As I write this, the snow accumulation has surpassed 12” inches and my driveway requires my attention for the 3rd time today. Gusting winds have created knee deep drifts that make me appreciate the snow blower I bought in anticipation of this storm. Hailing from Wisconsin, and inspired by winter in the Northwood’s, Bon Iver provides a good soundtrack to the “chill” day.
This past weekend was quite different than today. Temperatures reached 40 degrees melting most of the existing snow, exposing brown grass that could fool you into thinking it was March. We get a few of these weekends each winter in the Driftless Area, and when we do, fly fishermen head out to the streams in full force. There are a handful of us that don’t mind going out when the temps dip below freezing, but for most (the smart ones), the first 35+ degree weekend represents their inaugural outing of the year.
Part of the draw to fishing for trout in the Driftless is the countless number of streams and rivers to explore. Each is different in its own way, yet they all share similarities. And when the streams are crowded due to the warm temperatures, it’s a good time for scouting new water away from everyone else. This past weekend, we set out to explore some new areas; not only to catch fish, but to scout for later in the year.
It’s easy to go to places where success is almost certain—I do it frequently—but there is something satisfying that comes with exploring new water, even if you don’t catch anything. It took time for me to get to the point where I was okay not landing any fish during these exploration trips, and I can still find myself frustrated when I don’t find success, but as time passes, I enjoy the overall experience more and more.
Saturday consisted of long periods with no success, but these dry spells were thankfully broken up with a few holes that produced several fish. Sunday wasn’t as productive from a fish count perspective—six hours of fishing with no fish to show—but it was, by no means, a waste of time. We found a lot of “fishy” water that will definitely be revisited soon, and met some great landowners too.
Unfortunately, relationships between landowners and fishermen aren’t always the greatest. In our region fishermen can fish through private property as long as they access at a bridge and stay in the water. Although legal, some landowners aren’t aware of the laws and get upset at people they assume are trespassing. On the flipside, some fishermen don’t respect the land and ruin future opportunities for others. Thankfully there are still landowners out there that like fishermen, and we were fortunate to meet two of them. One of them even gave us a ride back to our truck down river and gave me his number adding, “You can come use my property any time.” That’s a big win for a trout fisherman! It may have helped that we are both big Minnesota Vikings fans, but I’d like to think that wasn’t the only reason for his kindness. I’m beginning to realize that a friendly smile and wave will often go a long way and provide great relationships and opportunities.
The more time I spend fly fishing, I find my definition of success changes, and this weekend was a prime example. A few years ago, as a new fly fishermen, I would have been bummed if I spent a day on the water with “nothing to show for it.” In reality, I have a lot to show for the time I spent on the water this weekend—just not a giant trout. New sections of water were traveled and knowledge was acquired. New relationships were made and existing ones were built upon. Something is taken away from every day spent outdoors, even if it isn’t your original goal. These were the things that crossed my mind as I made the 20 minute walk back to my truck on Saturday without so much as one car passing by and as I rode in a stranger’s vehicle on Sunday along country roads cutting through the beautiful countryside unaffected by glaciers that we call The Driftless.