John Weiss: Blessed — and cursed — by restlessness

A sore back forced John Weiss to fish from a dock for a few days last week, but that didn't stop him from experimenting, seeking new, better ways to catch largemouth bass.

GARRISON — Fog hugged Big Pine Lake, and my back was sore, but still I rowed on.

Why? We'd eaten a meal of fish the day before, and I really didn't need any to take home.

A year ago, in a reedy area on this central Minnesota lake, I caught a 20-inch largemouth, which had been my goal for decades. A week later, I added a 20-inch smallmouth, so those goals were met. On this morning I was on vacation, so I had no assignment or obligation to do a story for work.

Yet I left a warm bed and chance to sleep in — a rarity for me — to row out in the sticky fog.

I did it because I'm a restless seeker.


I've sensed it all my life, that I have an innate inability to say "Yes, I've reach this goal — rejoice!"

That sense was especially acute when I caught the 20-incher smallmouth. I thought I would have exulted, shot my arms up in victory, maybe sang "We Are The Champions" to the loons and gulls.

I didn't. Something was missing. It wasn't enough.

Since then, the question has vexed me, has never let me fish in total peace.

So why was I out there?

Certainly, it's part of my tradition. I grew up about 20 miles to the west in Brainerd, where fishing was part of life. I played baseball and basketball, and I fished.

When I became the P-B outdoors writer, it became part of my job.

And I admit it — I'm competitive. As much as I write about the sheer joy of being outdoors, I do like to succeed, to catch fish, to shoot a turkey, to see my byline on the front page.


But deep down, I think I fish (and hunt, camp, hike and take outdoors photos) because of unsettled seeking.

I'm convinced we humans have the wrong scientific name. We're homo sapiens — man having wisdom. We should be man seeking wisdom. We humans are best when we're searching, when we're under pressure, when we seek to change, to improve.

Back problems

Last week, at first my searching took a hit.

That sore lower back left me stranded on the dock for a few days. I caught some small bass but when I'd get a hit from bigger fish in deeper water, I couldn't bring them in through the weeds. I searched for ways to beat the weeds, but failed.

I wanted to teach my 3-year-old grandson, Anthony, how to fish, and had bought him a CARS plastic fishing pole. But I quickly concluded that he would be a menace to himself and me if there was a hook on the line instead of a hookless casting plug. And rather than actually casting it, he usually just grabbed it and threw it into the water.

Maybe next year.

My back finally healed enough to let me row a boat, which felt good. I stayed close to the cabin and set some new goals, such as figuring how to fish Fluke-like plastics. I fished then on the Mississippi River several years ago with another bass angler and had great luck. Since then, I've flunked Fluke 101.


I tried rigging this way and that way, but without success. Then I remembered that Clark Powell at Gander Mountain in Rochester sold me some of the plastics and some new hooks. When I looked closer, I realized they had a straight shank instead of the curved one used for wacky worms. Both were Gamakatsu Offset Shank Worm Hooks, so would the shank matter?


Can never be satisfied

The straight-backed one worked great. I began catching fish with it. It stayed where I wanted, it wiggled and wormed around. I learned fishing it slower was also critical.

Seeking had paid off.

Then I tried different color wacky worms and found green (watermelon candy to be exact) was as great as my traditional purple. It felt good to learn, to search on my own, to try something different.

That restlessness made me do it.

When the morning was over, I caught and released maybe a dozen bass in the 14-inch range. Twenty years ago, that would have been super. Now that I've learned more, it's average for a good morning.


That's my blessed curse — I can never be satisfied. It's odd, it's maddening, but I've lived with it for more than 60 years. I think I can tolerate it for many more. It's all I have.

Reporter John Weiss has covered the outdoors for the Post-Bulletin for more than 36 years. If you have a comment or story idea, call John at 507-285-7749.

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