I’ve reached an age where I’ve made enough mistakes to fill a book, which makes me an outstanding mentor for the next generation. So lately, I’ve been trying to coach a few of the young bucks hanging around the Lake View Inn watering hole. I’ve especially taken an interest in Billy Swanson. The young man is an undeniable talent at the controls of a John Deere skid loader and can catch fish in any season. These are admirable life skills. He strides through each day with boundless confidence. Or perhaps he’s just oblivious.
“The Swanson kid just pulled in,” said my good friend Chuck Larson. “I can hear the rumble of his Cummins diesel before he turns into the parking lot. When is he going to wise up?”
I have covered this ground with Billy, pointing out that a truck with a loud exhaust sure makes it hard to sneak up on anyone—or make a stealthy getaway. And sooner or later, he is going to need to do one or the other, in a situation involving either a game warden or a woman. He just shrugs.
There was the evening I spied him down at the end of the bar getting way too flirty with the attractive wife of a county deputy.
“Billy’s making a bad move over there,” Chuck said, and I had to intervene. My book of mistakes has an entire chapter devoted to the consequences of fooling around with a cop’s wife or girlfriend.
His current companion is neither, and he’s been working hard to integrate his passion for the outdoors with this serious relationship. When he got a Lab pup, he asked her to name it. And when he ordered a new Alumacraft, he let her pick out the color. Baby steps.
This past winter, Billy rented a cozy cabin in the North Woods for a romantic getaway. The place had all the amenities, including a stone fireplace, and a spa tub with those water jets. That it happened to be on a lake notorious for its perch bite—well, that was just incidental (wink, wink). She was not surprised to see Billy’s ice-fishing kit in the bed of the truck. She knows this guy, and she’d packed reading material. It was midafternoon when she drove into town for some groceries, looking forward to a long, steamy soak in that big tub when she returned to the cabin.
It was a near-zero-degree day, which meant that the fish Billy caught quickly froze solid on the lake ice. You can’t clean frozen fish for dinner, and he thought it was a brilliant move to put the fish in the bathtub to thaw. Of course, the girlfriend was quite surprised when, wrapped in a towel, she discovered fat perch and Northern pike floating in her spa tub. Instead of screaming, she did what most people of her generation would do: She took a photo of the tub full of dead fish and posted it on social media.
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The next weekend, Billy showed up at the Lake View and started bragging about his keepers.
“I think the biggest keeper you landed last weekend wasn’t a fish,” I said as Billy settled on a stool. “It was a girl who didn’t flip out over a bathtub full of fish. But next year, maybe take her someplace warm in January. Just saying.”
Like I said, oblivious.