On a recent midday, with more sun than clouds, Sean Hummel reached back with his fishing rod and arched a cast over a lily-pad-laden backwater at French Regional Park in Plymouth.
Hummel’s fish-catching expectations were low. Maybe a bluegill would bite, or even a small bass. Whatever. He wasn’t looking for fish to eat. Kicked back on the park’s fishing pier, he and his pal, Nicholas Stryker, were immersed in the day’s warming vibe, with time on their hands and minnows on their hooks.
So it goes, day by day, among a sizable subset of anglers in a metropolitan area dotted with lakes and laced by rivers.
Some, like Hummel, 19, of St. Louis Park, and Stryker, 24, of Brooklyn Park, tool to various waters in their cars, fishing for no particular reason other than to pass the good time. Others are looking for dinner when they board MTC busses with timeworn rods and reels in their hands and a dozen worms in their pockets. Still others are veritable cultists who seek monster Mississippi walleyes, or gear junkies who prowl Minnetonka at night for freakishly outsized muskies.
Connecting many of these lakes and rivers, and unique among metropolitan areas, is a greater Twin Cities latticework of bike and walking trails that allow the hiking and pedaling angler a choice of multiple waters to fish in a single day, with a cardio workout thrown in for good measure.
Years ago, living in south Minneapolis, I often affixed a fishing rod to my vintage Schwinn before pointing it toward Lake Nokomis or Lake Calhoun or other nearby waters that bore the promise of a bobber dipping occasionally beneath the surface.
Hoping to reprise those happy times, the other day I strapped a couple of fishing rods to my bike, packed a handful of lures in the saddlebags along with a canister each of waxies and worms, and toted my newfound fish-seeking conveyance to Wirth Park in Minneapolis, where I offloaded it from my truck.
“Whattaya gonna do, ride that thing into the lake?’’ one kid cracked as I threw a leg over the bike’s seat.
Tempted in response to tick off the many benefits of adult supervision, I instead advised that I intended to fish Wirth Lake from the public pier, before pedaling the Luce Line Regional Trail to Medicine Lake and French Regional Park about 8 miles to the west, and fish there also.
My little adventure would involve not a single floatplane touching down on pristine Canadian waters flush with bulbous walleyes.
Nor would I deploy a metal-flaked boat half-sunken with electronic gizmos.
Yet angling nonetheless would transpire.
Ipso facto, fun.
Of fishing, Herbert Hoover said: “It is the great occasion when we may return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers.”
Or, as the equally philosophical Sean Hummel put it the other day after I arrived at French Park:
“Fishing,’’ he said, “is fishing.”
Fishing excursion by bike
Every day when the weather allows it, Curt Pantze walks the eight blocks to Wirth Lake from the retirement home where he lives.
Sharing a room with another man, Pantze, 63, has no cooking facilities and only a small refrigerator.
“I was born in Glenwood (Minn.),’’ Pantze said as he airmailed a bobber rig about 30 feet from the Wirth Lake pier. “The first time I fished as a kid was right there in Glenwood, on Lake Minnewaska, with my grandfather.’’
Forty acres in size, with a maximum depth of 25 feet, Wirth Lake is home to a popular swimming beach, and on given summer days, a dozen or more canoes might be on its surface, toting kids enrolled in summer recreation programs.
At least that many two-ended craft were on the lake when Pantze’s bobber descended into the depths, signaling a bite and prompting him to set the hook, bowing his rod in the process.
Seconds passed. Then Pantze winched a bluegill to the pier, a feisty little specimen that squirmed mightily before succumbing to its fate.
“That’s what you catch here mostly, bluegills,’’ he said. “Though I’ve seen a 10-pound northern caught from this pier, a 2-pound bullhead and a 3-pound walleye taken on a night-crawler harness.’’
Pantze’s urban shore-fishing routine belies his more exotic and far-flung angling credits. In years past he’s cast lures into the aquamarine waters of the Caribbean and the gin-clear rivers of Montana, from each pulling far bigger fish than he’ll ever catch in Wirth Lake.
But for Pantze, as for most anglers, today’s catch trumps yesterday’s memories, however gilded. So with enthusiasm he re-baited his hook, and soon fooled a second, third, fourth and fifth bluegill before packing his bounty into a cooler for the hike home.
“My sister will cook these for me at her place on July 4,’’ he said.
I, meanwhile, had released back into the lake bluegills I caught, and soon angled through the park on my bike. A ribbon of asphalt led me a mile or so north to a hookup with the Luce Line Regional Trail.
Turning there, my fishing rods appeared vaguely as jousting lances, extending a foot or so in front of my handlebars, and I worried irrationally as I pedaled that I might spear an oncoming traveler.
Fortunately, almost immediately, this thought succumbed to the broader satisfaction inherent in all bike travel and its freedoms, and anyway on this weekday the trail was largely vacant, save for the odd jogger and the occasional young mother pushing a stroller.
Arriving at French Park, hard by the shores of Medicine Lake, I found the place abuzz with beachgoers, hikers, moms and kids.
Almost 900 acres in size, Medicine Lake is a Twin Cities fishing magnet, particularly for anglers seeking bass, but also for those wanting walleyes. Rowboats, canoes and kayaks can be rented here, whether for fishing or simply sightseeing.
Situated on a lagoon adjacent to the lake, the French Park fishing pier, I thought upon my arrival, appeared a likely launchpad for frog imitations and other bass baits rigged weedless.
But in a hundred or so casts, I couldn’t raise a bucketmouth, and soon yielded my efforts to the bluegill fishing acumen of Hummel and Stryker.
In time, 15-year-old Gerald Ittner also was casting from the pier, as was Roger Anderson, 66, of Edina.
“Every Memorial Day I fish Horseshoe Lake near Pine River, and the first week of August I fish near Ely. But this is the first time I’ve ever fished here,’’ Anderson said, adding, “I hope I don’t catch anything. Then I’d have to clean it.’’
Ever higher now in the sky, the afternoon sun seemed finally summerlike after consecutive days of rain.
And however poor the catching, the fishing from the French Park pier was exceptional, with bobbers and baits sailing from it nearly continuously.
Back in Wirth Park, my truck awaited, and in time, I pedaled in that direction.
I could have instead chosen to continue west, riding 30 miles and more on the Luce Line Trail, in the process fishing Lake Minnetonka, among other waters.
But that trip, and fishing, is for another day.