In the distance
Except in those instances where the steelhead were running hard and fast up the tributaries of Lake Superior, or the walleyes were so thick one could nearly walk across them on Devils Lake’s famed Channel A in the spring, I’ve rarely fished in a scenario that would cause my line to tangle with another person’s. Over the last few years, at least 90 percent of my hunting outings have been solo trips for grouse, pheasants or deer, with the experience of being alone with the animals — huntable and watchable — providing for more than enough excitement and distance from society. As that experience of social distancing enters our modern lexicon as quickly as the appearance and reaction to the coronavirus has, sportsmen sit on the edge of a spring like no other.
As schools shut down, businesses close temporarily and people either voluntarily or mandatorily confine themselves to their homes in reaction to the pandemic and the efforts to curb its impact on our medical systems, those actions really couldn’t come at a better time for those who love the outdoors. In the gap of late March, where ice recedes and waters open — and perhaps in some regions, open too quickly and too high for fishing — there is plenty to do to prepare for spring angling which may seem a long way off in light of the ongoing daily changes. What follows are just a handful of ideas for time spent inside, whether it’s due to the shifting conditions that might prohibit outdoor adventures in the next few weeks, or the noble actions and sacrifices underway by all to help with the country’s efforts to protect its population from a spreading virus.
1. Tackle time. Spring sees a demand for new tackle at a sporting goods store in a way that rivals a rush for toilet paper or disinfectant wipes at Wal-Mart ahead of an emergency declaration. Take the time now to look over tackle boxes and inventory those lures that will be required for success when spring arrives. Additionally, inspect hooks and lures for wear and rust and remove or replace those items to help prevent the spread of corrosion to other baits in the box. Prepare an online order or put together a list when the “all clear” is issued to get back out to a favorite tackle shop and be certain of a sound stock of angling options.
2. Tied up. When spring arrives, there’s always a few patterns I wish I would have gotten to that just didn’t quite make it from my to-do list into my fly box or jig compartment. An extra two weeks indoors provides ample opportunity to add some patterns to any arsenal, whether it’s standard tackle or flies for the long rod. When dealing with a case of extended cabin fever or doing what you can to fight off COVID-19, time at the fly tying vise or lure-making desk can help finish off those last few projects and patterns to be offered up this spring. From big baits for muskies and pike to jigs and flies for crappies and trout, there’s more time now to get them done.
3. Stake out somewhere new. Odds are there are already a few dates circled on the calendar for outdoor adventures planned when things warm up. Take the coming time indoors to set up one more to try out a new lake or river or to fish for a new species, and it doesn’t have to be all that far away from home. When the threat of contagion subsides and water levels follow suit, execute on that plan and add a new fish to a life list, or learn a bit about a previously unfished water. With all the great resources available from state agencies in relation to fish stocking numbers, survey results, lake contour maps and information hiding in the back corners of the Internet, scouting out a new fishing opportunity can be a lot of fun, even just in the preparation stage of the adventure.
4. License up. The spring transition also brings with it a change in the angling year as well. Purchase and arrange for the licenses that will be necessary for the upcoming openwater season, including those for watercraft and for trips to special permit areas, such as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. Don’t forget to add trout stamps, sturgeon tags and so on in those jurisdictions where special additions may be warranted in upcoming angling travels. Checking these important to-dos off a spring list now, when there’s time, means not having to worry about them later when up against the start of an outing or an extended adventure.
5. Be prepared. If the coronavirus outbreak has taught us anything — judging by the run on stores for everything from bathroom products to pain killers to bleach — it’s “be prepared.” Use this time to take stock of and secure those items necessary for emergencies in the outdoors. Have not only a first aid kit for a boat or field pack, but also include those near-necessities like duct tape and electrician’s tape, paracord, a multi-tool and a knife along with two sources of ignition for starting a fire, such as a butane lighter and strike-anywhere matches. Add in the tools and other items specific to each craft or style of angling as well. Assemble them all in a sealable gallon bag (which has dozens of uses on its own) and stash them in a plastic tote or other waterproof container. Oh, and don’t forget to add a roll of toilet paper, if you can find one!
With some time at home on many people’s hands at the moment or in the near future, it’s the perfect opportunity to get ready for when spring settles in and more mobility is allowed and encouraged. Remember that when ready and well prepared, social distancing in the absence of an outbreak can also be a good thing, so try to stay a few casts away from the next person looking to get out this spring as well … in our outdoors.