There has been a healthy dose of hit or miss permeating my daily grind since our last visit. Outside of the angling paradigm, I’ve been stuck in a rut of a different sort lately. 2016 to this point has been little more than a blur of too many 12-20 hour workdays. As if that isn’t bad enough, the j-o-b has been bleeding profusely into the weekends, which tends to wear a guy down. To add insult to injury, the honey-do list has been in full effect. There’s nothing greater than some time on the water to release the pressure buildup. I’ve had the good fortune to be able to escape deeper into the midwest troutin’ abyss for some camping and fishing to clear the cobwebs in recent weeks.
Water conditions have been quite manageable this spring. I’ve been rained out of a few areas, but for the most part streams have been somewhat low and clear. I plotted a course this week, full well knowing that things were about to change. Our run of summertime conditions were about to take a turn for the worse. While legions of brown trout enthusiasts trip over each other looking for the next big thing, I plotted a course for brook trout bliss. It’s no secret in these parts that I’ve been a certified char-o-holic the last few years. I’ve gone through these phases in the past. From bull bluegills to slab crappies, there’s something fascinating about searching for the biggest of the “little fish.” It’s not exactly a Labrador conquest, most midwest brookies have the stature of an Oscar Meyer weiner. I’ve found that there isn’t any one pursuit in angling that can sustain my interest over the course of the long haul. Let’s just speak plainly, I’ve got the attention span of a cocker spaniel. My ever changing angling goals are a simple case of peeling the other layers off of the onion, and brook troutin’ is simply the next layer.
I found myself standing knee deep, up shit creek without a paddle so to speak. The morning had started out dry, but you could just see that the sky was about to bust at the seams. I carefully watched the weather forecast and knew I had a limited window of opportunity before my dreams would be washed away for good. If I haven’t mentioned it previously, I love fishing in the rain. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I’m a sucker for adverse weather conditions. A little unpredictability goes a long ways. If I wanted it easy, I’d stick to my weekly game of shuffleboard.
As I worked my way upstream I picked up a few dinks here and there. This action served to keep my attention span from waning, but it wasn’t particularly productive and was smelling like another run of the mill kind of day. I nonchalantly worked my way through a nondescript section of water intermittently firing off casts to lackluster features. At one point I was fairly sure I’d snagged something on the bottom when I realized that it had a pulse. I attempted to horse the fish into sight. When I first set my eyes on it, it looked as if I’d crossed paths with an nomadic northern pike. I’ve caught pike while trout fishing from time to time, so it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility. In the interest of full disclosure, I repeatedly chased a monster Brookie last year that I spied on a popular section of a stream that had the same M.O. I’d seen the fish a few times earlier in the season and eventually hooked into the toad early one morning. He flashed out from a log, grabbed my offering, made a few head shakes and went along his merry way. It was like two ships quietly passing in the night. I never saw the beast again and I’m sure she found her way into the clutches of another lucky angler. This was the first time I’ve had my lucent pike/brookie hallucination. My brain went into cruise control yet again with this latest fish and just automatically perceived it as the tell tale greenish hue of a pike. While this fish was nothing special by global standards, brook trout generally don’t come in that size category in this part of the universe, and my mind automatically wandered to the billion pint-sized pike I’ve battled over the years. Perhaps it’s just the greenish tubular flash of the take. Who the hell knows, the mind works in mysterious ways? Once I got the beast into closer range I realized that it was a quality brookie. Like a finely tuned instrument, I reached back to my sling pack to fetch my trusty landing net. The “oh shit” moment hit me like a ton of bricks. “Where the fuck is my net,” I asked myself in a panic stricken outburst? While going net free is commonplace for some, I’m an ardent subscriber to using one for trout fishing. Especially if you photograph as many fish as I do. It allows the fish swim comfortably while you catch your breath, remove the fly, retrieve your camera etc. It became readily apparent that I was going to have to do this the old fashioned way. I looked for relief from the tall bank to walk the fish into the shallows. I gingerly worked her up to the bank and proceeded to scoop her up via a light craddle maneuver. This is the point where the typical “lose your mind” punch drunk, big fish behavior is full effect. I immediately realized that this fish was worthy of measurement and a few pics. I kneeled down and positioned the fish on my thighs while attempting a quick tape measure and photograph. I was so swept up in the moment that I didn’t realize that my camera settings were all jacked up (see shitty pic above). It’s at this point that the skies opened up into a torrential downpour. It’s as if Prince himself had deemed this moment worthy of celebration. I’ve purified myself numerous times in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, so I guess I’ve earned my stripes. Within seconds my lens (and my psyche) were soaked to the bone. I pulled out my backup first generation GoPro and shot a few self absorbed “man fondles fish” pics in burst mode to commit the moment to eternity. The shoddy, yet strangely appropriate psychedelic results speak for themselves. I’d be remiss in my duties as a citizen of Minneapolis if I didn’t do my part to send Prince off in style. We all have our connection with the purple one. I mean the guy pretty much scored a decent portion of my childhood. The introductory guitar solo of Purple Rain takes me right back to standing on the sidelines (in predictable wallflower fashion) at every school slow dance and roller skating rink I ever attended. In fourth grade I wasn’t exactly sure what business “darling Nikki” had masturbating with a magazine, but Prince sure made me curious. When life gives you lemons in the form of rain-induced blurry fish pictures, why not make lemonade in the form of a laughable Prince tribute?
I labored for several more hours plying my trade to every nook and cranny holding lie that I could muster. Periods of undulating rain permeated the outing. It certainly put my Patagonia Mininalist Wading Jacket through it’s paces. It’s been a solid addition to the outerwear lineup (minus the tiny/tight fitting hood). Clearly my head is too big for it’s britches (no surprise). The rain hadn’t yet wreaked havoc on the water clarity, though it was slowly was becoming a case of diminishing returns. Much to my surprise, the first fish wasn’t the only good one to come to hand. The brook trout gods smiled upon me by offering up multiple uncommonly large specimens. I picked my way through dinky trout to catch to a handful of fish that often take you eons to catch in this region. At one point I began to repeat my new found cradle maneuver only to watch a giant shake loose before my very eyes. Sometimes you just have to get out of your comfort zone, but I kept thinking, “of all the days to leave my landing net back in the car, why did it have to be today?” Occasionally I’d get the lens on one of my cameras dry enough to snap a decent pic, but rarely could I corral the trout long enough to produce good results. Perhaps it was fitting that I wasn’t able to get many high quality images. Eventually I returned to find my net comfortably dry in the back of my vehicle. This stark discovery served as a reminder of what’s really going on. These fish don’t actually belong on our walls or in our Instagram feeds, or on a blog for that matter (despite our efforts to reproduce the feeling we get inside when we cross their paths). I need a pat on the back just as much as the next person, but for me it’s the game or challenge to know the unknowable, as opposed to braggin’ board fodder. I’ll divulge a dirty little secret. While I’ve found writing of this blog to be cathartic, and I have a soft spot for shooting photos of all sorts, the real reason I started this venue was to expand my limited WordPress skill set. That’s why the site is sort of buggy when viewed on some mobile devices (my apologies for my shortcomings). Fly fishing seemed like the most innocuous of subject matter, and if anyone finds value in my exploits it’s a bonus.
Occasionally I have to pull myself away from the temptation of the “me, me, me carousel” and look at things through a longer lens. This is one of the reasons I went off the grid and didn’t even carry a camera or tape measure for several years before I started this god foresaken endeavor. From my experience behind every door that you open through your outdoor pursuits, you’ll simply find another door. By that rationale this outing is not one of photographic excellence, or peddling my wares, or some masterpiece of storytelling. It’s simply pounding another stake in the ground. For whatever reason, it will always be appropriately engrained with the surrealist smear of the perfect storm.