By Nick Simonson
The water was cold, fast, and dingy rushing out of the gates of Baldhill Dam, as atop the spillway the ghostly blue-gray ice still held fast to the shores of Lake Ashtabula at its generally widest and deepest point of the 12-mile reservoir, despite being a single day away from the month of May. While I figured the Sheyenne River’s run of pike would stack up under the outflow in the rush of spring water coming through, looking at the temperature readout on the website for the structure ahead of the trip, I suspected the 34-degree mark was a bit too cold for anything, but it was at least worth a look as it had been too long of a winter.
With my buddy, my brother and four kids in tow for what was an unproductive outing in terms of fishing but generally fun in terms of helping with casting and teaching, we found refuge in the man-made channel valley from the westerly gusts that roared overhead. It had been a couple seasons since I had traversed the rocky shoreline of the structure that had served as my schooling when it came to learning how to fish but I quickly found my balance and avoided any tumbles. The kids, meanwhile, hopped from rock-to-rock as if they had mountain goat DNA in their blood.
It hardly mattered that there was nothing on the receiving end of their casts, as the rush of roaring water rolled by and the eddies of the wind from overhead doubled back and lifted clumps of foam into the air and onto the rocks around us, bringing laughs and attempts to catch them. There was more than enough to entertain in what would be a short trip anyway, simply due to the cooler conditions and the lack of fish, and it came down to making the most of it, and my youngest boy Jackson did just that.
All through the rocks, he sought out and found the junk that high water brings once he tired of casting. Sticks cut loose and half chewed by a beaver, sent down the flow and through the gates, a few bullhead skeletons likely deposited by the just-returned pelicans or some other piscivorous predator, and a couple of loose rocks to roll, kick and toss around as he explored the steep bank. Like much of the rest of the spring, he was making the most of what was available, and loving every minute of being outdoors, even if the fish and the conditions weren’t loving him back at the particular moment.
As we wrapped things up, my brother and I speculated on how the season would progress and when the fish would fill the rushing stretch, advising my buddy of when to bring his kids back so they could learn and grow in the same area that taught me a good deal of what I know about fishing, I caught a glimpse of my son, sprawled out in the most comfortable looking pose atop an uncomfortable stretch of rip rap. With a slight smile, pretending to be asleep, I asked him if he was ready to go. He replied in the negative and flashed a grin of just-entered adult teeth and said he was good as he lifted his gnawed stick and raised the fist-sized rock in his other hand, absorbing a quick shot of sunshine that broke through the barrier of mostly gray clouds overhead.
It was a good reminder that the outdoors – much like life – is what we make of it. Some days the fish are biting, occasionally we’re a bit ahead of them or the season is behind us, and sometimes, where the water once teemed with them, they’re suddenly gone. Whether it’s bad timing, good luck, or just the way things are, finding pleasure in watching an eagle soar overhead, hearing the startled whistle of a wood duck, or admiring the toothy handiwork of nature’s dam builders are rewards in their own right…in our outdoors.
Simonson is the lead writer and editor of Dakota Edge Outdoors.
Featured Photo: The author’s son Jackson finds a comfortable spot in an uncomfortable shoreline. Simonson Photo.