Up the Missouri: Windless Washburn
_Follow along with Outdoor Life blogger Gary Garth as he works his way up the Missouri River on a solo...
_Follow along with Outdoor Life blogger Gary Garth as he works his way up the Missouri River on a solo fishing and camping adventure years in the making. _
_Washburn, ND—_Late afternoon, Washburn, North Dakota, and the weather feels like late June rather than early October: 73 degrees. Sunshine. No wind. The absence of a breeze is apparently so rare that various radio weather reports make special mention of it.
“Sunny, warm and no wind.”
“Light to no wind today.”
“A perfect weather afternoon, sunny and near 70 with no wind.”
To take full advantage of this phenomenon I head to the Cross Ranch State Park. The park is across the river from Washburn but a 17-mile drive is required to get there. I have a reservation for the park’s “Colter Cabin” but arrive to find the park office closed and the cabin locked; the park deserted, campground empty. I check my calender. The reservation is for tomororow.
Cross Ranch flanks a free-flowing stretch of the Missouri. This is unusual. Most of the river, as it exits Montana and slices through the Dakotas, is throttled by dams: Ft. Peck, Garrison, Oahe, Big Bend, Ft. Randall and Gavins Point. A couple – Garrison and Oahe – back up massive lakes; the others hold back not so large impoundments. I am between Garrison and Oahe. Here the Missouri pulses and gurgles with a natural rhythm; sandbars appear and vanish, sometimes overnight, a version of the river Lewis & Clark traversed.
An upstream sandbar, littered with a couple of sun-bleached cottonwoods, is the size of a football field. This stretch of the river harbors numerous species of fish: trout (rainbows and browns), pike, salmon, bass, catfish and, of course, walleyes. None are interested in the soft plastics I fling from the bank. Access is limited. I work from a little rock jetty that spills down the banks. It’s obviously man-made. Behind me the Colter Cabins rises in a picture post card setting. I check the usual key hiding spots. I call the park office. Answering machine.
From Washburn, the highway 220 bridge crosses the Missouri River. The Washburn City Boat Ramp is on the west side of the river. Bank access is good and a scattering of rocks are visible through the thin water that sluices around a bridge piling, below which is fish-holding water. Reachable fish-holding water.
While I’m assembling tackle a big guy in a flannel shirt and camo cap loads and straps down his boat; a 16-foot mod-V aluminum that’s seen a few rocks. We have the same conversation everyone has at every boat ramp.
“How’d you do?”
He shook his head. Walleye fishermen are easy to spot.
“Nothing. I was worming some on the far side in the channel then had one bite down from the sandbar. But didn’t catch anything.” He eyed the Old Town MX kayak strapped to the roof rack. “You.”
I explained that I had not fished this spot but tried the walk-in access park without success. I didn’t say anything about the spot below the bridge, which would have been tricky reaching by boat.
“It that one of those kayaks with peddles?”
“No. You have to paddle this one the old fashion way. Are you going to try it again tomorrow?”
He had a family commitment. His wife’s family. His agitation level was rising and he didn’t sound happy.
“Should have done family today,” he said “But not with this weather. No wind.”
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