Column: Having a favorite lake is a must for Minn. fishermen

Published 1:40pm Saturday, January 12, 2013

As we work our way into the month of January I get that familiar feeling that I get whenever I am coming down with a cold or flu. This time the onset isn’t physical but mental, and although I know it’s too early for it to happen, I think that I have a touch of the dreaded cabin fever. Once it comes, one of the remedies that usually works is to think about some of the places that I long to be and go there — if only in my imagination.

As I started to think about Spider Lake and how I came to fish it in the first place, I considered myself lucky to have stumbled onto it years ago and to have been able to enjoy the many good times that our family had there over the years. Fishing Spider was no accident, but when I first fished it I had no idea what was in store.

I was working at the Tribune in the middle ’70s and Charlie Thompson, a fellow worker, and I had laid plans for a fall fishing trip. Charlie and I had fished together quite a few times in the past. Charlie said that he wanted to bring his boat which was a 12-foot Lund with a 6 horsepower Johnson outboard, not a big lake rig by any means, but a good fishing boat nonetheless. We weren’t sure where we wanted to go this time, but we had both fished the Grand Rapids area in the past so we decided to check it out.

For many years there was a bait shop in Grand Rapids called Rapids Tackle and each year they published a book called the “Blue Book” that listed by category the fish, date caught and lake in Itasca County it was caught on during the previous season. If you caught a fish of a certain size and species you could register it for the book. They had weekly contests and awarded gift certificates for the largest fish in each category. I still have many of these books and occasionally refer back to them whenever I get the itch to try a different lake. Upon looking at one of these books when planning our trip I found Spider Lake and it had a lot of fish listed for each category, so I thought it would be a perfect place to try our luck.

Charlie was an avid panfisherman and I was more of northern/walleye kind of guy back then. We were looking forward to fishing a lake that would offer us the best of both worlds. The resort owner, Aldy, said he could give us a few tips on what areas could be holding fish, and Charlie was all ears when it came to crappies. I, on the other hand, was more interested in bigger things because back in those days I had the philosophy that I didn’t sit around all winter dreaming about panfish — I had bigger things in mind. Funny how your priorities change over time, today a mess of crappies sounds mighty good to me.

The tip paid off and each morning we were at the same spot and the crappies would start biting within a few minutes of the previous day. You could also count on catching a pike if the crappies suddenly quit biting. Overall it was a pretty good fishing trip, and although it was early fall and the fishing wasn’t super, we did manage to catch some dandy crappies with a few northern and bass thrown in the mix. We ate a couple of meals of fish and brought some back, so life was good.

One day while we were fishing on a part of the lake that is called Third Lake by those that know it, there was a couple fishing just a little ways away from us. We had noticed that the man was fighting what was obviously a good sized fish for quite some time so we stopped fishing and just watched. After a few minutes, the fish rolled on the surface by the boat and I could see it was a huge northern and its fins seemed to resemble giant oak leaves. Just about then, the man in the boat hollered over and asked if we had a landing net. The one that we had was too small to land a fish that size plus we didn’t want to get too close fearing that monster would wrap around our motor and break his line. After what seemed like an eternity the fish finally broke water and danced on its tail and in that moment I knew I was hooked on this lake. When it broke water it spit the hook and I estimated it to have been well over 20 lbs. When the fish got off his line, the man and his wife just sat there for a moment in silence and then he turned to us and said “Now that was fun,” and to him it was an experience of a lifetime, because he was only fishing for crappies, so that was a bonus.

I would play that scene over in my mind many times in the years to come; usually in February during cabin fever season. Yes, this is one of the things that has always made Spider Lake special to me. It’s not always about the fish you put in the boat but it’s also about the beauty of the lake and knowing that on any given day that big one could be lurking just under the surface waiting for my next cast. That’s what makes me always want to revisit what I still consider my favorite lake.

Getting back to earth; I see the fishing village that we have on the channel is keeping pretty busy with traffic. The word was that the walleye were biting earlier but has tapered off some lately. There are, however, some panfish being caught on Fountain Lake. I usually don’t have much luck when it comes to ice fishing but as long as my grandson, Trevor, and I can get together and spend a few hours on the ice, the fishing will always be good.

Until next time, take some time to enjoy the winter outdoors.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers because they are the reason that we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.


Dick Herfindahl’s column appears in the Tribune each Sunday.