Sleet dribbles steadily from a glowering sky, the last vestiges of Winter returning to haunt us. To prove it, thick wet flakes fell earlier in the morn, managing to stick just enough. Parked cars now sported frozen, sloughing calluses of ice from windshields and hoods. My feet are cold, and the sleet’s windblown patter skitters across the roads, freezing and melting by turns.
But now the central heating kicks on. Ah, isn’t living in this time and place so grand sometimes?
No, today I am not crazy enough to go brave the cold and nasty to catch more pike. I have caught them, and walleye, though little else. I tried for smallmouth last week, but… I’m getting ahead of myself.
I have much to catch you up on, dear reader, so off we go.
My arrival in North Dakota you’ve already seen, culminating a grand journey through the plains which allowed me to see and enjoy country that I’d never been to, as well as savor the parts that I knew and loved.
But once I got here, then what happened? Well, of course I immediately tried to start finding places to fish. I was hungry to catch a northern pike. The only issue was that Nature hadn’t caught up with me yet. The ice was still on the lakes, and fish were, for the most part, inaccessible to fly fishermen.
I scouted out a couple local dam tailraces that were clear of ice, but the flows were extremely low and locals had fished those areas hard all winter. I had no recourse but to be patient while Spring got things kickstarted, opening the lakes up and getting the fish thinking amorously. The pike spawn soon after iceout, and then linger in the steadily warming shallow bays and wait for other fish to move shallow.
I knew that, and I went looking. I focused on shallow water, especially edges thick with cattails and brush. I got hung up enough that I started tying big flashy bendbacks to slither through the sticks.
Finally, after a couple of weeks of searching, I hook a stick that wasn’t a stick. Fish on!... off. Though I had lost the first one, I felt triumphant. The next sunny afternoon, I went back.
Working the edge of the marshy slough, I moved down the bank towards a fishy looking clump of timber. Probing casts hit every likely pike lair, but no strikes. Somewhat perplexed, I started to move on down the bank. Out in the open water past the trees, I got my first solid jolt - hooked up! A few moments later, I said hello to my first northern on fly. I was stoked.
Hard work, research, planning and execution... plus a good dollop of that secret sauce, luck. I'll take it!