Last week I wrote about Luke Konson and Daniel Balserak, two would-be college students on a yearlong quest to each catch the state fish in all 50 states. The odyssey is a worthy substitute, the two anglers say, for spending a freshman year in college-but-not-really-college, in which they would have been staying at home instead of strolling across the campus of Clemson University, and logging into Zoom instead of attending class.
“We had planned to be roommates in college,” Konson said. “But when we found out classes would be online, we decided to take a year off and try to catch the state fish in every state.”
Konson, 18, and Balserak, 19, live in northern Virginia. They knocked off states along the Eastern Seaboard fairly quickly, as well as those in New England, before their travels slowed in Ohio, where a week passed before each of them landed a walleye, the Buckeye State’s official fish.
Michigan’s brook trout came more easily, and in a surprise, with help from a couple of friendly guides, they managed four muskies in three days, fishing in Wisconsin.
Sleeping in a van and existing, more or less, on ramen noodles, Konson and Balserak motored into Minnesota on a very snowy and cold Nov. 10, destined for the Cabela’s parking lot in Woodbury, where they spent the night.
The two have no boat, making their adventure all the more challenging.
Taking my advice, Konson and Balserak first fished the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River at Prescott, Wis., where they were blanked. Worried the intrepid anglers could spend a lot of cold nights in our fair state before hooking into a couple of walleyes, I asked readers in last Friday’s column for help.
I was especially hoping someone could get them into a boat and onto the Mississippi River at Red Wing, where walleye action has been good.
I also suggested to readers they could follow Konson and Balserak on their Facebook page at “fishallfifty,” and/or could help underwrite their travels by contributing to their GoFundMe page, also by searching for “fishallfifty.”
Readers were happy to assist.
“They may want to fish the St. Croix River across from Hudson,” advised Dennis Ferche, who lives in Afton.
“I’d be happy to take them out on Mille Lacs. We’ve been catching a lot of walleyes,” Don Rosen, who has a cabin on the big lake, offered.
“I don’t have current fishing plans for this weekend but would like to get in touch with these guys to try and figure a time to go out. I live in the metro so we can fish here and I have multiple potential spots,” said Nate Murphy.
“Tell them to go to Vadnais Lake in the metro,” advised guide Josh Stevenson, owner of Blue Ribbon Bait in Oakdale. “It’s on fire right now for walleyes from shore.”
Other readers boosted Konson and Balserak’s finances. Their GoFundMe account has risen about $800 since I wrote, and they received another $1,000 from Carl Bergquist, a walleye-loving Minnesotan now decamped to Florida.
“Walleye fishing is my passion,” Bergquist told me. “I am stuck here in Florida. But when the boys come here, I have a place for them to stay and a free guide trip for anything they want to go for. Wish them luck. Sure beats going to school.”
As it turned out, Konson and Balserak found Minnesota walleyes on their own.
About 9 p.m. Nov. 12, just hours before my column was published, I received a text from Konson saying he and Balserak had struck a walleye mother lode. Following a tip they found on a popular app called Fishbrain, they drove to the shores of the Minnesota River near Belle Plaine.
“We walked down to the river, but I had forgotten something in the van, so I walked back to get it,” Konson said. “By the time I came back to the river, Daniel had caught a walleye. We were both casting (Rapala) Husky Jerks and retrieving them very slowly. We caught four walleyes on four casts.”
Soon, they were on their way to Iowa to search for channel catfish.
Unfortunately, they’re still in the Hawkeye State.
“We first drove to the Missouri River near Omaha, because Nebraska is our next state, and the channel cat is the state fish there, too,” Konson said. “But the Missouri was way too fast for us to fish, so we came back to Des Moines, where we’re fishing the Des Moines River. We’ve caught a flathead cat, but no channel cats.”
It was in Des Moines earlier this week that David Winkels, a resident of that city, caught up — literally — with Konson and Balserak.
Winkels reads my column online.
“Driving home last night I noticed an older vehicle in front of me at a stop light with fishing rods in the back,” Winkels wrote to me in an e-mail. “The driver was wearing kind-of a goofy looking hat … one that appeared similar to the image in your article. I finally spotted that there was a passenger in the vehicle, their plates were from Virginia and put two and two together … they were the buddies now in Iowa to catch our catfish!
“I followed them through the intersection, past fast food shops, through the casino parking lot and finally caught up to them when they stopped at another strip mall. I approached the vehicle, rapped on the window and asked if they were the fishing buddies who were on the 50-state mission. It was them! Attached is the photo I shot of them standing behind their vehicle.”
The goal now is to get Iowa in the rearview mirror of Konson and Balserak’s well-traveled van. They hope to be in Texas for Thanksgiving, where they have friends who have food that is not ramen noodles.
Have any Iowa catfish contacts? Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.