When an idea for a poem arrives in Scott Schmidt's head, it's as if he's a musky and the idea is a lure he simply can't resist.
Schmidt has been penning poems about fishing, hunting, and other Northwoods tall tales for the better part of three decades, and now, 10 of his poems have been published in a book titled "Lines From Upstream."
For those who are familiar with Schmidt's storytelling prowess, the book is a long time coming.
It all began on Springstead's Charnley Lake in the summer of 1986, when Schmidt — a hardcore musky angler — got caught in a lightning storm in an aluminum rowboat. The charged situation seemed a bit hairy for a few minutes while Schmidt rowed madly for land, but he made it ashore with no shocking experiences.
On the drive home, counting his lucky stars, a rhyme started forming in Schmidt's brain.
This wasn't the first time he'd found words lining up in neat rhyming rows; he grew up reading Doctor Seuss and memorizing the words of poetry. There is something about the lyrical quality of words formulated in this way that sticks easily in Schmidt's brain.
The experience ended up becoming "The Rime of Gus," which is featured in Schmidt's new book, and became the start to a series of poems, often inspired by true events and featuring friends and family — earning him the local nickname of the Musky Poet.
Another Musky Poet classic familiar to those who frequent the Park Falls Gastropub (formerly known as the Chequamegon Canoe Club),
where Schmidt can sometimes be found reciting poetry in exchange for a free pizza, is "The Catch-All."
This one reads like every good fishing story ever swapped over a bar, and tells the tale of Schmidt's fishing buddy, who possessed a lure that never failed to catch a fish. The lure had never caught a musky though — until one day the fishing buddy made the mistake of leaving his rod unattended in the boat with Schmidt. Unable to resist just one cast, Schmidt found a musky on the end of the line instantly — a fishing miracle. The musky was a beauty, but the catch-all lure broke when Schmidt removed it ... and he's never quite lived it down.
Of course, the story had to be memorialized in a poem.
The nature of fishing lends itself well to a writer's brain, with long spells of monotony between actually catching anything. This is the state Schmidt often finds himself in when the first line of a poem drops in his mind.
"I generally get the start of a story in my head and then I start writing it," said Schmidt. "I'm always changing them — I'm never happy with the first draft of anything. Sometimes even changing one word can make a whole difference."
While working as a truck driver, one poem arrived in his mind while traversing the state of Pennsylvania, and every time he stopped at a wayside, he scribbled a few more lines. By the time he left Pennsylvania in his rear view mirror, "The Legend of Todd Franke: Muskie Killer" was on paper.
Although writing poems became second nature for Schmidt over the years, memorializing countless misadventures and caricaturing friends and family, actually publishing a book took time.
Ultimately, it was a promise to his wife, Marie, that encouraged him to go through the laborious process of finding and being accepted by Wisconsin publisher, Orange Hat Publishing.
With a publisher on the line, Schmidt asked former classmate and longtime friend Terri Morgan — another Park Falls resident — to put her artistic skills to the page, bringing his words to life with sketches and paintings.
"It was a fun process," said Morgan. "Scott sent me the poems, I read through them, and came up with designs, and then would go back and forth with Scott."
Although Morgan has created artwork her entire life, occasionally selling portraits on commission or working on contracted art projects, this is the first book she has illustrated.
"Scott's project was one that just found me," she said. "He was so passionate about it, and his poems are so vivid — it was really special to work on it with him. He'd promised his wife he would publish a book of his poems, and now he's done just that."
The book is dedicated to Schmidt's mom and his wife, who passed away last October.
"They were probably the two people who would have been the happiest that I finally made a book," Schmidt said of the dedication.
Schmidt's families are some of his biggest cheerleaders — as he says himself, he comes from a happy jolly family that loves to laugh, and Schmidt's poems could bring a smile to anyone's face.
"I'm pretty sure most of the book sales so far have been all my cousins," he joked. What is no joke however, is the pride his family has taken in his first published book.
While the restrictions on traveling and gathering due to the coronavirus have made marketing the book difficult, it can be purchased online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and is being sold locally by Park Pharmacy in Park Falls and the Seed-N-Feed in Fifield.
And for those who are already hooked on the book — never fear, Schmidt and Morgan are already hard at work creating a second book.