Red Sky at Night with JB Cornwell | The Year on Lake Minnetonka

In April of 1981 I resigned an unsatisfying job in Sarasota, FL and moved back to the Twin Cities vicinity of Minnesota to be close to family and business contacts and to try independent consulting for a living.

After some searching I rented a neat little 1 bedroom cabin in Mound, MN right on the shore of a major bay of Lake Minnetonka.

Lake Minnetonka was “made” by damming the outlet of one lake and raising the water level so that several additional natural lakes joined, then cutting canals to make navigation among them convenient. It had about 1500 miles of shoreline and was the favorite recreational lake of the area.

The first thing I needed was a dock for Sunshine, my beloved 1966 Boston Whaler Sakonnet. I chose to put in a small dock on piers, rather than the movable dock on wheels that was pretty standard. The docks on wheels were removed from the lake in the late fall and put back in the spring after the ice had gone. My dock wasn’t expected to survive a winter, but it was a LOT less expensive.

I had enough great adventures that spring, summer and fall to fill a book so I will give you a few snapshots and perhaps elaborate in later columns.

My routine allowed for a lot of time on the water. I spent one or two days a week in client’s facilities, a few days on the road on occasion, but the rest of my work followed my own schedule and was done at home in the evening or during inclement weather.

I spent many days on the water with my son, John, who lived nearby, fishing for crappie, bass, northern pike and walleye. There were no musky in the lake in those days, but I understand it is now a premium musky lake as well.

In late April is the annual Lake Minnetonka crappie tournament. John and I had fished it before and collected nice strings of crappie but no prizes. The seasons for game fish were not open so any accidental catches of bass, northern or walleye had to be released.

We went to a spot I had scouted, just a few yards off Viking quarterback Fran Tarkenton’s dock. It was about a ten mile cruise from my cabin. It was a calm, balmy, sunny day and kicking back while on a modest plane on our way there was very pleasant for April in Minnesota..

We rigged our ultralight spincast tackle with small hair jigs about 5 feet below a small bobber and tossed them out. My entry level SONAR flasher claimed that there were a lot of fish about 5 feet down in 8-10 feet of water. That proved to be a valid claim, as we quickly started catching crappie, but pretty small ones which we returned to the water.

I decided to make a move of about 50 yards, where we settled down again. This time the crappie were better, 10-12 inchers. As time went by we culled our fish basket to keep the best 15-20 fish, which turned out to be a very respectable mess of crappie.

We crept up on Mr. Tarkenton’s dock and I tossed a jig right under the end. The 4lb. mono suddenly screamed off my reel for a few seconds, then parted with a sickening little snap. Out there somewhere was a pretty healthy bass or northern with my jig. Spincast reels still haven’t gotten the drag right, and the ultralight aren’t any better than the regular sizes.

While we were fishing, a light 14′ Jon boat with 4 fairly large young men pulled in and started fishing. There must have been between 4 and 6 inches of freeboard, and they persisted in standing and moving around. I nodded toward them and said to John that they were an accident looking for a place to happen. I had barely gotten that out when the boat capsized, dumping the occupants and all their gear into about 8 feet of 45-50 degree water. They grabbed the gunnels of the now swamped boat and paddled ashore. I have never been one to laugh at the misfortunes of others, but other bystanders weren’t as kind. The four left the boat dragged onto Mr. Tarkenton’s lawn and slunk out of sight.

Then John got a fish on that was considerably stronger than the regular fare. After a few minutes of delicate maneuvering he brought a large crappie to boat. As I netted the fish I was sure he had won the tournament. It was 15″ and on my scale it went a smidgin over 2 pounds.

It was nearing the 12:00 weigh-in, so we sped to the ramp where it was to take place. There were several hundred fishermen gathered at the site. We weighed John’s fish in at 11:30 and he was in first place. Unfortunately the next half hour weighed in nine fish heavier than his and he just missed Honorable Mention. The winner was a 4lb. monster that looked to me like it has been dead for a long time, maybe even frozen during the winter and brought out for the occasion. I kept my suspicions to myself.

Next time I will tell about the time I barely avoided getting run down in the middle of the night by an unlighted cruiser on full plane!

(JB Cornwell writes from “The Hideout” in Whitt, TX, and is also an expert moderator, instructor, and fountain-of-knowledge in the Boating Forums, where he may occasionally share a yarn of his own.)

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One Response to Red Sky at Night with JB Cornwell | The Year on Lake Minnetonka

  1. Cort says:

    Great story. I have fished the Crappie Contest on Minnetonka many times and more than once I’ve had my suspicions about 4 and 5 lbs crappies winning. However, winning isn’t why I go out, it’s a great reason to get the boat on the water early in the year and start enjoying our short summers!

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