By Nick Simonson
Advertisements for boat shows, the arrival of 2021 tackle catalogs, and a pileup of daily email blasts highlighting new rods and reels are all signs that we’re turning the corner toward spring. While it’s still January and there’s plenty of on-ice action left, the promise of spring and openwater fishing keeps anglers moving toward warmer days and the disappearance of a slipfloat in some northern bay for crappies, or that subtle take of a jig-and-minnow combo by a light-biting walleye. I do my best to live in the moment but have always found it to be a struggle I’ve always wrestled with, particularly this time of year, and thinking ahead and planning for what’s to come is second nature to many outdoorsmen.
The preparations made now lead to success later. Whether it’s respooling a favorite spinning reel with a new package of line or tying up jigs for crappies, walleyes, bass and trout, getting things ready on those longer, colder nights helps make spring on the water happen a little easier and get here a little bit faster, at least in terms of that “watched pot never boils” sense the dominates the mind of an anticipating angler. Taking stock of where a tacklebox sits after last season and filling the gaps with reliable favorites lost to the fishing gods and looking over potential new baits for the upcoming year is better done now, with time to spare, than a few days into the season after popping the plastic cover of a Plano 3700 and realizing its inhabitants are less than at the end of last fall.
The march toward spring also provides a time to do a little reading. Research of favorite lakes and those yet to be explored and their recent stocking and sampling reports provide insight into how the fisheries are doing and the quality and quantity of species lurking in each. Each winter, I like to select a couple of waters I have never tried in hopes of finding a new personal hot spot, and a lot of web browsing, screen-shotting and note taking goes into the process of picking them. Some end up being a bust, perhaps the result of bad timing or bad luck, but others often end up becoming favorite destinations for seasons to come and expand the opportunities in my local area.
Finally, the run up to spring gives all anglers a chance to try something new. Whether it’s a new line of flies or a new way to fish, the options we all have when it comes to angling are boundless. I can recall buying my first baitcaster one January and trying to figure out how to utilize it without ending up with a bird’s nest of backlash between my thumbs, eventually succeeding with flawless flings of a weight over a field of melting snow and expanding the way I angle for bass, pike and muskies. One February I learned how to cast the fly rod on the floor of a gymnasium and opened a world of new possibilities which led me to my first rainbow trout on the Turtle River that May and then to crappies, smallmouth and pike on my home flows all summer. Since these two events, and many others like them leading up to spring, I’ve created tackle for both platforms and become a more complete angler with the time mid-winter presents.
Through the preparations we make for spring, be it by our own hand, from a local tackle shop or a late-night order online, now is the time to get set for when the ice recedes and fishing opens up again. Learning how the table is set for the next season and planning to sample new waters keeps things exciting and can provide long-term fishing options. In addition to new lakes, fresh tackle options, styles of fishing and ideas about how to catch something different and those favorite fish will help set the stage for further success next spring, summer and years to come…in our outdoors.