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Brad Dokken column: Ten outdoors highlights from the past year

In keeping with the Top 10 theme, though, I decided to look back on 10 of the outdoors experiences I’ll remember when I look back on 2019.

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The crew takes a trail break and relishes being back on a groomed trail during a mid-February snowmobile trip from the south shore of Lake of the Woods to Oak Island on the Northwest Angle. (Submitted photo)

The last Sunday of December traditionally is about looking back on the year that was, but I jumped the gun this year with an Outdoors Year in Review feature that ran last Sunday.

Today’s lead Outdoors story -- or centerpiece, as we call it in the business -- looks back at the Top 10 Outdoors Stories of the Decade. It’s a subjective list, to be sure, but it’s the way I saw things from the perspective of my desk in downtown Grand Forks -- with some help from fisheries and wildlife managers on both sides of the Red River.

On a personal note, 2019 offered plenty of good times outdoors, despite one of the wettest, cruddiest falls I can remember. A disaster for farmers, the persistent rain -- with an early October blizzard thrown in for good measure -- left hunters and anglers feeling cheated out of the most anticipated time of year for outdoors enthusiasts.

Count me in that camp. I spent more time in my basement in late September and October than I did the rest of the year combined. Instead of being in my boat playing on water, I was in my basement fighting water, pumping water and mopping up wet floors.

Nothing fun about that.


In keeping with the Top 10 theme, though, I decided to look back on 10 of the outdoors experiences I’ll remember from 2019. When I think back on the year, I’ll remember:

  • Drawing a once-in-a-lifetime North Dakota cow moose tag and shooting a moose the first afternoon I hunted, while accompanied by two of my best friends.

  • Catching a 29¾-inch walleye in late July on Lake of the Woods while fishing with Curt Quesnell of NCOR Guide Service north of Long Point. It was the biggest walleye I’d landed in the past five years. A buddy fishing with me landed a 27-incher, his new “PB,” that same day. The weather was perfect.

  • The first 15 miles of a snowmobile trek some friends and I made from Rocky Point to Oak Island in mid-February. Unbeknownst to us, the trail groomer had broken down and the first leg of the trip was a real bone-rattler. Crossing a pressure bridge near Stony Point and seeing the trail groomed the rest of the way to Oak was like heaven. The fishing was great, and we had smooth sailing for the ride home, but that first 15 miles on the trip north is something we won’t forget anytime soon.

  • Catching a 34½-inch lake trout the first afternoon of a late July excursion to Whitefish Bay of Lake of the Woods near Sioux Narrows, Ont. The next day, a friend had a muskie right up to the boat that hit a largemouth bass he’d hooked while casting a shallow bay during a break from trout fishing. About 40 inches long, the muskie relinquished its grip at boatside, leaving a bass that was considerably worse for wear.

  • The near-perfect weather we enjoyed during our annual October Trip grouse hunting excursion. The fall of 2019 was pretty much a wash, so to have four days of favorable weather was a treat. The only rain we encountered fell the last morning as we were packing up to head home.

  • An early June trip to Clearwater Lake near The Pas, Man., where I joined a retired RCMP friend and another friend for the annual The Pas Peace Officers Fish Derby. We fished lake trout on Clearwater Lake, smallmouth bass on Rocky Lake and walleyes on the Saskatchewan River, where the walleye fishing we experienced while anchored and jigging in 8 feet of water was as good as just about any fly-in trip I’ve taken.

  • The drive home on that same trip, when a wheel on my buddy’s boat trailer came off and passed us going down the highway. Fortunately, we were within an hour of his home and less than 10 miles from a friend of his who had the know-how and the parts to limp us back to his place until the wheel hubs could be replaced. Had the incident happened on some of the remote highways we traveled farther north, we might have been stranded for a long time.

The wheel rim was pretty much destroyed after shearing off the hub of a boat trailer being towed down a Manitoba highway northeast of Winnipeg on the return leg of a northern Manitoba fishing excursion. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

  • The bumper crop of pink lady slippers I encountered last summer in northwest Minnesota, including several on our property in places I’d never before seen them.

  • The day two friends and I released dozens of catfish while jigging within feet of the St. Andrews Lock and Dam in Lockport, Man. River conditions were just right, and hungry cats were stacked below the dam and viciously struck the 2-ounce jigs tipped with cutbait we bounced off the bottom in 8 feet of water. River conditions changed overnight and the technique didn’t work the next day, but it sure was fun when it worked.

  • The first ice fishing trip of the season earlier this month to Lake of the Woods out of Ballard’s Resort. Sauger and walleye action was steady throughout the day and ended with a friend releasing a 23-inch walleye, the biggest fish of the day, as our transportation back to shore was approaching.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to bdokken@gfherald.com.

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Brad Dokken

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 bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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