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Foraging for a fish story/Woods, water & worse

December 30, 2011
By Jim Junttila , The Daily Mining Gazette

I like to end the old year and start each new year by renewing my long-standing tradition and resolution to not take myself, my writing, or religion too seriously. For an outdoor writer, it's not that hard to do. I'll be the first to admit I enjoy my yob, and a great deal of that enjoyment comes from travel, recreation, fishing, researching and writing about it.

I'm not in it for the money. As far as pay goes for outdoor writers, it ain't very far; a long way from anything resembling just compensation.

A Michigan Tech professor once told me engineers aren't even allowed to use adjectives. I know people who make darn good money writing software manuals for Microsoft, but it would be like kicking bricks barefoot for me unless I was getting paid anesthesia-level megabucks to kill the pain of a yob I didn't like.

Fish stories are much more up my alley. They come with the territory and have long been the cornerstone of this profession.

Their very nature is rooted in good-natured exaggeration. For better or for worse, fish stories have become one of our most endearing, enduring forms of literature. Human beings have fished for as long as we've hunted and gathered, and the telling of those tales goes back to when Moby Dick was a minnow.

The Bible is fulla fish stories of biblical proportion. Most everybody knows Jesus wasn't just any fisherman, he performed miracles involving fish, and unlike the rest of us, didn't have to wait 'til lakes froze over to walk on water.

Living in a place as cool as the Keweenaw, I don't have to exaggerate that much. For openers, we can usually count on at least 200 inches of snow every year whether we want it or not. Lake Superior is a big lake, 300 miles long, 100 miles wide and 1,200 feet deep. It generates 30 billion tons of ice in a winter. With stats like that to start with, it's not hard to let the exaggeration run its course.

I have the pleasure of hanging with some world-class geezers, guys in their 80s and 90s who seem to enjoy the company of a young, impressionable 65-year old, especially when I'm buying. Our local color and culture provide a constant source of external stimuli, and if there's anything I like better than writing, it's recognizing when somebody is doing it for me and all I've gotta do is jot it down.

In many cases, weather conditions furnish the fodder. Like "the cricks were so low last summer, I caught a brookie with two ticks on it."

Or the water was so warm, the fish were half cooked when you reeled them in. Or it was so dry, the trees were whistling at the dogs and the cows were giving powdered milk.

It was so cold, he was shivering like a dog passing a peach pit.

A good fish story teeters on the brink of fact and fiction, swaying back and forth until the line becomes blurred. Most start out with at least a kernel of truth, and ramble along from there, with the teller bending, shaping, folding, spindling, mutilating and otherwise manipulating the details to suit his own porpoises and amuse his audience.

As Ed Zern, the legendary outdoor writer for Field & Stream observed, "Fishermen are born honest, but they get over it."

Lately I've been toying with the concept of fish stories in reverse, where big fish wimp out and lose weight instead of growing bigger and fighting harder every time you tell the story. Instead of embellishment and embroidery, you get it just the way it was. But it's much more fun dealing with a fish so big it left a hole in the water when I pulled it out

In other wildlife news, rumors that the CLK Wolves will disband with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's delisting of gray wolves as an endangered species in Michigan are totally unfounded.

"You can't get ridda Cukie Hockey that easy," said WW&W wildlife correspondent and fan Paris Hiltunen, "besides, Wolves is just a nickname for Wolverines."

Upstairs in the Wolves Den at the Calumet Colosseum, she dangled a sprig of mistletoe over her head as casually as she dangles a participle or preposition, but this was a proposition I couldn't refuse.

From all the WW&W correspondents, celebrate safe and best fishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at jjunttila@



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