The poet Robert Frost once wrote, "The best way out is always through," something Al Maas — a world-class fisherman whose body is paralyzed but whose mind and life are not — learned firsthand, and firsthand again.

As a kid, Al was a standout athlete in Watertown, Minn., whose interest in sports ultimately landed him a teaching and football coaching job at Walker-Hackensack-Akeley High School, hard by the shores of Leech Lake in northern Minnesota.

His prep gridiron teams were legendary and noted especially for a 1968 season in which the blue-and-silver clad Warriors (now Wolves) were not only undefeated but never scored on.

"The closest any team got to scoring on us was the 35-yard line, and we pushed them back from there," Al said the other day. "We were playing Littlefork for the conference championship, and it rained so hard during that game that one of our players lost a shoe and we never found it."

At age 85, Al plans to fish on Saturday's walleye opener, but not in the manner he did during his long career as a summertime guide on Leech Lake — an avocation turned vocation that led to his induction in the Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame and the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.

Instead of jumping into his 620 Ranger early on the season's first day and splashing away from the Walker City Dock in a wave of optimism, Al, bundled against the morning's chill, will be lifted by four friends into his boat and strapped into a seat to join his 21-year-old grandson, Grant — like his grandfather, a guide — for a good time on the water.

Al has been unable to move any part of his body except his head and neck, and then only slightly, since he suffered a stroke in 2019 while driving to meet his buddies for coffee in downtown Walker.

Losing control of his car, he slammed into a statuesque red pine, sending his life, and that of Dianne, his high school sweetheart and wife, careening in a new direction … again.

In 1984, on opening day of the Minnesota duck season, their two sons, Chuck and Doug, drowned in Leech Lake when their boat flipped in high winds and whitecaps, a tragedy that cost the life of another man, too.

"You have your moments, you always will. We've tried to make something positive out of it," Al would later say.

Indeed, the man who made a name for himself not only as an educator and coach, but nationwide in the fishing industry as a rod and tackle innovator, working with Diawa, Loomis, Northland Tackle, Salmo, Abu Garcia and Rapala, always has known the importance of positivity and persistence.

Finding and catching walleyes and, especially, muskies — Al's passion quarry, of which he has measured more than 1,000 — requires both.

So does working with kids.

For 33 years, Al taught life science, biology, advanced biology and field studies, while also driving his football players home after practice, because there were no extracurricular buses at the time.

As often as he could, Al got his students outdoors, showing them that nature was not only life-enriching but potentially life-changing.

Al and Dianne's granddaughter, Gwendolyn, 18 and a high school senior, has learned the lesson well. Like her grandfather, she's an athlete, an angler and she's bagged a wild turkey, too.

Her latter accomplishment inspired her grandmother to hunt turkeys this spring.

"It was on my bucket list, and I shot a big guy right through the head," said Dianne, a retired registered nurse. "There were no pellets at all in the breast."

Jeff Arnold, owner of Reed's Family Outdoor Outfitters in Walker, with another store in Onamia near Mille Lacs, has known Al and Dianne since he moved to Walker 50 years ago.

"Al has always been positive — positive as a teacher and coach in school, and as a guide promoting Walker and Leech Lake and the fishing guides who work on Leech Lake," Arnold said. "As a sport and industry, fishing has no better friend than Al. He was a co-founder of Camp Fish, which taught kids how to fish, and he and Dianne started the Maas Brothers Memorial Bass Tournament, which teamed kids with adult anglers.

"It should also be said Al Maas is as good a fisherman as Minnesota has ever produced."

So it goes in the state's northern reaches on the eve of the 2023 walleye season, and so it has gone for the 60-odd years Al has plied Leech Lake, leading clients-turned-friends to memories few forget.

"We'll probably figure out a way to get out on the opener," Al said.

Then, ever the teacher and guide, he added:

"My advice is to use 8-pound-test line with a minnow and the lightest jig you can. And remember: No matter which lake in northern Minnesota you're fishing, go to the windblown shore, especially windblown shores with rocky shorelines.

"That's where you'll find the walleyes."