Alexandria’s Maurine Hamelau had the attention of the entire pontoon as she battled a fish that had a little more fight to it than the bluegills the anglers had boated previously on Lake Darling last Tuesday.
Hamelau, 86, fought the bass out of the weeds and up to the edge of the boat. Alexandria’s Tom Honkomp helped out by hoisting it over the edge as Hamelau broke into a smile.
She was fishing with her daughter, Connie Cook, as part of the annual Viking Sportsmen’s Senior Fishing Day. Joining them on the pontoon were anglers John W. Wolff, Delores and Duane Paasch and volunteers in 12-year-old Nicolas Witt, Honkomp, Minton Larson and Tuder Ledum.
“I like the challenge of the fishing,” Hamelau, who lives in her home on Lake Victoria, said. “I’ve been doing this 80 years. You never know what you’re going to get. It’s always a guess, but the little fish taste the best, and we enjoy our fish meals.”
There were enough sunfish kept for a couple meals, with the largemouth being the biggest fish caught for the group. That was a feather in the cap for Hamelau, but she was thinking about the one that snapped her line later that day.
“The bigger one got away,” Hamelau said. “I didn’t get to see it. I would have liked to see what it was, but you have to fish and know you can’t bring them all in. Some get away.”
There were almost 100 seniors and veterans who took advantage of the two-hour outing near the Arrowwood Resort. Organizer Arlene Bosek said she feels like she needs about 150 volunteers to pull off the Senior Fishing Day, which also included a fish fry prepared by the Viking Sportsmen that served almost 400 people.
“I think this is pretty nice,” Delores, who was with her son fishing on Tuesday, said. “Otherwise a lot of people wouldn’t get to do it. Even to just go for a ride like they’re doing. That’s kind of nice. People just don’t get to go out on the water. They don’t have another way.”
Wolff is 89 years old and a resident in the Ecumen Bethany Community in Alexandria. His days of getting on the water by himself are over, but the memories of those adventures haven’t faded.
Wolff can talk for hours about days like this on the water — fishing trips to Lake of the Woods, a 32-pound salmon he caught on Lake Michigan. Those stories flow like they were yesterday.
“It’s something I’ve always enjoyed, even as a kid,” Wolff said. “We had to drive miles to get to a lake, but it was fun. All the places in Canada that I’ve fished and Alaska, Lake Michigan, and I’m not done yet.”
Each person who is out on the water for the Senior Fishing Day is there for different reasons. Some enjoy going for a ride on the pontoon. Strong winds were a factor last week, but low humidity and temperatures in the high 70s made for comfortable conditions.
Some like the camaraderie and the chance to chat. Others are out there to find fish.
Maurine and Cook were focused on their lines the whole time they were on the water last week. Fishing has been a part of their bond as mother and daughter for as long as Cook can remember.
“Ever since I was a little kid,” she said. “I mean little, like 3 or 4. It’s more than just getting out and fishing. It’s sharing time together.”
The Viking Sportsmen have been providing this opportunity for more than three decades now with the Senior Fishing Day. It takes a lot of volunteers working together.
Pontoon owners like Larson and Honkomp donate their boats and time to help captain the groups.
“It’s enjoyable to take them out,” Larson said. “I think everyone has a good time. They look forward to it and we’ve been doing it for years. It’s just a joy to see them getting out on the lake, even though they don’t always catch fish. Normally, they do.”
They do everything they can to make sure of it. Larson, Honkomp and Ledum searched out some cabbage weeds in about 10 feet of water in hopes of putting the anglers in a good position out of the wind.
The anchor was thrown, and it wasn’t long before the first sunfish was caught. Witt, who was volunteering through his 4-H group, jumped into action to take the fish off and bait the hook again.
“I wanted to help seniors because my grandpa always fished and he passed away this past year in 2015,” Witt said. “He loved to fish, and it was fun to see him fish, so I wanted to help the seniors get out.”
Witt, Honkomp, Larson and Ledum were kept busy getting pop for their guests and taking care of things after a catch.
Smiles break out with almost every fish. That, as much as anything, is what this day is all about.
“I just like to see the smiles on the seniors’ faces,” Ledum said. “When they get something they really want to pull them in fast. I enjoy that and just being out here.”