By Shawn Perich
If you drive along Highway 61 at dusk in early winter, you’ll often see grouse fly across the road. They are heading to their roosts, likely deep within the sheltering bows of a conifer, after feeding on birch and aspen catkins or mountain ash berries. Tonight I saw two of them during a 20-minute drive.
Some folks told me last fall was a good one for grouse hunting, but I don’t know. My autumn was devoted to care-giving and then grieving. Among other, infinitely more important events, 2014 will be noted as the first year since childhood when I didn’t shoot a ruffed grouse or catch a brook trout.
But 2014 will not go down as the year I didn’t have a Christmas tree. Every year, Vikki and I would head out into the woods to find and cut a symmetrical balsam, and then bring it home to be trimmed with dozens of ornaments, including family heirlooms dating back at least a century. Mostly the tree was for our enjoyment, because we always left home to celebrate Christmas with family.
We usually came home on Christmas night. After unloading the vehicle and starting a fire in the wood furnace, we’d make a couple of hot Tom and Jerrys and open our gifts to each other and the dogs. We always said it was the best part of Christmas. I think the dogs agreed.
I say this because dogs, though they may not know the true meaning of Christmas, very quickly catch on to the tradition of gift giving. Since I was a kid, my family has always wrapped simple presents for the family dog. Every dog I’ve known would check out the array of gifts beneath the tree and invariably find the ones intended for them. This includes my current dog, Tanner.
This got me thinking. Tanner is awfully lonely in our now quiet house. He undoubtedly could use some Christmas cheer. So could I. In the next day or two, we’ll go out in the woods and find a small balsam. Then we’ll bring it home and string a few lights on it. I’ll hang a few ornaments, too. When we return from our Christmas travels, Tanner will find a wrapped gift under the tree. Maybe I’ll have a Tom and Jerry.
Christmas, of course, is quickly followed by the New Year. While I’ve never been much on New Year’s celebrations, I like to make a mental list of outdoor stuff I hope to do in the coming year. But what will be on the list this year? I’ll likely have more time to spend out in the woods and on the water. Maybe I’ll have time to head West or North (or Northwest) for a week or two. I’d really like to scratch my fly-fishing itch on western waters or spend a couple of days on the Pacific Ocean fishing for salmon and halibut.
If gas prices remain low, this will be a great year for road trips. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the more distant Minnesota destinations, such as Lake of the Woods, are already noticing some extra traffic. For me, this might be a good year to return to the Black Hills and hunt spring turkeys. Or maybe I’ll try hunting one of the later Minnesota seasons, when you can buy a tag over the counter.
The trouble is turkey hunting always conflicts with my spring steelhead fishing, a more close-to-home passion. Breakup, and thus the North Shore steelhead run, came very late the last two years. Unfortunately, my free time to fish was in early May. When the big runs came in later in the month, I was busy with work. If we have a “normal” spring this year, I hope to make up for some lost time on the rivers.
While I always have big plans for going here and there to fish for this and that when the fishing season opens, my garden always gets in the way. The goal is to get as much of the garden planted as possible before the black flies come out in force. Some years I make, some years I don’t. Either way, fishing takes a back seat to planting. But never fear, my appetite for fresh fish will get me out on the water.
I’ve resolved to catch some brook trout in 2015. Hopefully, my catch will include Lake Superior coasters, stocked trout from an inland lake and wild brook trout from north Shore creeks and beaver ponds. Next year marks the 100th anniversary of Dr. Cook’s 14.5-pound world record brook trout from Ontario’s Nipigon River. Some friends of mine up that way are planning a little celebration. I hope to join them, mostly for the fishing. Restoration of the river’s fishery allowed the Nipigon to become the most accessible trophy brook trout fishery in North America. If you’ve always wanted to catch a five-pound brook, this is the place to go.
Another summertime goal is to catch lake whitefish on flies. I got one last summer and it was the high point of my fishing year. This summer, I plan to put a focused effort into being in the right place at the right time, because whitefish come to the surface to feed on a mayfly hatch that lasts just a week or two. I’ll have to be careful to not become sidetracked trying to catch trout on other waters.
About the time the hatch ends, the fishing heats up on the cold waters of Lake Superior. Last summer, I was able to get out just enough to bring home a couple of meals of salmon and lake trout. Maybe this year I’ll make up for lost time. Then again, maybe I’ll find enough time in my schedule to head West for some more fly-fishing. Montana has some rivers that I’d like to explore.
I ought to be fished out by the time the September grouse opener comes around. So will my fishing buddy, Tanner. We’ll hit the woods and make up for lost time. While we won’t forget the sad events of last summer and fall, we’ll do our best to move on.