Nothing says R&R like a magnificent sunrise in the greater La Crosse area. A quick peek out my hotel window revealed a plethora of choices. Should I wander over to the Home Depot for some wallpaper paste, or hit the Olive Garden for the all you care to eat pasta bowl with extra Alfredo? I opted for neither.
The Adrift™ entourage was in the grips of a makeshift spring break getaway. To some this may seem like the stuff that dreams are made of, though I’d suspect that it’s limited to the elementary school demographic. The primary task at hand was to throw the kids in the pool, while the adult contingency basked in sultry waters of the hot tub. Possibly knocking back a few cold ones if the mood should strike (the sign on the door in the photo above will elaborate). I must admit that lounging around a pool is never my first choice when it comes to relaxation, or entertainment for that matter. Quite frankly I find it boring. But the world doesn’t revolve around my needs. For those who have gone the procreation route in life, this brand of existence is well traveled territory. But the cloud would have its silver lining. The follow-up to our meager hotel existence came with a road trip through the heart of the Driftless. I was struck with a dilemma given our mud city launching point, Wisconsin or Minnesota?
We felt compelled to play the “home slice” card and chose a day trip through Bluff County to Lanesboro. It’s not often that the entire crew goes out to explore my stomping grounds. This was kid fishing 101. They were lathered up to wet a line for the first time this year, and I’m not one to rain on a parade. Furthermore, I’m knee deep in the ”pay it forward” portion of life’s equation. The elders in my family had me on the water early and often when I was young, and now it’s my duty to pass it on. I’m dead set on sharing my appreciation for the outdoors, which can be particularly challenging given our urban lifestyle. Yep, ’tis the season for the family photo album portion of the Adrift™ bloggarama.
We set the cruise control and turned the wheels south along the river road. There would be no particular agenda on this day, and that’s just the way we like it. Our journey the night before had us crossing many creeks in the region and things were in rough shape to say the least. I watched every imaginable bridge crossing and field like a hawk, and the spring runoff gods continued their evil campaign of terror on trouty lies far and wide. A strategic decision was made to make a dash towards my Hawkeye homeland in search of more amiable water conditions. This fateful decision left us with carte blanche to roam the precious valleys of Houston County. As we busted up the gut of the Crooked Creek valley I knew I had made the right decision. It’s as if a transporter had beamed us to a different universe. The waters of this area were a far cry from their northern counterparts. They were running at perfect levels with just a hint of stain for good measure. I had difficulty containing myself upon seeing these conditions. It was love at first sight. I was conflicted by the fact that I’d slid a small 8-foot 4-weight into the car, but had no real plans to fish. I would be the conductor, not the musician on this fine spring morning. Jack and Ava have had a few rounds of practice casting on the fly rod, but have yet to fully embrace the concept. They came armed with spinning rods, Panther Martin spinners, and a willful determination for trout slaying duties.
Ava got on the board in short order nabbing a sleek stocker bow. I was assisting Jack with a miscue when I heard the fateful words. “Dad, I got one, I got one!” Followed by a round of high pitched squeaks that are the hallmark of the third-grade repertoire. This was a moment that will be etched in stone for all eternity. She was beaming with pride. In recent years I’ve been unable to convince her to join me on any creek explorations, and I feared her lost to the dark side. This is another example of how simple stockers can serve a useful purpose.
We moved up to the next bridge upstream. It contained a generous easement pasture section allowing us to free ourselves from the confines of the riprap bank. The kids chucked their offerings far and wide into a deep bridge pool, but only managed a few reluctant followers. I took them aside hosting an impromptu course on retrieval speed which helped garner Ava a little Brown Trout that was quickly named “Brownie.” There would be high fives all the way around. I offhandedly mentioned to them that we were dangerously close to the “spring break slam” of a Bow, Brown and Brookie. Their eyes widened as if they had a new reason for being. Ava was committed to catching a Brook Trout to complete the slam if it’s the last thing she ever does. We walked a short section of the pasture, but had only one lazy follow from a Brookie. I could orchestrate this sort of dance until the cows come home, but I sensed the impatience growing on the face of Mrs. Adrift™. She’s a real trooper for this sort of thing, given she’s not an avid angler by any definition. She did however choose to marry me, so this is not unchartered territory, and the look of pure joy on the faces of the youth helped to prolong the duel. We were well past lunchtime, so we finally relented and returned to the car, turning the page to the next chapter of our journey.
The original plan was to hit Beaver Creek Valley State Park which would have cemented the “spring break slam” in short order, but we decided to skip it and make the run to Lanesboro. I slow rolled a few juicy looking creeks, while Mrs. Adrift™ peered at my Gazetter. She was taken aback but the overabundance of spots marked on the map and inquired, “are you scouting right now?” To which I eagerly responded, “I’m always scouting!” Rating Driftless valleys is a game of personal preferences, but for my money there are no more picturesque valleys than those found in Houston County and far northeastern Iowa. At times I can almost convince myself I’m the subject of a Norman Rockwell painting, then the cruel reality of modern life comes charging back.
Our early afternoon arrival in Lanesboro was greeted by a sleepy ambience that is indicative of a Friday afternoon in the offseason. We decided to hit Pedal Pushers on the main drag to recharge our batteries, and it didn’t disappoint. Good food and better service was on tap. There was even talk of a second round of afternoon fishing with a possible shot at the slam. A quick mozy down to the chocolatey brown waters of the Root helped move the doubt in the back of my mind to the forefront.
We decided to head over the the Trout Hatchery and take a look at Duschee Creek. I got voted down for an actual tour, for fear that I’d just BS with staff about trout nerd issues at great length. The entire area had a rice paddy vibe to it with mud and standing water as far as the eye could see. The creek wasn’t super high, but had too much of a mudslick for kid fishing. At this point I knew I might be up shit creek, yet again. It was time to punt. I proclaimed that we’d start heading for home, but would take the scenic route in search of clearer waters. I was lambasted by Ava who displayed the fervor that I’d expect from my offspring. She was determined to get her slam. A quick review of Trout Run didn’t help the cause. The Bucksnort Dam was chaotic to say the least.
The Upper portion of Trout Run was still a mess. Heading north we reviewed the Whitewater system and it was a no go. In addition to our runoff woes, the bluebird skies and temperate climate slowly gave way to something much more sinister. I had one more spot in my back pocket, attempting to get Ava the holy grail that she so richly deserved. A small piece of Brook Trout water that I hoped would be running clear. We weren’t so lucky. This little gem was running very high and off color to say the least. I felt compelled to give them a shot. The roller coaster of spring runoff and precipitation was putting my guiding skills to the ultimate test. It’s not like these were experienced adults fully decked out in gear. This was roadside kid fishing, with limited skills and a shrinking set of viable opportunities. The window was closing. We worked every inch of an easily accessible section of stream. It just wasn’t working, it was too fast and high to fit the objective. Jack was simply having a good time. But Ava, ever the do gooder, took my challenge at face value. She was prepared to “one last cast” herself into oblivion. It was surreal. The daughter who has shown little interest in fishing recently was smitten with the pursuit. She almost broke down in tears of failure as we pried her from the stream bank. The reality is that this was my fault. We could have easily gotten her a Brook Trout earlier in the morning, had I anticipated the change in stream conditions and understood the breadth of her commitment. What I figured to be a few quick fishing pop-ins turned out to be a game changer. I promised her a rematch as soon as more seasonal conditions return to the area.
Within minutes of our departure the rain and sleet began to fly. It was a wise choice to leave when we did. Plans were scrapped to get some ice cream based upon the deteriorating weather conditions. The cruel reminder that this perpetual winter won’t relent rubbed me the wrong way. I’ve tempered my disdain for mother nature more than most in recent days. The truth of the matter is that this was one of the best days I can recall in recent memory, and the negativity was short lived. I made a promise to Ava before we left the hotel that morning, and I’m a man of my word. She asked me, “Dad if I catch a trout, will you feature me on your blog?” A little trout fishing and a lot of family time. It’s not often that you get the best of both worlds.