By Brent Frazee
I was just a little guy when I learned the importance of having a fishing buddy.
Every time I would visit my grandparents’ home, I would head to their garage. I knew that’s where grandpa Eric would be, and his good friend Mel would be with him.
They had a Man Cave before the term even became popular. That’s where gramps kept his boat, along with his rods and reels, tackle boxes, nets and minnow buckets. There were faded pictures hanging on the wall, and the modest building just dripped with fishing nostalgia.
Gramps and Mel spent hours there, spinning yarns about their fishing trips, cleaning their catch for the day, or working on the boat to make sure it was ready for the next day.
They would hook up the boat and head out several days a week to Lake Delavan in Wisconsin, about an hour drive from their home in Rockford, Ill.
They would always return with a gunny sack full of fish, usually bullheads that others found somewhat undesirable. They routinely told me that the fish tasted much better than people gave them credit for, and they proved it.
They would hold huge fish fries for the neighborhood, complete with my grandma’s pies made from apples that grew in the back yard, and they took pride that their events got rave reviews.
I got to go with them a couple of times, and I marveled at how special their relationship was. They could have been the inspiration for the movie “Grumpy Old Men,” despite the fact that they predated the comedy classic by many years.
They were constantly griping at each other, but they didn’t do a very good job at disguising the bond they shared. They agreed on what part of the lake to fish, the type of bait or lures they would use, even which bar and grill to frequent.
I remember thinking, “I would like to have that kind of relationship someday.”
The years went by quickly, I became preoccupied with getting simply getting stories for The Kansas City Star, where I worked for 36 years, and I fished with a variety of characters. But I seldom fished with the same person many times, because I was always traveling to fish with different subjects.
Still, I developed friendships and established traditions that I largely overlooked until I slowed down in retirement and reflected on the good times.
Like the times I have spent with David Perkins, who I met when he owned the Kansas City Sportshow.
We started fishing together in the North Country in the early 1980s and we still carry on that tradition.
I remember when we fished in the Eelpout Festival, a huge ice-fishing event that centers on one of the Northland’s ugliest and most undesirable fish.
I can still picture the director of that festival coming up to Dave and insisting he try some of the eelpout nuggets that were featured in the concession stand. Dave resisted until the guy practically forced a couple of nuggets into his mouth. Dave chewed on it for a while, said how it tasted like chicken, and smiled at the guy who was feeding him. When the guy turned away, Dave spit out the nugget he had squirreled away in his cheek and almost gagged.
I’m still laughing.
We enjoyed great trips with famous fishermen such as Al and Ron Lindner, Ted Takasaki, Larry Dahlberg and the Griz (legendary Minnesota guide Ted Gryzinski). We caught huge smallmouth bass at lakes such as Mille Lacs and Rainy and big walleyes on the Mississippi River and the boundary waters.
We continued that tradition this year when I met up with Dave in his hometown of Eden Prairie, Minn., and we traveled to Hayward, Wis. There, we fished with one of our favorite guides, Fuzzy Shumway, and had several days of epic smallmouth-bass fishing.
But it’s more than just the catching. Dave and I act like a couple of kids in the boat, constantly joking with each other and carrying on. Sometimes, our guides don’t quite know what to make of our behavior, but we haven’t been kicked out of boat yet, so I guess that says something.
Dave isn’t alone in that regard, though.
- I have also been fishing with Jim Divincen, the executive director of the Lake of the Ozarks Tri-County Lodging Association, since the 1980s. He invited me to a media event, and we immediately hit it off. We laugh about the characters we have fished with over the years, the big fish we have caught, and the times when cold-blooded Jim would show up in layers of clothing even on nice, warm spring days.
I always test Jim’s one-time utterance, “Anything for the media,” and ride him like a state-fair pony from the moment we step into the boat until we leave. All in good fun, of course.
One guide even said, “And you two are friends?”
Jim understands, though. At least I think he does. He is a great guy and someone I am proud to call a fishing buddy.
- Jim Schroer was one of the first guys I fished with when I was hired at the Star. He owned J and J’s Bass Pro Shop in Kansas City, Kan., at the time and he wanted to welcome me to town. We caught a lot of fish that first trip, but I jokingly remind him it’s all been downhill ever since. Not really, but we’ve had our share of misadventures. I remember one time when he invited me to go fishing with him at Smithville Lake. I couldn’t go, but he called the next day and said, “Good thing you didn’t go. I sunk the boat.” A huge wind storm swept across the lake and waves swamped his craft. Jim got out OK and his boat was towed to shore. The bad thing for him: To this day, I won’t let him hear the end of it.
Of course, there have been other incidents Jim would like to forget. One day he was stepping into my boat, and the back end started to drift. He did the splits and almost fell into the water. His tub of lures flew into the lake and he landed in my boat on his back. As he struggled to get up, I reacted as any true fishing buddy went. I reached for my cell phone to snap a few pictures as he flailed like a turtle on its back, then I helped him up.
I could go on and on about other fishing buddies I have shared a boat with over the years. Sadly, some of them are gone now. But some still are very much a part of my life.
Occasionally, I fish alone and I enjoy the solitude.
Somehow, it’s just not the same.