PILLAGER -- With the weather as miserable as it gets in May, anglers who hit the water for the start of the 2005 fishing season Saturday morning had to be hard core.
Or a soldier home on leave from Iraq.
It was the latter situation that brought Spc. Mike Pint, Pillager, and his father, Dwaine Aitkin, and friend, Jim Ausland, to Pillager Lake just after sunrise Saturday. With jacket collars turned up to fend off a damp north wind, the three anglers had this 206-acre lake just north of Pillager to themselves for the first hours of the new season.
"Better duck hunting weather," Aitkin said as the trio loaded the boat at the launch dock.
So it goes in Minnesota, where the duck opener in October probably will have weather better suited for fishing.
But cold rain didn't stop Pint, Aitkin and Ausland from giving it their best shot for two hours. A member of Company A, 1st Battalion, 194th Armor, Pint was deployed Oct. 16. After training in New Jersey, he and his fellow soldiers arrived Dec. 22 in Kuwait, moving into Iraq in early January.
He got home on leave a week ago and returns to Iraq May 23, so fishing hours are few for a young man who must visit friends and family and enjoy the only two weeks of vacation he'll get all year.
What has Pint enjoyed the most since coming home?
"Sleeping," he said. "It's nice not to be on a schedule."
It would have been nice not to shiver on opening day of the fishing season, too, but Pint didn't complain. He left behind 117-degree heat in Iraq where he drinks more than a gallon of water per day to stay hydrated.
"Sand and more sand," Pint said, describing the desert nation. "There are some trees by the Tigris River, but that's about it."
And, of course, there aren't any lakes for fishing. Pint said he enjoys walleye fishing most, but on this day he and his companions were trying for northerns because the bait shop hadn't opened yet when they drove through Pillager.
So they tied on crankbaits and circled the lake in the 12- to 15-foot depths. Pint said he usually fishes the Crow Wing River below the Pillager Dam or Gull Lake. But he said he had heard of some nice pike being taken from Pillager Lake.
But pike of any size weren't biting Saturday morning. The trio switched to Gator spoons and went a bit deeper, but nothing there, either. Finally they tried the extreme shallows at the northwest corner of the lake before reeling up.
It wasn't the best opener Pint had experienced, but when you work 12-hour shifts as a soldier and your off-hours choices are pool or a movie, it wasn't the worst way to kill a couple of hours.
VINCE MEYER can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5862.
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