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Commissioner Jensen Hosts International Catfish Connoisseur

Commissioner Mick Jensen with his grandson Kai at the Chicago Airport.

This summer I played host to a very special guest from England.  I planned well in advance of his arrival to ensure that his visit to the states would be one that left him with experiences he would not soon forget.  The plans had to include events that would be well worth the long flights and meet his expectations of entertainment.  My European visitor’s name is Kai Jensen, my 6-year-old grandson.

Kai lives about two hours from London and his journey began as he boarded a flight, traveling solo, to meet up with me in Chicago.  We were relieved to finally see each other at the gate in the Chicago airport after his long flight.  We spent time catching up on the last leg of his flight to Omaha.  We made the scenic drive back home chatting like grandpas and grandsons do, telling stories and pointing out local landmarks along the way. When we finally pulled in the driveway back home the tractor caught his eye.  A few minutes later he had climbed his way up into the seat, grabbed the controls and maneuvered some large round bales for the next three hours.  When he had finally had enough of the tractor he looked at me and said, “Grandpa, it is time to go fishing!”

Wrangling the round bales from grandpa’s tractor.

While I am not certain when they got hooked on angling, Kai and his brother Misha really can’t get enough of the sport.  I have taken them pan fishing on a couple vacations when they were very small and apparently it really stuck with them. They both crave the thrill of casting a line and the excitement of the tug of a catch.  One thing I had learned from my previous visits to see their family was that all the good fishing spots where they live are privately owned by fishing clubs.  Unfortunately, an individual trying to find a place to take someone fishing on their own in England is not a very rewarding experience.  They pretty much go out just to watch their bait get washed or drown.

Doesn’t get much better than a day spent fishing on the river.

My plans for his visit were well laid out and definitely included some serious fishing. The itinerary called for us to travel to Niobrara, Nebraska to the Flying V ranch, a duck hunting club where I have a membership.  I had chosen this duck hunt club because it is very rustic.

Mike Kelley and Kai proudly display Kai’s catch.

My best recollections from when I was 6 years old, told me this place would hold his interest.  I knew Kai had nothing like this in England. The Flying V is very primitive and right on the Missouri River outside of Niobrara with bluffs and rolling hills defining the landscape.  The two-man cabins have bunk beds, and a small room air conditioner but no plumbing. There is a cook shack with one restroom.

So we headed off towards Niobrara and the Flying V, about a 2 ½ -hour drive.  The entire trip, all Kai could talk about was catching CATFISH.   Mike Kelley, one of the owners, welcomed us as we arrived to the Flying V.  He pointed us to the bait shop and recommended a couple of choices for enticing the catfish.  I knew by now that Kai likes walleye and flathead catfish, so we got some leeches, some night crawlers and I stuck a jar of stink bait in the boat just in case the catfish were being particular on that day. We finally got his hook baited with worms, I couldn’t get him to bait the leeches; he had too many premonitions as to what they were like and how they were used for other purposes.

Right off the bat we caught a walleye and a couple small bass.  But Kai was determined to get a catfish.  I said “Here Kai, let’s try some of this stink bait.”  As any inquisitive 6-year-old would do, Kai asked me, “Grandpa, why do they call it stink bait?”  I lifted the lid on the jar and leaned it towards his nose. His eyes got big, his nose wrinkled a bit.  He said, “Grandpa, I know WHY they call it stink bait.”

Kent Petersen and Kai grilling up the evening meal.

He was fine-tuning his casting skills with some tips from me here and there and was doing a pretty good job of getting it right.  Pretty soon there was a jerk on the line.  His adrenaline really started pumping when he realized he had hooked a catfish. I thought he was going to jump out of the boat to get it.  As exciting as the first one was to have hooked, it was too small to keep so we tossed him back. But the day provided ample opportunities to feed his catfish craving.

Kai was really proud to have caught enough catfish to feed five people.

All combined that day he caught more than 10 catfish. We kept four large enough for five of us to have eggs and catfish the next morning for breakfast. Kai was really proud that he had caught enough catfish to provide a good meal for five people.  Not to mention the fact that he loves the taste of catfish and ate way more than I thought a 6- year-old could put down in one sitting. We had wood-fired grilling while we were up there with apple smoked bacon and eggs and of course the catfish. We ate everything we caught and went into town only one night for dinner.   No one has a bed time when grandchildren are involved.  But we were tired at night and turned in when we couldn’t stay awake any longer.

Kai wore the dogs out playing on the river.

Needless to say, we fished every day we were there. Sometimes Kai would get tired after a while, put down his pole and go play on a sandbar.  He convinced another one of the camp’s owners, Kent Petersen, to let us take his dogs along as companions on the river romps.  The dogs were eager to accompany Kai and explore the shoreline and sandbars with him.  They went swimming, digging, and fetched sticks floating in the current. He wore those dogs out.

At the end of our time at camp we headed back home.  I had some other experiences planned for Kai in addition to the tractor rides and exploring the hills.  When we got home he spied the crossbow in my garage and he wanted nothing more than to shoot that crossbow.  So we took it down and set up the target.  On his very first shot he hit the bumble bee in the middle of the target. On the second shot he hit the bull’s-eye in the middle of the bumble bee in the center of the target.  So at this point I am confident in saying he is going to be a hunter without a doubt when he gets back over here.  As soon as he is old enough, I have a .22 rifle with his name on it that I won in a drawing at a lottery in Blair. I expect he will want to come back over here next year to try that out.

Kai and his crossbow and target.

When Kai was here I learned a little about river fishing and he learned a lot about river fishing.  He taught me some things, too.  He taught me to stay on task and to not do too much at one time. He needed a little diversion at times, as a 6-year-old will.  We didn’t have to fish all the time. He loved running and exploring on the sandbars, swimming in the river and playing with the dogs.

Back home in London, while Kai and I were enjoying the Flying V, Kai’s 9 year-old brother, Misha, and his mom walked on a 177-mile trek in England raising money for an Ethiopian Library Donkey. They covered 12-14 miles a day.  In Ethiopia they take books from library to library on donkeys.  Misha raised nearly 2000 pounds for the effort and was voted ambassador of the year by the group.  Kai and Misha are ambitious and active children. I am happy to say they are both fully engaged in outdoor endeavors and will be requiring me to keep up with their pace, providing new experiences as they pursue their respective places in the long legacy of hunting and fishing that is threaded through the lives of the Jensen family history.  This summer’s chapter in that part of our history was certainly one to remember.

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