ON THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER, Minn. — Last week, amid warnings of floods and impending floods, Dick “The Griz” Grzywinski backed his john boat toward this very flush river near Red Wing, Minn. The launch ramp itself was invisible, swamped. “I’ve never seen the river this high,” Griz said. Then he dumped his boat into the Mississippi, essentially launching it from a parking lot.
This would be the second day in a row Griz was on the big river. Wednesday near Red Wing, Minn., he and a friend boated 83 walleyes and sauger. The biggest walleye weighed a hefty 4 1/2 pounds, the largest sauger was a pound more. The latter was a relative monster: The Minnesota sauger record is 6.275 pounds.
“There’s a lot of water in the river right now, and a lot of current,” Griz said as he angled his boat into midstream. “But the fish are biting.”
The river bore no obvious boundaries. Trees that once grew from high ground were wrapped in waves of current. Docks floated helter-skelter with both ends in deep water. And river shacks stood meekly, as if fearing inundation, water rising all around them, seemingly by the minute.
Griz took all of this in: the gauzy clouds that framed a sun that shone brightly in a cobalt sky; the temperature that was headed toward the middle 60s; the slight wind from the southwest.
Then he gunned his outboard, and said, “Better’n sittin’ at home.”
Which it was, and by the time Griz settled his big john along a juncture of current seams, anything we would catch seemed almost a bonus. Geese were in the air, honking. Pairs of wood ducks darted among flooded timber. Bald eagles perched on bare tree limbs. And in the backwaters swam buffleheads, bluebills, mallards and the odd canvasback and redhead; ducks each.
A bona fide good guy, Griz can regale you between bites with tales of Billy Martin, the onetime Twins manager and a longtime fishing pal, and can talk, too, about how to fish Mille Lacs or Leech or Winnie or Lake of the Woods, all waters on which he’s earned a living, guiding.
He can also cough up well-honed political opinions and ideas on, among other topics, marriage, Iowa fishermen and retrieving dogs (he tries to see the good in two out of three).
In general, however, he’ll admit he’s as baffled as anyone about the oddball ways in which life unfolds.
Except, that is, for river fishing, which for him poses no mystery whatsoever. He’s been doing it since he was a kid, growing up poor on St. Paul’s East Side, fishing first on the St. Croix, then the Mississippi. A Huck Finn type, in grade school on pleasant spring days he simply walked out the door and hitchhiked to the nearest moving water.
Casting from shore until dark, he later thumbed it home, a stringer of fish in tow.
“Griz, you gettin’ ’em?”
Fish with Griz virtually anywhere in Minnesota, and all day, every day, you hear this question from anglers in nearby boats. Of whom there usually are plenty. With his shock of silver-black hair and trademark beard, he’s easy to spot at the tiller of an outboard.
Some of these fishermen watch him from a distance, through binocular, trying to steal Griz’s methods. Others virtually tie up alongside him, thinking where he fishes is his secret.
Which it is, partly. But there’s more.
Griz rigs his minnows, for example, with a surgeon’s precision, impaling them exactly the same way every time. And his jigging method is unique.
Which is why he catches so many fish — sometimes in summer on the Mississippi in a single day a dozen or more walleyes over 10 pounds, all released.
For which clients and ne’er-do-well friends like me are grateful.
“I got one guy who saves all his extra money every year, just to go fishing,” Griz said, partly amazed, partly amused.
He spoke not between bites Thursday. But during them.
Because there were few “between bites.”
Walleyes and sauger?
A few hours into our spring outing on a very watery Mississippi, we stopped counting at 52.
(c) 2011, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
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