When I was a boy, my dad took me on my first canoeing and camping trip on the St. Croix River. Our adventure ignited my love for fishing and exploration. My imagination ran wild as we paddled the mysterious backwaters into the woods; it seemed an alligator was as likely as anything to snatch my trusty Rapala Original Floating Minnow when I cast out in this secret world of swirling currents and fallen trees.
Instead, smallmouth bass were our prey, hoisted over the gunwale to flop on the bottom of the canoe before being fried over an open fire on the sandy island that was ours for the night. Later, cocooned in my dad’s old Boy Scout sleeping bag, I peered through the tent to watch the fire’s final embers flicker.
I have loved the river ever since.
And so last week I introduced someone else to the magic of canoeing this scenic, 169-mile waterway: my mom. She is no stranger to the river. In fact, each year I take her on a Mother’s Day outing on the St. Croix that has taught me a valuable lesson: God rewards people who go fishing on Mother’s Day (especially when they bring their biological creator).
The annual outing has provided some surprising and spectacular moments, from catching the only brown trout I’ve ever caught on the Croix, to landing a 62-inch sturgeon that jumped a full yard out of the water three times during the 50-minute battle.
Mom and I always cherish the time together. I know she goes more to spend time with me than to catch fish. She likes the outdoors, but is not a serious angler; most years our day on the river is the only time she wets a line. So it is an annual opportunity to expose her to one of my favorite pastimes, at one of my favorite places.
Mom, for her part, is a wonderful guest in my boat. In fishing, as in all of life, she is enthusiastic, optimistic, open to adventure, and interested in what I’m doing (plus she packs delicious homemade sweetbread and brownies). This year, a family member’s health prevented us from fishing on Mother’s Day, so we postponed our St. Croix excursion to later in the summer.
We went last week and, in the spirit of trying something new, left the boat at home and rented a canoe. A few years prior I took Mom kayaking for her first time––on Lake Superior, no less––and so I figured she’d enjoy a float trip down my favorite river.
No surprise, we had a blast. Eric’s Canoe Rental was our provider; we parked our car at their St. Croix Falls headquarters, then were shuttled into Wisconsin’s Interstate Park to launch a well-kept Old Town canoe. After 7 miles and several hours of light paddling, light fishing and light birdwatching (photo above; why push it on a sunny, Sunday afternoon?), we beached at Osceola and Eric Flinn’s team zipped us back to our car.
Flinn himself, I came to learn, is a fellow river rat. He grew up outside Juneau, Alaska, on the shores of the Mendenhall River. During peak season, he’d hear the frequent yells of rafters shooting the rapids of the river that flows from the famed Mendenhall Glacier.
Some years ago he moved to Stillwater and quickly grew to appreciate the St. Croix’s unique charm. He kayaked and canoed the river frequently, and 15 years ago started his rental service, which now consists of over 100 canoes and 50 kayaks.
“The St. Croix is one of the cleanest rivers in the United States,” Flinn said. “It’s very scenic and pristine with cliffs, beaches and forests all around it. Perfect for canoeing. A little slice of heaven.”
Mom and I agreed with Flinn’s assessment. Our Sunday on the river was terrific, and gave us a chance to connect with nature’s beauty and with each other. As we paddled along the island I first camped on 2 decades ago, I shared memories of that maiden voyage and explained its role in developing my lifelong passion for fishing and the outdoors.
Mom, in turn, offered the perfect suggestion of who should be the next person I introduce to the Croix: my 2-year-old son, Joseph.