Lucky was looking forward to this day for a long time. It was Brunk’s Carp and Sucker Fishing Derby on the Red River.

The Red River Area Sportsmen’s Club prides itself on developing the next generation of river rats. Fishing is recreation for a lifetime. Like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer on the Mississippi River, there are youths who grow up on the north-flowing Red River.

Lucky came early to sign up and get the mini-tackle box provided by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. There were loaner rods and reels that could be used. Mom and Dad didn’t fish so there weren’t any at home.

Today was the 33rd year of the Carp and Sucker Derby. Brunk was added to honor Larry Brunkhorst, who helped start the wildlife club in March 1985.

Lucky fished off the boat ramp dock with a couple buddies. He hadn’t caught a fish before and it took some getting use to casting. Fishing is best learned by doing.

A volunteer put three or four nightcrawlers in a cup. One was threaded on a shiny Eagle Claw hook. Lucky wasn’t sure where the split shot sinker should be placed so he put it just above the hook’s eye.

The hook quickly embedded on a snag and Lucky jerked the rod until something had to give. Unfortunately, it was the rod that broke so Lucky had to walk back to the shelter to get another rod and reel.

Other fishermen were catching catfish, goldeyes, redhorse suckers and drum. When you are unlucky fishing, it is easy to translate lack of success to other life matters. Lucky was feeling a little sad and shared other downers.

River fishing in a current is tough. Mistakes can be unforgivable. Lucky made a cast and the line snarled at the rod tip. Instead of taking a little time to fix a small problem, Lucky thought the snag would come out by whipping the rod tip back-and-forth.

Lucky ended up with a gnarled mess that looked like a model for a windswept tumbleweed. He walked back to the fishing headquarters at Henry Knight Shelter. With monofilament line, sometimes it is just best to start over. The line was snipped off just below the tangle and a new hook tied on.

Lucky noticed the trophies and asked what it took to win one. If he caught a fish, he had a pretty good chance of getting a trophy. It would be great to go home with a trophy.

The afternoon was waning and Lucky had run out-of-bait but hadn’t reeled in a fish. It was disappointing and Lucky was about ready to give up.

It was 3:50 p.m. with only ten minutes to go before the end of the derby. One of the Sportsmen’s Club elders took a little time to help Lucky out.

It isn’t necessary to tie on a whole nightcrawler onto a hook when fishing for rough fish. Sometimes a little tidbit next to the sharp hook is all that’s needed. The sinker was moved a few inches from the hook.

The old guy showed Lucky to use the index finger to detect bites. Sometimes fish will have slight little tick-ticks when biting and detecting them is needed to set the hook. Lucky learned quickly how to quickly jerk the rod back when feeling a fish nibbling at the end of the line.

Then it happened. Lucky did just what many fishermen have learned, setting the hook at the right time, seeing the rod bend behind the weight of a fish to reel in a flat-shaped goldeye. He learned to never give up and patience was a really good thing.

Lucky and the senior walked back to the weigh station. For a little ways, at least. In excitement, Lucky ran most of the way. He wasn’t going to miss a weigh-in deadline.

After weighing the fish with a smile from ear-to-ear, it was time for a picture. Lucky wanted it to be by Wahpper, the world’s largest catfish. Appropriate for a special moment. And he asked the elder if could go fishing with him another day.

Lucky was mighty proud to win a trophy that day when his name was announced. In the audience, Brunk nodded his head in a quiet affirmation as Lucky stepped up to get his award. After all, another river rat was born!

Wayne Beyer is the director of Wahpeton Parks and Rec.

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