CATCHING FISH ISN’T the only thing that makes a fishing trip successful. That’s probably an overworn saying, but no matter how old or overworn, it is very much true.

Since the first of May, I have been fishing six times. My first outing was in Michigan, fishing on a small, deep, clear lake loaded with trout, smallmouth bass and bluegills. My main target that fairly warm, sunny afternoon was trout, but they didn’t cooperate; nor did any bluegills, though I didn’t target them. I avoided a shutout by catching a beautiful smallmouth in the 3-pound range 15 minutes before I called it quits.

Successful? Maybe not in some fisherman’s book, but highly successful in mine. There was the little thing about pushing my kayak away from the landing over the top of a small remaining ice shelf covering a small bay on that end of the lake. Nothing big, but a fun reminder of what fishing can be all about in early May in the north country.

There were the handful of mallards, greenheads in beautiful breeding plumage, that graced my afternoon with their company. There was the scent of balsam and cedar all along the shoreline where both species grew in abundance. And maybe, most of all, there were the memories of other camping and fishing trips to this lake in years past; some with fish in the boat, some with only a relaxing time on the water to show for my efforts. All were totally successful.

My second outing of the year took me farther north in Wisconsin, all the way deep into Iron County where I found rainbow trout waiting for me. A trout man since I caught my first brookie at the age of 5, I was in seventh heaven during a three-hour outing opening morning.

It took me a while to find the right medicine, but when I did, the trout came pretty much fast and furious. Beautiful fish, trout are, to me, the most beautiful freshwater fish in the world. I fished casually for them, admiring stands of cedar and balsam, along with a sprinkling of white birch and other hardwoods mixed in along the shore, all of which helped create a perfect outing.

Trout frying in bacon grease, along with asparagus grilled with onions and mushrooms were the final highlight of the outing. Successful fishing trip? You bet.

When it came to catching fish, my evening outing opening day was anything but. I planned to launch my kayak from the east landing on Star Lake with hopes of adding a walleye or two to my day’s catch; wasn’t going to happen there. With a strong west wind whipping up small whitecaps, I decided to land at the old rearing pond site on the far west end.

Mud and stretches of hard-packed snow/ice on the rutted road leading to the rearing pond didn’t stop me, but a bay full of ice did. Unlike my Michigan lake, there was no pushing my kayak over the top of it. Off I went, to “Plan C.” With an hour or so of daylight left, I put in at the Statehouse Point landing on Plum Lake. I started out casting a jig and minnow, but with no immediate response, I started paddle trolling through familiar waters looking for walleyes.

I never found them, but I did enjoy the company of a pair of loons and several ducks, mostly mallards, but one gaggle of common mergansers as well. A fisherman couldn’t be faulted for wanting to catch a fish or two, but with twilight rapidly fading, still fishless, I called a halt.

No fish, but time spent on water I have fished since Hector was a pup. With ducks and loons for company, coyotes yipping from somewhere not too far off back in the woods, simply being there on yet another opening day; successful fishing trip? You bet.

A Monday outing was more successful as far as catching goes. I went for trout again, this time on another lake I have fished many times. They didn’t exactly jump in the kayak, but three hours of fishing saw me put a pair of 13-inch brookies in the kayak, along with a pair of wizened fryers. Successful again? You bet.

Next up was an outing which ended with few fish in the boat, but yet qualifying as the most satisfying and fun outing of my week. A cool morning, I set out in my Old Town in the company of a lifelong friend who is now in about the second year of his battle with Alzheimer’s.

We grew up here; he in Minocqua, myself in Sayner. With his family owning land and a cabin up north of Star Lake, he has long known my bailiwick as well as I do. I’ll not name my friend out of respect for his privacy, but I am happy to say we had a great outing together.

At times, it was a comedy of errors. Both of us managed to land casts in overhanging balsam branches along a fishy-looking shoreline. We each had a bird’s nest or two. Had anyone seen us propelling the Old Town they would have thought we were off our rockers.

Someone, I won’t mention who, forgot to put paddles in the Old Town. Not finding out that mistake was made until we got to the landing 25 miles from home just compounded the error. But never fear; you find a dead oak branch on the ground about 14 feet long, get it between two close-growing trees and snap it in half, and voila, you have two paddles. It might not have been the most efficient means of propelling a canoe, but then again, it worked. 

Old geezers snafus aside, we had a great time together on the water. My friend may have trouble remembering what he said or did five minutes ago, but the memories of the things we did as two country boys growing up haven’t faded a bit. If I told a story about fishing somewhere, my friend would say “Yeah and remember when old ‘so and so’ and I used to go in on an old logging road in ‘such and such’ a place and boy did we catch the trout there.”

My friend’s road ahead may be a rough one. Well, there is no maybe about it. But for now, Alzheimer’s cannot keep two guys from having a successful and fun fishing trip. Ever optimists, I, and all of his friends and family members can only hope that a medical breakthrough will, in the very near future, successfully put an end to what Alzheimer’s does.

Until then, we’ll keep on fishing and telling stories.