During Tuesday evening’s snowstorm, Luke Konson and Daniel Balserak cruised across the Interstate 94 St. Croix River Bridge into Minnesota. The Honda van they drove had north of 150,000 miles on it, and behind the vehicle’s two front seats was enough fishing tackle to catch everything from striped bass to weakfish, brook trout to American shad.
And, with some luck, walleyes.
Konson, 18, and Balserak, 19, had intended to be freshman roommates at Clemson University in South Carolina this fall. But the prospect of living college virtually, one Zoom class after another, held no appeal.
So they decided to go fishing.
“When we got the notice that college was going to be held online, we started to think what we could do instead and start college next year,” Konson said. “We thought about trying to catch a fish in all 50 states, but that’s been done before. But we couldn’t find anyone who had caught the state fish in all 50 states, so that’s what we decided to do.”
Living in northern Virginia, not far from Washington, D.C., the pair began their yearlong angling odyssey by traveling up the Eastern Seaboard. Eleven states between their home and Maine were conquered fairly easily, with the exception of Connecticut, whose state fish, the American shad, was out of season.
“After that first bunch of states, we came home for a couple of weeks and planned our next route, with the intention of fishing 22 more states before Christmas, when we would return home again for a break,” Konson said. “Minnesota is the farthest west we’re going on this leg, then we’ll head south to Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, before following the Gulf Coast states home.”
Some states have been tougher than others. It took a week to land a couple of Ohio walleyes. But Michigan’s brook trout cooperated, before Konson and Balserak drove to Wisconsin, where they caught a break when two local guides got them onto the Wisconsin River and Pewaukee Lake and into muskies, the Badger State’s official whopper.
“We caught four muskies in three days,” Balserak said. “We’ve been benefiting from the nice people in the Midwest who have been willing to take us fishing with them.”
Traveling on a shoestring budget, the young anglers exist on a diet of ramen noodles prepared as many ways as they can be prepared in or alongside a vehicle. Usually Konson and Balserak sleep in their van, as they did Tuesday night, when the temperature dipped into the mid-20s.
Walmart parking lots are a safe option for overnight stays, Balserak said, as are those at Cabela’s.
“We spent Tuesday night in the van in the parking lot at Cabela’s in Woodbury,” Konson said. “We had to start the van every once in a while to warm up. But it wasn’t too bad.”
Before leaving home in August, the two started a GoFundMe page (it and their other social media, including their Facebook page, are at FISHALLFIFTY), which so far has netted nearly $3,000 of a $5,000 goal.
“Gas for the van is one of our biggest expenses,” Konson said. “That and fishing licenses.”
Their parents trust them enough to let them undertake their big adventure, Balserak said, and don’t seem to worry too much about them crisscrossing the country during a pandemic.
So far the young anglers have avoided the coronavirus by keeping to themselves and by wearing masks when in public and social distancing.
“My parents did worry a week or so ago when they couldn’t get hold of me for a couple of days,” Balserak said. “I had dropped my phone into the Wisconsin River.”
Lacking time to fish with Konson and Balserak myself, I called some walleye-crazy friends, only to find they had forsaken fishing for a couple of weeks in favor of deer hunting.
Undeterred, on Wednesday the young anglers fished the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River near Prescott, Wis., where they cast from shore but caught no walleyes. I tried again Thursday to find someone who would be fishing from a boat on the Mississippi at Red Wing, where walleyes have been biting lately. Again I drew a blank.
Consulting a local fishing app, the two diverted on Thursday to the shores of the Minnesota River, where again they struck out.
According to their own rules, Konson and Balserak must each catch a targeted fish in each state before they can move on. Minnesota is nice, they say. But they have a lot of states to fish before returning to Virginia for Christmas.
“The next couple of states are channel catfish, and we’re hoping to catch those pretty quickly,” Konson said.
Next summer the boys plan to travel to Alaska to fish with their dads, an adventure highlight.
“Our dads taught us to fish,” Konson said.
Are you or someone you know heading onto the water Friday or Saturday to fish for walleyes?
If so, send me an e-mail at email@example.com, and if I can I’ll link you up with Konson and Balserak to increase their chances of catching Minnesota’s state fish.
Lakes and rivers in and around the metro would be best.