MINNEAPOLIS — When we last heard from Daniel Balserak and Luke Konson, they were sleeping in a Toyota van in the Cabela's parking lot in Woodbury. This was November 2020, snow was falling and the intrepid pair started the van every couple of hours to keep warm.
High school buddies from Oakton, Va., Konson and Balserak should have been freshmen at Clemson University. But upon learning a year ago that classes would be virtual during their first year, they opted instead to fish all 50 states in 12 months.
They also set a goal of each catching the state fish in every state, hoping to become the only anglers to do so.
Before their arrival in Minnesota last fall, Balserak and Konson had no contacts here to steer them toward walleyes. That they would be fishing from shore only complicated the challenge. Hearing from them, I suggested they fish the St. Croix just upstream from Prescott, Wis. But for their efforts, they got only cold.
Consulting the online app fishbrain (fishbrain.com), the pair diverted Nov. 12 to the Minnesota River, where four casts starting at 9 p.m. earned them four walleyes. Then they were off to Iowa, where for days their attempts to catch channel catfish were stymied by Minnesota-like frigid weather.
Fast forward to last Wednesday.
With 46 states checked off their list, Konson and Balserak, both 19, were on the phone from Arkansas, where their attempts to catch a pair of alligator gar (each of the anglers must catch a target fish before they can leave a state) were going nowhere.
"We're running short of time,'' Konson said. "We have plane tickets from [Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C.] to Hawaii on Monday, and from there we fly to Alaska. After that we're back home to Virginia, where we'll end our trip later this month by catching brook trout, the Virginia state fish.''
"If we can't catch an alligator gar today in Arkansas, we're going to drive to the Trinity River in Texas and try to catch one there. If we do, that fish will have a bit of an asterisk for us because we didn't catch it in Arkansas. But alligator gar don't seem to be catchable right now in Arkansas.''