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Poker and Fishing Are A Lot Alike
by Turk Gierke

"Poker and fishing are a lot a like," says the New York City native as we sit afloat the St. Croix River, under a Minnesota moon. "They are both games of observation, you need to know your opponents tendencies and your chances," expounds the man who is on a personal journey to Alaska. "What cards do they bet on - when do they stay in the game - what are your odds?"

Larry Katz called me and said he was staying and gambling out at Canterbury Park in Shakopee for a "while". Other than play poker, specifically a game called Texas hold em', he indicated that he wanted to catch something big during his stay in Minnesota.

He told me he wanted to go catch a big catfish. I told him the time is right - the river level is just starting to drop after a recent spell of relative high water and the cats generally turn on as the water recedes.

The arrangement was to meet at the Stillwater public boat launch Monday night at 8:30 pm, and we would take it from there. The evening near the launch was quiet and slow - all the usual commotion of the musical chair parking scene had subsided.

The beauty of the river emerged with the absence of the waiting line. As I tinkered in the boat, I looked up and saw my customer, some how I was expecting Jim Maverick or someone at least wearing shiny shoes.

With a gentle face, and like any other fisherman adorning - sneakers, sweatshirt, blue jeans, and a New York Knicks ballcap - could this be a New York City card playing slickster?

We turned the boat south and headed for big water. I gave the gambler a bit of a Stillwater history lesson as we glided under the bridge. The conversation was mainly about Flatheads, bait, hooks, and the expectations.

Larry seemed pleased when I told him 20 pound fish were common, and I expect to hook him up with one that size - or bigger.

Settling the boat near the first spot, we coordinated the anchor drop and held her tight. Tossed out all four baited 4/0 hooks and started discussing why he was in town.

He confided, "I sold my half of the air conditioning business to my partner, my girlfriend kicked me out. I'm not sure what I'm going to do now or where I am going to live, but I did decide one thing, to take a road trip to Alaska. I've always wanted to go on an Alaskan fishing trip - northern pike and halibut."

The card player made a gambling stop in Michigan before arriving in The Twin Cities, and indicated he made a couple grand, out at one of the Wolverine State's Indian Casinos.

As the sun set, we pulled anchor and motored to another nearby cat location.

With a name like Katz, you would believe that we had caught a catfish before, but not so. An avid angler that fishes out of a 20 foot Grady White on the East Coast, Larry referred to many catches of large fish.

Codfish, tuna, striped bass, black drum, bluefish, and more species that I had not the pleasure of angling for.

He indicated he enjoyed bottom fishing best, and fishing with a guide that allows you to cast your own line, and touch the equipment before it is handed to you by the guide, like the Lake Michigan trout and salmon charters.

Pick up, anchor again, farther south - by now we talked more about card playing, and I asked for a few pointers.

He shared some secrets, "The biggest factor to winning is knowing your odds, specifically knowing how many cards are left that you need. If there is a five to one chance that the card you need will be turned up, and the pot is greater than 25 dollars - it's a good bet, other wise get out, that's a big key to long time success."

A very timely topic I thought since hours had passed and a single spool had not even turned. I knew prime time was now and moving would waist valuable time - I knew we where on prime turf and I liked my odds, so I stayed in the game - I stayed on my spot.

My client had indicated to me he knew how fishing worked - and thought maybe it was an off night. I told him it may be, but we need to wait it out for at least another half hour to see what 1:30 brings.

Just when he started asking how often my trips result in skunks, which I quickly replied "hasn't happened yet!", the spool on the pole to his left started spinning fast. We both popped up. He grabbed the rod and looked straight at me.

"Let it go" I said, and counted six seconds off, " like we discussed, point the tip towards the fish, tighten the drag, reel in the slack line and right when you feet the weight, wham em!"

Performed perfectly, that fish was hooked, a long minute went buy and a 10 pounder was scooped up by the enormous cat net. We congratulated each other and immediately had our batteries recharged, the flat was nothing big but we hit our target.

A half hour went buy, and we talked about the strength of that ten pound fish. Larry was impressed. Then the pole right in front of me went. The spool was singing like bee's wings.

Larry picked it up, looked at me, I counted out loud. The fish clearly had the whole sucker and was running with it, not playing around.

"Go," I said. The thirty pound test tightened like a piano string and the pole tip pumped and dove like it had a bucket of cement on the other end that was bouncing on a trampoline.

The fish came up and went down, over and over, we saw the slip sinker four times before the 37" flathead landed in the net. She was near thirty pounds and a big beauty in our eyes.

I took a few things away from that night. I liked the odds discussion, and trying to learn your opponents tendencies. Both relative topics to fishing - they are ones that are naturally used by successful players.

[Editors Note] The author operates Croixsippi Fishing Guide Service, and is a outdoor writer. He can be reached at 715-377-0006 or

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