I usually consider my birthday, in early April, to be my unofficial opening day of the fishing season. After launching a few times into water that still had some ice on it, I had learned that it takes awhile for the fish to wake up after enduring six months or so with little heat, light or fresh oxygen. No sense freezing myself for the sake of being the first guy on the lake.

But this year has been a bit ridiculous. Here it is almost mid-May and I haven’t launched my boat yet, though it’s not entirely my fault. Wind, rain, snow and various obligations have crowded my schedule. I could have gone to Valentine over the weekend but turned down the offer after looking at the forecast — no sense driving eight hours for about that many hours on the water before the weather was scheduled to turn lousy again. There was a time when I’d have charged out anyhow — epic misery can often add a little drama to the re-telling — but I’m older now and, if not wiser, a bit more of a wimp.

Even so, I was determined to fit in a trip sometime this week. With Wednesday looming, I still hadn’t got ’er done. When I woke up at 4 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep, I sensed that I’d found my opportunity.

I pulled the living room curtains and took a look outside. With the skies clear and windless and the mercury sitting just above freezing, I also sensed an opportunity for a great photo of the Monument — one lit by the daybreak, with a shimmering reflection and a trace of fog hovering over the pond I had in mind. I decided to first get the shot first. Then I’d hitch up the boat and hit the water for a few hours.

It was a workday, of course. But at that point I didn’t have much grist for the mill. I remember a journalism professor telling me, “This is no profession for a clock-watcher. Regardless of time or place, you’ll have to learn to go where the story takes you.”

I was never his greatest student, but that made an impression. So, to better serve our readers, I went fishing. You know how it is.

By the time I got back from shooting the photo, the wind was picking up a bit. I took another look at the forecast and, with winds set to blow at 20 mph or more within a few hours, I decided to forgo taking the boat. When you can usually add at least 5 mph out there to whatever the wind is doing in town, there’s no sense messing around at the ramp. I settled on casting bait from the shore of the inlet canal at Lake Minatare, just to get the thing done. I’d take the camera along in case an opportunity presented itself while I was waiting around for a bite.

It wasn’t entirely a wasted trip. A few guys were strung out along the canal, and one of them reeled in a 20-inch walleye. I gave the first spot an hour before moving on, but by then the wind was funneling down the inlet and already raising whitecaps on the lake. A half-hour later I still hadn’t got so much as a nibble. Neither fishing nor photography seemed willing to make my day.

With an afternoon meeting hanging over my head, I pulled out and made a quick circle of the lake. The good news is that the irrigation water is coming in well and the lake level is up, but I saw only two boat trailers and a handful of campers. Outside the point, the ramps were deserted. That told me I haven’t been missing much. Even in mid-week, they’ll usually be out there if the fish are biting, wind or no wind.

I’ll have to count it as my first trip to the lake, although I’m more determined than ever to get the boat launched. As the old professor also told me, a good story starts with plenty of research.

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