By Nick Simonson
Long before the days where most every deer hunter threw in for both a rifle tag and the muzzleloader lottery and started their season in August with the bow, the sign on the desk at Northwestern Industries in my hometown of Valley City read: “Be A Three Season Hunter!” Back then, when my dad would gas up the black Jeep Grand Cherokee with red fabric seats at the metal number-go-round pumps, or my mom would drop off a package to be shipped by UPS from the location, I often wondered what the placard on the glass display housing the Swiss Army Knives and the sets of binoculars meant, before quickly being distracted by a glance into the spotting scope that brought the billboard a mile away into clear view.
Now, as an avid hunter and an applicant for both gun lotteries with a bow tag in my wallet well before summer even thinks to fade into fall, I know what the pitch meant. For the proprietor, it was a suggestion to his customers to get further involved in the various forms of deer hunting, so that he would build and strengthen his clientele and increase his sales of firearms, bows and related ammunition and equipment, a savvy and subconscious suggestion that I’m sure paid off for him and still does today in the yellow brick building just across from City Park. While the purpose may have been anchored in good marketing, it also provides a path to enlightenment in the many ways to enjoy the outdoors.
Just as deer hunting has become a three-season sport so to speak, spring angling provides so many incredible options, that singling out just one fish to pursue would deprive anyone of the amazing experiences available across the landscape from flowing water to still. In this portion of the world, we’re lucky to have so many options and a calendar that accommodates all of them in a typical spring. What’s coming will be fast and furious with as cold as things have been, but the options to experience it all are worth a day, or two, or seven dedicated to each species in order to take it all in, learn something new and record some lasting memories.
From early spring fish like hard-running pike finding their way up any feeder creek, coulee or stream, to panfish – be they bluegills, sunfish or crappies – that rush the warming shallows on some backwater bay or farm pond as the first temperate days take hold, there are options big and small to expand angling horizons, or remind us of what some of our earliest fishing excitement was all about. From there, walleyes and bass take center stage, with the state’s most pursued fish usually providing the best spring angling from mid-April to mid-May, and smallmouth typically getting aggressive in that same time frame. By the time both are done with their spawning efforts, largemouth bass are next on the list, and some of the year’s biggest fish can be found staging around shallow areas with developing weeds and lily pads. Beyond these popular pursuits, there are a wide variety of other fish to angle for – from catfish that get going as spring wears on, to carp that can be caught on the fly or the simplest of tackle, to trout that are stocked in the small ponds and prairie lakes in mid-May – the start of the openwater season brings more chances to learn about new species and ways to fish for them.
Additionally, figuring out new ways to fish for these species and others will help expand opportunities and understandings of the underwater world. From switching it up between jigs and plastics to working crankbaits for walleyes, bass and pike, or going after panfish on the fly instead of standard tackle, there’s much to be learned and enjoyed in mastering a new niche, lure presentation or style of angling. Whether it’s a new item of tackle or a whole new setup, spring provides a great opportunity to get after all kinds of adventure.
As winter fades and spring lays out its rolling calendar of opportunities for fish species of all stripes, spots and speckling, give each of them a chance and take advantage of the diverse options on the landscape around us. Much like becoming a three-season hunter, aiming to be a multispecies angler through a variety of methods will extend the enjoyment of the outdoors and add to the understanding of what makes the natural world work and the best ways catch fish consistently.
Featured Photo: Learning to angle for a number of species provides greater enjoyment of the outdoors and teaches new tactics that can apply across many different varieties of fish. Simonson Photos.