Sunday was Mother's Day, and I was where I wanted to be, in a boat. That my wife, Jan, was with me was a given. For her, a day spent fishing, particularly when the weather is favorable, which it was, is better than flowers or a card or any other gift I could've mustered — except perhaps if I had included our sons in the outing, but they were far away.
Years ago, the two boys, Trevor and Cole, had taken their mom to this same northern Minnesota lake on Mother's Day. I was out of town, so they squired her around the shoreline in a small boat, the three of them tossing minnow-baited jigs into the tannic water, sometimes with the baits below bobbers, and sometimes not.
One of the boys had brought a fly rod as well, and was casting it with a small popper, intent on tricking the same panfish to bite that the spinning rigs targeted.
That day, as on this past Sunday, crappies were hopping onto the baits one after another, with the occasional bluegill mixed in.
The day before, on the walleye opener, Jan and I were with friends on Upper Red Lake, and the action was fast there, too. John and Jodi Weyrauch of Stillwater were among our group, and Jodi, as she often does, was outfishing John, who is himself no small shakes with a rod and reel.
This phenomenon, women outfishing men when the two are placed side by side, is not uncommon, said Sybil Smith, the St. Paul author of "Twin Cities Fishing Guide. Where the Experts Fish and How!'' as well as a similar Brainerd-area fishing guide and other books.
"Perhaps it's because a woman's fingertips and hands are more sensitive than a man's," Smith said the other day. "Also, I think women in general have more patience. Whatever it is, the fish-catching difference between men and women has been noted by more than a few people."
In Minnesota, about 20% of anglers are women — a figure that might be the highest in the nation but could be higher, Smith believes, if more girls and women were given the opportunity to fish.
"It's no different for women than men, the attraction to fishing," she said. "It's just that men traditionally have had more opportunities."
In the late 1970s, Smith was the first president of Women Anglers of Minnesota (WAM). Now, some 50 years later, with membership exceeding 1,200, WAM is Minnesota's largest fishing group and will hold its 45th Open Water Fishing Tournament on June 3 on the Le Homme Dieu Chain of Lakes near Alexandria.
In advance of that contest, on May 22, WAM members Diane Scott and Kay Hawley will offer a seminar titled, "Inspiring women to succeed in tournament fishing.''
Last week, Hawley was in Oshkosh, Wis., doing just that, tournament fishing.
"When I'm at a fishing tournament, it's exhilarating," she said. "I'm up at 5 or before every morning, and fishing usually starts at 7. The energy of being around so many anglers, particularly so many good anglers, amazes me."
Growing up in Northfield, Minn., Hawley was the only girl in a family that included four boys. Her dad, a casual angler, "would take my brothers fishing, but I didn't get to go very much. When I did go, I liked it."
Hawley is a retired Hopkins music teacher, band director and onetime Minnesota Music Educator of the Year who, with her husband, David, raised a son and daughter.
Now 73, she accelerated her fishing interests after she retired in 2015.
"When our kids were young and I was teaching, it was hard to get away," she said. "I fished then, but not as much. Now I fish a lot. I love to hunt for big walleyes. If they're not biting, I'll fish for bass or northerns. But it's walleyes I love, and if I'm going to keep a fish to eat, it'll be a walleye."
Last year, Hawley caught 11 walleyes longer than 28 inches, four in Lake of the Woods. She fished two tournaments in 2022 but plans to fish five this summer, in each case traveling to boat-launch sites alone or with a woman fishing partner to launch her 20-foot Lund powered by a 200-horsepower outboard.
"Men, generally, have more experience backing up trailers and with batteries and in general running a boat than women do," she said. "I think once women overcome fears associated with these skills they're just as comfortable doing them as men."
One of Hawley's favorite lakes is Vermilion in northern Minnesota, and she'll be one of two instructors there at a Walleye Workshop, Aug. 26-29 at Vermilion Dam Lodge.
"My career as a teacher helped instill in me a passion for learning, and fishing provides lots of learning opportunities," she said. "Fortunately, I'm married to an amazing guy who doesn't fish himself but who is supportive of my fishing addiction."
Last Sunday, I was supportive as well. The crappies wouldn't quit, and Jan was catching them on tiny jigs decorated with variously colored Mr. Twister Curly Tail Grubs.
At day's end, we had hung enough of these morsels on a stringer to provide a minor feast at Jan's sister's farm not far away.
"Ending the day with a meal of fresh crappies is about as good as it gets,'' Jan said.
On Mother's Day especially.