Wednesday evening the Stillwater Bridge was a pleasant perch for Jake Yang and his two young companions, Sean Yang and Steffen Yang. The latter are brothers, ages 13 and 11, respectively, and the 3-ounce lead weights they swung from their fishing lines kept their baited hooks stationary in the flooded St. Croix River.
Shore fishing, or in this case bridge fishing, is inexpensive, fun and a platform from which anglers can begin, or sustain indefinitely, their interest in the sport. This makes Jake, of St. Paul, and Sean and Steffen an important subset of the state’s angling population, arguably, in fact, the most important. Yet not often are their kind touted in mentions of Minnesota’s most popular pastime. Their fishing location is not Up North enough, and their methodology too simple.
Yet in that simplicity lies the beauty of fishing. And Wednesday evening, from the ancient bridge that connects Minnesota to Wisconsin at Stillwater, the scene was indeed beautiful: Boats large and small lazed on the mirror-flat river, their occupants variously in swimsuits and business suits, while shoreline strollers, some hand in hand, unhurriedly fell beneath the waterway’s summer spell.
“At this time of year, the boys call me every other day or so, asking me to take them fishing,’’ Jake said. “So we go when we can, and this year they’ve really caught on. They put their own line on their reels and land their own fish.’’
Jake, 35, was just 6 when his parents and brothers and sisters came to Minnesota from a Thailand refugee camp, to which they had fled from their home in Laos. Arriving in Minnesota, their family numbered 14 — mom, dad, and 12 kids.
“Now there are two more children, 14 of us kids in all, seven girls and seven boys,’’ said Jake, an accountant.
Earlier Wednesday, Jake, Sean and Steffen had fished a mile or so upriver, where they waded in the St. Croix to cast their 65-pound-test lines into deep water. But they didn’t catch anything. So they migrated downstream to the bridge.
“Even though we use heavy lines, when we hook a fish from the bridge we don’t pull it up,’’ Jake said. “Instead, we walk it the length of the bridge to either the Minnesota side or the Wisconsin side, and we land the fish there.’’
Some evenings, particularly earlier in the summer when chances to catch fish are better, this can mean an angler who has hooked a fish must navigate his or her way past a half-dozen or more other anglers. Courtesy usually rules, and hooked fish often are brought to hand. But the scene can be hectic, particularly after dark.
Sean and Steffen, Jake said, are both good students at Carver Elementary School in Maplewood, where they have been honored for work in and out of the classroom.
Both boys speak Hmong as well as English, and both incessantly bug Jake, who is married to their sister, to take them fishing.
“My biggest fish,’’ Steffen said proudly, “was a largemouth bass I caught in Long Lake in Mound.’’
Their other shoreline hotspots include the Coon Rapids dam on the Mississippi River and the St. Croix River at Prescott, Wis. At each, all fish they catch are released.
“Here from the Stillwater Bridge, we typically catch carp, sheepshead and silver bass,’’ Jake said.
As he spoke, a large blue watercraft with sleek lines and multiple engines idled just downstream. A half-hour mark was approaching, and soon the lift portion of the old bridge would rise into the evening’s dank air, permitting the boat’s passage, and that of a few others.
Sean walked over to Jake with a can of corn and shook a couple of kernels into his hand — their preferred bait.
“We usually stay until just after dark,’’ Jake said, adding: “Maybe someday we’ll head Up North to fish. Rent a cabin and a boat.’’
But not this evening.
On this evening, for Jake, Sean and Steffen, the Stillwater Bridge was a pleasant enough perch from which to fish.