Recorded by the Minnesota Humanities Center for the Stories from Main Street project, an initiative created by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service for its traveling exhibition "Water/Ways."
"I grew up in the lakes country of Brainerd right in central Minnesota. We went out to a place called Gilbert Lake, my dad took my two brothers and I out, we would catch a whole mess of sunfish. He would roll out an wooden boat of course none of us wore life jackets. We survived, we went and cut willow poles, let them dry a bit and put some of the old black lines on; we caught some really nice fish. I came down here in 1975, I was supposed to be the business writer, a job for which I was magnificently ill-suited but at the same time the outdoor writer, Gordy Yaeger, who was outdoor writer for the Post Bulletin since the mid ‘50s was very ill and in fact he died less than a year later and they took pity on me and 40 years ago they made me the outdoor writer.
But the strange story is I grew up on a lake, my wife, I met her on a lake in Brainerd and we were in Rochester and had this river going through it but no lakes, it was just a freaky experience. We asked Gordy Yaeger, the outdoor writer, 'What should we do?' and he said go out towards St. Charles to the east and take a left on 74. We did it, farm country and all of a sudden went four or five miles and went 'wow' we dropped down into the Whitewater Valley, a mile and half long drop and it was just those two huge beautiful bluffs just sitting there and the rivers, and that was the beginning of a love affair and as much as I love lakes they sit there and I shouldn’t say boring but rivers move, they are alive; they have this flow to them that is just fascinating. I give talks about the Zumbro River and the first thing I tell people, particularly those that don’t know much about water is, you gotta love water, you gotta protect water, you gotta cherish water, but never ever ever trust water. You’ve got these two sides of it – the beauty and the beast, I suppose and plus look what it did in ’07 that massive flood down here killed, I don’t know, 7 or 8 people and destroyed half of Rushford. Came very close to flooding all of Houston. It did $5 million damage to Whitewater State Park.
These things can really get nasty. Moving water as everybody knows is extremely dangerous. You have to respect it. The famous story is the town of Beaver, which is right in the middle of Whitewater Valley. It was a beautiful little town, I meet people who lived there and because of really rotten land use in the area, the farmers didn’t know, they came from out east, they didn’t know about these huge thunderstorms we have around here and in this little town of Beaver, they had a creek come through it and that flooded so often finally resiliency just doesn’t work when you are hosting so bad and every time it rains you tie a canoe to your front porch so you have some way to get out and the whole town is gone now. The DNR bought it out, and it is part of the Whitewater WIldlife Land Management Area, if you don’t take care of the land, the water is going to get you. This is a little slower, a little deeper (talking about the water you hear rushing in the background.)
The water is about perfect right now, it is slightly stained, actually I should be getting down lower. When the water is clearer some guys actually sneak up on their hands and knees and cast from their knees. So the fish can’t see them. I'm just using a small behead nymph, it’s a small, just a 16 or 18 weight and it just drifts down there and think it is something edible. Let’s see if I can catch one, just to see what a fish feels like. (hear sounds of him fishing) Boy water makes me smile all the time. Like today it’s just beautiful out, not the best time for fishing -middle of day but bets sitting at home."