You never know when a seemingly disastrous fishing trip will somehow redeem itself, even after it’s over. My buddy Hugh and I were seated at a bar called the Kwazy Wabbit in Ely, Minnesota, drowning our sorrows in Fitzger’s Rex Imperial beer after a five-day spring canoe trip on the Boundary Waters. It was your standard-issue disaster: The walleyes weren’t biting yet, it rained for most of every day, and no fish meant shore lunches of tea and Saltines. The only good news back in civilization was that nobody else’s luck had been any better. I nodded at the bartender for another round.
Then, three stools down from us, a guy in a shut up and paddle T-shirt, who looked to have suffered an outing similar to ours, turned to his buddy and asked, “Ever tell you about Uncle Lou and the Rapalas? You ‘member when they first brought out the Shad Rap in firetiger-musta been, oh, 15 years ago? Well, my grandmother bought six of ’em. She was 80 years old and no bigger’n a peanut, but she used to row around the lake trolling every evening by her cabin in the summer. Catch her supper that way.
“Well, she come to find that one of those lures was special. That’ll happen every so often, you know. Some teeny variation in the wobble. Doesn’t mean jack to us, can’t even see it. But it makes all the difference in the world to the fish. And she could catch fish on that thing when everybody else on the lake was gettin’ spanked.
“Anyway, every night she’d untie that firetiger and put it back safe in her tackle box with the others. Painted two little bars on the bill with her nail polish so she could tell it apart. And all us kids who visited over the summer knew not to use the Rapala with those red bars on the bill. I did it once, and she just about wore a hairbrush out on my little butt.” He smiled at the memory and took a pull on his beer.
“About mid-July, Uncle Lou comes up from the city for a week. Big fella, a butcher in St. Paul. Nice guy, but didn’t know nothing about fishing. So one morning, he ups and takes Granny’s lure to go out trolling and-naturally-loses the lure. Now, Granny had told him about her special lure and not to use it, but he didn’t pay any mind. And down comes Granny in her bathrobe to find him sitting at the breakfast table with her tackle box and nail polish calmly paintin’ all five lures. And she says, Â¿Â¿Â¿Louis, what the heck are you doing?’ And Uncle Lou says, Â¿Â¿Â¿Well, I lost your lure, Gran, and I sure am sorry. But don’t you worry. I’m gonna paint these other ones up just the same way and you’re gonna catch more fish than ever.’
“Well, Gran starts yellin’ words we didn’t think she knew and chases him out of the cabin with a skillet. And that was the last time Uncle Lou ever came up to visit. She died a few years back in a home. Ninety-one years old. When we cleaned out her room, we found that tackle box under her bed. And it all worked out. Because there were five grandkids, and each one of us got a never-been-fished firetiger Rapala with nail polish on the bill. And every time I look at mine it makes me smile, ’cause I see Gran cussin’ out old Uncle Lou and grabbin’ her skillet and him hightailin’ it to his car faster than you’d think a man that fat could move. I tell you, bud, there ain’t nothing like your own kin for entertainment.”