In May, Old Man Winter must retreat

April was my month of discontent. This was not how it was meant
to be – the emergence of spring is my favorite season. But
throughout April, Old Man Winter fought an impressive rear-guard
action.

Driving through a snow squall on a recent morning, I mused how
the weather made it easy to decide how to spend the day. Typically,
wetting a line in a river to catch a steelhead would be the first
order of business. However, two days of cold, steady rain had
knocked the rivers into flood stage and the air temp was in the
20s. So the day was not so fine for fishing, but just right to take
a long walk in a forest that had just tossed off its blanket of
snow.

I wait for snow melt with the same impatience I have for the
arrival of the North Shore’s spring steelhead run, because I enjoy
roaming the country and looking for antlers dropped by moose and
deer. Usually, I can start walking the hillsides with southern
exposure near Lake Superior in early April and follow the
retreating snow inland over a period of two or three weeks.

That didn’t happen this spring. Every time some open ground
appeared, it was soon covered with a layer of fresh snow. In fact,
it snowed so often during April that I tired of hearing the
weatherman promise that this or that storm would surely be the last
snow of the season. I’m not sure we’ve seen the last of it yet.

My antler-picking problems were further compounded by an injury
– not mine, my dog’s. While on a walk my yellow Lab, Tanner,
acquired a nasty gash on the pad of his left front paw. He left
quite a blood trail in the snow as we returned to the truck. We
stopped the bleeding at home and decided to forgo a vet visit. But
Tanner is laid up until the wound heals. Antler picking is less fun
without a canine companion.

April fishing was a nonstarter, too. Although I spent some
frosty, early mornings drifting spawn sacks through some favorite
places, my efforts were minimally rewarded. I caught and released a
small male steelhead, but never had another bite. In steelheading,
a chronic lack of action leads to head games. Was I doing something
wrong? Or were there simply no fish in the ice-shrouded river?
Either scenario seemed likely.

Finally, one Saturday I connected with a bigger steelie that was
surprisingly energetic in 32-degree water. It completely cleared
the water five times before pulling free of the hook. After a show
like that, I can’t say losing the fish was a great
disappointment.

At that point, the rivers were looking good. The water was
icy-cold – the fishing typically improves as the water nears 40
degrees, but the temperature would slowly rise with a few days of
sunshine. Optimistically, I told steelheading friends who live
elsewhere that the big run would soon happen.

Old Man Winter disagreed. Instead of sunshine, we received yet
another snowstorm Š and lots and lots of rain. One friend saw the
forecast and wisely decided to stay home. Another, en route to more
distant points on the Canadian shore, toughed out two days of rain,
wind, and cold. He landed just one fish. He pulled out on the
blustery morning when I decided to go antler picking.

While walking in the woods was certainly warmer than going
fishing, my overall luck didn’t improve. I walked for three hours,
saw an encouraging amount of moose poop – balanced with a
discouraging amount of deer poop. In northern Minnesota, moose and
deer don’t mix. The deer droppings were evidence of whitetails
invading moose habitat.

A dusting of fresh snow covered the ground. I saw tracks from
red squirrels and snowshoe hares as I walked through a black spruce
swamp. In open areas, migrating common snipe flushed from nearly
every puddle. Judging from tracks in the snow, I jumped three deer
and one moose. I also saw a deer and heard three drumming grouse.
All of this made for a good walk, even though I didn’t find an
antler.

Even when Old Man Winter is stubborn and your luck goes south,
it’s hard not to be optimistic at this time of year. After the
rain, the first green grass appeared along the roadsides. At dusk,
just after the cock robins conclude their evening song, I can hear
woodcock twittering overhead. At dawn, the bird songs around our
yard are orchestral.

They say April showers bring May flowers. I suppose that applies
to snow showers, too. Snow and cold are not unusual for April in
the North, though folks seem to have forgotten that following a few
years with dry, early springs. I suspect the forest will respond to
this return to cold, soggy normalcy in a big way when spring
finally arrives.

I can hardly wait.

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