. And where I go for the opener, there’s a hell of a lot more snow than that on top of the ice.

As has become our custom, we fish rainbow trout on the walleye opener. The season for both species opens the same day in Minnesota, and there’s just something about trolling haphazardly around Bad Medicine Lake, pulling Rapalas and catching trout. (I don’t care what all you elitist fly fishermen out there think.) It’s a good time –and a mindless good time, at that – on one of the clearest and most beautiful lakes in the state.

The thing about Bad Medicine on the opener is that it’s not always great fishing. Last year, the spring was warm, so the water was warm on the opener. That drives the rainbows down deeper, and we have neither the equipment (downriggers), nor the desire to work that hard for them. 

On the other hand, there have been years when a cold spring meant cold water on the opener, and the fish were near the surface and smashing our skinny Rapalas.

But count me stunned if we wind up on Bad Medicine on the opener this year. I just don’t see how all that ice will be gone in just more than 21 days. Stranger things have happened, I suppose, but I just don’t see it. So the question is whether we’ll find an open lake somewhere and fish for walleyes (highly unlikely), or grab our ice gear and fish the lake on which the deer shack is located. Frankly, neither sounds all that appealing. Given my lack of success at shooting a deer last fall, maybe I’ll spend the weekend in the woods and try to find a new spot for my stand.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Oh, to be a game warden

For we writers, one of the most humbling – and thrilling, at the same time – things is to look back on our past work. On the one hand, we can see how we’ve improved our craft. On the other hand, it makes us realize there was a time when our work wasn’t very good.

But writing is a learning process and truly one in which practice gets you closer to the unachievable perfect. So in that sense, I – and other writers, I assume – take pride in our early work, even if the lens of time and experience reveals lots of areas in need of obvious improvement.

The other day I stumbled across a paper I wrote during my sophomore year of high school entitled “Conservation Officers.”

I’ve long been fascinated by the work of conservation officers – or game wardens, as they’re also commonly called. As part of my full-time gig as an outdoors writer, conversing with conservation officers is one of my favorite parts.

And Two Shots, my fiction novel that’s been out for about 11 months now, features a game warden as the main character. (The book is FREE on Amazon April 11-12, so pick it up for yourself, or tell your friends).

But there was a time in my life when I thought that perhaps being a game warden was my life’s calling. Which brings me back to that paper I wrote in high school.

As I reread the paper, it feels like I wrote it just yesterday. Included are interviews with several officers and an admittedly romantic view of the occupation. (Most of the focus was on working outside – on lakes and in forests – and living in remote areas.)

This is what I remember most, though, about doing the interviews for that paper, and then writing it: The crushing realization that I wouldn’t be a game warden.

At the time – as it is now – law enforcement training was a necessity. While I’ve never been cut out to be a cop, I figured I could manage anyway. But the real downer for me was learning about the importance of classes such as biology, botany, chemistry, and physics, to name a few. Such courses are still helpful today, but they’re not the make or break requirements they were back then. Simply put, I just wasn’t that good at the science classes, so I shelved the dream.

Interestingly enough, the Minnesota DNR is proposing a new program that would allow people like me to become conservation officers. (It still needs legislative approval, though things look good at this point.) Basically, the agency is looking for people with diverse backgrounds and a four-year degree, and will help them get the law enforcement education necessary to become a conservation officer in Minnesota.

It’s a really cool program, and something I’d potentially consider if I were at a different point in my life.

For now, though, I guess I’ll just be happy to write about game wardens.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Why do you care?

Several weeks ago, Kim was out for the evening and the kids were in bed. I’m certain I could have found work to do, but instead I found myself on the couch. Probably unwinding with a beer. I believe I was watching a Timberwolves game. I know I was flipping through my Twitter feed. And I came across a tweet mentioning there was a Minnesota legislative debate being televised on TPT.

After a moment of internal debate, I flipped the channel. And then I flipped it back to the game. But I had to see what was coming next. So back to the Legislature I went. It was a debate about a state healthcare exchange. I couldn’t have cared less about the outcome, but I couldn’t turn away.

Hello, my name is Joe. And I’m a geek. I love politics. Love the creation of public policy, and the drama and soap-operaness of it all. Lots of people I know hate politics. They hate discussing it and their eyes glaze over whenever I bring it up. “There’s absolutely nothing appealing about it,” they tell me.

Fair enough, I say. It isn’t appealing. Many people call the political process the equivalent of sausage-making, and it’s true – the end product can be good, depending on your tastes, but you sure as hell don’t want to see what it took to arrive there. For the most part, I’m an interested bystander in the entire political process. I read political websites and watch politics on TV when nobody is looking. I annoy the heck out of my wife when I get going about. I wonder about someday running for office myself and I send my elected representatives emails from time to time.

“But why do you care?”

I get that question a lot.

I care because the decisions politicians make today affect not only me, but also my parents and kids and their kids. I care because politicians are exactly the same as you and me – they don’t have a direct line to God and they don’t always do the right thing. Absent pressure from regular citizens, they very well may do the wrong thing (at least from my point of view). I care because when they do the wrong thing, they need to be held accountable. I care because in the political process, it doesn’t take much effort to make a difference.

We’re lucky in this nation to be able to elect the people who represent us. That’s a right that came at a steep cost. We’re lucky that when our guy or gal doesn’t win, we can point out his or her competitor’s shortcomings. We can criticize his or her decisions. But you can’t do that if you don’t participate in the process. Democracy, after all, is for those who show up. While it’s true you can’t bitch if you don’t vote, too many of us stop participating once we’ve walked out of our voting place.

We decide at the ballot box who represents us. But it’s only after that when those folks’ decisions shape our future. And you can’t be a part of it if you tune it out and just wait for the next election.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A trip down (snow goose) memory lane

For a guy who hasn’t done a ton of hunting in the spring, Easter always gets me thinking about the trips I have taken. (And, yes, I know around this holiday I should be thinking of more important things.)

In 2006, I spent Easter morning turkey hunting in the Black Hills. To this day, I maintain that sitting there and watching the sun come up and listening to turkeys gobble is as spiritual a moment as you’ll ever get.

The next year, I planned a work outing to North Dakota to hunt snow geese. You can hunt those geese in the spring because there are so darn many of them the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service begs you to shoot them. It’s a weather and migration game, so we postponed the trip on several occasions.
And then I got the call that things were falling into place. I’d be gone until the day before Easter, but so be it.

Snow geese flying from a North Dakota field.
A bit of backstory here: At this point, Kim (who’s now my wife, obviously) was just a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. We’d planned to hang out the Saturday night before Easter. I didn’t want to reschedule. But I wasn’t missing my North Dakota trip, either.

I knew the timing would be tight, but I also knew it could be done.

So that Friday, I drove to Oakes, which is in southeastern North Dakota, just shy of 300 miles from Minneapolis. I arrived and met the guys with whom I’d hunt. We climbed in the truck and spent the next few hours driving around the countryside, watching where these huge flocks – thousands of birds – of snow geese went. The idea was to find the fields they were using and then hunt one in the morning.

About 8 p.m., we finished scouting and went back to the hotel. Five minutes later, we were at the local watering hole. There were burgers and beer, country music and – late in the night – a limbo contest that didn’t go well.

We closed the place down and walked back to the hotel (the beauty of small towns). Two hours later, the alarm clock went off.

Not long later, we were in the truck, driving under a dazzling, star-studded sky. We stopped at a gas station and I, thinking we’d have a chance to grab something else later on, grabbed two energy drinks and a granola bar. Nobody paid any attention to what anyone else bought.

Shortly thereafter, we arrived to our hunting spot. We then spent the next two hours putting up hundreds of snow goose decoys. Other guys set up an electric caller. Then we climbed into our layout blinds and waited for the sun to rise and the birds to fly. I remember eating my granola bar and drinking one of the energy drinks.

It was probably 6 a.m. I remember a short nap.

Finally, the birds started to fly. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced, hearing all these geese honking, watching them come in over our decoys, and then hearing the words “Take ‘em!”
We killed a lot of birds that day, but there came a point I got really hungry. That was about 10 a.m. I sucked down another energy drink. Then I got tired. Then weak. Then I just wanted the damn birds to quit coming. But they never did.

Finally, about 4:30 p.m., there was a break in the action. I climbed out of my blind. Said I had to go. The guys were nice enough, but wanted me to get the heck out of there before more geese came. So I did.

I found my way back to my truck, changed out of my hunting gear, and wondered how to get where I needed to go. This was back before I had an iPhone, and I’d arrived at the spot in a daze more than 12 hours before. Armed with the knowledge that we were south of town, and then the sun sets in the west, I made my way along gravel roads, keeping the sun in the proper position.

Finally, I made it back to town.

I stopped at a gas station to fill the tank and grab some food. And to use the pay phone. Mine was out of juice and I needed to call Kim, let her know we were still on for the night and that I was on my way. I slipped some quarters in the pay phone and dialed her number. Thankfully, she answered (I think, anyway). We made plans to meet about 10.

At that point, it was nothing but me and about 5 hours of open road.

I finally made it back, met Kim and others, and headed to a bar. I was excessively tired, but also a little jazzed. The night was a good one, though it went a little late and, again, I missed church on Easter morning.

But I’m proud to report I haven’t missed an Easter service since.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The right place at the right time

There was a time in my life when I looked forward to the end of March/early April all year long. Not because I enjoy winter’s last gasps, or watching the snow melt. No, I looked forward to it because it meant it was time for the Northwest Sportshow.

All year long, I’d save my money and formulate grand plans to spend it on fishing tackle at the sportshow. Every few weeks, I’d drop all the coins on my bed, stack ‘em up, and figure out what I could buy.

Back then, the sportshow lasted 10 days. This was back before I had wheels, so I’d have to find a ride. But I always did, and always went to the show at least twice.

I write about the sportshow because, well, it opened a couple days ago and runs through this weekend. And even though I won’t be able to attend this year, it’s really the one show I think about every year. That’s because so many cool stories have come from it. Here’s one of my favorites:

I don’t recall the exact year, but in the early 1990s my family took a trip to Alaska. The plan was to fish for salmon, do some sight-seeing, and visit family. Also, my dad, mom, and sister would fly, while my brother, uncle, and I would drive and do some fishing along the way.

Our one specific fishing plan was the result of the sportshow. That year, several of us were walking around the booths, checking out the various destinations. We stopped at a booth and spoke with a couple guys who operated a fly-in fishing deal in British Columbia, and flew fishermen into a lake called Maxhamish. As a 6th- or 7th-grader, I wasn’t much involved in the planning, but looking at their colorful flyers and pictures of walleyes got me all jazzed.

Then that summer rolled around, and John, Tom, and I hit the road. The details are fuzzy, but we arrived in the town where these outfitters were based. I’m not sure if we couldn’t find them, or the trip never had been set up, but we ended up on a public dock, casting for whatever would bite. The thought was we would camp near there, but that we ultimately wouldn’t get to Lake Maxhamish – accessible only by plane – because we couldn’t find the outfitter.

So we stood there and casted, and then heard a plane. It soon came over the trees and landed on the
lake in front of us.

I wouldn’t have recognized the guys, but Uncle Tom did. Turned out it was the same guys he spoke with at the sportshow. So purely by chance, they’d literally dropped from the sky and appeared in front of us.

It wasn’t long later that we were packed into the plane, in the sky, and heading for Maxhamish.

It wound up being an awesome fly-in trip, and we spent a couple of days catching walleyes by what seemed like the hundred. Just goes to show it pays to be in the right place at the right time.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The power of reviews

So we're at the 10 month anniversary of the release of my fiction novel, TWO SHOTS.

We've covered a lot of ground since then. There have been radio interviews, press coverage and free promotions (during which it was downloaded nearly 17,000 times). Missed out on the free days? Well, it's only $2.99 on Amazon, which is, in my opinion, still a steal of a deal. But one of the coolest parts of this entire process has been to read the reviews at Amazon. To date, there are 52 reviews. The average is 4.3 out of 5 stars. Here is a quick sample:

 -- "Two Shots was a terrific journey, full of suspense and action. I couldn't put it down once I started it. I felt like I knew Officer Tony Leach and that I was right along side of him. I highly recommend this book and can't wait for the next one!"

-- "Still, this was a very good book revolving around the primary character, Tony Leach, a game warden for the state of Minnesota. Much like the Joe Pickett character in the exquisite C.J. Box novels that take place in Wyoming, Leach is a bit of a bumbling law enforcement officer with a bulldog determination to solve a brutal crime. … Overall, a great start to a literary career by Joe Albert. I look forward to the next (hopefully) Tony Leach saga later in 2012!"

-- "I read an average of 2-3 novels a week. This book has truly captured my interest. Very fast paced and reminiscent of Stephen Hunter's "Point of Impact" (later retitled Shooter). Great book, would recommend it to anyone. I cannot wait to reread it in a couple of months sitting in my bow-hunting stand!"

-- "Loved it! Wish more books of fiction were written about our outdoor law enforcement professionals. Would definitely read another book by this author."

-- "Joe Albert has a style that reminds me a little of John Sandford, and that's a good thing. I love John Sandford."

Of course, nothing ever is all roses. Here's a 1-star review:

--"I am an avid reader, my favorites are authors like Lee Child, and Vince Flynn.This author is neither, has potential, yet his character " Leech " leaves a lot to be desired." (AUTHOR NOTE: His name is Leach, not Leech.)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

An easy exercise in democracy

Among the many beauties of living in the United States is our ability to participate in government. Many people think of that in terms of the elections we hold in November.

But it’s important to stay engaged throughout the year. I’ll admit: I don’t let my state representative and senator, or my members of Congress, know what I’m thinking as often as I should.

This week, though, I did. Specifically, I wrote letters to my state representative – Paul Rosenthal – and my state senator – Melisa Franzen. There are two wildlife-related bills before the state Legislature that I’m concerned about. To date, neither Rosenthal nor Franzen has signed onto the bills, and I’d like to keep it that way.

The Internet makes it very easy to let your elected representatives know what you’re thinking. And they give most weight to letters and emails they receive from people in their districts. The easiest way to start? If you live in Minnesota, click here. To learn who your Congressional representatives are, click here. And if you don’t live in Minnesota and want to know who represents you at the state level, click here to find your state Legislature’s website.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The sad decline of an iconic animal

It was coming on bedtime Wednesday night when I took my 1-year-old into his room to put on his pajamas. I reached into the closet and pulled out a pair and proceeded to put them on him.

Only then did I pay attention to the moose pattern on his sleeping gear.

Seemed like odd timing, given the announcement by the state DNR earlier in the day that the moose population in northeastern Minnesota had plummeted so much that there would be no hunting season in 2013.

Indeed, the moose population in that part of the state dropped 35 percent from last year, and 52 percent since 2010. The estimated population in 2006 was 8,840. This year’s estimate: 2,760.

It’s apparent that something is – and has been – very wrong there. And that population of moose – in the state’s prime moose habitat – is started to mirror what happened in the northwestern part of the state. Twenty years ago, thousands of animals lived there. Today, the population numbers fewer than 100 animals.

It’s a sad state of affairs and it’s hard to have much optimism that something good is going to happen. The DNR and others have and are devoting huge amounts of effort to try figure out what’s killing moose in the northeast. I hope they can, but it’s hard to be optimistic they can figure it out and turn this ship around.

I can’t help but think we’re witnessing the elimination of one of our state’s most iconic species. While it’s likely moose will persist at some level – like they have in the northwest – it’s hard to imagine a population turnaround that would result in enough animals for a hunting season in the future.

But at this point, that’s not so much what I’m worried about. My concern is that my kids and their kids will grow up having as their only memories of moose those little imprints on their pajamas.

(This post originally appeared on Outdoornews.com)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Trip of a lifetime

There was a time in my life when I fished all the time. Before work. After work. Weekends. Summer. Winter. You get the point.

That began to change when I moved back to the Cities. And that really changed when I had kids. Priorities change, but I couldn’t be happier. Now, spending several days preparing for a fishing tournament, and then eight hours fishing in it, doesn’t seem near as fun as spending a couple hours in the boat with my 3-year-old.

At the same time, some things never change. Fishing always has been an outlet. And as much as I love my family, it’s still important to get away. Refresh and recharge the batteries. Some people go to Las Vegas, or concerts, or sporting events. I go fishing (or hunting).

While I may not hit the water every morning anymore, there are some traditions that endure. Case in point: My annual ice-fishing trip, from which I recently returned. It began in college, includes five college buddies and myself, and will be 15 years old next year.

For some people, it’s hard to believe sitting in a cramped, cold fish house with five others for 48 consecutive hours could be fun. But it is. There’s a reason this trip is a priority, and it’s not because of the fishing. Certainly, we’ve caught our share of fish. But we’ve also been to some pretty cool spots, including Lake of the Woods, Red Lake, Cass Lake, and Lake Mille Lacs. There have been years when we’ve caught painfully few fish (this year at Red Lake, for example), but the chatter already has begun about next year’s 15th anniversary trip.

Some years back – probably during the fervent email chats that begin months before we depart – our group formally named our little get-together. It’s called the TOAL, which stands for trip of a lifetime.
Kind of silly, for sure, but that’s what, in many ways, it’s turned out to be. Every year, on its own, is fantastic. But when you consider the sort of tradition it’s become, it really is the trip of a lifetime.

Even as the six of us have moved, changed jobs, gotten married, and had kids, we prioritize the weekend and plan it sufficiently far in advance that everyone can get away. It’s not an easy thing to get everyone’s schedules to mesh, but, to date, it’s always happened.

That’s what tradition is about.

And a cool thing has developed over the past couple of years. All of our wives – or soon-to-be-wives – have gotten together the weekend we’ve been gone.

Last year, the six wives got together for happy hour in Minneapolis, an evening for which one drove from Grand Forks, and another drove from Fargo. This year, the wives made a weekend of it, too, and met in Alexandria for a trip to the spa. They’ve even given it a name – the TOAL Wives’ Weekend. I hope, for their sake, it’s a tradition they continue. Otherwise, they’ll be stuck home alone at least one weekend every winter, because our trip, which began as an idea over beers in our college dorms, isn’t stopping anytime soon.