Thursday, September 30, 2021

Autumn Brook Trout


Some folks live in parts of the country where fishing season never closes. I like the idea of fishing year-round, but I also understand the reason that stream trout season ends the last day of September. Here in northern MN the season closes to protect the Fall spawning brook trout. That makes sense because, well, you can never have too many brook trout. 

For bird hunters like myself, it's hard to think of anything but grouse and woodcock now. Hunting season is open and my eager setter, Gabby, knows it and is ready to hit it. The foliage is still heavy, but turning to the reds, yellows, and oranges of Autumn and after all these years the beauty of it still strikes me. Although there have been some chilling mornings, lately the daytime temps have reached 80 degrees making it too hot for hunting. Hiking through the cover following a bird dog is warming enough -- add that climbing temperature and bright sun and each hunt finds me with a sweat-soaked shirt and exhausted dog. But if it's too hot to hunt, doesn't it make sense to go fishing? 


I hung around home for most of the day after a short early hunt with Gabby, then loaded my gear and a cold one on the ATV and headed for the stream. I had my favorite trout rod along and looked forward to an enjoyable evening. The stream looked clear and inviting and I knew these brookies will often rise to a fly even when there's no discernable activity on the water.  Relying on past experience, I tied a well-used #14 Madam X to my 6x leader and cast over a submerged brush pile, the remnants of an old beaver feed bed. A strike came immediately and I jerked and missed, but happy for the quick action. 


After a summer of casting mostly 8,9, and 10 weight rods, my little 3oz. 7'9" rod felt like air in my hand and I had look occasionally to see if I still had a hold of it. I missed a couple of strikes before hooking up to a beauty of a little brookie in full spawning color.  I admired the fish with a photo and slipped it back into the water. For variety I changed to a #18 caddis and landed three more of those pretty trout.  Catching those wild, backwoods brook trout on dry flies is about as good as it gets, but time passes quickly when you're fishing and when I noticed the sky had turned from blue to purple and looked at the dark forest surrounding me, I knew it was time to head home. 

Friday, September 24, 2021

Rain Day

 Sometimes you just have to enjoy a rainy day from indoors. Well, maybe not all day – but after a short jaunt in 50-degree, wet woods, it felt darn good to shed dripping raingear and heavy boots. But the rain is welcome after the record-breaking drought we went through this summer. While we weren't experiencing the huge wildfires like they are out west, here in northern MN we had more than usual. In May a wildfire burned woods just west of us and when it blew to within a quarter mile we were advised to evacuate. Well, we did pack up a few things but between the Forest Service and the local volunteer fire department the burn never reached our property. Nor did we ever leave, but instead sat outside and watched an impressive air show of fire-fighting planes and helicopters. The fire was pretty much knocked down the first day, but ground crews found hot spots two more days and the helicopters returned to dip water out of a pond across the road and quench what was left.  

Now that we're getting some rain it's easy to forget how hot and dry it was and the bigger fires north and east of us are under control. It’s time to enjoy the changing Autumn leaves and look forward to the Fall season. The beavers have finally backed up some water on the creek near here, but the rivers and lakes are still low and we'll need some good rainfall and winter snow to get them where we'd like to see them.  

Grouse hunting season has been open for almost a week and Gabby and I have been enjoying it. I can't say we've been all that productive, but it's still early and the best of the season is yet to come. There's some good Fall fishing ahead as well, but for the rest of today I believe we'll stay warm and dry inside. Happy Autumn! 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021


Sometimes following a routine could be construed as being stuck in a rut. But it’s only a rut if you don’t like it. Depending on the time of year, the season, I guess you could say that I’m a man of routine. Almost every morning of this long, dry summer I would take a short ride on my bike with Gabby running alongside. We’d get out early, when the sun was still low and before the day’s heat set in. Sometimes we’d only go for a mile. Sometimes a bit over three. Our turnarounds were Lindgren’s barn, the RR tracks, Orpha’s corner, or the town hall. It was just enough to get a bit of exercise (mostly for Gabby) and to get a handle on the day. We often spotted deer along the way, and became familiar with the pair of sandhill cranes that trodded the open fields west of here. As August wore on Gabby would sometimes slam into a point just off the road and I’d have to stop and wade into the brush to flush a young brood of grouse. Of course, we always like finding birds, but that brush can be kind of tough when you’re wearing shorts and sandals. 

Lately, the morning route has taken a different path. It’s close to bird hunting season and better than that: the days are cool. Morning temps in the low 40’s calls for real pants and boots while we hike a quarter-mile of hay field to the cover beyond. Though the hay was cut weeks ago, it’s hardy grown due to drought conditions and is only a few inches deep. Now, early morning dew makes us forget how dry the months have been and the wet grass shimmers in the light and looks like the frost which will be here soon. 

Gabby runs ahead, of course, and I can’t help thinking about how many times I’ve enjoyed watching a bird dog racing across this field over the past four decades. And how many young dogs have I seen pointing the planted birds I hid in spots around this field. I get a little melancholy knowing there were more behind me than there will be ahead. 

That field has remained constant over the years but the woods surrounding it have changed. Once old and heavy with over-mature aspen and balsam, it was clearcut and created an open rolling landscape that new growth thrived in. Now, that new growth is getting older but has been a fine bird covert for years. Along with a little creek running through and the accompanying alder and willow runs and thickets my dogs have found countless woodcock and grouse in that cover.  

It’s a short walk from my door and I can be found out there working a dog most springtime mornings and now, when summer seems to be surrendering to autumn. Just this morning I followed Gabby into the cover off the south edge of the field. The leaves are changing but the foliage is still summer thick and she wasn’t always easy to find when she pointed six woodcock and had two grouse finds, one single and the other a brood of five. I finally gathered her up and steered her for home – we hadn’t had breakfast, yet. 

The road borders the north side of the field and we stopped there for a moment. I took another look back across the field and once again confirmed how fortunate I am... and what a good life it is. 


Thursday, September 9, 2021

Another day in God's country

If there's a better way to get in touch with the spirit of the north than standing thigh deep in a remote backwoods river -- gripping a bent fly rod with an angry muskie on the end of the line -- I can't say what it is.

I was wading my way downstream, thinking the water looked deeper that direction and maybe, just maybe, there'd be a muskie lurking about. Due to the ongoing drought the river level was lower than it's been in years, making it a tough float even for a canoe. It therefore made wade fishing possible and a way to learn the river like never before. What there was for current was slow and easy, only showing itself through narrow channels in and around shallow rocky sections and newly exposed islands. A gathering breeze sang its song rustling the heavily forested river banks.

Wade fishing muskies is not the simplest thing I've done and nothing I've done a lot of, but I've learned some things when going boat-less. A small pack, one that can be slid around to your chest is handy to carry a box with a few favorite flies, leaders, and the couple of tools you probably won't need. Landing a fish may be easier if you keep one of those jaw grippers and spreaders hanging from your belt on the opposite side of your line stripping hand. Ideally, I won't use those tools but when the fish is ready and close enough, I'll take a good look at the silvery green-ness of that intriguing wild fish before reaching down to remove the barbless hook with forceps or fingers.

The water depth seldom reached higher than my thighs and I was able to stay mostly in mid-river, and from there cast to likely cover along each bank and ahead of me in the open river. Despite hopeful anticipation of hooking a big fish, the sounds and smells of nature couldn't be ignored and I felt like I belonged right where I was. Time passed faster than distance and I considered turning back to my truck for the lunch and coffee waiting, but a tempting looking outside bend a hundred yards down river convinced me to continue. Upon reaching it I tossed my big deer-hair fly towards a submerged weed bed. Stripping line, the wake behind came on the second cast and a series of short, jerky strips triggered the strike!

The thrill of watching a big fish come at your fly and then take it is indescribable. Like all game fish, muskies rip and yank and dart across the river trying to wrench free from the hook that's holding them. The tug and pull is excitement at a high level and in the back of your mind there's a split second of wondering about the strength of your knots, the integrity of the leader, and the stoutness of the rod. There's a lot that can go wrong, but when the fish was finally at my lap and looking me in the eye as I released it, it seemed too soon to be over. 

After gulping lunch I drove to another section of the river to explore and try for another muskie. This is wild country if not exactly wilderness, a land of wolves and bears, eagles and ospreys. There have been occasional reports of cougars in the area. In these modern times wild country might be described as anywhere there's no cell phone service. You won't be calling anyone from your phone on this river. Carry a first aid kit in that pack, you know, for the little stuff.

As I waded upstream looking for likely places to cast to, I was hit by a strong wind and surprised by a crack of thunder. Suddenly the trees were swaying and a dark storm was fast approaching. I headed back for the truck and grew anxious when I found two trees had blown down over the trail I'd just hiked in on. Worried about the safety of my truck parked up in the woods, I hurried ahead and hopped behind the steering wheel just as the deluge hit. With windshield wipers at full speed I breathed a sigh of relief when I got to the main road.

The day turned dark and I drove towards home as rain pounded the roof of my truck and thunder announced piercing flashes of lightning. The paved road was covered with blown branches and leaves and several downed spruce trees covered parts of the driving lane. Safe and warm in my vehicle, I smiled at the thought of a wild river in wild country, the wild muskie that gave a tough battle and a fine memory, and the retreat from a wild storm. Quite a day -- I'm thankful for it.