The date stamped on the back of the photo reads July 16, 1943. About one month earlier, Norman Fossum and Lillian Williams were married on the Williams’ farm in Benson County.
Their honeymoon was a fishing trip to Devils Lake. Certainly, the trip from the farm to the lake took longer back then, not just because of vehicle speeds, but the lake was literally several miles farther away. The spot where this photo was snapped is probably now under 10 feet of water or more.
Much about fishing has changed over the past 70 years, and not just the record number of fishing lakes the North Dakota Game and Fish Department manages, or the size to which some have grown. Today, there are 20-foot boats, with motors that speed them along faster than cars of the 1940s. There are underwater cameras that enable anglers to watch fish swallow the bait before setting the hook, hundreds of colors of jigs, fishing line that’s invisible to fish, and crankbaits that float, dive, suspend, rattle, glow and tease fish to the point of surrender.
Or you could just try the ol’ reliable hook and worm option, maybe from shore, like they so often did in 1943. Only one camera was used back then and that was to photograph memorable days fishing.
Although I do have a boat in the garage at home and a dozen or, well, maybe closer to two dozen colors of jigs, sometimes a day of shore-fishing is preferred. Recently, we hopped in the car, threw in one rod apiece (the ones with squeaky reels and dried worms on hooks from a previous fishing trip), and the plastic three-tray tackle box.
As I sat in prairie grasses on the edge of the shoreline, waiting for the bobber to disappear, I thought of grandma and grandpa’s fishing days. Grandma probably sat in the prairie grasses, too, as grandpa paced the shore.
Both have been gone now for quite some time. They witnessed the early days of Devils Lake rising, but never saw it at its zenith. I don’t think they ever got to ride in a fishing boat that went faster than their first car. But we all know that “tug tug” feel of a fish on the line and those few seconds when you stop breathing to time the hook-set to match the bite. We still take photographs, although no longer on film, of treasured days spent fishing.