My brother and I were waiting for a sign from God or someone to help us make one of the most important decisions of the year, not to mention our lives: to fish or not to fish Saturday’s May Opening Day in Minnesota.
The five-day forecast for northeastern Minnesota where we fish calls for you name it: rain, maybe snow, highs scraping 50, lows in the 30s, lots of wind and a chance of a hurricane, earthquake, tornado, wildfires in California and the federal government attacking Texas. I exaggerate only a little. In general, it was the typical opening weekend walleye forecast, conditions we’d fished in for five decades.
Seventy days ago, my brother and I would have embraced that forecast and danced around a campfire, thanking the gods for our good fortune before we headed onto the ice. For sure, we would have consumed a pint of tequila if the Feds indeed would have attacked Texas.
After our nearly ideal Minnesota spring, warm for the most part, breezy and incredibly long (a friend and I were at our cabin in the woods in mid-March when the temp struck 70), we weren’t prepared for the forecast that predicted a backtrolling plunge toward winter.
So Friday, we sipped coffee and mulled, we paced, we mumbled to ourselves and we cussed about the what-ifs and what could be if we went. The Decision was paramount because not much else matters in May besides Opening Day. (Oops. I forgot Mother’s Day, but that’s beside the point because the best mothers are fishing, too.) You just fish Opening Day. That is all. You fish it. It’s sort of like waking up each morning. You just do it. On Friday, the question for the first time ever was “should we go?”
Anglers with any sense (actually there are quite a few very effective artificial scents that lure fish into biting) look forward to making that first cast into the dark waters of the river.
You follow the line as it moves downstream. You visualize and feel the sinker-floating jig-minnow rig settles onto the sandbar where walleyes you hope wait. You set the rod down in the willow fork you carved and stuck into the strong, organic smell of the mud and wait for the telltale slow motion bob of the rod indicating a walleye bite.
You wait a little longer — one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three — for the second bob. (Walleyes where we fish never attack the hell out of your bait. They tease and play cards with the minnow or leech before they eat the damn thing.)
You pick up the rod. You flip the bail and give the fish slack line to trick it into thinking there’s nothing connected to the minnow, which is pierced by the chartreuse, white, blaze orange, purple, black, pink colored floating jig.
You wait a few seconds more. You reel up some line, get it tight. A little more.
And then with a sweep of the rod over your head, you set the hook. And miss the fish.
“Damn it, I should have given it more line!” you say to yourself and never out loud to others.
You cast again. A few minutes later, if you’re lucky, you see the next bob of the rod. You repeat the process.
This time, as you set the hook, you strike gold and feel the weight of the first black and amber walleye of the season as it retaliates against the invisible pressure with a flip of its tail and turn of its torpedo body as it fights the ride against the current and to the surface and your net.
Score!! (which the Minnesota Wild couldn’t do against Chicago).
You unhook the first fish caught in soft water of the year and hoist it up with the quote of the day: “Good eats!”
Fishing and its significance
Understand, the Minnesota fishing opener is a family tradition that dates back 50 years or more for the current Grinde clan. Opening Day is a wee bit important you might say, almost sacred, as significant as Christmas, or marrying our daughters, or getting another springer spaniel puppy, or hunting the opening day of deer season.
Blowing off the Minnesota fishing opener could have lifelong repercussions, such as: altering our destiny, whatever is in store; determining in the end how many more hunting dogs we might raise; limiting the number of fishing rods and reels we will own before kicking the ol’ minnow bucket; and affecting whether Texas could secede from the Union — stuff like that.
Yes, we love to fish and hunt. Yes, we kill critters. Yes, we eat what we kill and have a damn fine time doing it. No apologies. No philosophical analytics or data dynamics in defense of why we do what we enjoy doing.
But this year’s decision to fish is different. For sure, the source of this year’s Opening Day problem dilemma, besides the weather, is age. These days, we like to do what we do in the outdoors in somewhat comfortable conditions. Is fricking weather in the fricking 60s with no fricking wind, no fricking bugs and a partly cloudy sky too much to ask for?
For Opening Day 2015, apparently it is.
We attack the decision calmly by exchanging 1,110 texts.
“Blowing off Opening Day is undiscovered country.
“We’ve never been down that dark path before.
“Not a problem.
“Let’s take a nap and sleep on it.”
So the texts said.
Smarter than the average bear
Age has mellowed us, you see. My brother and I are much calmer now about whatever gets thrown our way. Also, we are wiser now in our decision making abilities. Plus, we finally have recognized that we truly do possess many years of experience in the Great Outdoors, which have allowed us to develop our finely honed tools of patience and wisdom in making critical decisions.
We’ve only needed a handful of decades to figure out some annoyances such as being unable to cast a jig when our line has become one with the rod tip, or that the firing pin has frozen and the rifle won’t discharge and you miss the buck of a lifetime. We laugh after hiking two miles to a frozen lake to fish trout and the auger won’t start. We giggle when one of us falls 5 feet off a deer stand and guffaw as a mesocyclone of gnats invade nostrils and interfere with simple breathing while casting jigs from the river bank — stuff like that.
It’s taken us nearly 60 years to learn to pause before we pursue an outdoor endeavor that, 20 or 10 years ago, we wouldn’t have thought twice about executing.
Back then, “Let’s Go!!” was the mantra.
Now, it’s “Let’s Go!! But first, let’s wait a minute and think about this … What if we went next Tuesday instead?”
Last year, the forecast warned us a week in advance the weather would be challenging — and we ignored it.
We heard wives, kids and neighbors ask if we were nuts about going. Not that any of that had mattered in our decision making process in the past. The forecast was dead on. The skydiving barometer resulted in a catch of one fish a day: one rainbow trout, one 15-pound northern pike and one out-of-season, very dumb largemouth bass.
“Not bad,” he said, even though we never found the walleyes. The crappies were nonexistent. On Day Three, after a four-hour search for something anything that would bite, I left the lake borderline hypothermic. I needed an hour sitting on the hearth by the fire while attempting to sip some tea before my body warmed.
Meanwhile, the fish played cribbage and nibbled biscuits or whatever they do when the weather top-side sucks.
So, there we were on Friday, one year later, the day before the opener, in deep thought, contemplating the algorithms of life with the goal of determining in advance: Will the fish cooperate? Should we fish?
We agonized all morning about not traveling the 200 miles and spending a few hundred bucks to catch those fish, let me tell you.
Fishing, you see, is a funny thing: When they bite, your body temp rises to 99.2 degrees, even when the actual temp outside is minus 20. When fish clam up and the weather is a bit nasty, your vital signs slip into territory that stresses liver functions, heart rate, pulse and stuff. This is a proven fact. Even climate denier Ted Cruz knows this.
Yes, the camaraderie is great, spending time with family and all that, blah-blah. But that’s not the point of why we fish. I explained some of that earlier in this post. The rest of the story is that, by the end of the day, you want your rain gear to be covered with slime and your hands reeking with piscatorial perfume. You want to hoist that stringer of wiggling jerking squirming 19-inch walleyes onto shore (I caught every damn one of them!), head down the river, go to the cabin, fry the fish in 375-degree oil and eat them, bite by delicious bite.
That’s why on Friday, the decision to fish proved elusive. We already had our vehicles packed with clothes ranging from sandals to Sorels. Our food list was complete. I even added one more rod and reel just to be sure and keep the other 19 happy.
If we stayed home, we could be content with life, love and yard work. If we go…
After our naps, my cell phone vibrated. If felt sort of like when you’re holding a fishing rod and a redhorse sucker nibbles a nightcrawler.
We needed only 35 minutes to make the decision.
We postponed the trip!
I believe my heart developed an odd ailment for a few seconds when I realized I almost sensed relief. Maybe we are smarter these days.
I wondered whether our decision could be news. Maybe the cable TV Fox channel, where everything they say is fair and balanced and really accurate, would want to interview us.
The weather will be warmer in a week, we agreed. We could supplement fishing with hunting morels and fiddleheads and ticks that crawled too far up our legs, we said. We could look forward to swarms of gnats and mosquitoes and sunburn.
Yes, fishing a week from now will be sublime. But if the weather promises to suck, we’re going anyway. That’s the bottom line — and it’s 100-pound test strong.For sure. We are going. We have to. The walleyes are waiting for us, we hope.
Isn’t May grand?