Our Outdoors: This or That
By Nick Simonson
With the snow piling higher and higher and gusts sending each new wave of the white stuff sideways across the picture window in the first gray light of day, thinking about spring was all I could do to keep cabin fever at bay. I erased penciled-in fishing trips for April and booked them again in the squares of the weekends down the road when other conflicts didn’t move them back further. I ran through the first week of totals for the high school clay target league and projected end-of year averages. I tied the forty-eighth woolly bugger for my fly box and finally began to wonder “what’s next” as the foam real estate under the plastic cover began to get less and less.
After what was a relatively mild first three months of winter, March dropped the other shoe with authority. Weekly dumpings of snow, colder than average temperatures and lakes still locked tight under three feet of ice did away with any illusion of an early spring and openwater runs of pike up creeks, walleyes schooled around the rip-rapped lowhead dams, and crappies rushing to spawn in the warming shallows of northern bays. As if to pile on, the forecast for the first half of April doesn’t show much change – a bad joke if there ever was one. Trying to ignore that prediction, my mind wandered through the white outside the window into greener times, and all major activities for the early morning complete, I began to play a game of This or That: Our Outdoors Edition.
The rules are simple but amorphous. Pick two things in the outdoors and decide which one is better. Which species would you pursue for a season or the rest of your life if you had to choose? What happening makes for a more memorable day outside? What color works best? Among the dozens I went through, the memorable ones helped me recall some of my favorite moments and places in the field and on the water.
Largemouth or Smallmouth? A debate that has raged for nearly fifteen years in my boat goes slightly to the smallie for its aggressive strikes and acrobatic flips. Growing up on the Sheyenne River, they were the hallmark of fun fishing. Bucketmouths still rule Memorial Day weekend in Minnesota lake country, but there’s an unquantifiable something about bronze bass in my background that provides a bias that can’t be overcome. Decision: Smallmouth.
Quality or Quantity? One big fish can make a day memorable, but so can a limit of keepers for the frying pan, freezer and friends. Always one for consistent action, with enough big fish under my belt from my younger days to keep me happy, these days I’m all about bites, and watching the kids’ bobbers go down. Decision: Quantity.
Fluorescent Pink or Chartreuse? I’ve had too many nice fish come on bright pink jigs and plastics to not consider it the top pick, and the two colors are equally challenging when it comes to trying to type them correctly without spell check. While chartreuse is a long time go-to spinner color, I find more fish across the species spectrum on pink. Decision: Pink.
River or Lake? Flowing water has always been a favorite. Growing up around moving water meant things were always changing and new fish seemingly came and went each week, while certain haunts held the same select lunkers. Most lakes attract at least a few recreational boaters; flowing water is predominately for anglers, providing solitude and rarely a jet skier. Decision: River.
Pheasant or Ruffie? Tough one. I’d lean pheasant on the quantity versus quality argument but have had so many good one- or two-bird ruffed grouse hunts in the Northwoods that the elusive thunderbird holds a special place in my heart. Then again, watching two generations of pointing lab lock up on a petrified rooster and completing the point-flush-retrieve trifecta is the symbol of a successful autumn weekend. Decision: Pheasant.
Cattails or Buckbrush. Hmmm, which one to walk through? A lower body workout, or a jacket-tearing tromp. Give me a cattail slough any day, there’s usually a pheasant or two in there which make the work worth it. Decision: Cattails.
Crappies or Bluegills? While more plentiful and less enigmatic, bluegills fill the bill for fast action. Crappies, however, provide not only the excitement of good fishing when found, but are also a relatively easy-to-clean catch that can jumpstart a fish fry in a matter of minutes. Decision: Crappies.
Spring or Summer. At this point, I’ll take either. The angling is probably fastest – and the fish generally larger – in spring, but unstable weather can test an angler’s mettle as cold, rainy (or snowy) conditions pop up on shifting patterns. Summer with its warmth, heavy air, thunderstorms, shallows full of panfish, crackling bonfires, and barbecues is the stuff that helps us get through times like these. Decision: Summer.
Whispering the answer to each challenge over the steam of my coffee cup, I was oblivious to the house waking up around me until the kids wandered into the kitchen and the dogs stood up to greet them. Soon, I was back in the moment, breaking down a far more difficult decision on our snow day – the Angry Birds movie for the 9,345th time, or the recently-discovered cadences of the Color Crew (singing, dancing, coloring crayons) that had infiltrated my subconscious in a matter of a week. It was a far more difficult decision than any of the above, or any other I’d probably have to make…in our outdoors.