Fishing through the Elements

A nice North Dakota pike on the fly.

An icy east wind stirred up the lake with whitecaps as the surf rolled into the boat launch area. Kevin and I agreed that we didn’t want to put the boat in the water. We recalled a day last year when we launched the boat on a similar day and, while the fish were biting, getting back to the launching area turned out to be more adventure than we wanted.

We went to Minot, North Dakota a couple weeks ago to visit our son, Kevin and his family. As always, these trips involve some outdoors activities, depending on the season. In the fall it’s pheasants but in May it’s fishing.

Weather is one of those factors that decides whether outings will be successful, or even possible. The weather in central North Dakota was pretty much the same as home in western Montana: chilly, windy and wet.

On a first outing, our plan was to go to a lake known for smallmouth bass. We both recalled a day a few years back when we each caught around ten smallies, catching them with flyrods.

We drove through rain on our way to the lake, though the rain had stopped by the time we got there. The wind was blowing and the lake was more than a little choppy. We elected to go to a different part of the lake that was protected from the wind, though there wasn’t a handy boat launching area. We spent the morning wading the shallow shoreline, whipping flyrods, throwing out streamers, all to no avail.

Battling the wind with the help of our Labs.

Kevin recalled sitting in on a seminar on fly-fishing for smallmouth bass, with the expert saying that smallies bite best when water temperatures are warm, or warming. “If the water temps are dropping, you might as well stay home.” A couple days earlier highs were in the 80s. This day, with rain, wind and temperatures in the low 40s, that water was definitely cooling off, and as far as catching fish was concerned, we could have stayed home.

On that next outing, after passing up the windswept lake we moved to another lake where the public access was on a sheltered shoreline so that boating wouldn’t be an adventure.

We mainly cruised along shorelines, with Kevin trolling a lure. I was using a flyrod, casting streamers towards shoreline cover, such as weedbeds, fallen logs or rocks.

I had the first action when a nice northern pike hit my streamer. In the icy water it was a bit sluggish, but it still put up a good fight before we netted it.

Before leaving town, my wife said, “If you catch any pike, bring it home for dinner.” So, the fish went in the boat’s live well.

Kevin’s pike that didn’t get away.

A little while later, in almost the same place, Kevin hooked a pike that looked like a twin brother of the one I caught. This one managed to break off when we tried netting it.

Before we called it a day, Kevin caught another pike we deemed large enough for the frying pan.

Some people look down at pike for dining, thinking that walleyes are the only freshwater fish worth eating. Not us. We think pike are great eating. Pike do have a series of “Y” bones that are a nuisance, but they’re totally predictable and avoidable. A few years ago I watched a fishing guide fillet pike, getting rid of the Y-bones. When I cleaned my fish I tried to copy his technique. I don’t know, yet, whether I was successful or not. I’ll find out when we take a fillet out of the freezer.

Back home, I’m looking forward to getting back on the trout streams, especially when runoff has settled down and things warm up enough for some insect hatches.

In spite of the weather, we had fun fishing North Dakota lakes. As we approach Father’s Day, I reflect back on our many years of shared fishing experiences and I’ll share this bit of advice. Take your kids fishing. If things work out right, maybe they’ll take you fishing when you get old.

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