Memories of fishing with uncle Ben near Park Rapids

Published 1:53pm Saturday, May 25, 2013

While I was visiting the Park Rapids area a couple of weeks ago, I was impressed by the beautiful countryside with its many lakes and streams. It had been many years since I visited that area with my uncle, Ben, and Sam, his neighbor and brother-in-law. We would go to Toad Lake, which is located near Osage, Minn., which is west of Park Rapids. I have many fond memories of that lake, and if memory serves me right, the fishing was always great. When I think of Toad Lake, I think of good walleye fishing and the times spent there with uncle Ben.

I can still remember the time when my uncle Ben and I were fishing near some pencil reeds on Toad Lake and were catching the biggest bluegills that I had ever seen. Now remembering things that happened as a kid could tend to get distorted, but I’ve always remembered those fish as real slabs. The big gills started biting just before an oncoming thunderstorm. As the storm approached, uncle Ben fired up the old five-horsepower Johnson outboard, and we headed for the resort. As the wind picked up, it started to get very rough, so he had me sit on the floor of the boat as that little motor trudged its way to the dock and safety. I can’t remember how many times over the years I have experienced a fish feeding frenzy just before a storm as the barometer begins to fall.

When I first arrived in Park Rapids for the opener, I found that the area was a little more like a rolling prairie with hills, woods, streams and lakes. It didn’t take long to realize what a marvelous resource this area is for the state of Minnesota.

Itasca State park is where the mighty Mississippi River begins its journey to the Gulf of Mexico. If you have never been to or taken your kids to the headwaters of this great river, you owe it to yourself and your kids, so that they can experience walking across that great river. Itasca State Park is not only Minnesota’s first state park, it is the only major park available at the source of one of the world’s four greatest rivers — the Amazon, the Nile, the Yangtze and the Mississippi. At Lake Itasca, 500,000 visitors a year walk across the Mississippi headwaters and imagine how this tiny stream becomes miles wide as it enters the Gulf of Mexico 2,552 miles downstream.

The Park Rapids area is dynamically diverse in the variety of species of fish available to anglers. This includes walleye, northern pike, muskellunge, largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappies, bluegill, perch, brown, brook and rainbow trout, rock bass, tullibee and even a species that locals call the Mermaid of Minnesota.

If you’ve never heard of a silver pike, you might just be lucky enough to catch one and subsequently photograph and release the unique fish. Essentially, a silver pike has a body identical to a typical northern pike. The identifying difference is that silver pike do not have a green body spattered with white lines and spots. Instead, the uncommon fish is covered in silver scales outlined in gold. Silver pike are truly magnificent.

If it’s trout you’re after, a handful of lakes offer rainbow trout, some of which can grow quite large. Brook trout are available on some small streams, but the wild brown trout inhabiting the cut-banks and eddies of the Straight River are really what gets trout enthusiasts excited about Park Rapids. An intensive habitat rehabilitation project that utilized helicopters to drop massive pine trees along the bank of the river, ultimately redirected current flow to establish deeper channels.

This project, the first of its kind in the state, took place in 2006 and 2007. Most fish species can be found in the majority of our local lakes, which range in size from a couple hundred acres up to about 2,500 acres. Numerous bodies are part of lake chains, so anglers can navigate from lake to lake via watercraft. Yet those hidden water’s deep in the forest that require a portage or angling means, such as canoes or float tubes, are equally exciting to explore. Water clarity on the lakes in the Park Rapids area can exceed 20 feet, pairing pristine water among the pines.

This is truly a beautiful area, and one that I plan on visiting again in the near future. If you’re planning on taking a summer vacation, I would highly recommend giving the Park Rapids area a try. I’m sure you will enjoy it.

On a local note, the rains have caused the streams and lakes to rise, and those waters are starting to return to their normal levels. This is something that I didn’t think would ever happen after seeing all of the dried up waters last fall. The rising waters are helping the fishing in the area, and I know that high water in Albert Lea Lake has made for some good walleye fishing in the past. From some of the reports I have heard, the walleye are biting in local waters, and the northern fishing has been good on Fountain Lake.

Until next time take advantage of the good fishing on our area waters.

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

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