Landing a muskie in Minneapolis
SILHOUETTED by the rising moon, disturbed by the occasional airplane making its descent toward Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Chris Weglinski stands at the bow of his small aluminum fishing boat and casts a lure into inky water. After a long day in the kitchen of Sea Salt, a seafood eatery in Minnehaha Park, Weglinski and co-owner Jon Blood—two men who spend all day buying, cooking, cleaning, and thinking about fish—like nothing better than setting out on Minneapolis’s lakes and rivers, trying to catch a few.
Urban anglers are a familiar sight: youngsters reeling in bluegills from Lake Phalen and Hmong families casting lines into Lake Calhoun. As local fishermen go, Weglinski and Blood are, you might say, at the top of the food chain. And tonight, on an undisclosed Minneapolis lake, they’re fishing for muskellunge, the state’s largest and most elusive piscine predator.
Weglinski, dressed in Adidas sandals, cropped pants, and a T-shirt promoting a local indie rock band, shifts his stance and explains that most people’s reaction to his urban fishing habit is, more or less, “What the hell?” Although Field & Stream recently ranked the Twin Cities fourth in its compendium of America’s Best Fishing Cities, most metro residents (1) don’t even realize there are game fish in local waterways and/or (2) believe the lakes and rivers are, well, yucky.
Blood, like Weglinski, sports shaggy auburn hockey hair, but has a stockier build and a somewhat more mellow demeanor. In the past, he says, urban waters were extremely polluted; he cites a 1960s survey just below the St. Paul stretch of the sewage-infested Mississippi River that didn’t yield a single fish. But local waterways and fish populations—walleye, pike, bass, carp—have recovered tremendously.
Blood and Weglinski met six years ago, working at the Coastal Seafoods fish shop in south Minneapolis, and started fishing together shortly thereafter. Since opening Sea Salt in the summer of 2005, they have typically been able to get out on the water a few times a week, after dusk or before dawn. But in the fall and winter, they go “all day, every day,” Blood says, even casting among ice chunks in early December.
As the hours pass, there are a few interruptions for smoking cigars, peeing off the back of the boat, and shucking Eld Inlet oysters, toted along from the restaurant.
Suddenly, Weglinski starts cussing excitedly and tussles with his line. For a few minutes there is a violent thrashing at the side of the boat until he pulls in what looks like a prehistoric baby shark—about three feet long, with a pouty face and alligator jaws. Weglinski tugs out the hook and holds the muskie lengthwise, as if it were a religious offering. The exhausted fish lies eerily still, while Weglinski, tensed with adrenaline, shakes slightly, his breathing audible. While urban fish are safe to eat, Weglinski and Blood rarely keep their catch (of muskie, Weglinski says, “they taste like crap”). In an age of high-tech chef chemists who liquefy ham and solidify wine, these restaurateurs relate to food on a level that’s practically primal.
Blood snaps a photo, a routine he’s repeated as he’s fished his way from Alaska to Antigua. “People think they need to go to Canada to catch a fish like that,” he says. “I catch more big fish in Minneapolis than anywhere else in the world.”