Published March 26, 2010, 12:00 AM

Angler and his $800 rod are reunited

An amazing catch completes amazing story for a Duluth man swept into Lake Superior.

By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune

Craig Juntti suspected right away whose fishing rod his friend had snagged while they were trolling on Lake Superior off the Lester River last week.

“There aren’t that many Orvis fly rods out there on the bottom,’’ said Juntti, of Duluth. “And you can tell it wasn’t in the water very long. It didn’t have any slime on it.’’

On Wednesday night, Juntti’s hunch proved true. Duluth angler Paul Kosmatka identified and claimed the rod as the one he lost on March 17, just a day before Juntti’s friend’s Rapala snagged it up.

Kosmatka is lucky to have his rod back after losing it in the big lake, but he may be even luckier to be alive.

Kosmatka was wading in the mouth of the Lester River on March 17 when he lost his footing and was swept out into the frigid lake. The rushing river, full of spring snow runoff and moving swiftly, pushed Kosmatka out into the lake faster than he could swim back.

Passersby launched a small motorboat and rushed to Kosmatka, who was more than 150 yards out by then, towing him back to shore. He was aided by Duluth firefighters and taken to a hospital, and quickly recovered. Authorities said that Kosmatka, had he not been rescued, might have been minutes away from hypothermia.

Juntti, his son and a friend were fishing about

6 p.m. the next day when they snagged the rod. He tried for a week to find out from authorities who the rescued man was, but no one seemed to know. On Tuesday, Juntti got the right name from a newspaper reporter and finally hooked up with Kosmatka.

“I looked it up on the Internet and this rod goes for $795,’’ Juntti said. “I figured he’d want it back. After what he went through, he deserves to have it back.’’

Kosmatka said he hung on to the rod for some time in the water before realizing he was in more trouble than he first thought.

“At first I didn’t let go, thinking I’d be fine,’’ Kosmatka said. “Then I realized I needed both arms to try and keep afloat.’’

Kosmatka said he had been fishing for Kamloops trout, wading in shallow water, for about 10 minutes when he moved to take a step. He went from shallow water to over his head in a single step, unable to touch bottom from that point on. He was not wearing a life jacket.

“At first, when I looked back, there were only a couple of people there [on shore] looking out at me ... but the next time I looked there must have been 20 people watching,’’ he said. “At that point I was just trying to focus on keeping my head above water. I wasn’t making any progress getting back toward shore.’’

Kosmatka wants to thank the people who launched their small boat and reached him in time, and anyone else who aided in his rescue. He has no lasting problems from the unexpected dip and was quickly back at work as an SMDC orthopedic surgeon.

“I never really noticed how cold the water was,’’ he said. “But by the time I got back to shore, my arms and legs weren’t working … so that’s pretty cold.’’

He also thanked Juntti for coming forward with the rod.

Kosmatka has no plans to give up fishing. But he is adding a new piece of gear.

“I’ve already ordered one of those inflatable life vests,’’ he said.