WABASHA — Ryan Johnson might be the best angler of the bunch.

The Wabasha tween — he's 12 years old — has a 29-inch walleye to his credit this summer, and that's no fish story. Ryan's got the photo to prove it, a monster caught during a trip to Ely.

"It's going on my wall," he laughed, when asked whether he released it or ate it.

Will Stark, 11, left, and Ryan Johnson, 12, fish on the Mississippi River Friday, June 19, 2020, near Wabasha. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Will Stark, 11, left, and Ryan Johnson, 12, fish on the Mississippi River Friday, June 19, 2020, near Wabasha. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Ryan is one of a group of boys — not quite a dozen — who during a summer, without sports practice or sessions in the weight room, has decided to use his COVID-19 free time to cast a line and get better at fishing.

The summer of fishing for the boys brings smiles to the faces of their parents.

"It's nice they can get out and about and do outdoor activities," said Larry Johnson, Ryan's dad.

Joe Stark, another fishing dad, said back in the early days of the pandemic — March and April — he was concerned his son Will might spend a little too much time this summer honing his video gaming skills. However, the elder Stark has spent more money on lures — gladly, he added — than video game releases this summer. And his son's fishing skills have improved dramatically.

"They're learning as they go," Joe Stark said. "They are way better fishermen than they were two months ago."

Ryan Johnson, 12, holds up a pair of northern pike that he caught on the Mississippi River with friend Will Stark, 11, Friday, June 19, 2020, near Wabasha. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Ryan Johnson, 12, holds up a pair of northern pike that he caught on the Mississippi River with friend Will Stark, 11, Friday, June 19, 2020, near Wabasha. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Not everyone is ready to star in his own fishing show yet. Oscar Fries, 15, will admit he seems to have the worst luck on the water, although it hasn't stopped him from grabbing a rod and reel most days.

While all the boys said they've fished before this year, Parker Springer, 15, said he and his buddies have spent more time this summer with a fishing pole than ever during a summer in the past. And it's only mid-June.

"We went on a stretch where we fished every day for three weeks," Parker said. "Lately, it's been every other day."

All told, Parker said he's fished more than 40 times this summer. That included the trip to Ely in Minnesota's Boundary Waters. Another trip north is planned for later this summer. In the meantime, he and his friends will disturb the local bass population.

Just don't ask them for their best fishing spots. The talkative group clams up quickly rather than give away the places on the Mississippi River where the fish are biting.

As for the social-distancing, pandemic summer, Parker said with a smile: "It's definitely turning out better than I thought it would be."

A group of kids take off to go fishing on the Mississippi River Friday, June 19, 2020, near Wabasha. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
A group of kids take off to go fishing on the Mississippi River Friday, June 19, 2020, near Wabasha. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)