By Nick Simonson
A few years back during the Great Recession, my buddy Marty and I met the same fate as I was laid off from my job in the steel industry, and he from his work on a Kentucky horse farm. We reconnected that summer after a few years of not seeing one another, and spent the occasional angling trip on the varied lakes between our hometown of Valley City, N.D. and northeastern Minnesota where I lived and his extended family had a cabin. Green to the sport, he began his first forays into fishing with me and an assorted cast of characters, borrowing light rods for August crappies and skipping tubes under docks for bass. That summer, he got hooked on reworking an old motor of his grandfather’s, and enrolled in tech school in Detroit Lakes to become a marine mechanic. Both being back in the region, we’d meet up from time to time for a fishing trip or to hunt pheasants.
When the stars aligned for the start of the Independence Day week and we both found ourselves back on Minnesota’s Iron Range for separate reunions, a meet-up and trip to a nearby, favorite gin-clear bass lake was in order. He rolled up to the edge of the tarred driveway of my mother-in-law’s house and I dropped my rods and bass bag in the back of his reconditioned Cajun 190 bass boat and we were off to the launch. As we undid the travel straps, launched the boat and prepared to fish the post-frontal lake, it was easy to see that the student had become the master.
One after another, rods in teal and blue slick sleeves came out from the casting deck storage. Like Santa Claus in ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas he called them out by name as he readied them on each new stop. His go-to for the morning was a drop-shot rod, rigged with a cerise-and-black plastic over a 1/4-ounce weight, but he burned a jig back on his swimjig rod, popped a plastic Pad Crasher through the lily fields on the south end of the lake with his frog rod, and worked a tube with yet another baitcaster. For a die-hard bass angler, like the one he had become, the selection was standard; but the more amazing fact of his collection was that he had built a majority of them in the past couple of years, teaching himself the art of rod construction.
On top of that, his green sparkle Cajun, a long-discontinued bass boat model from the late 1990s, shimmered as if it was brand new and fresh off the dealership floor. Equipped with a bow-mount trolling motor built into the floor which Marty had customized through the acquisition of various online parts and a Power Pole claw anchor mounted alongside the Johnson 175 on the stern, it was the total package and in pristine condition. With gusto we zipped from reef-to-reef and between sunken islands with the lifetime of instinct he had obtained in a matter of eight years of fishing, reading, building, tricking and trying baits out.
In a way of amassing knowledge and gear, it was amazing, and in the other of the preparedness and focus, it wasn’t. Throughout our friendship, where our lives intersected from high school, during college and at points thereafter – usually on hunting trips or fishing adventures – his passion for whatever he was doing at that time, whether it was training horses, retooling old boat motors, learning about new boat technology or working with his lab for the uplands, was evident and abundant, but nowhere more than now on the deck of the green bass boat. Of course, the fact that the same laser focus landed him a marine manager position with a nationwide outdoors retailer was no surprise, and served now as sort of both an end and a means for his love of the outdoors.
Education, career, family and location are just a few of the bends we travel on in the adventure of life. What started as an introduction to angling for Marty – as my friends and family had done for me – had become the start of a major path for my friend, and this particular sunny day on a familiar water was a perfect highlight to his journey.
In the last ten years, the river of my life has flowed from my hometown where I grew up, through Minnesota, and back to North Dakota with detours down country lanes and gravel roads leading to all points in between for the things I enjoy, oftentimes crossing with those of other friends old and new, whether through planning or coincidence, usually in the form of adventures in the field or on the water. No matter where the flow of the stream or the winding of the trail goes, it’s always nice when it meets up with that of an old buddy, to catch up, share a few hooksets or flushing birds and see where we are at in terms of the adventure which continues on through…our outdoors.
(Featured Photo: Adam “Marty” Marthaler, a native of Valley City, N.D. and friend of the author, unhooks a post-frontal largemouth bass that hit his drop-shot rig on Ely Lake in northeastern Minn. Simonson Photo)