Can one still find the little lakeside resorts alongside quiet Northwoods Minnesota lakes? To this day, childhood memories of just such a resort and all the first-time experiences that became mine are among my most happiest of days.
At the time there were only four of us (little sister hadn’t been born yet) Dad, Mom, my sister and I. Our getaway was to Marion Lake near the little town of Dent in Ottertail County and a week’s stay inside a quaint and rustic little cabin sandwiched within a row of a half-dozen or so nearly identical, same-sized cottages at the lake’s edge. The vacation was an unending adventure for me.
The cabin’s interior and gray, shingle-sided exterior is as vivid in my mind today as the day I first stepped into it as a boy of seven years old. The cabin had only two rooms, one in which contained one of two double beds separated by a thin paneled wall, plus a tiny bathroom. The other bed was in the open living room-kitchenette area. Both beds were impossibly tall and covered with heavy patchwork quilts.
There was no ceiling, just rough-cut two-by-four rafters. The two paned windows that propped open from the outside, but were screened on the inside, allowed minimal light into the cabin. In the kitchenette an old refrigerator that looked antique even then stood tightly against a tiny stove, which, next to it, was a deep porcelain kitchen sink that had rust stains along the sides underneath the two constantly dripping faucets. And in the middle of the tiny kitchen floor was a wood-topped rectangle table barely large enough for the four of us to sit around.
Every morning I awoke before anyone else did, jumped out of the bed I shared with my sis, I quickly dressed, and raced for the lake to fish until breakfast time. Clutching my yellow fiberglass rod and Zebco 202 spin-cast reel in one hand and a tackle box full of plugs, spoons, and assorted hooks in the other, I ran like the wind to the end of the dock. I can still hear the cabin’s wooden framed screen-door slam shut behind me and the hollow “thump-thump-thump-thump” sound of my sneakers striking the wood decking of the dock’s entire length. I couldn’t wait to reach the end of that glorious old dock.
There were three lures that I used repeatedly: a red and white Dardevl spoon, an orange black-spotted Lazy Ike, and a yellow, black-spotted Jitterbug. They were my tried and true, my sure bets, my favorite lures. I’m certain I would have cried had I lost one, but miraculously I never did. Cast after wonderful cast I would watch my lures hit the water as far out as I could loft them. And retrieve after wonderful retrieve I would reel those lures over the tops of submerged weed beds in hopeful and excited anticipation of strikes from fishes.
I was especially fond of watching my banana-shaped Lazy Ike wobble through the water as I hastily cranked the spent line back into my reel. The tiny lure swam like a crazy acting minnow that would often get swallowed by fast-striking rock bass rushing from behind. Countless times I watched in wild-eyed amazement as the mouths of those fishes opened wide and closed shut as they tried to escape with my Lazy Ike.
Down the shore from the dock was a weedy area full of bulrush and lily pads. It was there that my Dad told me to fish for largemouth bass. As though created for boys with fishing rods and lures with multiple hooks, a weed-free lane about ten feet wide allowed me to cast my Jitterbug within that jungle of pads and tall green, whip-like bulrush stems without getting hung-up or snagged.
I became quite proficient at casting my Jitterbug into the gap between the weed beds. Landing with a loud plop on the surface of the water, the gurgling and wobbling top-water plug would leave in its wake a wide “V” of bubbles as I frantically retrieved it for another toss.
On one particularly memorable cast, I was startled when I at last felt and saw the sudden strike of a hungry largemouth bass. The fish struck hard, vaulting itself entirely out of the water and into the air while thrashing violently on the surface attempting to rid itself of my lure.
But this fish was not about to get away. I reeled as fast as I could and when the bass was ten feet in front of me, I literally launched it out of the water still attached to line and lure, over my right shoulder, and safely onto the shore behind me. I was never so proud of a fish in all my life. Picking it up, I sped to the cabin to show the family my first “big” bass.
There were a stringer full of other adventures, experiences, and observations of mine that week too. My palate discovered Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Individual cups cost a whole dime back then and I completely depleted the resort owner’s entire inventory during our stay. And I watched a movie—a Doris Day film—inside our car for the first time at a drive-in theater in the nearby town of Dent.
I learned from Dad that windy days make “white-caps” on the lake and that when they occur, you shouldn’t go out in the boat. And I caught my first northern pike—a two-foot long, five-pounder that I kept tied on a stringer secured to the dock for three days until it died because I didn’t want Dad to clean it.
Yes, I swam, I laughed, and I played. I fished, I ate, and I slept. Never in all my days can I recall as much fun or as many firsts or as much delight. Relatives visited, cousins slept over, marshmallows were roasted, and sparklers were lit as we kids leaped about drawing fire-circles in the darkness.
Indeed, there was nothing to do but get out and enjoy the great outdoors.
BLANE KLEMEK is a Minnesota DNR wildlife manager. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.