By Nick Simonson
The next few weeks present a unique overlap of just about everything as September turns into October. From summer festivities and back to school activities, to baseball, football, and even a hint of pre-season basketball and hockey intersecting, it’s an exciting time for everyone, but especially hunters and anglers. This month and into the next often offers up the chance to make the most of the outdoors, with a combination of hunting and fishing opportunities that can be tacked together in a single day for an experience greater than the sum of its parts. Birds are plentiful and less wary as openers roll off the calendar, and fish are adjusting to cooler waters and often on the feed ahead of the tougher months to come. What follows are some of the great two-for opportunities, and some suggestions on where to double up with a cast-and-blast combo in North Dakota
Waterfowl & Pike
With the resident waterfowl opener set for Sept. 24 and the wide array of waters sporting pike in the state, the end of this month provides a perfect intersection to fold some wings and listen to the drag sing on a favorite reel. Resident duck populations provide ample targets, and some migrants start moving through the area with each cool down. That same chill in the air can spark an active pike bite as well when these fish – which love colder water – get active again after summer’s warmth and start feeding.
Where to Go
The first thought on many waterfowlers’ minds is Devils Lake with its surrounding prairie potholes and its own shorelines attracting vast numbers of ducks. The sprawling water’s population of pike – including some massive ones – provide easy opportunities for those water wolves, even if just fishing from shore or one of the many public access points. After a morning of duck hunting, troll spoons or cast jigs along fading shallow weedlines or in structure such as stump fields to find hungry pike on the prowl as the water cools and the bite gets red hot. Don’t forget to check those small prairie lakes and sloughs as well, which provide great duck hunting opportunities and a shot at pike where they’ve been stocked.
Whitetails & Walleyes
Buck fever is as much a part of fall as Friday night lights and the echo of a cheering crowd across town. Those who wake up early afterward to catch the action of deer moving in the field at sunrise, may find the autumn breezes kicking up a bit too high, or from the wrong direction later in the morning, ruling out an evening sit with the bow; but no worries! A strong late season walleye bite gives archers another target after their morning hunt and jigging up some fast action for ol’ marble eyes can make for a fun finish to an autumn day.
Where to Go
There are many river systems that sport both solid habitat for a whitetail bow hunt, including tree-lined coulees and draws leading up from the main flow. Find some public land and pop a blind or hang a stand for the morning, and then head downstream after the hunt. The Sheyenne River system has a solid fall walleye bite as does the southern James River, and the Missouri River system is tough to overlook as well. All three have ample public land for deer hunting, and plenty of piers, launches and access points to get on fish. Make dawn a deer trip and evening a walleye adventure as the calendar moves along, replacing the blast with the twang of a fired bowstring.
Sharpies & Smallies
September brings the first upland game seasons to the table, and this year’s slight uptrend in sharptailed grouse means there are improved opportunities to find these laughing birds that love the rolling grassy hills across North Dakota’s prairie. Additionally, warm stretches will result in a golden opportunity to tangle with some bronzebacks as smallmouth bass get hot with stable weather and strap on the feedbag. In the cool morning hours, take your four-legged-friend out for a sharpie hunt, then let him or her go on fish patrol from behind the bow of your boat as you set the hook into some fall bass excitement.
Where to Go
The breaks around Lake Oahe are known as sharptail havens, and opportunities to hit PLOTS land, WMAs and those sneaky-good WPAs (which require nontoxic shot, remember) abound along the Missouri River from the southern impoundment on up to the northwestern corner of Lake Sakakawea. Both big waters harbor good populations of smallmouth bass as well to complete the pairing. Don’t overlook Lake Ashtabula either, with plenty of public land around it for a morning hunt and some huge smallies lurking along its rip-rapped shorelines into the afternoon and evening.
Pheasants and Trout
Finally, when the calendar shifts to October, the last of the state’s great cast-and-blast combos comes to be. Targeting pheasants has led to many discoveries, including a couple of great trout lakes adjacent to public hunting areas I’ve explored. There’s nothing more satisfying than refilling the fly tying bench with a trio of brightly colored roosters, and then going out with a streamer made from one of last year’s birds to catch a trout on a hidden prairie water. This time of year, trout get more active, and by October they’re in full-on recovery mode, eating everything in sight after the warm waters of summer pushed them below the thermocline in those prairie impoundments they were stocked in last spring. Look for them to rush the shallows to find baitfish, leeches and insects as the water cools.
Where to Go
There are a number of stocked trout lakes that harbor holdovers, and many times these opportunities are in pheasant-rich territory as well. Small gems like Moon Lake in the southeast and Fish Creek Dam or Lightning Lake in the west have the trout close to many public hunting opportunities, including WMAs and WPAs with thick habitat and perfect edges that hold pheasants, even in off years. Put the two together for one of the state’s most colorful cast-and-blast combinations.
Autumn is twice as nice in the Roughrider state with these options, or picking-and-choosing from them all and swapping a fish species for a game species in a fully-customizable spread in your area of the state. Get it together, pack the fishing rod with the shotgun or bow, and find the best cast-and-blast combination with these tips and your own insight into what’s flushing, flying, finning and flipping this fall.
Simonson is the lead writer and editor of Dakota Edge Outdoors.
Featured Image: Options Abound in ND. In September and October, you don’t have to choose between hunting and fishing. Combine the two activities into one action-packed day for some incredible memories that can be made nowhere else. Simonson Image/Photos.