The way Buzz tells it, he knew what I was going to say the moment I called him by name. He and I were fishing the Reno Bottoms, a secluded section of Mississippi River backwater just south of Brownsville, Minnesota. Buzz was in his kayak, I was in mine, and we were casting lures into adjacent pools about forty yards apart. “Hey, Buzz,” I yelled across the short expanse of water, “I lost the stringer.”

The problem started because I’d forgotten to bring a stringer of my own. Buzz had one, but it was the kind that is little more than a few feet of thin synthetic rope with a sharp metal tip on the end for literally “stringing” one fish after another along the rope’s length. This particular design is a simple way to keep fish alive in the water, but its downside is that the user has to untie the entire device from the boat each time he or she adds a fish. The only reason the stringer was on my boat at all was because the first fish of the day was a good sized northern pike caught by Buzz. He was about to release it back into the river when I told him it was the perfect size for pike fillets. He said that he didn’t like the way his kayak tracked when a big fish was hanging over the side, so if I wanted to keep the northern, it was going on my boat. 

We had the northern and two largemouth bass on the stringer when Buzz called me over to add a fourth fish. I started to untie the stringer from my boat, but halfway through undoing the knot, I got my first look at the fish Buzz was holding and didn’t think it was quite long enough to be of legal size. I have 14” for bass and 15” for walleye marked off on one of my poles, so I took the fish (another bass), measured it, and found it to be about a half inch short. Instead of putting it on the stringer, I slipped it back into the water.

All I can figure is that I forgot to retie the knot after releasing the fish, because five minutes later the stringer was gone. When I gave Buzz the bad news, I had to listen to him complain about my unforgivable action and how it had cost him the biggest bass he’d ever caught. Eventually he blamed himself for the fiasco because he realized he shouldn’t have left me in charge of the stringer in the first place. This was not the first time Buzz had been with me when I lost a stringer of fish. One other time, on a two-day canoe trip along the South Fork of the Flambeau, I accidentally released an early morning catch that was supposed to be our breakfast.

Buzz and I fished another half hour, then called it a day. We paddled back to the takeout spot and ran into an old guy we often see at the Bottoms. When he asked how we had done, I explained my mishandling of the stringer. “Yeah,” he said, “those things happen.”

Steven Simpson