This year, for the first time since I can’t remember when, I won’t be in a boat for the Minnesota Fishing Opener.
The grand spring tradition is already underway as you read this, but the crew with whom I normally gather decided to pull the plug this year.
Too much uncertainty and too many risks, what with coronavirus and social distancing and the “go fishing but do it close to home” edicts that never would have entered our minds just a few months ago.
That seems like ancient history now.
Actually, even before the pandemic turned life upside down, we had decided to postpone the annual get together for a week to accommodate a business trip one of the crew had on the books.
He owns the boat, so the decision to postpone was easy enough. But then coronavirus came along and put the kibosh both on the fishing trip and his business trip.
Last I heard, his business trip has been rescheduled for March. When we’ll be able to get together in a boat and not have to worry about social distancing and everything else we have to worry about at the moment … well, I’ve given up trying to speculate.
I don’t think it will be anytime soon; at this juncture, there’s not much cause for optimism that widespread testing or a vaccine is any closer than the distant horizon.
And so, I’ll do my best to enjoy the outdoors in my own way, which unfortunately will be without the company of the friends who’ve made the trips we take so memorable.
For the time being, we’ll have to content ourselves with video chats and the memories of previous trips.
Fortunately, we have a wealth of memories. One of my favorites occurred on the fishing opener in May 2017, when four of us found ourselves anchored in a favorite spot on the Rainy River a few miles upstream from our gathering place at Ballard’s Resort.
I’d undergone rotator cuff surgery in early January that year and spent most of the winter recuperating, enduring physical therapy and following a home exercise regimen to strengthen the shoulder and get it back in shape.
Aside from a late March tip-up fishing trip to Devils Lake, when I was able to land a couple of pike by grabbing the line with my good arm and walking away from the hole while a friend kept the line from catching on the ice, I hadn’t caught a fish since New Year’s Day on Lake Winnipeg.
We had a bottle of champagne at the ready to celebrate as soon as I caught my first walleye of the season, and we’d been fishing maybe 10 minutes when I felt the lightest touch of something at the end of my line.
It wasn’t a “thunk” or even a tap – more like a presence – but I’ve been fishing long enough to know what a light-biting walleye feels like.
Waiting for several seconds that seemed like forever at the time, I worked up the courage to set the hook.
The rod bent to the weight of a decent fish at the end of the line, and in that moment, life again was back to normal.
Minutes later, a 16-inch walleye – the first walleye of several we caught that weekend in May 2017 – was in the livewell. It wasn’t a trophy, but I’d have to think long and hard to come up with a fish that was more memorable.
We toasted the moment with champagne.
Sometime in the future – who knows when that will be – on a day when we don’t have to worry about everything we have to worry about these days, we’ll be in a boat with our lines in the water.
That’s the picture I have in my mind, at least; it helps sustain me during the low points I sometimes encounter on this roller-coaster ride.
We’ll have a bottle of champagne at the ready as soon as the first fish comes into the boat. Doesn’t matter who catches it, doesn’t matter how big, doesn’t matter what kind.
Just a fish. Any fish. And we'll toast to something resembling normal life.
Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.