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Opinion: ROGER WILTZ: No need for a holiday to remember dad

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Opinion: ROGER WILTZ: No need for a holiday to remember dad
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

A few evenings ago, Betsy and I walked down to the Randall spillway from the visitor's center to watch the discharge.

Someone asked, "Wiltz, what's going to happen to the fish?"


I'm no fisheries biologist, but the question is thought provoking.

The flooding of our Missouri River, and the open flood gates that separate our reservoirs, does have me thinking about fish movement. Will Omaha and Kansas City anglers be catching walleyes and smallmouth bass later this summer? It has been suggested to me that the seemingly new population of northern pike in Lake Francis Case may have washed in from Sharpe. This makes some sense.

On a more serious note, will open flood gates at Yankton enable Asian carp to enter Lewis & Clark Lake? They appear to be powerful swimmers, and their introduction into our prize reservoirs would be a disaster. I hope this concern is baseless.

Most important, these concerns are trivial when compared to the grief the flooding has brought to so many good people. May all of the dikes hold, and may all the victims find the courage to persevere. This is all that matters right now.

* * * * * * * * * *

On the cover of the June 2011 American Hunter magazine, the following question is posed: Did Dad take you hunting?

Beneath this in smaller print it reads, "This year, return the favor."

Dad did his best at taking my brother and me hunting, but time was usually in short supply, and the Chicago area had few places to hunt.

When dad retired, he joined friends and me on pheasant hunts. He eventually became interested in deer, and bagged his first whitetail buck in 1980 when he was 69 years old. I'll never forget that deer.

The first words out of his mouth were, "I forgot my knife."

Dad hunted into his nineties, and managed to forget his knife every time. I don't need a special day to inspire thoughts of my father, for I think about him most every day. Had he lived, he would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year.

What we kids lacked in hunting experience, we more than made up for in fishing trips. In the mid 1950s, dad took my brother and me on the greatest wilderness adventure of our lives. We literally blazed an uncharted trail before we reached our teens.

I think dad gradually worked us into the ultimate adventure. It began during the winter of 1952-1953 when we built a 12-foot plywood boat in our basement. I learned about marine plywood and brass screws. I measured and made cuts on the table saw. Measure twice, cut once. Good lessons for a young boy.

In August 1953, that boat went on the roof of our 1951 Hudson and traveled to Minnesota's Pelican Lake along with our ancient Johnson Sea Horse Three.

We camped in a canvas wall tent, and buried our fish in the sawdust of an ancient ice house. We caught northern pike and huge crappies. Apparently, my brother and Iqualified for the next level as dad now talked of Canada.

August 1954 found us entering Ontario at International Falls and then heading north to the Sioux Narrows vicinity. At that time, Lake of the Woods was more or less wilderness, and we saw few other fishermen. We caught walleyes, northern pike and smallmouth bass -- a wonderful fish that was new to us.

Our campfire conversation went like this: "If we carry far more gasoline next year, what do we have with us now that we can do without?"

We trimmed the menu down to raw vegetables, cooking oil, flour, slab bacon, eggs, cold cereal, candy bars, salt, pepper and powdered milk. I insisted on tartar sauce.

Dad had learned about Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park from some friends at work who had fished it. These guys were sheep hunters. They had recently taken giant bears on Kodiak. Doing something they called adventure had me excited beyond description.

Before heading to Quetico in August 1955, dad had acquired a very light 12-foot aluminum boat that my brother and I carried effortlessly, and a new 7.5 Scott-Atwater outboard engine. We also had two new sleeping bags that zipped together.

This time we crossed the international border at Pigeon River and headed on to Kakabeka Falls and the new highway to Atikokan that was barely under construction. Chain gangs of men in striped suits were breaking up rock with sledge hammers. We left the Hudson along the construction site and carried everything to the bank of French Lake. From French, we could portage into Pickerel Lake, our final destination.

All of us had compasses and maps, and we knew how to use them. We identified every island as we passed them. It was my job to run the boat. We had no contact with the outside world -- no radios -- and I felt akin to the ancient voyageurs.

Almost treeless islands made the best campsites -- no bears, no mosquitoes. We fished bays and reefs that we guessed hadn't ever been fished. My little brother dared me to ride a swimming moose, and was first of us to do it. We caught huge pike in numbers. Everything went smoothly except for that three-of-us-in-two-sleeping-bags idea. I bowed out immediately.

The trip out was horrendous with high winds and waves. Everything, including my brother and dad, was under the canvas ground tarp. My right hand bailed water with a large pan as I clutched the tiller with the other. I stayed on the lee side of shore when I could, as well as the lee side of large islands.

When we safely reached our portage into French, exhilaration replaced fear. That same exhilaration is still there.

*See you next week.