For me, at least, the start of a new year is a time for reflection. A time to look back at the year that was and a time to look ahead to the new year now upon us.
Overall, I’d rate 2021 as better than 2020 – if only marginally – keeping in mind that topping 2020 doesn’t take much.
I like to think of myself as a “glass-half-full” kind of guy, though, and so I’ll focus here on some of the positives I encountered in 2021.
I didn’t fish as much as I would have liked in 2021, but the times I did get out were memorable for all the right reasons. None more so, perhaps, than the “sturgeon excursion” some friends and I made in mid-April to the Rainy River. The river was high and muddy after early April rains, and fishing conditions were tough, but a friend fishing in my boat landed his “PB” – personal best – lake sturgeon with a 60-inch brute, and I caught a tagged fish that measured 56 inches.
The weather bit us hard on the second and third days of the trip, but the Airbnb house we rented near Baudette, Minnesota, provided the perfect venue for watching the wind blow and the snow fall.
Just being there, and getting the crew back together again for the first trip of the “vaccination era,” was good enough. More time on the river would have been nice, to be sure, but the fishing was merely a bonus.
Returning to Lake of the Woods for the 2021 Minnesota walleye opener after bagging the trip in 2020 also was memorable. A friend got a chance to put some hours on his brand-new boat, the weather cooperated and the fishing was just good enough to keep things interesting.
Three of us also embarked on an adventure that was nothing short of epic, taking that same boat in early July from Grand Portage, Minnesota, across 20 miles of Lake Superior to Isle Royale National Park. The raingear stayed packed throughout our week-long stay, we ate like kings and we managed to do just fine on lake trout, considering we had no reports or intelligence about where to fish going into the trip. As a bonus, wind conditions were favorable throughout the week and perfect for crossing the lake both coming and going.
Such conditions are far from guaranteed when picking dates on the calendar for a trip to Lake Superior.
I also fished Canada for the first time in nearly 2 years, spending 2½ days in early September battling behemoth catfish on the Red River at Lockport, Manitoba. Once again, Lockport lived up to its reputation as one of the finest channel catfish destinations on the planet, and we landed numerous fish over 20 pounds.
It was great to be back and spend time with my Canadian friends.
Also enjoyable in 2021 was an extended fall, which included some timely – and much-needed – rains in some of the places where I spend my time. Our annual ruffed grouse get-together served up plenty of birds, and the youngest of the crew shot his first three grouse and his first deer as a participant in Minnesota’s youth deer season.
Looking ahead, here are three wishes for 2022:
No more drought. Widespread dry conditions affected nearly every aspect of life last summer. On the outdoors front, low water on many rivers and lakes created access problems, dried-up wetlands resulted in some of the poorest waterfowl production in years and, in an unexpected development, low water levels on the Red River created ideal conditions for the biting midges that carry a fatal deer disease known by the acronym of EHD. Often called “no-see-ums,” the midges thrive in stagnant water and wet organic material left by receding rivers, lakes and wetlands, and significant deer die-offs occurred for the first time in parts of the northern Red River Valley.
I’m hoping the “third time’s the charm” for our fly-in fishing trip to a remote lake in northern Ontario, which originally was scheduled for July 2020. The trip was canceled in 2020 and 2021 because of COVID – the Canadian border didn’t reopen to nonessential travel until Aug. 9 – so we’re now on the books for late June 2022. The trip should happen as long as the border stays open.
Here’s hoping the first case of chronic wasting disease to be documented in the Red River Valley is an isolated incident. The father of a young hunter participating in Minnesota’s October youth deer season had the deer, a healthy-looking buck that was shot southwest of Climax, Minnesota, tested voluntarily as a routine matter of course, and the positive result came as a surprise. Wildlife managers on both sides of the Red River have been scrambling to sample deer and learn more about the prevalence of CWD in the area ever since. So far, just the one.
Neither gloomy nor optimistic, my take on 2022 can be summed up by the words of a Canadian bush pilot before trying to take off from a small lake with a full plane and no wind: “We’ll see how this goes.”
Hopefully, we get off the water and clear the trees.