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Coming out of the closet about panfish

by Mike McFeely

Do you have a second? I need to talk with you. It won’t take long. I just need to, I don’t know, get something off my mind that’s been bugging me for a long time. Do you want something to drink before we get started? Can I get you a glass of water? No? You’re fine? OK.

You better sit down.

I don’t quite know how to put this, there’s no easy way to say it, so I’ll just be blunt and get it over with: I’ve been attracted to panfish my whole life.

I know, I know. I figured you’d be shocked when I told you. I’ve been preparing for this. I knew it wouldn’t be easy when I told you. And this isn’t exactly easy for me, either, you know. But don’t feel like this is some sort of reflection on you. It’s nothing you did wrong. I was born this way.

I know the “normal” way for a Minnesota boy to be raised is to fall in love with walleyes. From the day we’re born, that lifestyle is pounded into our consciences. We start when we’re little, and it’s encouraged by the images we see on TV, in print and on the computer. Most young guys even sneak peeks at their dads’ walleye magazines when the old man leaves them lying around, with those glossy, air-brushed fish staring seductively back at us.

Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? You mess around with a bunch of walleyes when you’re young, you get a little more serious after college, you get married to ‘em in your 20s, then you settle down and raise kids who fish for walleyes. And you hope – no, you pray – that someday your kids give you a whole mess of grandkids who love to fish for walleyes. The Minnesota dream, right?

But I’ve never felt that way. I’ve never felt that was right for me. I appreciated all the times you took me walleye fishing when I was young, don’t get me wrong, and I was excited every time you caught a walleye. It was fun. I knew you loved me. But I was always worried you’d catch me looking over at the boat bobber-fishing for bluegills in the reeds, or working the deep edge of the cabbage beds for crappies. And the times we went ice fishing for ‘eyes! How I wanted to scream, “I’m not a walleye fisherman! I want to jig for perch!”

But I never did it, because I didn’t want to embarrass you. I knew your friends would snicker and people at work would be whispering behind your back about your kid who has a thing for panfish. I knew it wasn’t seen as normal, I knew it wasn’t accepted and I didn’t want to put you through that.

Actually, I’m surprised you didn’t figure it out for yourself over the years. That time when I was 8 and I wanted to dress up as a bluegill fisherman for Halloween. Every time you’d get home from work and I was playing with ultra-light gear. One year I asked for a bulk of waxworms for Christmas. And – sheesh, I still laugh about this – that time you caught me parked at the public access at midnight with a limit of crappies, after I told you I had “a date with some walleyes.” The look on your face was priceless.

You’re probably wondering if something you did turned me into what I am. The answer is no. Being attracted to panfish isn’t a choice, it’s the way my brain is wired. You could’ve bought me all the crankbaits and Babe Winkelman DVDs in the world and it wouldn’t have made any difference. I am what I am.

This doesn’t need to change anything between us. Hopefully you’ll still love me even though I’d rather fish for crappies than walleyes. I’m still the same person. I just feel free to be myself now. And the world is changing. People are becoming more accepting. Being attracted to panfish isn’t the stigma it once was. 

I know this is a lot to absorb in one day, but I have to tell you one more thing. Michelle and I are buying a new boat. Yeah, we’re taking the plunge. We thought it was time to buy a bigger one so the daughter and her friends can fish and tube and have fun.

What?  Yes, Michelle. My wife. Yes, my female wife. Of course Michelle and I are staying married. We’ve been married for 15 years and hopefully we’ll be married ‘til death do us part. That’s not going to change. What silly questions. Why would you ask me that?

 (Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on KFGO-AM in Fargo, N.D. He can be reached at mike.mcfeely@mwcradio.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)