Fishing holds a rich and extended history in Sherburne County. The first resort in the county, Brown’s Hotel, in 1855 advertised Big Lake as a premier fishing spot. In the last 165 years, fishing remains an important sport and pastime in the county. Stories abound of landing that great catch, that trophy fish. Yet, a detail of the sport, not often discussed, concerns the creation of that most personal of items, the fishing outfit.
Walter Gohman, in his memoirs, writes of the fishing kit he devised with hard work and a little creativity. “I made a fishing outfit by selecting a very special willow pole,” he wrote. “I skinned the bark from this pole and treated it with oil. I found a wooden fish line spool and fastened this the side of the pole. I made a crank handle with a bolt and used screw eyes to guide the line.”
Gohman went on to swear by the effectiveness of his outfit. “We caught many fish of all sizes,” he wrote. “We caught so many fish that my mother told us not to bring any more home. We had all that we could eat.”
|Ben and Lillian Keays fishing on the Elk River.|
Notice, Ben's outfit consisted of a large tree limb.
Soon, Walter Gohman’s outfit needed some upgrading. He set out to improve his gear. “I wanted a regular reel for my outfit. I saw one in Tilmans Hardware in St. Cloud for $1.25. This was a very simple reel. I started saving money to buy this reel. I would check the store window often to make sure that the reel was still there. I was a great day when I finally was able to buy the reel. I polished it all of the way home.”
Further in his memoirs, Gohman expanded on his fishing adventures. “As a sportsman I had three ambitions that I often fantasized about. These were to catch a muskie, to spear a buffalo fish and to shoot a goose,” he wrote. “I never shot a goose. I had a chance to spear a buffalo fish, but ‘chickened out’ when the fish was bigger than I was.”
Gohman’s memories of landing a muskie make for an interesting story. Using salvaged lumber and wire, Gohman and his compatriots crafted a raft to anchor in the middle of the Mississippi River. “The raft was anchored at a deep spot in the part of the river we called the slough. A tree and fence had washed into the river and settled on the bottom of the slough,” he wrote. “We caught rock bass from this raft. I was landing a rock bass when it seemed that the fish had wrapped the line around one of the tree limbs. To salvage the line it seemed necessary to pull the limb up and unwrap it. I proceeded o do this when suddenly there was a tremendous splashing of water and I pulled a large muskie onto the raft. The muskie too the rock bass as bait and got hooked, he explained.” After struggling with the fish, Gohman freed the hook and sent the fish on its way, back into the river.
Every fisherman, including Walter Gohman, remembers landing that one great fish. In addition, creating the very personal fishing outfit remains an equally enticing and vital story to the history of fishing and Sherburne County.