Finally! A chance to get back on the water

BEULAH – Finally! A chance to put a boat in the water on Lake Sakakawea.

Spring has done just about everything it can to stay away from North Dakota this year – late snowfalls and unseasonably cold temperatures included. The state’s largest body of water, Lake Sakakawea, is among the fishing destinations where records for latest ice-free dates have rapidly crumbled in 2013.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Riverdale, the latest date on record for Lake Sakakawea being declared “ice free” is May 17, 1979. Second on the list is May 14, 1970. 2013 is now officially in third place. It has been the year spring forgot.

Although Lake Sakakawea remained encased in ice, Beaver Creek Bay became partially ice-free May 4. A few determined fishermen who had grown increasingly weary of waiting for ice out were happy to launch their boats and carefully weave through cakes of floating ice. Fortunately, the wind didn’t change directions. If it had it could have blown huge sheets of ice back toward the boat ramp and left fishermen without a proper exit point. Despite the risks, the lure of open water fishing proved too immense to ignore.

Under nearly calm conditions the fishing proved to be better than expected. Some walleyes, smallmouth bass and northern pike were caught by the few who ventured out onto the water. Shore fishermen were finally enjoying a chance to wet a line too. Fishing was limited to the bay only, but at least it was in open water and not through a hole in the ice.

Floating junks of ice in Beaver Creek Bay were slowly decaying last weekend. Small pieces, some no bigger than a water glass, could be seen falling away from ice flows and floating freely until melting and disappearing in 40-degree water. Where the bay opens to Lake Sakakawea there was ice as far as the eye could see.

Nevertheless, late as it was, putting a boat on the water marked a victory over a winter that wouldn’t end and a spring that wouldn’t begin. Fish were tugging at jigs once again. The ever-present northern pike were making slashing runs at a variety of lures. Smallmouth bass were active and aggressive. Finicky walleyes would come and go. Large schools of smelt could be seen on the screen of the fish finder. In fishing terms, it was as good as it gets.

There will be better catches in the days ahead but last weekend was great start for those who visited Beaver Creek Bay. The weather was warm, the wind was calm and the fish were there. As evening approached a rooster pheasant was heard crowing repeatedly on one side of the bay. On the opposite side white-tailed deer were be seen silhouetted atop the bluffs. It was a postcard evening.

Soon fishermen all across the state will start scrambling to make up for nearly a month of fishing time lost to the long, cold spring. Ice will inevitably give way to warm temperatures and thousands of anglers will once again enjoy sunshine, fresh air and fishing.

It has been long overdue.