Sometimes, all you can do is laugh and shake your head, and that was the case this past weekend when a group of us converged on Devils Lake in hopes of chasing a few tip-up flags for northern pike.
Typically, ice fishing in April on Devils Lake — or any other lake in this part of the world — can an iffy proposition as ice and access conditions deteriorate to the point where they’re no longer safe.
Not this year.
The conditions we encountered Saturday and Sunday were more like February than April. Nearly a foot of snow on the level covered the lake, fishermen were driving pickups in areas where the plowed access roads allowed them to travel, and the ice was as hard and thick and blue as it would have been in the middle of the winter.
Last year, by comparison, most of the ice was off the lake, and plans for a spring tip-up excursion were scrapped.
During a typical April pike excursion, the snow is gone, the ice has the consistency of a snow cone and skeins of snow geese pass overhead en route to their arctic breeding grounds.
This year, the only geese we saw were a handful of honkers standing on the ice and looking very much confused by the absence of open water.
The fishing Saturday wasn’t fast and furious, by any means, but we managed to land five pike — more than enough for an evening fish fry — and also missed a handful of other fish that tripped the flags. The temperature was bearable, but far from the shirtsleeve conditions we’ve encountered some years.
The sun poked out briefly Sunday morning but the clouds quickly won out. Even the pike that should be snapping right now were in a weather-driven funk. When heavy snow began to fall early in the afternoon, we decided to reel up the lines and call it a weekend.
At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a repeat of 1996, when four of us ice fished Lake of the Woods on the Minnesota walleye opener.
There wasn’t another boat in sight.