Dick Beardsley went fishing on Father’s Day and tied on an orange jig in memory of his son, Andy, who died last October in Detroit Lakes, Minn.
Andy always used an orange jig when he fished. He was 31 years old when he took his life.
The demons from the post-traumatic stress disorder the young man acquired as a soldier in Iraq were too much to overcome.
“It didn’t matter if I was catching fish on blue, pink or red, he always fished an orange jig,” said Beardsley, of Bemidji, who runs Dick Beardsley’s Fishing Guide Service. “So on Father’s Day this year, I went out, just me and my little dog, and I thought, ‘I’m fishing with an orange jig.’ And I caught a ton of walleyes and one big one—about a 27-incher that I put back—all on an orange jig.
“I honestly felt Andy’s presence in the boat with me that day.”
On a perfect, sky blue Bemidji day when largemouth bass and crappies were biting, Beardsley, 60, shared his boat and the stories of his life. Through all of the hard times—and Beardsley has endured more than his share over the years—the outdoors life has remained a constant, a source of peace and serenity.
So has running, a sport that earned the Wayzata, Minn., native a partial scholarship to South Dakota State University after he completed a two-year degree in agricultural production from the University of Minnesota’s Waseca campus, a site that now is a federal prison.
School never was his thing, Beardsley admits, and he only lasted one semester at SDSU.
“I just didn’t like studying,” he said. “I don’t think ADHD was even around then—you just were kind of a squirrel—but I think I had it because a nice day like this, there’s no way I could be in school.”
Beardsley channeled his energy into running and in 1982 placed second in the Boston Marathon, a mere 1.6 seconds behind winner Alberto Salazar. He also landed a promotional contract with the New Balance shoe company and still is with them today.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought running would take me to where it did,” Beardsley said. “I was really fortunate. I had good coaches along the way, and I had fallen in love with running.”
An achilles tendon injury kept Beardsley from qualifying for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and another injury dashed his hopes for a comeback before the 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea.
“After that injury, I just could never get back to that real high level again,” he said.
Lean and wiry, Beardsley still has a runner’s build; he gets up at 3:45 a.m. every day and runs 6 to 8 miles.
“I’m slower than molasses in January, but I go to bed at night, and I can hardly wait to get up in the morning and go for a run,” Beardsley said. “It used to be when I was younger, I would have my shoes at the foot of the bed, and I’d get up in the morning, put my shoes on and I’m out the door. Now I’ve got to get up and move around for at least an hour.”
Beardsley met his first wife, Mary, at SDSU, and they returned to the Wayzata farm where he grew up after his running career ended.
His struggles since then have been well publicized. Beardsley nearly died in a November 1989 farm accident after getting his left leg caught in a power takeoff. A series of three accidents in the ’90s required knee and back surgeries and resulted in an addiction to painkillers.
Beardsley said he was taking 80 to 90 pills a day when he got caught forging prescriptions Sept. 30, 1996 in Moorhead. He avoided prison but was sentenced to five years’ probation and 460 hours of community service. He later went through withdrawals for the methadone he received to overcome the painkiller addiction.
Through it all, Beardsley, who moved north with his family a few years after the farm accident, had been guiding and running a bait shop in Detroit Lakes.
“I look back and I just thank the good Lord that nobody got hurt because of my stupidity because I was taking people out on guide trips, and I was under the influence of those painkillers,” Beardsley said.
The pain of withdrawals, Beardsley said, was so bad he wanted to saw off his arms and legs but he kicked the addiction and has been sober since Feb. 12, 1997.
Even those darkest moments, though, don’t compare to the pain of losing his son.
“You know how they say you never want to have to bury one of your children? Boy, I thought I’d never face anything more difficult than that addiction to the prescription drugs,” Beardsley said. “That seemed like a walk in the park.”
Beardsley and Andy’s mother, Mary, divorced several years ago, but they remain friends. Andy’s ashes are buried in a small cemetery in Bonesteel, S.D., next to Mary’s father, Ed Hausmann, a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
“He was so proud of Andy that he was in the Army, and those two really had a special connection,” Beardsley said. “When Andy was younger, he always said, ‘You know Pop, when I get old and die, I want to be buried next to Grandma and Grandpa in Bonesteel, South Dakota.'”
Beardsley and Mary, who now lives in Colorado, visited Andy’s grave last November on Veterans Day and returned to the site Feb. 3 for his birthday.
Beardsley couldn’t make it for Memorial Day but plans to visit in a couple of weeks.
“I’m a lot better than I was, but it’s tough,” he said. “I don’t know why, but it’s just harder some days. Something will remind me of him, and he loved to fish.
“I always feel like he’s out here in the boat with me. I really believe he is, and there’s just something about being outdoors.”
An outdoors life
A love of the outdoors has been a Beardsley trademark since he was a kid. His dad, Bill, loved to fish, and Beardsley started guiding on Lake Minnetonka when he was 12 years old. He fished out of a 14-foot wooden boat with a 7½-horse Mercury outboard and charged $25 a day for two people.
That was good money for a 12-year-old in the 1960s. But as much as he loved to hunt and fish, Beardsley said trapping was his true passion.
He ran a trapline on the way to school, carrying a .22 rifle he’d drop off at the principal’s office until the end of the day.
“I’d hand him my .22 rifle, I’d give him the clip out of my pocket, and then if I had any dead animals, he’d let me put them in the lunchroom cooler until school got out,” Beardsley said.
A janitor who also trapped helped Beardsley skin out the animals at the end of the day—in the school, no less.
“We’d go down into the boys locker room and hang them from the water pipes and skin them out down there,” Beardsley said, laughing at the memory. “And then we’d get done with that, I’d go back to the principal’s office, he’d hand me my .22 and my clip, and I’d check and reset traps on the way back home.
“Boy, could you imagine now? Even if you said you had a .22 rifle with you, you’d be suspended for who knows how long and probably be in the detention center.”
Beardsley no longer traps, but his passion and enthusiasm for fishing—and life in general—is contagious. When he’s not guiding, Beardsley travels the country as a motivational speaker, speaking at corporate functions, running events and schools.
You can’t make up the kind of life stories Beardsley can tell. And he’s candid about his battles with drug addiction, the troubles with the law that resulted and his ultimate recovery.
It’s a good fit with his guiding business, Beardsley said, because his speaking schedule picks up about the time the guiding season winds down.
“I talk about a lot of different things,” he said. “I kind of try to coordinate to exactly what that particular group is looking for. But basically what I use is life stories. We all have them.
“There’s something magical about walking out on that stage and then when you get into it and people are just waiting on every word that comes out of your mouth, it’s pretty powerful. It really is. You talk about getting high on a drug; you get pretty darn high on doing something like that.”
Beardsley met his second wife, Jill, about a decade ago during a speaking engagement in Texas and moved from Detroit Lakes to the Lone Star State so her two sons, Christopher and Matthew, could finish high school there. He’d spend summers in Minnesota guiding and return to Texas for the winter.
Beardsley returned to Minnesota for good in the past year, and Jill moved north from Texas at the end of May when Matthew graduated from high school. They purchased a bed and breakfast in Bemidji that will have its grand opening next spring.
The previous owner had worked out a deal with Sanford Medical Center to house temporary doctors, and the Beardsleys agreed to continue that arrangement through next winter.
The guiding season has been busy, even the so-called “dog days” of August, and Beardsley’s fishing schedule is hectic until fall.
Based on the fishing and stories he shared on a perfect Bemidji day, it’s easy to see why.
“I like anything that’s pulling on my rod tip,” Beardsley said. “There’s days you’ve got to work at it, but that’s OK—that’s why they call it fishing and not catching—and I love the challenge of getting folks out there and getting them on fish. There’s nothing that makes me happier than when somebody in my boat on a guide trip catches a nice fish, and I see the excitement and the smile on their faces and the joy they get. It brings great joy to me.”