Mar 27, 2012


It was just too nice out so I grabbed the tent and my fishing gear and sped southwest into The Driftless, that old glacier-free pocket of Wisconsin where valleys outnumber towns. Ryan and his doggie met me in Richland County and we built a big bonfire next to a stream and a weathered rockwall. The coyotes yipped and barked at the crescent moon. We enjoyed some whiskey, and after midnight a dense fog moved in... Tiny twinkling stars of water vapor drifted in front of our headlamps and then - it seemed - through us. The coyotes screamed, closer now. We marveled at all of this. Pretty lucky, we concluded, to be here and now...
We spent most of the next day wading up blue ribbon trout streams, beneath scattered clouds and perfect spring lighting.

Sometimes the general scenery out there is so stunning that I find myself missing the fine detail, but the fine detail is what makes a perfect moment. I'd catch a gorgeous trout but be so consumed with getting a good picture that I'd never actually look at the living fish.
I realized I had not been fully present in the moment.
Sometime before noon Ryan put a perfect cast above a deep and menacing root system in the strong middle of a big bend, and we saw a bright flash, and Ryan made a strange noise that told me it was a big fish. The brown trout was 18 inches, his biggest so far. There was no world beyond that bend of rushing spring water, and we burned the fish into memory, and watched it swim away.

I was driftless for two days and nothing beyond where I was standing in the stream mattered. I was quieted. I let the fire die down on Sunday night and climbed in my sleeping bag. Something woke me at 5:30 and I saw the fire burning brightly. Strange, I thought. I rubbed my eyes and expected to see a coyote stoking the coals. I went back to sleep.
On Monday morning we woke to cold rain so we packed up camp and headed for home, where glaciers had made room for more people, and pretty quickly I began thinking about what I would do tomorrow, and next week. And what was happening elsewhere... And should I make tacos tonight? What about all the things I need to get done in April? ... And what if, what if?

Mar 8, 2012

Snowmelt into the stream

It's been a dry winter and the Town of Mecan finally got a reasonable snowfall on Friday, maybe five inches of snowman snow. Deensie showed up right before whiteout conditions set in and we went out ice fishing for the final time of the season... We couldn't see the shore in any direction but I got a pike and Deen got a catfish so we had to celebrate the successful end of a successful campaign. Old-fashioneds all around! And that was the end of our winter.
The next morning we got up early for stream trout catch-and-release season opener. Deen's wife Stacey and my buddy Ryan joined us on my favorite stream up north of Puckaway and we stepped into the cold waters from snowy banks. The terrain was a frightening contrast of seasons. Trees heavy with snow drooped their branches into the deep bends, the sky and forest were light and the stream fast and dark. The air warmed and the snow slowly melted from this odd world. Upstream we snuck against gravity and clear current, zipping rapalas into small windows close to cover where montrous browns lay hiding:
Here it comes back to me just watch for the quick flashes that flood my eyes with adreneline, wait for the weight and the wiggling beautiful fish... There! There!

On Monday it was warmer still and me and Deen came back. The valley was a different place. Most of the snow was gone and the fantastic crisp white was replaced by infinite shades of brown. Even the stream seemed brown, full of the snowmelt and sediments. The trout didn't really mind though. Neither did we. It was good to get off the ice and chuck a lure around again.
I was so sore when we got back home, even my toes were shot from squishing through the muck and stumbling over grapefruit rocks, but it was a satisfying sore. In stream wading I had used every muscle on my frame quietly, against quiet resistance, the constant murmur of water rolling downhill. I felt like I feel after yoga in the morning. Tired but light. Like water resisting gravity. Bouncey.
How is it that burning fuel creates more energy? What would happen if I performed Warrior 3 in a set of rolling spring rapids? Yoga and trout fishing, two new things in my life, and how did I ever really appreciate springtime before? Awaking from deep sleep? The streams all swell and I stand there, quietly, breathing and watching the snow melt... I adjust my feet and exhale, find my target between two trees dipping into the current, factor in the wind and place my rapala an inch from the undercut bank. My breath catches for a split second before I turn the handle.
Flash! There! It all happens so quickly.

I can't blame the trout for feasting... If a lure were to land close to my cover I would snap hungrily, too. That is what we do.