DEVILS LAKE — The forecast had called for wind gusts up to 23 mph with a chance for afternoon thunderstorms.
So much for that; the lake was flat calm, and we breathed sighs of relief every time the clouds covered the sun.
Tougher conditions for walleye fishing would have been tough to imagine, at least according to the experts.
Someone forgot to tell the walleyes.
So it went last Friday, July 24, when two of my best friends and I spent the afternoon catching walleyes — at times almost as fast as we could get our lines in the water — on a well-known stretch of Devils Lake we mostly had to ourselves.
Considering the company I was with, catching fish was purely a bonus.
It was a day I badly needed, and I’m pretty sure the same could be said for my two fishing partners; a day that was good for the soul.
As fishing goes, this has been a difficult summer for me, and I hadn’t had the opportunity to fish walleyes since mid-February, when I spent the day with the same two friends in a fish house near Oak Island of Lake of the Woods.
We didn’t know it at the time, of course, but within a month, our lives — and the lives of pretty much everyone else in the world —would be thrown into a tailspin by a global pandemic that shows no signs of abating any time soon.
We’d pulled the plug on our annual Minnesota walleye opener trip to Lake of the Woods in May because there was too much uncertainty, and none of us were comfortable with the risks of staying together and fishing together. A July fly-in fishing trip to northern Ontario, which we’d been planning for more than a year, met a similar fate, in large part because of the ongoing closure of the U.S.-Canada border to nonessential travel.
Other than a couple of shore fishing excursions to an off-the-beaten-path pike hole, I hadn’t wet a line all summer and hadn’t been in a boat since October.
The much-anticipated trip to Devils Lake had been on the calendar for a few weeks, but it took a surprise turn last Friday morning when I pulled into the driveway of my friend’s house in Grand Forks.
He had set up the trip, and as far as I knew, it was just going to be the two of us.
We’d spend the day on the lake and stay that night in the house of another Grand Forks friend who has a place at Devils Lake. Both of us have played it safe, avoiding crowds and public places, and felt the risk of a fishing trip was manageable.
Given that scenario, I didn’t think much of it when I parked beside his boat to unload my gear last Friday morning.
I got out of the car, and that's when I did a double-take.
“Holy smokes!” I said, or something to that effect.
The person sitting in the boat getting ready to vacuum the floor was our good friend from St. Paul. He’s the third member of “The Board of Governors,” a name the three of us gave ourselves as the primary organizers of the fishing and hunting trips our larger crew takes.
What a fantastic surprise.
As the shock subsided, I learned the two of them, unbeknownst to me, had been scheming this surprise for at least three weeks, knowing, I guess, that my case of pandemic fatigue was in dire need of a remedy.
Our friend from St. Paul had gotten a routine test for COVID-19 a couple of days earlier, just to be safe, and when the results came back negative, he hit the road and headed north to Grand Forks.
As pick-me-ups go, these guys hit it out of the park.
The walleyes were waiting last Friday afternoon, and just as we did for the Minnesota walleye opener in 2017, when I caught my first walleye in months after shoulder surgery, we celebrated the end of my walleye drought with champagne.
We toasted to good fishing and good times with good friends — and the hope of better days to come.
The flat-calm conditions persisted throughout the day, but there was just enough cloud cover to keep the temperature, which was in the high 80s, bearable. Jigging in about 20 feet of water, we rarely went more than a few minutes without a fish or at least a bite.
Leeches, crawlers, slip bobbers … it didn’t seem to matter.
The walleyes weren’t trophies, but we had no trouble catching our 15-fish limit of keepers. We kept track with a clicker counter and called it a day when we hit the 70-walleye mark.
As good trips always do, our time on the water and at the cabin went by too fast; by early Saturday afternoon, we were back in Grand Forks and our friend was on the road back to St. Paul.
His visit had been a great surprise, our fishing excursion a highlight in a year when highlights have been few and far between.
Short though it was, it's a fishing trip I'll never forget.
Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.