We’ve long said that we should just once skip the spring turkey season to fish the long list of waters that we’ve only heard about, or revisit those we’ve ignored over the years.
We’d start by fishing the ones closest to home, we said, and work out from there. Our choices would be many. Because the list of waters in North Dakota numbers over 400, we would have to skip several turkey seasons to explore even a fraction.
We’d hit them right after ice out when the pike and other fish moved into the shallows where the water warmed first, putting them within casting distance from shore.
This proclamation, to purposefully waive hunting these nonnative birds as the countryside was coming to life after months of winter, was typically aired in the waning weeks of May when we were, certainly not for the first time, eating our unfilled turkey tags.
On February 20, for the first time in several years, we were notified by the Game and Fish Department that we didn’t draw spring turkey licenses for the unit we hunt close to home.
Unsuccessful, the email read.
Like the other unsuccessful applicants, I’m guessing, we were bummed, and a little surprised because drawing a license, at least in the unit we hunt, had begun to feel like a gimme.
The consolation, the silver lining for being told no, I told my teenage hunting partner, is that we could fish more, just like we talked about. Remember?
Yeah, but … he answered.
And I get the “but.”
There’s something about being in the turkey woods in spring waiting for first light. When we’ve done our scouting and know where the birds are roosting, it’s possible to make them out from a distance. In low light, they don’t look like live critters, but dark, featureless nests built by raptors or squirrels on steroids.
Yet, as sunrise approaches, and with little provocation, say, the barking of a farmyard dog or the crow of a rooster pheasant, the big birds gobble in response, announcing to anyone who bothers to listen their whereabouts.
If the wind is down, and if you pay attention and listen for it, you’ll sometimes hear 20 pounds of turkey gracelessly thump to the ground.
Being in the woods, leaning against a tree and hearing this, knowing that just maybe a mature tom in full display, with wings drooping to the ground and tail erect, could, with a little goading, strut by at any moment is worth getting out of bed for.
Yet, so is hooking a nice fish in shallow water on a lake that’s new to us, or an old standby. The tradeoff, if you can call it that, certainly doesn’t bite.