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.