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Jack Zaleski, Published June 30 2012

Zaleski: Now that’s what fishing should be all about

I was one of the founders of the first fishing tournament at Devils Lake, N.D. Partnering with then-radio newsman Lee Halvorson, we came up with the idea after fishing as a team in a big tournament in South Dakota. It was the early 1970s, and Devils Lake had come back enough to support game fish. The fishery had been revived because of the vision of the late Dale Henegar, who was fisheries chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department at the time. (He later served as director of the department.)

Halvorson and I set a date, got the local Chamber of Commerce to be the sponsor, signed on local businesses to provide prizes, and then sold it to anglers. It was a success, and has been a fixture on the big lake ever since.

Still, I have my doubts about tournament fishing and the class of professional and pseudo-professional anglers it has spawned. Luddite that I am, I find the technology of modern fishing to be anathema to fishing as I knew it and loved it as a boy. These days, there is so much sophisticated fish-finding gear on a modern boat that walleyes need Klingon cloaking devices to hide. A mere aquatic weed bed won’t do.

Unlike fishing Andy-and-Opie style, tournament fishing is anything but relaxing. My first experiences with a reel and pole were with my father on Peat Works Pond in central Connecticut. (I’ve written about the place before in the context of Father’s Day.)

Peat Works was a large-mouth bass lake. We would row from a boat rental place (no motors allowed) across the placid water to dense lily pad mats, where my dad knew lunkers lurked. Without help from depth finders, fish finders or other whiz-bang technology, he would use breeze, sun angle and bugs on the water to guide the old wooden boat to a prime location. He knew the lake. He understood the wily bass. He knew what bait to use: night crawlers or shiners. We always got ’em to come out of the lily pad shade and strike the bait.

As the sun sank, we’d row back – the only sounds the muted rumble and squeak of the rowlocks and the gentle slosh of the water on the boat’s prow. Good days. Good times. Quiet, as fishing should be. Unhurried, as fishing should be. No contest, no expectation of prizes, no boasting or bragging.

If we caught a few, good for us. If we didn’t, good for us, too.

Now that’s what fishing is really all about. Or should be …

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.