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Looking back on the year in the outdoors -- and ahead to 2018

Brad Dokken

GRAND FORKS — We hadn't had our lines in the water more than 10 minutes when I felt a fish hanging on to my jig; the bite wasn't as much a "thunk" as a presence.

It was May 13, the opening day of Minnesota's 2017 walleye season, and I hadn't felt the bite of a walleye since New Year's Day on Lake Winnipeg. Shoulder surgery in early January had put me out of commission for fishing and pretty much anything else outdoors-related most of the winter.

Except for a couple of northern pike I pulled through the ice on Devils Lake in March by grabbing the line with my good arm and walking away from the hole while a buddy assisted, I hadn't caught a fish in more than four months.

That changed in a hurry that memorable morning in May on the Rainy River near Baudette, Minn., a trip with three good friends that marked my unofficial comeback to fishing with a rod and reel.

My first walleye of the morning wasn't a wall-hanger, but in many ways it was a trophy just the same. As planned, we celebrated my first walleye in more than four months with a bottle of champagne.

Looking back, I'd have to say that 15-inch walleye and the camaraderie surrounding it was the highlight of my year in the outdoors. The walleyes and the weather cooperated throughout the weekend, and we caught plenty of bigger fish.

But for me, none were more satisfying.

The end of a year, in many ways, is a time for reflection and anticipation, and it's no different for me. Here's a look back at some of the highlights of my year in the outdoors and a look ahead to what's on tap for 2018.

• Less than two weeks before the walleye opener, during an overnight trip to Norris Camp, headquarters of Red Lake Wildlife Management Area, I had the opportunity to check two Northland "must-sees" off my bucket list. It started at dusk when I witnessed the sunset "peenting" display of mating woodcock. I spent the next morning in a blind, where I finally got to see and photograph a male ruffed grouse drumming on his log. The woods were alive with the sounds of spring that morning, and the bear and wolf I saw were a bonus.

• A trip to Manitoba's Narcisse Snake Dens, about an hour and a half northwest of Winnipeg, definitely qualified as a spectacle. Snakes, even garter snakes such as the stars of Narcisse, give me the willies but I'd definitely make a return visit.

• Two friends and I had a blast in late June when we rendezvoused in Garrison, Minn., to watch the NHL Draft (we're all hockey nerds). We spent a day on Lake Mille Lacs with fishing guide Jason Freed catching walleyes we couldn't keep, and one of my buddies caught a 21½-inch smallmouth Freed said was the largest to ever come into his boat.

• Despite persistent strong winds, the annual "October Trip" was a success. Ruffed grouse numbers were better than most of the hunting reports we'd heard going into the trip, and laughs, excellent food and big campfires at night when the wind finally subsided were in abundance. The five-day gathering went by too fast, the mark of any good trip.

• I didn't hunt Minnesota's firearms deer season, but I was "up north" opening day, when a morning snowstorm turned bare ground into a paradise for snowmobiling and making a big snowman, which a friend and I did with his 7-year-old son. Fun times.

Looking toward 2018, my main goal for this winter is to make up for the time I wasn't able to spend outdoors last winter, whether it be snowmobiling, snowshoeing or ice fishing. Other adventures and excursions will follow in due time as the seasons progress.

Let the anticipation begin.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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