Midwest traditions hold strong with my family, they never change.
Since I was a baby we have been camping and fishing at the same lake in Northern Minnesota every summer. This is the same lake where my Father, Aunts, and Uncles all camped at when they were young. My family has been enjoying this place for generations and this lake has a special place in my heart. During my teens, I remember hating going up north and “losing” an entire week of my summer vacation, being stuck at this lake. Now as an adult, there is nothing that will keep me from missing this family trip. Not even the 1700 miles in between where I live now and this northern slice of paradise.
Growing up, my family taught me so much about our family traditions. These traditions have played a huge role in shaping me throughout my life. They give me the sense of belonging, purpose, and identity that brings me closer to family. The family summer fishing trip will always be the most memorable and nostalgic family tradition to me. Even though I don’t have any children of my own to pass these traditions on to, I’m excited and nervous to begin sharing them with my boyfriend KC. After hours of highway driving, we make the turn down a pothole filled road that leads us to the Lake. We pulled up to our usual camping spot and started to unload the car. I’m instantly flooded with memories of my sisters and I fishing off the dock, smell of the old fish house, and grandpa teaching me how to clean my first fish. With almost every step I take, there is something that reminds me of my childhood.
To my knowledge this lake has never had a fly touch its waters before. We grab our rods and armed them with poppers at the end our lines. We set out to see if there was a fish willing to play. Climbing into my dad’s old aluminum boat that he has had for what seems to be at least 100 years now. To this day he still claims that “it was running great until you touched it.” With only a few hours of day light remaining we head out. My younger sister joined us on this last light mission to witness what would be a successful evening of a fish or two taking one of our poppers or an evening that would result in a skunk. She jumped in the boat and off we went in search of glory. She reminds me of myself growing up and shares what was once a hatred of this place to now, a time that is looked forward to for months. She has even found a love for fishing and has been interested in learning more about fly fishing which I am super excited to be a part of.
The water that evening was like glass. We sat and watched the colors of the sky dance around the reflection of the lake, and listened to the sounds of the loons echoing around us. I still can’t get enough of the Minnesotan sunsets, they’re always so beautiful. As we cast poppers at the banks, with darkness of night creeping in on us, we found plenty of largemouth and bluegills willing to come out to our popper and test our knots and bend our rods. What a first night, the fishing was better than expected, the only downside of these place was the relentless mosquitoes. We wrap up our night with a campfire and listened to my great uncle Keith, sharing his stories of when he and grandpa were young at the lake. We stuck around the fire until it burnt out and our jaws were sore from laughter and then we called it a night, since we know the pike that swim this lake are early risers!
I awake to barely a lit cabin room; my phone alarm is going off. I know if I want to get my first pike on a fly I need to get up! KC and I stumble our way out of the cabin and down to the boat. The cool morning temperature combined with the windy conditions quickly wakes me up. Not an ideal morning, but with the limited time this trip we'll have to make it due. We cruised to the opposite side of the lake and found a little cove in attempts to shelter ourselves from the wind. After casting for a few hours, I begin to feel my shoulder and arm start to tire from casting the heavy pike style of flies. Fighting fatigue, my patience started to fade quickly every time my fly line wrapped up around the boat anchor rope, or the net... or the motor... or my feet -- or anything at all my line touches! …It felt like I hooked everything in that lake but a pike. I am determined to get my first northern on the fly, so I stripped in my fly and made another cast.
We lost the warmth of the sun and the wind begin to increase, which made for casting a large wind resistance fly even more difficult and tiring. I changed my fly once again and decided to try a completely different color than I had been using, the purple and chartreuse one seemed like a winner. I was confident for some reason with this fly. Total superstition, but it felt like the right choice as if it was speaking to me. Let’s be honest the flies are more for the angler than the fish at times. As another hour slipped by, I started to feel my confidence depleting with my current fly. I continued with my current set up, knowing that I would have to retie my entire rig if I were to change flies one more time. my lazy self just decided to keep fishing it instead.
As I’m stripping my fly back towards the boat, I admire the way it flashes and moves in the water. I’m hypnotized by and find myself lost daydreaming as I continue my repetitive motion of casting and stripping my fly. Then feet from the boat I see a dark silhouette dart after fly. My eyes widen and my grip around the cork tightens, the water boils, and I lean into the rod as a heavy weight pulls line from my reel. In disbelief I yell to KC, “DID YOU SEE THAT?”
My already tired arms have found new life as I fight my first northern. The fish dives under the boat, I frantically dip my rod around the stern but the outboard that was causing me trouble early seemed to find my line once again. “He’s still on,” I scream as I dip the rod further into the water freeing my line. I collect myself and continue fighting the fish for what felt like an hour but was more in the realm of 10 minutes. The pike surrenders the battle and I could pull the fish into my Dad’s net that was as old as the boat, quickly realizing that this fish was too large for my Dad’s old net. KC manages to maneuver the net around the pike, I smile with relief and pride to have landed my first northern on a fly. The battle was far from over. The pike begin to thrash in the net and managed to create a hole I yell to KC, “He made a hole in the net.” Reaching down KC could tail it as it slipped through the hole. We laughed together over the battle that was won and laughed as we snapped a few images and released it back into the water.
That night as we sat around the fire, we shared our story with my family and laugh that two silly fly anglers out fished the rest of the family who knew this lake like the back of their hand. This lake is just one of the over 10,000 lakes in Minnesota, but out of those 10,000 lakes it’s the one that means the most to me. It holds some of my dearest memories and those memories continue to grow with each trip back. Coming here is a mental reset for me. Both KC and I decided to skip the harsh weather during the holiday season in Minnesota and make it our tradition to come back to this lake with my family every year. I already can’t wait until next year.