Never Too Late And Never Too Old

The haunting call of a loon fills the room. The mournful cry catches your attention, and your clicker finger relaxes as the TV screen whisks you into a fishing boat on a Canadian Shield lake.

You watch as two guys fling gaudy-colored spoons toward the weed bed. Suddenly, a rod bends and a whoop of excitement explodes from one of the fishermen. A northern pike drags the angler from the back of the boat to the bow, then back toward the motor again.

You have arrived in your Saturday morning haunt; living the adventure vicariously through your “home theatre!” You have always envisioned yourself experiencing first hand these remote wilderness retreats; allowing yourself to mentally sniff a scented pine forest, hearing the loon’s cry, in an attempt to deepen the perceptive feeling.

You’re enough of an outdoorsman to know there are four distinctly different loon calls, but you also are realistic. You haven’t been fishing for years – not since your grandpa took you to that bullhead lake when you were 10 – and you don’t even own a fishing rod!

You sit in front of the TV and a nagging thought enters your mind. You always meant to go on a Canadian fishing trip with the guys at work. A group of them goes every year. You’re always a little jealous as their spirits soar in anticipation of the upcoming adventure.

They’ve asked you to go along a time or two, but since you don’t know the first thing about fishing you’ve always found an excuse not to join them. Now it hits you! Are you getting too old to go?

Reno Rodeghiero, who lives near Hudson, Iowa, asked himself that hard question years ago. He was 65 and for 40 years had lived the corporate life as a John Deere engineer.

Rodeghiero often thought about embarking on an adventure-packed vacation. But he never was able to make that final decision – the one that would put him in the great outdoors. He never took a fishing vacation. Plans for canoeing trips were put on hold year after year. The outdoors called, but he plugged his ears.

Then a group of friends—most of whom he worked with at John Deere—asked him once again to accompany them to a fishing camp on North Caribou Lake in northwest Ontario. The camp, operated by Rob & Sandy Brodhagen and their two sons – Dusty and Jeremy – has been the destination of this group of engineers for several years.

Steve Craney, who lives south of Winona, Minn., has led this group for over 30 years. The men have fished nearly 40 lakes in Ontario and have made repeat visits to only three lakes. For Craney, the search for the ultimate fishing destination is over. He is convinced that North Caribou offers the ultimate for anglers who seek walleye and northern pike.

According to Craney, this island-strewn, 82,000-acre lake offers the most structure of any lake the group of engineers has ever fished.

“Gorgeous fishing,” Craney said. “Day in and day out, this is the best fishing we’ve had on any lake. We’re going to try to come back here each year from now on.”

The group targets northern pike, but they find that walleye eagerly hit their offerings as well.

“We probably catch between 300 and 400 fish a day,” Craney said.

Jim McDonnell of Royal, Iowa, a retired high school teacher and coach, also considers North Caribou the best walleye and northern pike lake he has ever fished.

“How many walleye a day do you want to catch?” McDonnell asked. “Set your goal. Two hundred? How about 500? You can do it. And if you ever get tired of catching walleye, you can always go after big northern.”

The likelihood of catching 40-inch-plus northern and walleye that average 21 inches at North Caribou is well-documented. But that’s not what convinced Rodeghiero to take his very first fishing trip.

“This was a great opportunity for an adventure,” Rodeghiero said. “I finally realized that if I don’t start doing these things now, I never will do them. When you’re 20, you’re going to live forever. You don’t have to experience everything yet. But eventually you realize that if you’re going to experience these things, you’d better get on the stick and get going.”

Still, the chances were good that Rodeghiero actually would catch a few fish. That possibility fuelled the anticipation of an adventure-packed trip.

“It had been 20 years since I fished,” Rodeghiero said. “My fishing consisted of drowning bait. And that wasn’t all bad. It was usually a family thing. I didn’t catch anything, but the tensions from life seemed to melt away. But if you’re not catching anything, it’s really hard to get enthused about fishing.”

It would be rewarding for groups who routinely take fishing vacations to include a rookie or two each year. The newness is catching. The faces of these veteran anglers lit up whenever they talked of how Rodeghiero embraced the Northwoods experience.

Rodeghiero fished with Al Schneider of Hudson, also a retired John Deere engineer. Schneider ran the boat and taught Rodeghiero how to fish. The two roared with laughter as they discussed the first northern encountered by Rodeghiero.

“The first northern pike Al caught weighed about 14 pounds,” Rodeghiero said. “I netted it and brought it into the boat. It started flopping around, and Al told me to grab it. I looked down at that fish, saw that mouth and those teeth and said, ‘There’s no way I’m grabbing that thing.’ That was the honest truth. It’s funny now, but at the time I was embarrassed. I wouldn’t grab that fish for anything.”

It didn’t take long for Rodeghiero to lose his fear of handling big northern. He even caught a 41-incher, which likely was a 20-pounder. But he’s still leery of handling walleye.

“Those darn walleye keep flaring out and want to jab you,” he said. “I think walleye are more fun to catch than northern. They’re beautiful. Their mouths are wide open, their fins are out, their gills are flared. They’re just monster-looking things. I got over my fear of northern that first day, but the ultimate fear that was concurred was the fear of making the decision to ‘just do it’.”

“Fishing was the hook to get me started, but there is so much more that it is difficult to put into words. The anticipation on so many levels; the camaraderie; the spectacular flight; that first boat ride to the Donnelly; the first ‘fish on’ and ‘get the net’; the first shore lunch; the first nights feast back at camp; the first ‘sit around the camp fire’ with the often hysterical laughter reliving the antics of the day; and then waking the next morning to the smell of camp coffee after the most relaxed nights sleep in years, knowing that after a great breakfast, we are about do this all over again; and finally the mixed emotions of leaving the dream but looking forward to telling everybody who will listen, about your great adventure.

“The wonderful thing is that you’ve overcome the fear of ‘just doing it’ and have given the group leader your deposit for next season. The anticipation allows you to live your Saturday mornings with a heightened spirit that only ‘living the dream’ can bring.”

Catch some of the action on YouTube — search entry is North Caribou Camps.