Points North: In the Grip of Fishing Fever, Anything Seems Possible

"A few days ago, I noticed my preparations for the coming spring are well under way..." (manyhighways/Flickr)

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I'm not sure what arrived first, the fishing line or the fever. A few days ago, I noticed my preparations for the coming spring are well under way. UPS delivered a box filled with spools of hard-to-find fishing line. Then a friend emailed with questions about a fly rod he is building for me. I traded emails with another friend about turkey hunting.

Thinking spring in January may seem a little strange to some folks, but it happens to me every year. I even think there is a scientific explanation for those April-May musings. Now, more than a month past the December solstice, the winter sun is gaining strength. Inside of me, something stirs. Rationally, I understand that April is two months away. The mid-May fishing opener--dare I say it--won't arrive for three and a half months. Still, it seems the open water season is just around the corner.

I am not alone, as evidenced by the mountain of tackle catalogs that show up in my mail. Before any fishing lure can catch a fish, it must first hook a fisherman. Thus the retailers make their casts, smug in the knowledge that fishermen, unlike fish, are always biting. In midwinter, when anglers are not paging through catalogs or trolling for tackle on the Internet, they are wandering the aisles of sport shows, dreaming of new boats or fly-in fishing vacations.

I'm happy with my present boat and plan to keep my fishing feet planted firmly on the ground this year. But nevertheless I’m feverish. Generally, I try to take a pragmatic approach to my fishing preparations. I keep track of what was lost or damaged the previous year and make a wish list of tackle and gear to add to my angling arsenal. Never do I acquire everything on my list.

This may be due to the breadth of my fishing interests. Many modern anglers specialize in one or two species, such as muskies or walleyes, or on a method, such as fly-fishing or Great Lakes trolling. I'm more a jack of many trades, enjoying the variety of fishing opportunities available near my North Shore home. My fishing calendar follows a predictable schedule. I start the season fishing for steelhead in rivers, shifting to walleyes and northerns in lakes when the general season opens. I also have a fondness for fly-fishing, especially for trout. In midsummer, I troll for salmon on Lake Superior.

The tough part about having disparate angling interests is finding enough time to do justice to all of them. I set a personal goal to land at least 50 trout and salmon topping 16 inches during a fishing season, knowing that I’ll need to spend plenty of quality time on the water to do so. The bulk of my “goal fish” are Lake Superior steelhead, lake trout and salmon, but my annual tally usually includes some whopper brook trout, a handful of hefty browns and lake trout from inland waters. Sometimes it includes salmon from the Pacific Ocean or cutthroat trout from the Rockies. The specific catches don’t really matter. If I hit the goal of 50, I’ve had a good fishing year. I don’t set a similar goal for walleyes, but my urge to catch them is driven by a healthy appetite for fresh filets.

Last summer, I made some changes in life that allowed me more fishing time—something that previously was in short supply. While I wasn’t transformed into Huckleberry Finn, I was able to make a few more casts. Just how many more became apparent last August, when I smugly decided to forgo trolling on Lake Superior, because I’d already caught enough trout and salmon. I didn’t stop fishing, mind you. My angling attention just shifted to walleyes.

I’m hoping to have some extra fishing time available this summer, but am unsure how I will use it. Back in the good old days—when gasoline was less than $2.50 per gallon—my fishing forays were often to destinations anywhere from 60 to more than 100 miles from home. When the weather was right and the fish were biting, I went fishing on many weekday evenings, often driving 50 miles one way just to cast flies to hungry trout during an hour-long mayfly hatch. These days, I stick closer to home, because it’s hard to justify the gasoline expense for just an hour or two of fishing.

Living near the border, I used to make frequent day excursions into Canada, another form of fishing fun that has become costly.  While I haven’t given up on fishing in the wondrous Nipigon region, overnight trips, and fewer of them, are now the norm. Last summer, I contemplated running out to western Montana with my pick-up camper for a week of fly-fishing, but backed off after calculating the fuel costs.  Maybe, with better planning, I’ll make it out there this year. When you dream about fishing in midwinter, just about anything seems possible.

Airdate: February 1, 2013


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