Luke Konson is a young man with an ambitious mission.
The 18-year-old angler from northern Virginia deferred admission to college this year to travel the country in his mother’s minivan, with the goal of catching the official state fish in all 50 states.
For at least the first month, Konson was traveling with high school friend Daniel Balserak, also 18. The two had planned to room together at Clemson University this fall. After spending the last three months of high school learning remotely, neither Konson nor Balserak was eager to start their freshman college experience online.
“For the last six or seven months with Covid, I’ve been fishing every day,” says Konson, who is from Oakton, Virginia, and likes to fish for largemouth and catfish.
And he has loved it.
As he pondered what to do this year, the idea of trying to catch every state fish came to him — to his knowledge, it has never been done. His parents are supportive of the adventure, he says. He started a GoFundMe page, which has raised about $1,700 toward a goal of $3,000.
Konson is traveling and sleeping in his mother’s Honda Odyssey minivan, which has about 150,000 miles on it.
“It’s holding up pretty well,” he says. “We find a 24-hour parking lot and sleep in the van.” On occasion, Konson says, they grab a motel room so they can shower and sleep in a bed.
The biggest expenses are fishing licenses, gas, food and the occasional motel.
The young men are upbeat, optimistic and open to the vagaries of fishing and being on the road. “There are a lot of unknowns, but I’m excited about it,” says Konson, who played high-school hockey. “I like the spontaneity of the trip. I like to stay moving, keep in the moment.”
He's getting fishing advice from friends and local tackle shops.
So far, he has taken a striper in Maryland, a weakfish in Delaware and a brook trout in New Jersey. The pair came through Connecticut looking for American shad, but their timing was off for the spring-run anadromous fish.
“We’ve fished for eight straight days, and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had,” Konson says. “It’s safe, and it’s fun.” They’re traveling with masks and practicing social distancing when appropriate.
The pair primarily are fishing spinning gear, though Konson also has a fly rod.
I fished with them Sept. 1 for a half-day in Rhode Island, where we searched for striped bass. It blew 20-plus knots out of the east, and there wasn’t a striper to be found in the waters we covered.
It felt like a scene from the old surfing movie The Endless Summer, which spawned the line, “You should have been here yesterday.”
I fished twice the previous week, and both times it was like shooting fish in a barrel. We caught striper after striper as hundreds of birds squatted over schools of breaking fish, which were tight to shore. My 10-year-old grandson cranked them in. The most difficult part was calling it quits after several dozen bass and walking away. But east winds have a way of changing things. That’s fishing.
Konson took it in stride. “We still had a good time,” he says. We fished until dark at a breachway before saying goodbye. I headed home to Connecticut, and they set out to find food. After that, the two returned and fished until midnight without luck.
They slept in a nearby Walmart parking lot and woke to rain, fog, a small-craft advisory and southeast winds gusting to 25 knots. “It is what it is,” says Konson, who was ready to get back at it when I spoke to him in the morning.
“I’m going to try and get as much done in a year as I can,” he says. After that, he will try and fill in any missing state fish on breaks and next summer.
“It is a weird time,” Konson says, sensing already that this might prove to be one of the great adventures of his young life.
Their next stop is Massachusetts, where Konson will try and catch a codfish.