So, just go fly fishing with a pal and chat a bit? Yeah, I think I can handle that assignment

Last Updated by Kevin Woster on
Tim Bjork joins the "go fish" assignment on Spearfish Creek

Go fish.

It was not an invitation to play a card game for kids. It was actually a story assignment, of sorts.

And one I was pretty well equipped to handle, even in my distracted state of semi-retirement. Or maybe especially in that state.

“You just want me to go fishing?” I asked Brad Van Osdel, somewhat incredulously. “That’s it?”
Van Osdel, the production manager for South Dakota Public Broadcasting, admitted that it wasn’t quite that simple.

“Aha!” I thought, of course it wasn’t. But it turned out to be pretty close.

“We want you to go fly fishing on a stream out there, and take a buddy along,” Van Osdel said. “And we’ll go along and shoot some video. We’ll put together something for the web. We’ll do all the work. You just have to fish.”

And maybe talk a little bit, too, he said.

So my assignment was to fish and talk. Man, just when I thought this public-broadcasting gig couldn't get any better, “go fish” came along.

And so did Tim Bjork. He’s the guy, I mean, who went along on the fishing trip. I sent him an invitation by Facebook message after asking Van Osdel if he wanted me to call one of the pros down at Dakota Angler & Outfitter in downtown Rapid City to join me.

But Van Osdel wasn’t looking for a pro. He was looking for a regular guy who loves to fly fish — which fits Bjork pretty well. Except that he’s not all that regular with it comes to his heart, which once belonged to somebody else.

“I was 33 years old when I had my first heart attack,” says Bjork, now 70. “And it just kept declining after that.”

It declined to the point where Bjork didn’t have the energy to do much of anything, including fly fishing, a sport he embraced 10 or 12 years ago when he joined a fly tying group in Pierre called the Tuesday Tiers. I know that group. I went to a meeting or two some years back. But I left when it became clear they actually intended to tie flies, rather than just talk about it.

Unlike me, Bjork loved the fly tying. But the Tuesday Tiers fished, too. And so did he, for a while. Unfortunately as his heart function declined, Bjork was left more and more at the tying table, rather than out on the water. Or much of anyplace else.

“I had absolutely no energy. I couldn’t get out of the chair,” he said. “That’s why I retired from Game, Fish & Parks.”

It was an early retirement from the state Game, Fish & Parks Foundation, after just six or seven years there and 21 or 22 previously with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Bjork found his way to that natural-resource career and to fish-and-game recreation, oddly enough, by way of Vietnam, where he did two tours of duty during the war.

“When I was there the second time, I met this guy from Idaho, and he was a big outdoorsman,” Bjork said. “He had all the magazines. His dad would send them. And I started reading them, too. That was the beginning right there. As soon as I got back, I bought my first shotgun.”

While living in Pierre and working for the state, the southwest Minnesota native shared my passion for long walks behind good dogs on the Fort Pierre National Grasslands, as well as mallard hunting on and along the Missouri River and engaging with shotgun in hand the kind of tangled pheasant coverts that Pennsylvania outdoors writer Charles Fergus once described as “thick and uncivil sorts of places.”

But all that would be diminished and finally suspended because of Bjork's failing heart.

His spirit never failed, however. Nor did the possibilities offered by medical technology and the organ-donor programs. And in 2006, Bjork experienced what might still legitimately be called a medical miracle, even though it happens now with some regularity. With help from LifeSource, an orgran procurement organization covering South Dakota, Bjork got a heart transplant at the University of Minnesota medical facility that saved his life and eventually made him much more than a Tuesday night fly tier, once again.

It was just another example of how LifeSource lives up to its name as a source of life for people who need transplants.

“It’s a miracle program,” Bjork says. “Without it, I wouldn’t be fly fishing and telling all sorts of stories and lies.”

And he surely wouldn’t have been sloshing around in Spearfish Creek with me in front of Van Osdel and his camera-equipped SDPB sidekick, Josh Kappler. They were in Spearfish on another assignment, but took a couple of hours to follow us along the creek and, in Van Osdel's case, sometimes in it. He came with hip boots and a camera, to make sure all angles were covered.

They didn't have time to head up Spearfish Canyon, where the scenery is breathtaking but the trout can be less cooperative. So I suggested a couple of spots in Spearfish where I was pretty sure we’d catch fish. And we did. We also had a conversational stroll in the stream, which is about as delightful a way to spend a summer afternoon as you can have, cooperative brown trout or not.

All with a regular guy who has a not-so-regular new lease on life.

Our time in the water together led to preliminary plans for future fishing trips, as well as a conversation about transplant programs and the need for people to sign up to be organ donors, just in case. I’m listed as a donor on my driver’s license, just in case. And you can be, too, just in case, either when you get your license renewed, or sooner.

“You can just go to the Department of Motor Vehicles website and sign up there,” Bjork said. “But you should talk to your loved ones, first.”

Like me, Bjork is a Catholic. And our church and our pope support organ donations and transplants, as do other major denominations, for their life-giving properties.

 Bjork sits on the LifeSource board covering procurement in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and part of Wisconsin. And he also is a South Dakota officer of Trout Unlimited, which logically follows.  If that heart weren't pumping, he wouldn’t be casting, after all.

And I would have had to find another partner for that “go fish” shoot, the video from which is already being cast around on the internet.

“It’s been nothing but positive,” Bjork said of reactions to the video. “Comments like ‘just how cool is that?’ And ‘I didn’t know you were a fly fisher’ and ‘will you teach me how?’ It was a great day.”

Great indeed. And it’s not the last time I’ll be fishing with someone — maybe well known, maybe not — with a public broadcasting camera crew tagging along. This go-fish thing could be pretty good.

Tim Bjork was a great beginning. He brought good humor, well-tied flies and a compelling personal story much bigger than the fishing.

But that was pretty good, too. Scroll down and have a look.

When you watch, there's no need to make fun of my hat. My wife already has that covered.



The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of SDPB, Friends of South Dakota Public Broadcasting, or the State of South Dakota.