Fishing with Lathan West at Hartford Beach, South Dakota, rewarded me with a pocket full of fine recollections. Lathan, as you may recall from a previous column, was the custodian at the Blickre field house who had a lake place close to mine on Big Stone Lake.
We did a lot of spring fishing during the hottest days of the summer. Why spring fishing in mid-summer you might ask? Because cold springs feeding into the lake from along the shore were prime hot-spots for monster pike when conditions were just right.
Lathan knew the location of five of these glory holes which we selected from depending upon which way the wind was blowing; with a south wind we picked springs on the south side of the lake; on a north wind we picked north-side springs. We wanted an offshore wind to carry the cold spring water out into the lake to lure the big fish out of the tepid main lake water and up into the icy spring water which they loved. If there were several days of 90-plus weather, one could almost bet the big pike would be there.
Lathan told of one time that he sneaked out on his own where he could look down into one of the springs from above. Right below him in less than two feet of water was five pike, all easily over 10 pounds. He said he lost count of the number of pike he caught that day, but all were big, and all put on tremendous fights. In super-cold shallow water, a good pike will often give you a spectacular fight, complete with jumps and splashing runs.
It was at one of these glory holes about five miles up the lake toward Ortonville that we ran into The Gunslinger, a big pike addict from Twin Brooks where he operated the well-known tourist’s attraction known as The Gunslinger’s Bar. Having hunted North America from Texas all the way to Alaska, the Slinger had put together a collection of mounts that were truly amazing — mountain goats, caribou, bighorn sheep, bear, wolves, and coyotes even a wolverine plus every species of waterfowl and upland game bird one could imagine. It was a perfect place for an outdoors person to enjoy a cool drink and muse over that beautiful collection.
Well when Lathan and I pulled into that spring, there sat the Slinger and his buddy right were we’d planned to anchor. Luckily, Lathan and Slinger were good friends and had had many musical jam sessions together over the years. So we anchored a respectful fifty feet to one side the other boat and prepared to compete. “Airy a bite?” yelled Lathan. “We got a couple little four-pounders and had a few bumps but nothing to brag about.”
“Well, you better get the camera read, ‘cause we is here. Heee hee hee,” crowed Lathan. Then he put on a number 4 Mepps spinner and I a homemade Mudfunk Thunder Funk Magnum spinner-bait three-quarters ounce, pure white skirt and a huge #7 hammered nickel blade.
We were all casting up close to the shore where we could see rocks that were wet with spring water flowing out from among them. And — voila! On my first cast I was hooked fast to a big fish which did a somersault and protested greatly right up to the net. “What in the hell are you throwin’?” Said Slinger. “Homemade spinner bait”, I answered. “Where can I get one?” “Here, try one of mine.” I tossed one over to him.
Well, my generosity was a mistake. The Slinger put it on and proceeded to haul in four more big pike about the size of my nine-pounder. Lathan and I strained the water with every lure we could think of but only caught a couple little three-pounders. The day belonged to the Gunslinger.
I did learn one lesson that afternoon – if you’ve got the hot bait, be careful about giving it to a gunslinger; he might just bat you to the draw.
Sorry I can’t remember the slinger’s name, but he was generous and ordered a whole card full of my spinnerbaits every year until he passed. Whenever we all get together to make music he always supplied a memorable banquet and lots of tall tales to go with it. He was a sweet old guy who played a mean guitar and plied even a meaner fishing rod.
Don’t know if that bar in Twin Brooks is still there, but if it is, it’s well worth the trip; and one might check out Hartford Beach State Park on the way. It is beautiful in the autumn and the big perch fishing from late August to freeze up can be downright awesome. Many a time I have sat on the dock at Hartford Beach Resort with Lathan and counted well over a hundred boats all out there hauling in the big perch along with walleye and white bass in the bargain. Furthermore, one can use his Minnesota license there because it’s border waters.