Jen’s World: The turtle wins the race to retirement

September 13, 2018
Bill Plantan and Jen Koski go fishing

Bill Plantan and Jen Koski look for lunkers on Lake Winona.

“Auntie Jenny,” says my nephew, Isaac. “Don’t you want to come fishing?”

I’m sitting in a lawn chair about 50 feet from the dock where Isaac removes a bluegill from his line.

“No, thanks,” I say, not getting up. “I’m retired from fishing.”

The last time I went fishing was in 2013. It was on Lake Winona with Bill Plantan, then owner of River Ridge Custom Canoes. I was writing a story about River Ridge, and Bill thought it would be fun to do the interview on the water. Not a bad gig, if you can get it.

As Bill and I glided along the quiet shoreline that morning, I thought: This is going to be the most peaceful interview ever. And then Bill threw a monkey wrench in my plan:

“What lure do you use?”

“Which hand do you cast with?”

“What kind of reel do you prefer?”

My blank stare was all the answer that man needed. He threw a lure on my rod and taught me to cast.

“It’s just a flick of the wrist,” he told me, effortlessly putting his line next to the shore as he demonstrated. “Now you try.”

I flicked my wrist, released my line and dropped it five feet from where we sat.

“Try again,” Bill directed. “Closer to the shore.”

I cast again … into a tree.

Bill extricated my lure from the branches and then told me to “cast closer.”

“I’m afraid of casting into another tree,” I said.

To which he replied: “Unless you’re on the yellow brick road and they’re throwing apples at you, you shouldn’t be afraid of trees.”

I immediately cast into another tree.

I’m pretty sure we were both thinking this whole outing had been a mistake, and then I caught my first bass. I dangled it above the water while Bill lined up his camera.

“Now hold it up,” Bill said.

I lifted my rod higher.

“No, with your hand.”

I tentatively reached over to my fish’s belly. It was scaly and wet and alive. I touched the bass just barely enough to turn it toward the camera, willing Bill to snap fast.

But he didn’t. “Not there,” he said. “Hold it by its mouth with your thumb and finger.”

There was no way I was doing that. I broke it to him gently: “I am never doing that.”

“C’mon on, Jen — do it,” he hollered as he held the camera to his eye, gesturing toward me.

“Do you have those bumpy gloves I can wear?”

“No. Just do it!”

“Can’t I just hold it by its sides?”

“Just do it, you baby!”

Clearly, he wasn’t giving in. I put my thumb in the fish’s mouth. Bill took the photo, removed my fish from the hook and returned it to the lake, where it swam away.

“How many pounds was it?” I asked.

Bill laughed. Then he laughed some more. “Pounds?” he asked. He laughed some more.

I cast a few more, then landed another large mouth — and, this time, held it like I was told. We cast again. We enjoyed the view. We talked. It was all going so well, and then …

“Do you have something on your line?” Bill asked.

“I think so … but maybe I’m just stuck on a log,” I answered. I was able to reel in slowly, though, until something came into view. Was it a branch? A rock? Were those … flippers?

“Holy crud — it’s a turtle!” I yelled.

It was fighting me, but I was able to get it close enough to see what we were dealing with: a massive snapping turtle.

“No way! No way!” I yelled.

Bill bolted upright to standing. “Extend your rod … let out some line,” he directed.

My heart was beating like crazy. My rod was bending. “That is the biggest turtle I’ve ever seen in the wild!” I hollered.

“That has to be a 24-inch shell!” Bill yelled.

And then … it was gone. My lure came crashing to the surface. It had let go of the hook. Whoa.

The lake returned to glass. Bill sat down. He said, “Cast?”

“I’m good,” I answered, stowing my rod. “I think I’m ready for retirement.”

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