Minnesota’s Bluff Country
I spent the day yesterday walking in and around a trout stream, fly fishing. Fly fishing is one of those few things that older I get, the better I am at doing it. Strange huh? Part of the deal is the older I get, more patient I am, at least with things other than human beings. Also as I get more experience, experience after all being the best headmistress a guy could ask for, I’m much better at reading streams. And finally, I’ve picked up a few tips, tricks and techniques over the years after fishing with some guides and with people who are really much better at this thing that I am. Just an aside here, the real beauty of fishing with a guide is really not so much that you’re going to catch more fish, you probably will, but that you’re going learn how do things differently, things which will make you a better a fisherman. It’s like like taking golf lessons, you play with a pro to learn how to improve your game. Flyfishing is sort of the same way, only a thousand times more fun.
There’s more to flyfishing, at least for me, than just catching (and releasing) fish. Flyfishing is a neat way to fish because to some degree, you actually become a part of the environment with the fish. You crawl into the water with them, you almost hunt the fist, looking for spots that you think look like they could be holding trout and you throw baits that look like things that the fish are naturally feeding on, at that time. Flyfisherman, in addition to being fisherman are also amateur entomologists as well. Studying what bugs are hatching when and what we think the fish might be inclined to feed on. Throw a baddis pattern when there’s a mayfly hatching going for example.. not really going to do much for you.
I remember one time years ago, fishing a creek in California that is famous for it’s clarity and for it’s super persnickety picky damn fish. If you weren’t throwing the exact thing they were keying on, and doing so in a way that offered the perfect presentation the frustration would kill you. Trout are well known for their frustrating habits. They like to come up, look at fly and then sink back to the bottom and wait for something better. In this case, my buddy, for whom flyfishing was more of a lifestyle than a sport, was doing it all right. Casting the bugs, perfect drifts, but just couldn’t get the fish to bite, no matter what he did. Finally he reached into his vest, pulled out a little net, seined the surface of the creek, collecting a few small bugs in the process and realized that the bugs in the creek were a bit darker than the ones we was throwing. He went back to his car, where he had a portable bench to tie flies on, wrapped up a few new flies with different looks to them, came back and just like that, proceeded to catch several nice fish. Of course if I had a couple pink marshmallows I could have probably done as well.
A Keeper of a Day
The day itself was a keeper. A fantastic day, one of the best days I’ve had with a fly rod in my hand in my hand in a long time. It wasn’t even the quality of the fishing that I was enamored with, although the fishing was decent, it was just of those days where everything seemed to come together in cosmic perfection.
Weather was perfect, at least until about 6:00 when we came off the stream, not to warm, not to cold.. a bit of a breeze but because we were down in a deep valley all day not a huge issue. The streams we’re running low and clear, which means fishing them was easy. Although you did have to be on your game to keep from spooking fish. Low water makes for weary trout. We hit the area at just the right time of year, the forest floor was carpeted in wildflowers, delicate white and blue highlights in a gorgeous deep deep green ground cover. In another month you won’t be able to walk along the streams due to the heavy undergrowth and chest high plants.
Southeast Minnesota, the bluff country, is one of my favorite parts of the state. The landscape is hilly, by our standards. It’s the one place in Minnesota that didn’t get flattened in the last time the glaciers went through so there’s some modest hills and change in terrain that you don’t find in other parts of the state. The rivers and streams have all cut deep valleys through the soft limestone, creating sheer white cliffs that and pinnacles that rise up through the hardwood forest up to 300 feet above the streams. It’s just awesome.
I spent most of the day walking up and down the Whitewater River and Trout Run Creek, more enjoying the day than actually fishing. Although the cherry on the top of the day; all day long hatch after hatch of small caddis flies that had the fishing jumping out of the water all around me. Casting dry files to native trout who are aggressively feeding is one of the great joys of life for a fly guy. I managed to get about 8 fish to come to my fly, not the biggest fish I ever caught but all of them beautiful little living jewels. Native trout are really spectacular. Of course native is relative in this, as the fish I was catching were brown trout, European imports, who were introduced 100 years ago, and therefore probably can’t actually be called “native”. Brook trout would be the natives, but they’re a bit scarce these days thanks to the competition of their their European cousins and their sensitivity to water conditions. The brownies are a much more tolerant of some of the warm water issues that plague thanks to poor land use practices.
Trout Run Creek
Trout Run Creek is a really nice little creek. Full of excellent holes that hold fish, good riffles, lots of bugs. It’s a very healthy trout stream. I hadn’t fished the Whitewater Valley in about four years, since before the big floods that ripped through the area in 2007. As a result of the flooding the stream is completely different from the last time I was down there. Some of the holes I remembered were no more, and there were new ones where the raging currents had scoured the valley. Interesting to see some of the just how powerful water can be. On one sandstone cliff, over the years kids had carved their names into the soft rock. In 24 hours a raging torrent of water, carrying sand and rock had completely polished the names off the cliff face leaving a clear line of where the water levels were. Now one really nice thing, the silt that had built up over the years, which in many places making it difficult to walk in waders as the muck had a way of grabbing your feet and sucking them down, was completely gone. The river bottom was pretty clean, rock and gravel and not much mud at all.
After a day in the water I headed back to the campground I was sharing with 5 other guys, and that’s when the trouble started. Camp was good, the food was excellent, probably the best meal I’ve ever eaten at a camp out, like I have that much experience at camping. Some kind of chicken thing in a dutch oven. Very tasty. The evening was spent in the usual manly bonding debauchery that we middle aged guys like to engage in when were away from the wives and kids. Alcohol was involved. After a day of hiking and fishing, a great meal and then some whiskey and beer around a campfire we retired to our individual tents. Really. 6 guy and 6 tents, seem like a lot of tents.
Lets just get this out once and for all, I hate camping. I really hate camping, and what I hate about camping, is the sleeping on the ground, the cold hard ground with the lumps on it. Mrs S packed me for the trip, as you read Friday, and included in the pack her “air mattress”. When I hear “air mattress” I’m thinking a queen sized thing with the blower to inflate it that is just a step below staying at the Holiday Inn.
What I got was a thin little delated anemic pad that you opened, uncorked the end and then it would would magically fill with a bit of air, about 1/2 a human breath by my estimates. This little pad would keep you a millimeter or so off the ground Mrs S swears by it, In fact, the thing is about as wide as 2 2X4’s put next to each other, and anyone who has ever seen me from behind knows right away that we’re going to have a problem here. My ass is gonna hang over something.. No matter what I do, something’s hanging off the pad. Lie on my back and it’s the outside 1/3 of each cheek, lay on my side and I have to pick, my fat butt or my fat gut.. but somethings going to be on the side.
What I really hate camping is the arthritis thing. The more this arthritis becomes a problem for me, the more I hate camping. That sleeping on the ground is a bitch when you have trouble just standing up in the morning. I mentioned to the fellows “you know what would make this night perfect?”, they didn’t, “if after the campfire we could all go back to our hotel rooms, or the 40’ travel trailer and get a good nights sleep.
Well that wasn’t to be. To add to the wilderness experience, about 5:30 I woke to the rhythmic but steady sound of rain falling on the tent. Lots of rain.By about 7:00 rain was accompanied by thunder.
If I’m not that fond of camping when the weather is good, well guess how I feel about it when the weather is Not So Good. F’n sucks. Next morning as the rain got heavier and heavier the I started to wonder about all the deer, turkeys and other pastoral critters were passing me on their way up the bluffs.
Scooby Doo has a saying for times like this- “Rrrupp Ro”. And that’s about what I felt.
One of the guys in conversation about the trip asked about camping. I was told by a mutual Jewish friend of ours that your people don’t like camping. Is there a Yiddish word for people who like to camp? I told him there was “Gentile”. It also can be used to describe people who are good at sports and people who like to fix their own cars.
So I’m done camping for a bit. But I’ve been completely bit again by the fly fishing bug… and after a long trip home (hour) and a three hour nap was in a much better mood to start thinking about next weekends trip. Sank and the fly rod hit the Upper Peninsula.