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Back Cast/A Look Back

Article By 
Ron Wilson

Back Cast by Ron Wilson

North Dakota OUTDOORS’ spring fishing issue has always been sort of a yardstick for me, marking the number of years I’ve spent behind an industrial green metal desk that you’d crawl under during a bomb threat.

When I do the math, I know that this is my 11th fishing issue, the first coming in 2003, which means I’ve been at the Game and Fish Department for 10 years.

A decade ago, when the Game and Fish Department managed nearly 100 fewer waters across the state as compared to today’s all-time high of 400 or so, I wrote on this same page that “As a reader, outdoor writer … this is one of the issues of OUTDOORS I always hurried to my mailbox to retrieve. Tucked somewhere in the magazine, be it in a story or list of the state’s fishing spots, I knew I would discover new waters, small jewels that I imagined received little fishing pressure.”

Today, considering I read every word in this magazine over and over before it ever hits the press, that sense of anticipation of the fishing issue’s arrival has been lost. But the sense of discovery during the editing process, stumbling upon a new, must-try water, especially now that we have so many, remains. These waters, some I’ve most certainly heard of, but haven’t considered fishing before for whatever reason, are written on yellow sticky notes and scraps of paper and stashed here and there as reminders.

Back Cast

No matter the year, whether we’re writing about drought or the threat of high water across the countryside, the OUTDOORS fishing issue signals, depending on Mother Nature, naturally, the start of the open water fishing season, or at least thereabouts.

That doesn’t mean we haven’t thought about it a time or two prior to this magazine’s release. It’s just that consideration about the open water season in North Dakota, which attracted 146,000 resident and nonresident anglers in 2012, have been, out of acceptance to winter, dormant for months, quietly sulking under two-plus feet of ice, below orange-flagged tip-ups, ice fishing shacks and harvested fish tossed atop the snow, some seemingly frozen in mid-flop.

Anglers around here, devotees of the Missouri River and its walleye fishing, are some of the most eager, hitting the river because the calendar says its spring, even though it often doesn’t feel much like it for more than a couple of days straight.

They look cold, bundled in basically the same gear they wore ice fishing, as we wheel by on the interstate at 60 miles per hour in a heated vehicle with the windows rolled tight. While it’s hard not to wonder if they’ve excitedly jumped the gun a bit, it’s hard not to be a little envious, not to mention feel like a bit of a wimp, because they’re fishing and we’re not.

If we haven’t already, we will join them soon enough.

A Look Back by Ron Wilson

For many years the back cover of North Dakota OUTDOORS has taken A Closer Look at mostly plants and animals found in the state. Beginning with this issue, we’re taking A Look Back.

A lot has changed in the outdoors over the years. In the fishing gear department alone, for example, huge advances have been made in the equipment anglers employ to catch fish. There are a dizzying number of artificial baits to choose from today, many sinking, diving and swimming at varying depths and speeds, rods made of Space Age materials and a complicated array of electronics that beep and chirp in their quest to help anglers “find” fish.

A Look Back

While boats and motors used by Game and Fish Department fisheries biologists today are different than those from, say, 1969 when this black and white photograph was taken, some things have stayed basically the same. For instance, the techniques, nets and other gear fisheries biologists use to spawn northern pike and walleye have remained relatively unchanged in the last half-century, said Greg Power, Department fisheries chief.

The same could be said, too, for the unpredictable early spring weather that often accompanies these spawning efforts. Nets are just as likely to freeze in place today as they did 44 years ago.

The above photo was taken in April at Beaver Bay on Lake Oahe during the northern pike spawn. During this particular event, where fisheries biologists milk eggs and milt from adult pike, the wind blew honeycombed ice over the nets and tipped them, making it impossible for fish to enter the trap. District game warden Gerald Geisen, left, and district fisheries manager Alven Kreil are pictured in their attempt to free the net.

Back then, there were about 125 managed lakes in the state, compared to 400 or so today.