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Olivia, Minn., man's love for fishing leads to all the right places

Jon Wogen of Olivia holds a brown trout caught in Boxelder Creek in the Black Hills in May 2009. He was using a gold-ribbed hare's ear nymph fly. The fish hit just as the sun was setting and the shadows from the mountains lengthened across the creek. (Submitted)

Just where will a love for fishing take you in life?

In Jon Wogen's case, it has led him to:

* wild streams running through the bluff country of northeastern Iowa;

* the Black Hills of South Dakota in search of trout;

* the sparkling waters of the Mississippi River near Brainerd to tangle with largemouth bass and northern pike;

* the deep, glacial waters of Grindstone Lake near Sandstone for pole-bending lake and rainbow trout fishing, and trophy pike;

* and the fertile waters of Kandiyohi County, to enjoy just about all of it.

Walleye, northern pike, largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappies and sunfish are the targets of his many outings on lakes including Big Kandi, Games and Green.

Not a bad bit of traveling, and to think it all started with bullheads in a shallow, northern Iowa lake.

"My dad made sure that we got up to our lake early and caught bullheads in the spring,'' said Wogen. "I grew up on bullheads, believe it or not.''

Wogen, 72, serves as a substitute teacher after retiring from a career as a high school biology and science instructor in Olivia from 1971- 2001, and for 15 years prior in the Norway, Iowa, schools.

He continues to make his home in Olivia with a sometimes companion on these fishing outings, his wife, Jan. They raised two sons, Erik and Matt. The sons live in Colorado and have given their father all the excuse he needed to add remote, mountain lakes to his repertoire of fishing waters.

Wogen credits his father, Ray, for all of his wanderings, and for a very early introduction to fishing.

Somewhere in the family's photo collection is a snapshot of 6-month-old Jon sitting in his mother's lap, cane pole in hand.

His father farmed in northern Iowa and was an avid outdoorsman, hunter and angler. Wogen said his father seemed to be always struggling with money, but never failed to find a way to take his two sons fishing on the Mississippi River near Brainerd for largemouth bass and northern pike. They went just as soon as the last corn was planted and hurried back for the first harvest of hay.

"I have to admit I do take my dad fishing with me every time I go,'' he said. "I reminiscence a lot when I'm out there fishing. And when I catch a nice fish my dad's name is the first I mention. 'Dad, did you see that?'''

Wogen has had a lot of "did you see that'' moments. A get-away with fishing pal Marlin Hanson to Grindstone Lake near Sandstone a few years ago saw him slam an eight-pound rainbow trout while trolling for crappies with a one-inch long Daredevil. The next day, a slighter longer version of the same spoon gave him the chance to reel in a four-pound brown trout on the same lake.

It was just over a year ago in late May when he coaxed his bride to join him in his boat on the wind-whipped waters of Big Kandiyohi Lake. All of their bouncing on the waves was rewarded when he yanked a 9.25-pound walleye from the frothy waters. "This is what I've been waiting for all my life,'' he told Jan.

He returned to the same waters -- and virtually the same spot -- in late October and hoisted a 10-pound walleye to the boat. It's still out there.

He makes it his practice to release all of the big northern pike that Kandi and other lakes offer him. His biggest from Big Kandi dates to a late October trip in 1980, when he stepped out into the waves and cast alongside six older gentlemen in waders. Each felt the electric-like jolt of a hit at the same time, and one-by-one they reeled in their prizes. Wogen's was the last to be landed and it was also the biggest at 14 pounds.

He improved on that in waters in northeastern Minnesota just a few years ago. A longtime friend watched as Wogen caught and released four northern pike in a row with a combined weight of more than 40 pounds -- the biggest was 20 pounds.

Yet it was friend and Brainerd-area fishing guide Denny Pluimer of rural Raymond who gave him the muscle-building fishing trip of a lifetime. Pluimer put the two of them on 85 largemouth bass in one morning. All were released. Wogen said his right arm and shoulder throbbed for relief by morning's end.

Wogen will keep an occasional fish or two for a meal. Northern pike and perch caught in winter waters are his favorites for eating, and a 17-inch walleye is just right for a meal for the fisherman and his spouse. Otherwise, he practices catch and release.

He promotes it too. For 28 years he has authored the "Prairie Outdoors'' column for his hometown newspaper, the Renville County Register. It's given him the opportunity to tell about the outdoor adventures available close to home, as well as speak to the conservation needs of the area.

Wogen said his decision to earn bachelors and master's degrees in biology and to pursue a career in teaching science was a natural outcome of his upbringing. The family's Iowa farm offered the perfect classroom, complete with wetlands to explore and lots of waterfowl and pheasants to hunt. His father was the best of all mentors, encouraging his sons to explore the outdoors at every opportunity.

His love for fishing only grew when he and his high school buddy left home and made their way to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. There, they discovered the thrill of stalking stream trout in the cold waters running to the Mississippi in the wooded bluff country.

As a high school sophomore, Wogen's friend had turned his profits from selling night crawlers into a fly rod and fly tying kit. Wogen soon turned his earnings from trapping pocket gophers into the same, and that was it.

To this day, Wogen remains an avid fly fisherman and fly-tier as well.

"Trout are always in a beautiful place,'' said Wogen.

That is true too of those who pursue them and fish of all sorts, and that keeps putting Wogen right where he wants to be.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335