By Nick Simonson
Coming over the rise and down the gravel road to the boat launch, the early morning sun reflected off the sprawling lake, which was only slightly dappled by a light and variable breeze. It was the first time I had arrived at the water this season where a chop wasn’t already rolling across the surface and I knew the two or three hours my buddy John and I would have to cast to what remained of the spawning crappies with our fly rods would be prized in what has been a windy spring, and one that has been busy for both of us.
While the shoreline was still exposed, some water must have entered the flow as the crib of rocks in the northern bay where I often found the endless schools of spawning specks was partially submerged, when just a couple of weeks ago they stood out like a jagged crown along the steep shoreline. In and around that circle was where the fish would sit in previous seasons, waiting for a small jig or streamer to inhale, but with the lower waters, they didn’t seem to have any set foothold on the shoreline for their spring sessions. We were late in catching the spawn on the lake, with most fish likely out of the shallows from their late-March efforts unique to the warm water.
While I had made a few thwarted attempts on the previous gusty days this season to get to them and cast small bucktail streamers and jigs, it was John’s first time out, and his first with the fly rod in many seasons. As he worked on his cast and felt for the gentle load of the rod, I provided a tip here and there, but it didn’t take much for him to connect, first with a big bluegill and a few minutes later one of the scattered white crappies we were finding up in three feet of water, just off from the rock pile. It wasn’t fast and furious, which fit the day in a way, with both of us looking to take a breather before family events took over the weekend, and then a return to real life and our shared volunteer duties with the area youth shooting sports teams that would fire back up after the holiday. The fish provided just enough action to keep things interesting, and the still and quick-warming conditions of the morning gave us a good reason to be on the water breaking loose the rust of winter and the chill of its seasonal turn and finding a more fluid motion in our casting arms under the clear skies.
A hard hookset broke my line at the tippet knot, and I guessed the unseen opponent was likely one of the lake’s largemouth bass, or possibly one of the carp which had been breaching the surface around us. A quick tug was the only clue I would receive that it wasn’t one of the 10-to-12-inch crappies we had been catching before the monofilament gave way. After retying, we explored the area to see if there were any remaining fish staging in the bay, patrolling the far side as we traded outdoors stories to fill the quiet times in between fish and connected over shared fishing spots in the areas where we grew up in southeastern North Dakota. Small unnamed rock dams along the river, the clear waters of a Stutsman County lake, and stretches of other flows fished with friends took us both back in time as we absorbed the sunlight of spring and set the hook on the occasional panfish while recalling past adventures which formed our early years on the water.
As was expected, while finishing out the far side of the bay and drifting over a rocky point, the wind rose from the northwest and we motored over to our starting point along the rocky shore, tucking in under the bluff which shielded enough of the wind to allow for a few more casts. Breaking out the spinning rods, we jigged up a couple more crappies before heading to the launch and off to our respective homes for the holiday weekend, content to have had at least a couple of calm hours on the water. The opportunity where free time and conditions match up doesn’t seem to come along very often this season, but when it does, it’s important to make the most of it, which we did. In a strange spring, where the strong winds of winter persist, but near summerlike temperatures have arrived early, it was an opportunity we both seized to find some fish and enjoy the calm morning…in our outdoors.
Featured Photo: John Paczkowski of Bismarck, N.D. picks up a nice white crappie on the fly rod during a calm Good Friday morning. Simonson Photo.