By Nick Simonson
With paper top hats donned and party blowers buzzing at this point in the season, it’s easy to encapsulate life into a year, or as the nine rolls over to a zero this New Year’s Eve, an entire decade. It’s easy to shrug off this compartmentalization process until a person stops and looks back at those individual stand-out moments that made each stretch of time in those bigger blocks so memorable. The same is true for the outdoors. Big fish, first birds, a large set of antlers or the quiet observation of something no one else sees in the quiet woods or wind-swept prairie stand out as signposts that define a stretch of time and parallel those life events which do the same. Taking a moment now to review the previous year sets up more successful outings in the future and allows for the chance to take stock of all the options available to hunters and anglers in our region.
The Spice of Life
In a single week this spring, I fished with my friend Einar, who was visiting from Norway. In that stretch we intentionally fished for eight different species and landed more than ten. From brown trout and rainbows stocked in small impoundments, to the tiny brookies running the streams of the north shore, our adventures focused on the many cold-water options available across the map. Smallmouth bass, late to their spawning grounds on the Sheyenne River and largemouth bass that moved up under a warm surge during Memorial Day weekend were both a highlight of our adventures. Add in a rogue muskie, a limit of walleyes and umpteen dozen crappies and bluegills on the flyrod in the warming shallows and each day of the trip was memorable due simply to the variety of fish we could angle for. That trend continued in the truncated summer with some wild walleye fishing, plentiful panfish and bass outings that rubbed my thumb raw from the sheer number of boatside landings. This array of angling options will continue to fill each block on the calendar with the opportunities for new experiences and ultimately additional knowledge in the realm of all things finned in the coming year.
Hot and Cold
Fall was a whipsaw of weather, with it sometimes packaged all into one day. On Labor Day morning, the date of my first successful salmon trip over the deep waters of Lake Sakakawea, a thick fog and chilly fifty degree start gave way to two silver fish and the sudden exposure of the sun and a heatwave which melted the jacket and sweatshirt off my shoulders, leaving a sweaty plain white tee for the cruise back to the boat launch. Under morning temperatures in the mid-seventies, I called a September hunt early and sat next to my panting dog who inspected our take of the season’s first sharptailed grouse. Just a couple of days after that, we stomped through snow to pick up three more. When things were expected to be cold, it was often the opposite, as a temperate deer firearms season led to comfortable hillside sits and ease of access to far off hunting locations. The conditions faced make each day different: challenging, enjoyable, and sometimes requiring adaptation in tactics from one sunset to another and even just hour-to-hour, adding to the memories of things overcome and providing insight as to how to change it up to meet those challenges in the future.
Ups and Downs
From the elation of a successful deer hunt, to the struggles of a stretch of bad shooting in the bitter cold for pheasants, to borrow from Homer Simpson, the dizzying highs, rock bottom lows and creamy middles (mostly from the snacks I pack for my fishing trips) also define days in the outdoors. There is no rush like a deer at close range and I can count on two hands the times where an animal wandered right up to my position this season. I can also count on those hands, and probably both feet, the number of pointed birds, close flushing birds, or “c’mon that was a gimme bird” that safely sailed off toward the horizon. While there were no real “oh no” moments of the one that got away on the water this year, I can recall a briefly hooked steelhead that snapped the leader of my five-weight, and made me feel vastly underprepared for what we’d find running in the waters of northeastern Minnesota’s Baptism River in the conditions stalled by the late spring. The highlights, the lowlights and those moments where the sun simply moves overhead, the water rolls downstream, the squirrels ferret out their stash and dawn becomes dusk all make each day outdoors important in terms of learning, growing, experiencing and ultimately, living.
As this year closes and a brand new one rolls out before us, take every opportunity and seize each day. Whether it means switching species from outing to outing, battening down the hatches and then besting the worst of what nature can throw at you and remembering it all – from the brilliant successes to the most bonehead failures – in order to learn and grow, one day at a time…in our outdoors.
Featured Photo: Happy Old Year. The author reflects on some exciting days in the outdoors and all the seasons had to offer in the past year. Simonson Photos & Image.