Monday, June 30, 2008

Bernie Konter's Fall Fest Pickles (and fishing of course)

Eleva Wisconsin and Independence Wisconsin are only 18 miles apart however they are as opposite as lefse and sour kraut. Eleva is a small Norwegian/Lutheran community while Independence is mostly Polish/Catholic. All Wisconsin small towns had something in common at the time, 1 tavern for every 100 residents and Independence was no exception. It was actually the place to go on a weekend with Midway, Travers Valley, Elk Creek, and E & J's bar hosting all of the area's young people looking for a good time. The drinking age was 18 and the times were definitely different. My wife is from Independence and through her and her brother I had the opportunity to meet many new friends. The Catholic Church in Independence is a tribute to the Polish tradition. Stop by if you ever go through there as you will not be disappointed. Every year on the first weekend in August the church has their annual fund raiser called the Fall Fest. I will never forget my surprise to see beer served on the church grounds. Moose Halama was the local Pabst distributor and it was everywhere! My conservative Lutheran upbringing made it awkward, however I quickly got past my initial reservations and decided these people aren't nearly as bad as my Grandmother had made them out to be. One thing that always impressed me was the fact that they always had fresh "Fall Fest" pickles that various people would bring around in 5 qt ice cream pails for you to grab a few and enjoy. They were always made from the first cucumber harvest, were excellent, and Bernie Konter made the best. Bernie Konter is quite the individual, maybe even a modern day legend. Now retired he would work 5 days away from home buiding state of the art bridges and come back on weekends to his family and a way of life that I envy. He is in every sense the the well rounded sportsman. His expertise ranges from trapping turtles, participating in the annual after deer hunting carp roundup on the Trempealeau River, to making venision bologna, canning any thing that moves, and "fall fest" pickles. For some reason he took to this young Norwegian although I would not doubt that a number of people could say the same. Years ago I gave him my business card and said to call me if he ever is in Minnesota and I would gladly take him fishing. I got that call 3 weeks ago. He was coming up with his wife, 2 daughters, their husbands and grandkids for they rented a house on Mille Lacs for the weekend. I decided to come up on Friday night to hit that magic hour bobber bite. With plenty of boats I drove up without the parachute hooked to the back of my burb. As I arrived in Isle the western sky was the color of midnight. Arriving at the house we decided a couple of beers would make the rain disappear a little faster. A quick dinner and it looked clear enough to hit the landing. Once on the water we hit a small squall that dampened our clothes but not our spirits until we were finally anchored on the Banana Reef in 12 feet of water. The bite was tough as evident by the movement of the launches every 15 minutes. My first bite got my hopes up until the fiesty rock bass appeared at the end of my line. We move twice anchoring in 20 feet of water which produced a 23 incher. The last stop of the night was in 15 feet and we added 2 smaller walleyes to the livewell. Although not the best night, it was fun to finally fish with Bernie and his son-in-law Jamie. And those Fall Fest Pickles, here is Bernie's recipe or at least how I make them (about 20 gallons a year). Cut fresh cucumbers lengthwise and layer them in a 5 quart ice cream pail alternating with raw sweet onions and plenty of fresh dill. Make a brine using 1/2 cup of canning salt, 1 cup of white vinegar, teaspoon of chopped garlic, a good tablespoon of pickling spices, and 8 quarts of distilled water. Mix well and pour over the pickles. Add a couple of wild grape leaves for that special flavor then cover them and put them into the fridge for a couple of weeks. Voila, enjoy what the rest of us have for years. I look really forward to fishing with Bernie again, maybe on the river next time.


John said...


I have only fished Mille Lacs once for a few hours a few years ago with no luck. We were more interested in the beer than the fish as it was a very hot day.

I know fishing was real hot on the lake about five years ago and then cooled down. If you know where to fish, what is the "average" catch of walleyes on the lake this year?

Dave Anderson said...

You can still put up 8 - 10 walleyes a day if you stay at it. Everything is late this year however there seems to be alot of fish in the lake.