By Nick Simonson
My enjoyment of baseball, particularly Twins baseball, began in my grandfather’s red party cruiser, or the bright blue paddleboat just off the shore on Big Detroit Lake. My dad would bring an old battery-powered radio with a long silver antenna, set it between us and tune it to a Fargo station to pick up an afternoon or evening game. As I would fish for sunnies or maybe throw a spoon for pike, he would jig the edge of the weeds and we’d listen to the play-by-play. Oftentimes, throughout the game in his generation’s pre-internet fashion of memorized facts, he’d rattle off statistics or ask me trivia questions about the greats from the 1950s and 60s, the latter of which as a nine-year-old, I’d have no chance of answering correctly.
It’s often been argued that winters have gotten easier throughout the last three decades, and when cold bursts like recent ones seemed to last from Thanksgiving to Easter, it was this time of year that always brought hope for my dad, and later for me, with a single sentence: “Pitchers and catchers report to spring training this week.” With that statement, the air seemed to get a little warmer, the phantom sound of the crack of a bat broke winter’s grasp just a bit, and my mind turned from the ice to open water and other spring thoughts. With my father gone now, and not as closely following Twins baseball as I did when he was alive (after last season who could blame me?), I still check the headlines this time of year for that reminder that spring is almost here.
As an angler the spring training report date still serves as my “get going” alarm for the tasks I’ve yet to get done. There are reels in need of new line for a return trip to the Rainy River for sturgeon, all sorts of new pike streamers to be tied up for what will hopefully be a run that lasts longer than the 48 hours a late spring provided last year, and some boat work to be completed with a long-overdue sonar upgrade for a summer of walleye fishing on waters big and small.
Having just recently re-lined and tied my primary four fly reels for the season, I felt the rust that players at the 1 and 2 positions must also be thinking about shaking off in the coming days, as I completed the process by memory of tying backing to reel, line to backing and leader to line, without looking at any of the printouts of the knots stashed in my files. Following a cleaning and repacking of each reel with its payload, I went to town on the first round of pike streamers including flat wings, deceivers and large half-and-half minnow imitators.
Reviewing my notes from the past two seasons, and those of many before, I began plotting a game plan against a schedule of home and away events in the form of spring fishing trips and my guess as to when the first opportunities for my favorite species will occur in my backyard and those places I love to visit each spring. From those records I recalled that I had caught walleyes in the open flows under a small dam in the middle of Valley City in the first week of March, and the earliest smallmouth bass that found my jig and twister combo came off a deep ledge on the north end of town on St. Patrick’s Day. The photo of me standing in my suit with fish in hand during my lunch break alongside the journal entry confirmed it.
I tracked my trout efforts from stocked streams to the chill of Minnesota’s North Shore and considered trips to those flows timed with work and family events. Reviewing my records of pike, as early as mid-March on the canals of Devils Lake a decade ago and Missouri River feeder streams last season provided some get-up-and-go for the projects that lay ahead, and a sense of urgency began to build, like a baserunner kicking up dust as the coach frantically circles his arm and waves him on to score the go-ahead run.
While there is still time to ready the gear, tackle, electronics and everything else that goes with spring fishing, we’re rounding third and headed toward home for the region’s cold-weather season, meaning that nights spent inside, going through the motions of our own spring training of sorts will soon give way to longer stretches of twilight on the banks of a river somewhere in those welcome vernal evenings in places where the season opens with the first solid melt, or those lakes and streams with their scheduled opening days…in our outdoors.
Featured Photo: Spring Training. The author as he should be in spring, complete with a Twins cap and a smallmouth bass from the Sheyenne River. Simonson Photo.