Apr 9, 2012

Lure thrown in tree

Rushing water pushes against my stomach as my feet sink into impossible muck, and I grip with my toes and lean carefully back towards the shoreline, balancing right on the edge, trying to hug the inside corner while remaining upright - and most importantly - perfectly quiet. Reading the banks and the water, always inching forward. At once, I am an animal and invisible.

At least that's the idea.

This is not A River Runs Through It. This isn't the idealized postcard of troutfishing, it's more of a struggle. I don't even own a fly rod. For the most part, Wisconsin's trout streams are narrow and choked with overhanging branches of all sorts. Just reaching them is a challenge sometimes. People do fly fish but I don't understand how, aside from the country club waters in the driftless. I prefer a more direct approach.

As I balance on the steep and squishy bank I see a clear window into a good hiding spot - maybe a foot squared, 25 feet up on the right. I flip the bail on the reel and avoid limbs above and behind me before bombing my Rapala towards the target. And it's not close. Snapping back on the rod tip I narrowly avoid a Lure Thrown In Tree (LTIT), splashing the middle of the deep run and shattering my invisibility. Shit, I mutter to myself.

Waist-deep in the stream everything is a balancing act.

We score LTITs just like we score Fish Caught and Fish Missed. It's a good way to measure your success and efficiency. And it's fun to give your buddy a hard time when he wraps a lure in the top deck of a tree. Hey, take it easy! You're spooking the fish! But an LTIT isn't so bad. It shows you are pushing yourself. You can catch fish with safe casts, but the difference between an expensive lure in a branch and lure that gets crushed by a hippo brown trout is usually a matter of inches one way or the other. And I hate losing lures, but I keep aiming for impossible windows around every corner.

After the first few pools I tune into the wind and my hands calm down. I take one more imperceptible step and the next cast reveals itself. I visualize the path, a side-armed snap, the lure flying six inches above the water, skidding perfectly under the branches and landing an inch from shore. I let go and time slows. My breath jumps and my guts feel an electric jolt, eyes narrow to a perfect focus. Splash. Before I complete one turn of the handle the fish attacks...

And then I attack. The trees clear out and there are two animals in the rushing water, taking risks and seeking rewards.