Channel catfish posed a problem in Iowa a week ago for Daniel Balserak and Luke Konson, after they landed four walleyes fishing the Minnesota River near Belle Plaine.
Balserak, 19, and Konson, 18, are the two Virginia anglers who are fishing all 50 states instead of enrolling in Clemson University for their freshman year, which they had intended to do until they learned their classes would be online.
The goal for each is to catch the state fish in each state in a year’s time.
Traveling and sleeping in a van and subsisting, largely, on ramen noodles, the pair entered Minnesota on a cold and snowy Nov. 10. I had given them a tip the next day to fish the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River near Prescott, Wis., but they drew a blank there.
On Nov. 13, I wrote a column asking readers to help Konson and Balserak catch their Minnesota walleyes. Many readers responded with tips and offers to get them on the water in boats. Before the anglers could accept, they acted on a tip from the app fishbrain and traveled to the Minnesota River, where they started casting at 9 p.m. Nov. 12.
Four casts and four walleyes later, they were on their way to Iowa, the first state of four consecutively — Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas — in which the channel cat is the official fish.
Try as they might, first while casting in the Missouri River near Omaha, before backtracking to Des Moines to fish the Des Moines River, they couldn’t hook a channel cat.
Then, a week ago, Nov. 20, I wrote a column updating readers on the young anglers’ travels and asking any Star Tribune online readers in Iowa to help. Three responded, including Scott Jungman, who e-mailed me at 9:36 a.m. Nov. 20 from his archery blind after reading my column on his phone.
“I live on the Raccoon River at Adel, Iowa,’’ Jungman wrote. “The boys can stay in nice comfy beds at my house and fish the river below me. The channel cats will be holding in the deep pool on my land.’’
I relayed Jungman’s offer to the intrepid anglers and they quickly drove to Adel. Before the sun set, each had a channel cat in hand and could finally head to Nebraska. But not before Jungman and his wife, Shannon, took the anglers out to dinner, washed their clothes and provided them the previously mentioned warm beds.
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Epilogue: Konson and Balserak made quick work of Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri. Using raw chicken for bait, they landed channel cats in each state. Skipping Oklahoma for the time being, they drove to Texas, where the Guadalupe bass is the state fish and where they have friends to join for Thanksgiving.