The chores that needed doing were done, and there was plenty of time for an afternoon hike to a fishing spot about 3 miles down a gravel road that’s closed to motor vehicles for all but a couple of weeks every year.
The spot is within a wildlife management area and features a control structure on one side of the road that maintains water levels in a large impoundment. Water flowing over the spillway runs through a large culvert and into a pool on the other side of the road that eventually flows into a Red River tributary.
Some years, the pool is loaded with fish — northerns mostly — but during high water years, it’s also been known to hold the occasional walleye and channel catfish.
Getting there requires walking or riding a bicycle, so there’s generally not a lot of traffic except for those couple of weeks when the road is open to motor vehicles. It was no surprise, then, to find the parking lot empty when I pulled in on that recent breezy afternoon for the hike to the spillway.
As expected, I’d have the place to myself, and that was fine by me.
I was traveling light, carrying only my fishing rod and a pocket-sized box of jigs and plastic tails. If the fish were there, they wouldn’t be fussy; it’s been that way as long as I can remember.
I ducked under the gate that keeps vehicles out and set off down the gravel road. Ducks and geese — and ample numbers of both — were my only company.
Walking to the spillway is like taking a stroll down memory lane. Neighbor kids and I spent hours during school summer vacations casting spoons for northerns at the spillway. Catching a fish every cast wasn’t unusual.
All these years later, summer isn’t complete without at least one trip to the spillway
Several years ago, a couple of friends, one with a 10-year-old son, joined me to try our luck at the spillway. We’d caught plenty of fish and were hiking back to the parking lot when the 10-year-old decided to run ahead of us 100 yards or so.
He never saw the gray wolf that ran across the road between us. The encounter was over in mere seconds, but the story still comes up in campfire conversations.
Last weekend, with a brisk wind at my back, I’d rounded the last bend in the road and could barely make out the spillway in the distance when I noticed a large, black shape in a tall tree near the edge of the road about a quarter of a mile in front of me.
I stopped for a closer look, trying to convince myself it was a large nest of some kind.
Thing is, large nests of some kind don’t move, and they’re not black and shaped like a bear.
This was a black bear; of that there was no doubt.
I stood there awhile longer, considering my options.
I’d invested the time and effort to walk that far and hated the idea of turning back so close to my destination. But finishing the hike would mean walking by the bear in the tree next to the road.
More than likely, nothing would happen, I thought, but not being an expert in bear behavior, that was only speculation on my part. I’ve never had an unpleasant encounter with bears in the wild, and I prefer to keep it that way.
If I’d been carrying pepper spray or some other deterrent, I might have continued the walk. But with only a fishing rod to defend myself in the case of an encounter I preferred not to have, giving the bear its space seemed the best option.
I turned around and headed back to the truck. Last I saw, the bear was still in the tree.
I might not have wet a line, but I still had a memorable encounter.
The fishing would keep for another day.