A heavy evening rain always gave us hope that no fieldwork could be done the next day. That often meant a trip to the Mississippi River for a day of fishing.
After morning milking and chores were done, David and I found an old coffee can and pitchfork and started digging up fish worms. They were usually plentiful in the moist dirt around the base of the silo and along the road where the cellar drain emptied into the ditch.
Dad loaded his old, green, 9-horse Johnson motor in the trunk of the car, along with fishing poles, his huge tackle box, and lunch that Ma had packed so we wouldn't starve while fishing.
Sometimes he'd call our neighbor, Howard Thompson, to see if he and his sons, Trygve and Joel, wanted to go along. Then we were off for a day of adventure on the mighty Mississippi.
At Viroqua we headed west on Highway 56 toward Genoa. Our first stop was at the Romance Store in Romance, Wisconsin, for some pop and candy bars to take along. It usually included extra packs of Lucky Strike cigarettes for Dad, who had a two to three pack-a-day habit at the time.
During one of those fishing trips to the river he finally quit smoking. Howard and Joel Thompson were along that time too. After we got a mile up the river near the Genoa dam, Dad discovered he'd left his cigarettes in the car. He panicked and was ready to turn the boat around and go back for them. But Howard, who had recently quit smoking, told Dad he didn't need his cigarettes. He should concentrate on catching fish. This would be a good time for him to quit smoking too. Dad fished all day without a cigarette and never smoked another one the rest of his life. He quit cold turkey thanks to Howard telling him that if he could quit, Dad could quit. That was like a challenge, and if Dad was one thing, he was stubborn. Once he made up his mind to quit smoking, all the tobacco companies in the country pulling against him didn't have a chance of getting him back. I have no doubt that fishing trip added twenty years to his life!
There I am, sailing up the wrong fjord again, or in this case, the wrong tributary. Let's get back in the car at the Romance Store and head for Genoa. By the way, I wonder why they call it Romance? That could be an interesting story in itself.
Sometimes we also stopped at a store in Genoa where they sold fishing tackle and live bait, and we picked up a bucket of minnows. Then we drove a little farther south of Genoa to the Blask brother's boat landing, where we rented a boat for the day. It was usually a big, old flat-bottomed, wooden boat.
After loading the boat and making sure we each had a life preserver to "sit on," we cast off and headed out into the channel. That little 9-horse motor pushed the big boat along at a snail's pace. No one ever mistook us for a speedboat, or accused us of leaving too many waves in our wake.
We'd chug past the Dairyland Power Plant with huge piles of coal nearby. Our destination was just below the Genoa dam. From there we'd spend the day making our way downriver, working the shorelines and wing dams, mostly for Sunfish - Bluegills and Crappies. We'd have stringers loaded with fish by the end of the day. We also caught Walleyes, Bass, and of course Sheepshead that we threw back. Once in a while we'd hook onto a big Catfish. That was always a thrill as they hugged the bottom and made you fight to land them. Boy, those things are ugly. They have a face that only their mother could love.
During the day we had the thrill of watching long freight trains and speeding passenger trains roaring by on the tracks that bordered the Wisconsin side of the river. If we were lucky, we'd see long barges loaded with coal heading up the river channel and watching them entering or leaving the locks at the Genoa dam.
When a barge went by, the waves would eventually reach us and the boat would rock up and down on the waves. I loved it when the water was rough and we rode the waves with the spray coming over the bow of the boat and pelting us in the face. I guess we should have been scared because none of us could swim, but rough water added to the sense of adventure. It must be that old Viking blood in me.
David and I were like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn riding our raft down the mighty Mississippi.
One time a water moccasin tried to join us in the boat. That was a little more excitement and adventure than I needed. Did I mention I don't like snakes?
But mostly those were relaxing, wonderful days spent gently bobbing up and down on the Mississippi River and waiting for the next monster "Sunfish" to strike.
It wasn't as much fun cleaning all those fish when we got home at the end of the day, but the cats always loved it when we had a successful fishing adventure on the mighty Mississippi.