It’s kind of funny. Some things just need to sit and stew for awhile before I can commit pen to paper. My current rate of blog production is at a slow and steady pace. Gone are the days of racing home to post the latest and greatest conquest. I’ll leave a collection of photos in a state of WordPress stasis for an inordinate amount of time before carefully crafting my message. Creating for me is always done in fits and starts.
After giving a shout out to the newest child in my family, I felt compelled to serve up my revenge piping hot, by giving some airtime to the real boy in the house. Jack had earned a troutin’ tour through a variety of means. His older sister had been the recipient of a Minnesota Wild v. Chicago Blackhawks extravaganza earlier this year compliments of the man with the white beard and the red suit. Somehow Ava was born loving hockey more than oxygen, but Jack is just a garden variety puckhead. One of his many vices is geology. He’s been begging me to take him to visit a mine or a cave for quite some time. I promised, upon the completion of first grade, we’d go “walk the earth” in prototypical father and son fashion. The main target of our exploits was Mystery Cave in Fillmore County. A camping and fishing trip, in addition to the cave tour, would allow him to give his new Swiss Army Knife the workout it so richly deserved. I ruled that Jack must wait until he was twelve years old to get his first knife. Unfortunately my authority has been superstitiously usurped by the efforts of Mr. Claus.
Before our departure I circled the map with no less than a dozen greatest hits. We had time to kill before our cave tour so we procured provisions for our trek. A quick stop at a small town grocer south of Rochester supplied us with the foodstuffs necessary to survive the journey. The missing link was the main dish for our campfire smorgasbord. I had two or three targets in mind to fulfill our mission. We arrived at the first stream with our mouths clogged with donuts. I’ve learned a set of best practices meant to indoctrinate Jack to my evil ways. Subterfuge, in the form of sugary goodness, is a lynch pin to this philosophy. A quick stop to down a few donuts and explore a handful of pools is a good way to harness the short attention span of a young boy. This creek returned the favor in spades. In less than 5 minutes we were into the chunky Rainbows that were born of this purpose. This drew the attention of a few locals fishing a large deep pool upstream. A perplexed father with his four daughters struck up a conversation with me by asking the question, “Do you trout fish a lot?” to which I replied, “I’ve been known to wet a line.” He mentioned that his red and white bobber rigs with crawlers had only produced one fish for the morning. He was clearly unfamiliar with the concept of holding lies, to which I gave him a few pointers. Jack and I wished them good luck and continued our campaign.
We managed to sneak in two more dandy looking pastures and successfully subdued a number of Browns in the process. Jack told me at the third creek that he didn’t want to take his rod with him, and that he just wanted to explore. I didn’t press the issue, as this was tried and true big fish water. His pardon allowed me to swing a big juicy streamer under every cutbank in the beat. Jack searched far and wide for the bovines responsible for the ankle breaking goodness. Much to my chagrin, the monster Browns were uncooperative and I only managed to roll one beast on this leg of the journey.
The cave tour and morning’s fishing exploits left us depleted. A run eastward was in order along with a stop at an old-school soda fountain. We ordered up some waffle cones and decided to polish them off creekside (see subterfuge agenda above). Sure we could have probed deep into the valley of Bee Creek to unlock its mysteries, but this was our happy hour and we were content to take it easy. Fatherhood will test your resolve at every turn. Putting your needs behind that of your offspring is standard operating procedure, and trout fishing is no stranger to this concept. Providing a positive association with the sport is paramount to it’s long term survival. How else does fishing compete with Minecraft? The hope is that it will pay dividends down the road.
Our plan was to go deep into SE to camp. It was a coin flip between Camp Winnebago and Beaver Creek Valley State Park, but ultimately ended up at the park. We had logged a good number of miles and stops along the way. Jack was eager to setup camp, and my thirst led me to crack open a cold one. I hadn’t brought any adult beverages with but managed to kick it old school and solicit a cold sixer of Coors Light since it was the only game in town. In short order I made the call to abandon ship on plans for an evening raid on prime Houston County waters. Instead we proceeded with the standard camping practices. Jack was more than happy to photo bomb our trout cleaning station, proudly displaying his newly acquired vintage Tufboy Brite Blade Measuring Tape. It was a fixture in my father’s tackle box. He has been deceased for the better part of a decade, so he never met Jack, but this seemed like a good time to pay it forward. After cooking dinner we decided to walk the banks of the famously gin clear Beaver Creek hoping to fool an inhabitant into submission. We had barely made a cast when Jack proclaimed he had to “drop a few friends off at the lake.” We beelined to a nearby outhouse and as I opened the door for him I was overwhelmed with the telltale stench of park life. As Jack proceeded to sit down he shouted, “Dad a cockroach!” This strange proclamation forced me to awkwardly twist around in the doorway and proceed to snap Jack’s rod in the spring loaded door. The cloud of poo smell was quickly replaced with a wave of sadness. This cheap, little, four -and-a-half foot rod held a special place in our hearts. I had given this spinning rod to Jack a few years ago. It had a unique full-flexing stiff action that was a staple of my creek fishing youth. My sadness was very short-lived as I found comfort in how it went down. I quickly pulled out my camera and decided to document its demise as Jack evacuated himself from the noxious tomb.
With a reasonable night’s sleep under our belts we awoke loaded for bear. I had my eyes on the prize by getting access to a coveted stretch of water. I believed that this would hold Jack’s best shot at catching a good-sized trout. While it didn’t produce the behemoth that I’d anticipated, it did produce a treasure trove of solid mid-teens fish. I’d hoped to give him a light dose of entomology 101 by spending some time with the fly rod, but I wasn’t in any hurry for him to take the training wheels off this trip. The truth of the matter is that tall weeds and even taller bug densities were taking their toll on the boy. There were no notable risers and this stretch wasn’t for the faint of heart. If it were not for a handful of ATV trails our bushwhacking would have been stopped dead in its tracks. The discomfort is written on his face above. This run was pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with a newbie. After covering a half mile of water, I realized the error of my ways and executed the evacuation plan.
I had one more trick up my sleeve. After skipping prime Brook trout water the night before, I decided to hit one more spot as we began our pilgrimage home. Mother nature continued to wreak havoc on trout streams far and wide. The ungodly amount of precipitation that we’ve endured lately has fallen into the blessing and curse school of thought. I held out Brook troutin’ until the end and it proved to be my undoing. By the time we arrived at the beautiful, kid-friendly pasture section it was getting worked like a full-time job. Rain and wind were abusing the little stream, turning its waters to chocolate milk. Jack and I opted to make a handful of fruitless casts nevertheless. As the weather turned even more sour we sprinted across the field and jumped the stile faster than you can say, “California Chrome”. A fitting end to our abbreviated tour.
I regularly make an apology to the diehards or some statement to the effect of “this is my world and you’re just living in it,” as an asterisk or mitigation to a “family photo album” style blog entry. My typical posts are littered with redundant frames of hand-held fish pics, but this one is a celebration of my kid’s exuberance. It’s important to me to report all aspects of the experience. If for nothing else other than to remind myself of what really matters. The days of selfishly and obsessively chasing fish are far too many, and the days of exposing my children to nature are grossly too few. In a world where we stare blankly into our devices 24/7, are we really seeing anything at all?