My childhood included about equal time spent in Williston, LaMoure and Valley City, and so far my work career has included stops in Kulm, Stanley, Bottineau and now West Fargo.
That may seem like a fair number of moves, but I can't think of a better way to get acquainted with the variety of good fishing North Dakota has to offer.
I caught my first fish at McGregor Dam in Williams County. While I don't recall the specifics as I was hardly old enough to hold a fishing pole, a picture on the wall acknowledges that fishing was a reality for me well before we left Williston for LaMoure.
There, the James River, Lake LaMoure, Twin Lakes and assorted other waters were regular destinations.
Today, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department manages around 340 waters across the state, many more than what existed in the 1980s and into the early 1990s. I didn't fish nearly enough of these, and now the number of waters I'd like to try is getting way beyond my reach.
Still, I'm satisfied that I've fished in all corners of North Dakota. In fact, I'd settle for wetting a line at Lutz Dam in Bowman County before visiting just about any place without a zip code beginning with a five. Seriously, I have more fond memories of fishing Carbury Dam west of Bottineau than just about anything I've done outside of North Dakota.
Just thinking of all the places I can check off my list, and those that are left to visit makes me wish I was fishing instead of typing. My point in all of this is to explain to anglers that North Dakota has plenty of opportunities to enjoy time drowning worms, popping bobbers or pulling crankbaits outside of the popular -- and deservedly so -- waters like Devils Lake, Sakakawea, Oahe and the Missouri River.
As I ponder all my past fishing trips, I'm reminded that the best part about many of these outings involve places, friends and family more so than limits and whoppers.
Perhaps such thinking is not easy for the uninitiated angler to understand, given today's society where full stringers and lunkers are considered the only measure of success, if you'd believe what some television shows try to pass off as the joy of fishing.
Have you ever laughed from the bottom of your belly when landing a trophy fish? I'm sure a few celebratory laughs of accomplishment are shared, but I've nearly fell into the pond watching (not helping) my wife holding two kids and trying to help a third land a fish. I don't remember the size of the fish, but I do remember a family creating a memory outdoors together.
In North Dakota, we all have plenty of opportunities -- good lakes with good fish populations -- to do the same, no matter which zip code you call home. The key is to forget about whoppers and catching a limit. That's not why I fish. If you don't believe me, check my freezer. It's full of memories but a little short on fish.
Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org