As weird as it may sound, this is a question I’ve pondered lately. I’m willing to take a bet that very few reading this have thought about walleye (as in the fish) being in heaven. But you aren’t the daughter of my dad.
For those not familiar with walleye, they are a revered fish akin to the lobster of Minnesota (as well as other states). When you visit a Maine restaurant you order lobster; when you visit Minnesota you order walleye.
My dad knows all about walleye — and catching them. He mastered the art. He grew up on a Minnesota lake that had plenty of walleye, and he learned right then and there how to bring them into the boat and bring them home for dinner. He traveled throughout the state to various lakes and rivers, catching walleye wherever he went. You could say it was his life’s passion (or one of them at least), and you’d be right.
He’s known for his walleye prowess; for years his moniker has been Walleye Joe. He has a hat proclaiming this nickname and a sweatshirt that simply says, “Shut up and fish.”
For most of my adult life, I never had to purchase walleye because my dad caught enough for both of us. He fished so often — and caught his limit — that he was able to share with me. (It helped my cause that my mom didn’t partake of the delicacy.) It truly was a treat, I knew, but I probably didn’t sufficiently appreciate my fully stocked freezer or the delicious taste of the sweet, flaky white fish.
He doesn’t fish anymore. Health and other aging issues have made it a part of his past. He always used to tell me, “It’s hell getting old,” and he was right.
And then he’d follow that up with, “But it sure beats the alternative,” and he was right.
At 89, he’s living the alternative. His days have slowed.
He no longer fishes for walleye, but he’s more than happy to talk about them. Some days his memory isn’t the best, but he remembers his lifelong relationship with the elusive fish. When I visit, it is one of the few topics I can count on to get his attention. Even though I know little to nothing about the art of fishing I know enough terminology to get him talking.
At the mere mention of walleye, he perks up. I have caught his attention. I ask a simple question. Are leeches good bait for walleye catching?
“Only in the spring,” he says. “Leeches are best in the spring.”
And so we go. I ask about minnows and night crawlers and anything else fish-related I can think of, talking with the man who raised me and who still wears his Walleye Joe hat and “Shut up and Fish” sweatshirt.
He answers with the knowledge of a lifetime of fishing. Which bait works best when. How fishing in a lake is different than in the river. The fact that walleye were more plentiful when he was a boy so they were easier to catch. I can see, as he talks, he is reliving good memories.
I never caught the fishing bug — unless you count goldfish. I guess I don’t have the patience or the attention to detail it takes to catch the elusive walleye. But I still enjoy eating them — lightly coated, pan fried with a pat or two of butter for that extra touch. And although these days I purchase them at the grocery store, one thing remains true: walleye and memories of my dad are inseparable — always have been, always will be.
And that, my friends, is golden.
My story doesn’t end there. Back to my original question: are there walleye in heaven? There better be. For my dad heaven wouldn’t be heaven without walleye. And when he arrives there (hopefully many years from now) he’ll need his fishing pole and a container of leeches, but only if it’s springtime.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.