By JENNIE ZEITLER
Don Lapos has spent most of his 88 years fishing whenever he had the chance.
“My parents took us fishing mostly on Lake Beauty since I was 5 years old,” he said. “We rented a flat-bottom boat for 50 cents a day. I was afraid I was going to fall off the seat.”
Don’s dad, George, rowed him and his older brother, Ben, around the lake.
“He fished with a cane pole, but I used a drop line,” Don said. “I went to the back 40 and got a willow branch for it.”
Don’s mom, Mary, used a drop line, too. “She was a good fisherman,” he said. “Dad did the paddling and put the anchor down and Mom packed a lunch. Those days, we always fasted on Friday, so we went fishing at least once a week.”
During winter, Mary stayed home and the older boys would go more often. The family started with Emma, followed by George Jr., Joe, Florian, Ben and Don. The family farm was located two miles northwest of Flensburg.
“After we did our chores, we could go fishing,” Don said. “We generally went to Lake Beauty or Big Swan Lake.”
George eventually bought a round-bottom wood boat and put it in Big Swan Lake.
“He kept it there, and made an agreement with the farmer storing it, that the farmer could use it anytime he wanted,” said Don.
After he and Marian married, they went sunfishing together for a time.
“Then she didn’t like to get up that early in the morning when I left,” he said. “But you have to get out there early when the fish are going to bite.”
Their sons Bert and Bob are eager fishermen, and Don took them to Big Swan, Lake Beauty and Lady Lake.
“In winter, we fished all over,” he said.
Bert still lives near Flensburg and fishes with Don often. They generally take along fishing partner Gary Fafara.
Don most enjoys the relaxing nature of fishing, but that doesn’t eliminate some friendly competition.
“Bert and I are always trying to get the biggest fish, especially when we go spear fishing up north,” Don said.
He thinks there doesn’t seem to be as many fish as there were years ago.
“There are more fishermen, and nowadays fishing has so much equipment; the fish hardly has a chance,” he said. “I don’t use any of that.”
Don still fishes the old-fashioned way with a casting rod and reel. He makes his own jigglers winter and summer.
During the summer, he and his nephew, George III, go out a lot and are pretty competitive.
“I taught him how to fish, and now he’s just as good as I am,” said Don with a grin. “He retired last fall and now he has more time to fish.”
Bob lives in Baudette. In addition to being an Assembly of God minister, he is also a fishing guide and a trapper.
“I’d say fishing was in his blood,” Marian said of her son.
With the opportunity to fish in Lake of the Woods, fishing has taken on a different tone.
“The most exciting thing I caught on Lake of the Woods was the wind,” Don said. “But one spring while fishing on the Rainy River I caught a big walleye — longer than 26 inches. I threw it back in because it was spawning.”
Grandchildren Michelle and Nolan like to fish.
“We took them sunfishing and I would have thrown the first fish back, but since it was the first fish caught we had to keep it,” said Don.
Don does not head out on Minnesota fishing season opening day due to the crowds, waiting instead for a later time.
“I like to be out on the lake,” he said. “I just like the outdoors.”
But fishing is not the only way he spends time with nature. He still hunts deer.
“I spend a lot of time in the stand and wait ‘em out,” said Don. “I watch the grouse, pheasant roosters and sometimes turkeys walk past.”
Don and his sons also continue their trapping tradition. For many years, Don trapped fox, skinning and drying the pelts.
“Bert used to trap mostly water animals — muskrat, otter and raccoon,” said Don. “Now I go along with him, but teach him how to trap fox and coyote.”
For Don and Marian, there are still adventures to be had.
“I’d like to go see Alaska,” he said.