Juice it

Some of the most memorable fishing trips I’ve been on have been the result of disaster. OK, not disaster in the terms of life-threatening circumstances, but, it would probably be fairer to say major inconvenience. Whether motorless in the flow, or without power on hard water, finding the silver lining hasn’t been difficult when things look bad but the fish start biting. It’s simply knowing how to make juice those sour days that life hands us, and saving the recipe for future challenges.

A floating find

While fishing the Sheyenne River north of Valley City one gorgeous day with my Norwegian friend Einar, who was finishing up his semester abroad in North Dakota, we ran into the usual trouble that came almost monthly on the old 15-foot Grumman that regularly patrolled the waters of the smallmouth-filled river I grew up on. Halfway home from a honey hole near the Fish Hatchery, the motor sputtered and spun without fire, and we drifted to a slow creep as the power left the engine.

After testing the limits of my mechanically-declined brain and hands, I dropped the trolling motor down and we made our way through the bends and turns of the river at a slowed pace, casting to the occasional deadfall or rock pile along the shore in search of bronze bass. As we neared the concrete bridge about half a river mile up from the launch, the battery gave up the last of its power and we stalled once again. I sighed and looked down at the worn brown carpeting of the boat and picked up our final option for propulsion, an old Caviness brand canoe paddle.

Sending my foreign friend to the front of the craft I began paddling on either side of the stern, starting us forward once again. Dodging the pile-ups of wood and the concrete pilings of the Hi-Line Bridge, we made our way back into the city limits and closed in on the final stretch of river around Chautauqua Park. With the truck in sight across the green stretch, I paused to rest my shoulders and we fired a few casts into a backwater lip and suddenly a pair of smallmouth were on the line. We’d land half a dozen more in the 15 minutes before the dark — and my recharged muscles — would send us home. While the boat was in the shop, we used paddle power for the rest of the week in the old family canoe, and hit all the high points close to home, including the breakline which would become an all-time favorite stop thanks to some convenient motor troubles.

Extra ice time

Towed by a friend’s newly-tracked ATV, three of us huddled between the sled houses piled on a long trailer as we made our way over the early-season ice to a rock reef that had produced massive smallmouth, walleyes and pike for my buddies in the preceding openwater season. Ducking down behind the buckets, gear and seats piled on top of the tarped sleds to avoid the added windchill, we thought of the fast fishing that awaited.

We were not disappointed as pike in the five-to eight-pound range, a handful of eater walleyes, and roving schools of perch frequented the areas under our holes with regularity. A pair of nice smallies even showed up — a rarity on the ice. We fished along, piling up a few perch and walleyes in our sleds until things slowed some. In an effort to find the next hot corner on the underwater structure, my buddy went to fire up his ATV. The silence was deafening.

After radioing for help on his cell phone, the four of us pushed the ATV on the trailer which hauled us out and waited the hour or so for his friend to arrive in a small pickup to pull us back to the shoreline we came from. In the meanwhile, the perch reappeared along with the walleyes, including a pair of three-pounders that helped round out the extra hour of fishing right as our rescuer rolled in. With a couple buckets full for that night’s dinner and enough for a few more down the road, we headed home in the bed of the old truck, crammed in among the wedged ice shacks, augers and buckets once again.

The point of these adventures gone awry and the handful of similar ones I’ve experienced is that when faced with challenges — mechanical, weather, self-made or otherwise — there are two options. The situation can sour your outlook, or you can suck it up and make some lemonade out of those days that would otherwise be lemons…in our outdoors.

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