Is there anything better than the much anticipated summer vacation? When shopping angling destinations, it’s like a trip to Baskin-Robbins with too many flavors and too little time. Variety is the spice of life, and traveling provides an opportunity to get outside of the familiar. We go to places far and wide that offer up something that is missing in our daily grind. In flyover country fly anglers often head to higher ground, or even higher latitudes in search of angling bliss. Our Middle West manifest destiny finds us wetting our lines throughout the Mountain West or crossing into enemy territory for a healthy dose of Canadian bacon. Stories from Canadian fishing trips are recalled with the ferver a boy who has just seen his first magic act. The irony of this behavior is that the “fishing heaven” that I longed for in my youth was actually Minnesota. The land of 10,000 lakes had everything that Eastern Iowa didn’t. I occasionally have to remind myself of how good we have it in these parts. Excellent angling is around every corner if you chose to embrace it.
A few months ago I found myself surfing plane tickets in search of the next big thing. Invites to Idaho, a mad dash to Montana or Colorado were considered and dismissed. Am I in the mood for Rocky Road or Strawberry Cheesecake? Ultimately I settled on the notion of a road trip. My road trips tend to differ from the norm. I like to circle a loose collection of destinations on the map and “wing it.” The cardinal rule of road trip fishing is that there are no rules. You can throw the creature comforts right out the window, because there are no preconceived reservations in swanky hotels, cabins or lodges. Half the fun of it is that you start every morning not knowing where you will end up at the end of the day. In my younger days I’d often find myself in some hole-in-the-wall bar, but those are stories for another day. Now it’s more about the angling. It’s part Easy Riders, part Babe Winklemen and the fish are your only guide. If you’re on a good bite, you stick around, otherwise you move on to the next dot on the map. The idea is simply to roll with the punches and play the hand you’re dealt, as opposed to the templated fishing adventure where you’re being told where to fish and what to cast.
My original plan was head up the north shore of Superior for 3 or 4 days to mine the resident trout and char of northern Minnesota and Northwestern Ontario. I still have brook trout on the brain, and who doesn’t want to go to the land of the giants? Anglers everywhere are drawn to the region for the last stronghold of Coaster brook trout and Nipigon behemoths. This region harbors the brand of brookies that are hard to find these days. As my window of opportunity drew closer I began to have second thoughts about the original plan. I don’t know what it is, but just going up to Nipigon and fishing out of my boat on big water for a monster brook trout feels like a simple transaction. Is it just too easy? Shouldn’t a real trophy be earned not bought? Perhaps if I can muster up a finer fish than Dr. Cook’s I’ll feel better about the proceedings. I mean this in a respectful manor, because I’m an ardent “each to their own” kind of guy, but “the internets” are already filled with lemming anglers looking for their Nipigon trophies. The allure of this proposition is almost overwhelming. It’s like waving a big white rock under the nose of a raging crack addict, but I wasn’t so sure I wanted to join that club. Truthfully, I only have one whopper Coaster under my belt from years ago. I have misplaced the photo through the last few computer changes. At this point it almost feels like it never happened. For better or worse, I decided that my north shore journey would be better served towards the end of the season when colored up Coasters and bull Brookies can be found in a variety of locations. I’ll likely get over my hangups and scratch the itch another time. Though, I literally stood in my garage loading up my tent, cooler and a small cache of gear not knowing where I was going. “Do I need my bigger rods with sink tips for Canada or should I opt for something else,” I asked myself?
After a quick map survey I conceived a paired down plan to stick closer to home and fish the creeks that I never seem to have enough time to hit. You know the places that I am talking about. They are just a little bit longer drive, and less of a “sure thing” than many of our favorites. It takes a rock solid constitution to cross a half a dozen streams that you know fish well to go for the crapshoot. The risk/reward proposition seems to keep these less popular destinations as “what ifs.” I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t give a shout out to the Lewis & Clark of this entire proposition. Humphrey & Shogren’s seminal work on this region is still relevant decades after it’s original release. Nice work fellas! I don’t actually reference the book as much these days since I’ve practically worn mine out, but the spirit of their adventures live on in the next generation of midwest troutin’ diehards.
Have I mentioned that good things come in small packages? Generally speaking everything about spring creek Brook Troutin’ is smaller. Smaller rods, smaller offerings, smaller results. On the flip side the rewards can be big. After hours of picking through candy bar sized trout, if you’re lucky enough to find a “big one” you’ll feel like you just hooked into Jaws. Those “big ones” are actually small ones by other standards, which that alone is worth the price of admission. But bigger isn’t always better. You just gotta love the patterns and coloration of Brook Trout. Usually it’s the little guys that stop you in your tracks.
I logged more miles than I’d care to admit and not everything came up roses. The rain has been fairly relentless recently and it wreaked havoc on a handful of places that I wanted to fish. I found just enough clear water on a few streams to muster up a good number of quality trout, with a few exceptional fish. The fishing was good enough that I didn’t even bother to photograph most of what I saw. There’s only so many times you can hold a Brookie up to a camera without it becoming a silly proposition. This will be our little secret, but I did break from the plan and throw Sulpher dries mixed with a round of late night mousing/topwater for big Browns one evening, but let’s not change course at this point.
The older I get the less I seem to be able to fully go all “Christopher McCandless” on the bit. By and large I am living out of my car for the duration of a road trip. I was so tired one evening that I sat in my car eating a roast beef sandwich at midnight, lamenting the loss of my trusty landing net. I searched my DeLorme for the nearest campground or wayside rest area. After driving for the better part of an hour, I rudely rolled into an empty campsite and curled up in the back of my car for a rocky night’s sleep. Echoes of an unhappy baby rang out throughout the wee hours of the morning. Not exactly the peace and solitude that I had in mind, but these are the pitfalls that come with this type of helter-skelter endeavor. Let us continue the jam-packed processional of pics.
There’s nothing like a little dirt under your fingernails to recharge the batteries. The constant juggling of work, family and other complications can cramp your angling style. The urgency of reality beckons us back like the snap of a wet towel. It regularly hampers my ability to truly scratch beneath the surface to the seedy underbelly of brook trout country. The narrative containing grandiose plans at exotic locales will be saved for another day. To a certain extent I’m offering you up yet another cookie cutter canter, but let us not underestimate the value of the staycation.