By Nick Simonson
A colleague of mine, reacting to the recent and sudden halt to everything economic, expressed concern about business and the state of the world in general. The advertising dollars dried up almost instantaneously in the front half of the month. Doors were closed and shops were dark as if it was some sort of black holiday on main street. People’s priorities had suddenly shifted from spend-spend-spend to survival.
While I’m no economist and can’t predict which letter of the alphabet comes next in the economic curve (though I’m hoping for ‘V’) I explained that, while there would be losses, there was always hope that things would go better, leaning heavily on my time in the outdoors and my own personal experiences to put things in perspective. I added that our choices in these moments are the ones that define us and they should reflect those hopes and not our fears and I offered up what assistance I could provide.
Because for hunters and anglers, there’s always hope. It’s part of who we are. Ingrained in our souls is the optimism that drives everything we do in the field and on the water, it’s a presumed requirement of picking up a shotgun or making a cast. And while that hope is tested from time to time, it remains, even after a bad outing or string of them and is the thing that prevents us from panicking or giving up altogether. For those who write about such things, our business is hope; not only in helping people figure out how to turn their optimism into a set of flushing pheasants or a walleye on the end of the line, but also how to get ready for the next opportunity. Because there’s always a blizzard coming in, or a set of summer thunderstorms ready to chase us off the water, or maybe the adversity is just a stretch of three or four cold and rainy spring days before the next pair of sunny ones, and while things will always be different after each storm, much will remain the same.
I think back to the miles walked in the fall of 2017 following a vicious summer drought that wiped out nearly an entire spring hatch of pheasants. I harvested maybe ten roosters all autumn leading to a cold and windy hike up a frosty December drain laced with scattered cattails and buckbrush. Expecting about the same results as I had experienced all season, this fire of excitement lit up inside me as the landowner gave me the okay for the late-season stomp. Within the first 50 yards, I had two birds in the bag and I watched the red patch of my third rooster tremble in the sparse brome ahead as my young lab went on point for the very first time and held him in check before he went skyward.
While the cold hands and white fingers are what frame the particular memory (and many others from past successful spring fishing trips), I think of a March outing after work on the shores of the Sheyenne River where we raced an incoming blizzard for the first openwater angling of the year. Standing across the stream from my buddy, barely able to see him in the thick flakes that spanned the fifty-yard gap between us, the water suddenly came alive as the predicted late-season storm set in. In a matter of 20 minutes, I had my limit of golden walleyes icing down in the pail with an inch or two of snow packed around them and we agreed it was time to get back to town before the balance of the foot-deep event was dumped on us.
I’ve tied hundreds of flies and jigs that never see the water, and some of them bust off on my first cast, or worse, find the branch of some unseen tree behind me on the back cast before they have the chance of touching the surface of the stream. It took 11 trips to the launch at Government Bay and nearly 60 hours on the water to catch my first salmon. Over TWO seasons. I’ve sat countless hours and days in a bow stand waiting for a nice buck to come into shooting range, many seasons not even getting the opportunity. What spurs all this activity and dogged persistence? Hope. Simply the hope that all my efforts will pay off in the accomplishment of the ultimate goal. Whether that’s the easy finish line of nabbing a few crappies, trout or smallies on my homemade creations, figuring out the where, when and why of silver fish in the deep blue along the dam, or maybe, just maybe, that the big buck from the August trail camera pictures will slip up and step into view as a late October afternoon fades to evening, those are my hopes and I make my decisions accordingly. When my optimistic plans don’t pan out, I find comfort and education in the things I see and learn along the way from the wispy white clouds in the sky, the gently blowing grass, and the rippled water which tide me over until next time or will likely help me figure it all out somewhere down the road.
Like time afield, part of everyone’s journey – and certainly this stretch we’re all sharing together right now – inevitably involves uphill hiking, and sometimes the rise has a headwind bringing rain or snow as well. But if I have learned anything from the hard part of the walk, it’s that there is often a downhill slope on the other side, a chance to put the wind at your back and change the trail around the next bend and a moment to savor success over the challenges and surprises along the way and look back at what it took turn hope into reality both in life and in our outdoors.
Featured Photo: Bright Days Ahead. The author hoists a nice walleye for summer photo and shows that there’s even hope for bass-oriented anglers to catch a few golden fish. No matter the challenges, the outdoors provides optimism in times like these. Simonson Photo.