First published in April 2020.
If you can’t make it out on the stream, the next-best way to connect with trout during the pandemic is by reading a good book about fishing. We enlisted Jim Holden, a former high school English teacher and trout fishing nut, to put together a review of his favorite books about Midwestern trout fishing. Jim has himself written a gem of a book about trout fishing in Minnesota. Titled “Heron Thieves, A Bat Out of Hell, and other Fly Fishing Stories, Essays and Poems”, it is a delightful selection of stories that will make you laugh and teach you a few things about the personalities involved in developing the sport of trout fishing in Minnesota. If you’d like to order a copy for ten bucks plus postage, contact Jim at email@example.com.
In 1785 Scottish poet Robert Burns penned these words which seem particularly relevant in this time of the great pandemic: “The best laid schemes o’ Mice and Men gang aft agley.” Translated into idiomatic English the words “gang aft agley” might read “go often askew/awry.”
My best laid plans included a North Shore steelhead guide trip my BFFF (best fly-fishing friend) Dave Emery and I booked with Carl Haensel for April 21. Canceled. I also hoped to do some fly-fishing bonding with my very busy son this year, so we booked a smallmouth trip on the Ottertail River with guide Doug Harthan for July 8. Probably canceled. And this spring my wife and I hoped to travel to the northern Black Hills so she could admire the blooming flowers and search for birds while I fished streams such as Spearfish and Rapid Creeks. Called off. In addition, another good fishing friend, Dave (Doc) Halvorson, planned a trip to the San Juan River in October. Too early to call.
So what are we fly-fishermen/women to do during this time of sheltering in place? Of course, you can spend time organizing your flies, cleaning your fly lines, patching your leaky waders, tying some flies, ordering more stuff. Or, as Dave Emery and I have been doing once a week or so—though now driving separately, you can head down to your favorite Southeast Minnesota streams for some solitude and relief from the endless bad news.
But you could also use that free time to re-read some of those old friends lying on your bookshelves, especially the ones about fishing the Driftless Area. I just pulled off my shelves four that I might have a go at again this spring.
Trout Fishing in Southeast Minnesota, by John Van Vliet.
Published in 1992, this book includes information about the geology of Southeast Minnesota; the trout in the streams; and chapters titled “Choosing the Right Tackle, “Naturals & Artificials” (with hatch charts), “Suggested Fly Patterns for Southeast Minnesota, Ten Tips for Small- Stream Fishing,” and “An Angler’s Driving Tour” (with maps). For you avid fly-tyers out there, Van Vliet has a chapter on “recipes” for go-to flies like BWOs, sulfurs, tricos, black caddis, pheasant tails, and hare’s ears. The book also includes directions on how to access streams you might have overlooked such as West Indian and Winnebago. It’s an oldie but goodie.
Wisconsin and Minnesota Trout Streams: a Fly-Angler’s Guide, by Jim Humphrey and Bill Shogren.
Written in 1995, this book features maps of the areas and hatch charts; and there’s also a chapter called “Hatches, Tactics, and Tackle.” In addition, a good portion of the book takes a look at Wisconsin streams in all areas of the state. The authors add interesting background information about the areas as well. Here is one in the section on “Southwestern Wisconsin: Spring Creeks in Hidden Valleys.” There are ethnic remembrances of the earliest settlers of this hill country: Indian Creek, Irish Ridge, Russian Coulee, Dutch Hill, Swiss Valley, German Flats, British Hollow, and Bryn Gyrwen, a hill named by some long-dead Welsh miner to remind himself of home. The Minnesota portion of the book includes chapters titled “Secret Streams of Southeast Minnesota, The North Shore—Arrowhead Country,” and “Northern Minnesota-Paul Bunyan Country.”
Fly-Fishing Midwestern Spring Creeks: an Angler’s Guide to Trouting the Driftless Area, by Ross A. Mueller.
Published in 1999, this work has a slightly a different focus than the first two. For example, there’s a chapter on “Resources,” another on “Casting,” one on “Equipment,” and still another on “Two-fly Systems.” Mueller also gives advice about fishing each season of the year, with specific information about flies to use and when (for instance—“Remember the advice dark day, dark fly—light day, light fly”). The author’s Driftless Area Stream Locator maps in the “Introduction” are detailed and easy to read, and what’s most helpful is that throughout the book he includes color photos of flies and the “ingredients” for them. Then he tells the reader how to fish each of these flies.
Fly-Fishing for Trout in Southeast Minnesota. . . a Trout Chaser’s Guide, by Bob Trevis.
This is the most recent of these four books, published in 2016, so it has up-to-date information. And while it provides accurate knowledge about where to fish our Southeast Minnesota streams and rivers, I enjoyed reading his chapter on the Driftless Area and one called “Be Careful out There” (especially apt for an aging angler like me). As a former high school English teacher, I liked the occasional epigrams the author included such as “You don’t stop fishing because you get old. . . you get old because you stop fishing” or “I’d rather be lost on the river than found in the city.” One of the best features of the book is its color photos. There are pictures of fish caught, fishermen climbing over stiles and casting flies, old mills, improved stream sections, winter fishing scenes. Then there are photos of signs such as this one at Hay Creek: “Do not cross pasture unless you can do it in 3.7. The bull can do in in 3.8.” Another good chapter (“Getting Involved”) encourages anglers to join TU and other organizations working to preserve our streams and our natural environment.
So many other fly-fishing titles on my bookshelves call out “Please read me again”: Shawn Perich’s Fly-Fishing the North Country, Tom Rosenbauer’s The Orvis Guide to Prospecting for Trout, Terry and Wendy Gunn’s 50 Best Tailwaters to Fly Fish, and two by John Gierach (Trout Bum and Still Life with Brook Trout). But those are my books, what about yours? Why not take down your falling-apart copy of A River Runs Through It? Better yet, watch the movie with your 10-year-old son, a fly-angler-in-training. This would surely brighten your day. And if you’re into poetry, I recommend two books I just read by fly- fishing friends Larry Gavin (A Fragile Shelter) and Justin Watkins (A Mark of Permanence). Some excellent poems about fishing of course, but so much more. Oh yes, one more thing, I’ll re-read Steve Kinsella’s Trout Fishing in the Black Hills if the South Dakota trip materializes later this year. I’m crossing my fingers. So head over to your bookshelves, pull out your favorite fly-fishing books, and hunker down for some good times with your “old friends.”
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