DEVILS LAKE, N.D. — As comebacks go, I don’t know how it could have been any better.
Last Sunday in many ways was a day to celebrate. The weather was about as perfect as you could ask for on an early March day. The sun was shining, the sounds of passing Canada geese filled the air, and the relentless wind that had made being outside the previous day miserable was a thing of the past, if only for a day.
Anyone fortunate enough to be outside last Sunday truly received a gift.
The fishing wasn’t bad, either.
That’s where the comeback comes into play.
As you may have read a few weeks back, I had rotator cuff surgery in early January to repair some shoulder damage that was too extensive for physical therapy alone to fix. The surgery was a same-day arthroscopic procedure, but as orthopedic surgeries go, rotator cuff surgery is notoriously slow to heal.
So I was told, and so I’ve found out for myself these past several weeks.
Spending weeks at home and mostly indoors doesn’t traditionally fit my lifestyle very well. I like to be on the go and doing things — usually out of town — but that’s not a very good option when mending from a surgery that’s slow to heal.
It’s best to look at the Big Picture and plan for the long term. That means taking it easy and following the prescribed low-impact physical therapy regimen, first to regain passive range of motion and then to move toward a recovery that allows normal activities to resume.
I’ve been faithful in following that regimen, and before last weekend, I hadn’t been out of Grand Forks or East Grand Forks city limits since Jan. 16, the day I returned home after spending the first week following surgery recuperating out of town.
Cabin fever was setting in.
The opportunity to alleviate that cabin fever arrived late last week in the form of a favorable weekend weather forecast and a chance to stay at a friend’s cabin for a weekend of tip-up fishing for northern pike on Devils Lake.
For me, it was a chance to get outside with friends and celebrate just “being there.” We’ve fished together for years, this crew and I, and I know how they operate. We’d start the day with coffee, an appropriately unhealthy cholesterol-filled breakfast and then a fishing show or two.
We’d be on the ice by the crack of noon, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
I was in good hands.
Tip-up fishing — the way we approach it, at least — is as much a social occasion as a fishing excursion. When a flag pops to signal a strike, whoever wants to catch the fish — usually my friend’s 7-year-old son — grabs the line, sets the hook and pulls in the pike hand-over-hand.
The rest of us serve as the unofficial “peanut gallery,” offering advice and smart remarks and, of course, delivering the requisite level of admonishing when a fish gets off.
High-intensity fishing it’s not. Perfect, in other words, for someone who’s on the mend from rotator cuff surgery.
I was more of a spectator than an active participant last weekend, at least in terms of the heavy lifting such as drilling holes and wrangling the gear. I no longer have my right arm in a sling, but I’m still supposed to avoid anything more strenuous than passive exercises for a few more weeks.
My friends made sure I followed the rules, and that was fine by me.
The first day, we accessed the ice by snowmobile and ATV, and a stiff wind that persisted throughout the day made being outside less than comfortable, even though the fish cooperated and the temperature was above freezing. In the area we fished, at least, we could have left the snowmobile and ATV at home.
That’s what we did the next day.
Last Sunday proved to be the reward for the misery we’d endured the previous afternoon.
Motivated by the weather, we were set up and fishing before 11:30 a.m., which for us is quite an accomplishment.
The traditional method of landing a fish with a tip-up involves pulling in the line hand-over-hand, which, of course, requires full use of both arms.
For obvious reasons, I used a different approach.
We’d landed several pike — and missed at least that many others — by mid-afternoon when I found myself in the right place at the right time.
A flag popped, and the spinning post on the tip-up told me everything I needed to know. Somewhere down there, a northern pike was at the other end peeling line off the spool.
I removed the tip-up, grabbed the line with the hand of my good arm and took off on a one-armed trot away from the hole. A fishing partner helped steer the fish up the hole, and moments later, I’d landed one of the largest pike we released that memorable afternoon.
It felt good to be “back in the saddle,” back on the ice and fishing with friends. I’ve landed bigger pike, but few have been more satisfying than the fish I “one-armed” on my triumphant return to the ice.
And so it went on a beautiful March afternoon none of us wanted to end.
In more ways than one, last Sunday was a blessing.