Luke Hagen might not quite live in fishing heaven. And he can’t quite see it from where he lives and works, either.
But it’s only an hour’s drive away, usually with his 16-foot Lund and 50-horse Mariner in tow.
“There’s just something special about being able to drive an hour west, dump my boat in and know I could have a hundred-fish day,” says Hagen, the 33-year-old managing editor of the Mitchell Daily Republic.
Those hundred fish? They’d be walleyes, this year often ranging from 15 to 20 inches, a size to capture the imagination of anglers across the Midwest and lure them to the Missouri River at Chamberlain.
There, from 10 miles or so north of town to 10 miles or so south, you’ll find some of the best early spring walleye waters on the continent. Even then, hundred-fish days aren’t predictable. And when they come, they’re catch-and-release days, with only those kept for the four-fish per-angler daily limit going in the live well.
There are plenty of other days, too. Hagen had one on Sunday, when four or five hours of pretty hard-work fishing produced just five walleyes, along with something harder to count or quantify.
“Sunday wasn’t great fishing, for me at least,” Hagen says. “But it got up to 70 degrees with a light wind. And after you dump the boat in at American Creek before sunup and motor up the river nice and easy, you can watch the sun come up over the bluffs. It’s just gorgeous.”
Finding the gorgeous is perhaps the most essential part of time outdoors. And beauty is all around a fishing boat on the Missouri River, where Hagen finds himself regularly each spring.
He is often with the earliest vanguard of open-water anglers in the state.
“Two weekends ago was my first weekend out. And it’s the earliest I’ve been out at Chamberlain, he says. “When you can get on the river in late February or early March, it’s just awesome.”
Awesome outdoor experiences have been part of Hagen’s life for as long as he can remember. He grew up in Alexandria, Minn., with a highly skilled angling father, Bruce, who taught him not just the skills he’d need to catch fish but the attitude that makes it fun.
“Dad taught me that it’s significantly more fun to just go out and catch whatever is biting. I grew up with that,” Luke Hagen says. “We might go out and catch a couple hundred fish in a day — bass, crappies, sunfish, pike, and mixed in a few walleyes.”
Hagen brought that outdoor love to Mitchell when he took a job as a sports reporter for the Daily Republic in 2008. He has moved up from there, both in his journalism profession and is his love for the community.
“I really enjoy the people here, the outdoors, the hunting and fishing,” he said. “I just absolutely love it here.”
And after his family, there isn’t much he loves more than fishing on the Missouri, where he tends to focus on walleyes. That’s been true especially since he purchased his older-model Lund in 2014 from an understanding private seller. I say “understanding” because the guy agreed to drop his price from $3,000 to $2,000.
That’s all Hagen’s family budget could afford. The newspaper business is not known for inflated salaries, after all, and Hagen’s wife, Shannon, was soon to give birth to their first child, Grace.
“I went to look at the boat knowing I wasn’t really in a position to buy it,” Hagen says. “I got in the boat and it was clear it had been well cared for. I said, ‘How about I pay you $2,000 now.’”
That was all the seller needed.
“The guy asked me why I could only go $2,000, and I said I had a kid on the way and that was all I could afford then,” Hagen says. “And he said, ‘I’ve been there. You’ve got it for $2,000.’”
Which opened up a whole new world of angling for Hagen. He focuses on Chamberlain in the spring, branches out to the Platte area in the summer and hits well-known northeast glacial lakes and some “lesser-known lakes that won’t be mentioned” at other times.
So far he hasn’t “felt the need to upgrade” on that nice old Lund.
“It’s not the boat that catches the fish,” he says. “It just gets you to the spot.”
And that spot is usually an awesome one, for its walleyes, its beauty or both.