BRAD DOKKEN: Low water? What low water?

It's amazing what a difference a couple of weeks can make. The theme going into Minnesota's May 9 walleye opener was low water, the result of a dry fall and a winter generally devoid of snow or any other form of precipitation. The scenario was ju...

Brad Dokken

It's amazing what a difference a couple of weeks can make.

The theme going into Minnesota's May 9 walleye opener was low water, the result of a dry fall and a winter generally devoid of snow or any other form of precipitation.

The scenario was just as bad in North Dakota.

Across the region, fire danger was extreme, the Red River was at levels normally seen in August after a dry summer, and boating access was becoming a challenge on many lakes where water levels were too low.

The "D"-word-drought-was creeping into the vocabulary, and comparisons were being made to 1988, a year of extreme drought.


Every spring, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department stocks rainbow trout in the Turtle River at Turtle River State Park. There already have been two stockings, and after the second, I remember chatting by email with Park Manager Steve Crandall wondering if there'd be enough water in the river for a third stocking before the Memorial Day weekend.

Crandall ultimately postponed the third stocking but not because of low water. Going into the weekend, the Turtle River was muddy and filled to the brim, he said Friday. Any trout stocked into the river likely would have been swept downstream and out of the park's boundaries anyway.

Instead, Crandall said, the final stocking effort of the spring likely will occur sometime this week or whenever river conditions stabilize.

That scenario would have been difficult to imagine just a couple of weeks ago when the river was barely a trickle.

In early May, I fished catfish on the Red River near Drayton, N.D., with Grand Forks catfish guide Brad Durick. Most years in early May-in recent history, at least-the Drayton Dam is flooded and not even visible.

This year, by comparison, the Red below the dam was eerily low, and we wondered how much longer the river in that stretch-which is treacherous in low water-would be accessible.

That's no longer a concern. By early this past week, the parking lot that was far from the water in early May was flooded, and the dam was no longer visible.

Rainy reversal


The reversal of fortune reminds me of the spring about 15 years ago when a friend and I went lake trout fishing near Nestor Falls, Ont. We crossed the border at Rainy River, Ont., across the river from Baudette, Minn., where Canadian authorities reminded us a burning ban was in effect because of the extreme dry conditions.

Just past the border crossing, a crew handing out pamphlets about the ban offered yet another reminder.

If we hadn't realized how severe the fire danger was before crossing the border, we certainly did as we continued toward Nestor Falls.

We needn't have worried. ...

The skies opened up about the same time we got the boat in the water, and the rain continued to fall when we crossed back into Minnesota a couple of days later at Baudette.

The pamphlet crew was nowhere to be seen, I noticed.

I thought about that trip again last Sunday afternoon while driving home from the Twin Cities after a family function I'd attended a couple of days earlier. The chance of precipitation that day was 100 percent but the rain held off until just outside of Fargo, when I hit spotty showers.

There was water running over Interstate 29 in a construction area near the Argusville, N.D., exit-that would have been unfathomable just a few days earlier-and a wall of torrential rain greeted me at the Grand Forks County line. Ditches were flowing, fields were saturated and the rain showed no sign of abating anytime soon. A couple of vehicles even were in the ditch after hydroplaning on the wet highway.


In the past two weeks, heavy rain and wind have put the kibosh on three of the five days I'd planned to go fishing, and water levels that were too low to start the month now are too high in some places.

The Minnesota fishing opener probably deserves at least some of the credit for that. Ditto for Victoria Day-Canada's May long weekend that precedes our Memorial Day by a week. Canadian friends tell me the Canada long weekend is renowned for nasty weather, and last weekend did nothing to change that reputation.

Here's hoping June-a month I've started calling "monsoon season" because of its reputation for rain-doesn't pick up where May left off.

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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