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  • Writer's picturePatrick Durkin

Past, Present Fishing Trips Inspire Lifelong Souvenirs

All good fishing holes from our youth have their secrets and charms, and we revisit them often, if only in our memories.

Lakes Mendota and Monona in Madison spawned most of my sentimental souvenirs, even though I’ve seldom fished either since leaving town on a bus, bound for the Navy, in December 1975.

But I didn’t stop fishing and remembering at age 19. I fish new spots whenever possible, and know within hours whether the moment will remain in my thoughts for long. Enduring memories usually include stories about a unique catch, a buddy’s wisecrack, or an embarrassing blunder, such as losing 25% of your catch through a hole in a neglected fish basket.

I felt fortunate to make some new memories the weekend of June 13-14 while returning two grandchildren to their parents after a two-day visit. Rather than drive straight to our daughter Elle’s home near Madison, we took a scenic drive to Doug and Patricia Duren’s home in Cazenovia, a town of 300 in northeastern Richland County.

The Durens live on the southern shore of Lee Lake, aka the Cazenovia Millpond, a 53-acre impoundment of the McGlynn, Cazenovia and Bauer Valley creeks. Duren notes with pedantic pride that unlike most Wisconsin streams and rivers—which flow southward—McGlynn “Crick” flows northward into town. He should know. Were the McGlynn wide enough for a kayak, you’d endure a hard upstream paddle to reach Duren’s farm one mile south of Caz on Highway 58.

We stopped in because Duren had announced on Instagram that bluegills were biting within reach of his small pier. I took that as an invitation for me, my wife, Penny, and our grandchildren Charlotte, 4, and Connor, 2, to come fishing.

Charlotte fished with us until drifting off with “the women” to snack and socialize on the patio. That left Connor to explore the shoreline and test Duren’s folding chairs, one of which quickly tipped and dumped the toddler to the ground. Connor howled while everyone checked him for bloody wounds and compound fractures.

Duren then moved Connor’s chair beside his, and invited him to sit down and talk rural politics. Once Connor took his seat, Duren told him to relax and cross his legs, demonstrating the move. The boy mimicked him, crossing his right leg over his left knee.

“There. Now we’re farming!” Duren said approvingly.

I was now alone on the pier, my only company the statue of a boy seated at pier’s end, a creel slung over his shoulders, and empty hands frozen in a grip that once held a fishing pole. Suddenly I had time to cast three lines with worms and slip-bobbers just past the weed-line, and fan out the poles at my feet.

Bluegills soon tested me. I summoned Connor to reel in each fish I hooked, but then realized he was more interested in reeling line than catching fish. Each time I cast a line and lay down a rod, Connor maneuvered around me, grabbed the rod, and reeled the bobber into the rod tip. And then he kept cranking as the reel’s drag ground away. If I didn’t stop him, he cranked the line into the tightest curly-cues you’ll ever seen.

Connor and I stopped fishing just shy of 20 fish. Most were 5- to 6-inch bluegills, but we also caught a decent perch and crappie, and threw back an undersized walleye. We posed for a “grip-and-grin” photo with our stringer of fish before walking uphill to the Durens’ porch. I then grabbed my fillet knife from the truck, Duren grabbed his guitar from the house, and I cleaned fish as my grandkids danced to Duren’s favorite John Prine songs.

After bagging the fillets, our group drove to Middleton, and shared our fish dinner with Charlotte and Connor’s parents. I sneaked back out before dawn Sunday, drove toward University Bay on Lake Mendota, and parked at the end of Langdon Street near the University of Wisconsin’s science building. I then tugged on my waders, stuffed my heavy shirt inside the waders’ top, assembled my bait and fishing rod, and set out for the path bordering the bay’s wooded shoreline.

I hadn’t fished that section of Mendota in 49 years, but it differed little from my memories, except for trail improvements. Fishing from the wooded shoreline proved just as impossible as I recalled, but that’s why I wore waders.

My friend Tony Nuzzo and I didn’t know such luxuries when fishing there at age 15 in 1971. We instead wore cut-offs and old sneakers, and waded about 10 yards out to clear low-hanging branches.

I paused to eye an old willow tree, and wondered if it was the same tree where Nuzzo and I once caught at least 40 to 50 bluegills the weekend before July Fourth. We were so proud, but then felt crushed when taking home only 30 to 35. I can’t recall the totals. I just remember the basket net we hung from the willow had some broken strands, and several bluegills escaped.

After smirking at the memory, I waded to the willow’s far reaches, retrieved my carton of redworms, threaded one onto the hook, and flicked a cast toward the rising sun. Chilly easterly winds pushed my bobber slowly along the weed-line. I reeled in after the bobber reached the end of my line and dragged itself through the waves.

As I reeled, a perch darted in and stole the worm 10 feet in front of me. I rebaited and cast again. I set the hook when the next thief struck, and reeled in an 8-inch perch. I spent the next hour or so losing more worms than catching more perch. That’s OK. I couldn’t stay long anyway. I returned to my truck at 7:30 with two perch, which didn’t seem to impress any of the runners, walkers or bicyclists I passed.

Still, I felt satisfied, and something told me that if I want to fish there again, I can’t wait another 49 years.

Patrick Durkin, far right, poses with his wife, Penny, his grandkids Connor and Charlotte, and friend Doug Duren with their catch from Lee Lake in Cazenovia, Wis.

The sun rises above the eastern shore of Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin.

— Patrick Durkin photos

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