RED WING, MINN. - Recreation got up quite a head of steam near this scenic river town on Saturday. Boaters sunbathed as they motored up and down the Mississippi, flanked coming and going by walleye seekers playing hooky from yardwork. Trout anglers found familiar comfort, if not a lot of water, between the narrow banks of Hay Creek, casting to browns and even a few brookies. And bikes both motorized and pedaled seemed everywhere, as were hikers and campers, the entire shebang a real who's-who of goof-offs.
Wanting to go to the head of that class, I was among those who trampled the brush Saturday along Hay Creek, a trout stream that arguably is among the state's best, or could be, save for its size.
Though long enough, and darn sure pretty enough, Hay Creek puts the pinch on trout anglers in ways that wider, more open streams do not. Witness the multiple times I hung my fly in a tree on Saturday, back-casting, and even fore-casting. Yet the degree of difficulty in fishing rarely correlates directly to angler dissatisfaction. Rather, and paradoxically, challenge inherent in the sport explains why many people participate, and goes to the heart of fishing's seductiveness.
With me on this first day of the state's regular trout season was my 16-year-old son, Cole, a fool also for clean, flowing water, of which southeast Minnesota this spring is flush, however low-running.
No rain, or little rain, will do that: reduce fast water to slow, and slow water to a trickle. Which on Saturday boosted Hay Creek anglers' chances, because the places trout could lurk safely under such conditions were reduced. Yet no fish was a sitting duck: Flowing gin-clear, Hay Creek allowed trout rather easily to pinpoint the big and lumbering anglers who trampled their banks, looking to count coup.
"We caught a couple," Alan Bowser said when Cole and I came upon him, his wife, Vicki, and their two kids, Zander, 5, and Anastasia, 7, late in the morning.
Time was, some years ago on opening day of the stream trout season, that the Bowsers might have had to jostle for position on Hay Creek or any of the state's many other fine trout rivers in the southeast.
That was before so many miles of these streams were open to winter fishing on a catch-and-release basis, a change that has deflated for many anglers the importance of the traditional trout-fishing "opening day."
Now, it seems, many Minnesota trout anglers abide their own personal fishing calendars, celebrating the season's first day when and how they choose.
Cole and I, contrariwise, are among those who still consider the middle Saturday in April a big deal, as do many other angler family units, related or not.
From Chatfield, where the first day of trout season is marked by a pancake breakfast in the fire hall, to Whitewater State Park, where campers fan out from tents and RVs each April -- rain, snow or shine -- hoping to catch and keep, catch and release, or both, to the South Branch of the Root River at Lanesboro, where trout and art often merge, winter's end for many Minnesotans is best celebrated down by a river.
A trout river.
"We caught a brown and a small brookie," said Bill Hull of Winona, who fished on Hay Creek with his nephew, Joe Wickert, 10.
Hull, along with his brother and other family members, was camped near Hay Creek for the weekend.
That so much opportunity can be afforded to so many trout anglers so relatively close to the Twin Cities is a blessing not only of nature but of hard work undertaken by both volunteer and professional conservationists.
Trout Unlimited members, for example, have joined with the Department of Natural Resources since 2008 to reduce agricultural runoff into Hay Creek, and sedimentation, by stabilizing its stream banks.
Their good work might have accounted in early afternoon for the assemblage of brown trout that Cole and I spotted finning at the bottom of a long riffle.
Difficult to cast to without spooking because of the clear water, the fish seemed safe enough as they tucked their noses into the soft currents, awaiting passing morsels.
Two flies, both bead-head prince nymphs, size 16, were my sacrifice to overhanging trees before I managed to float a similar attraction downstream without hanging up my line, and without being spotted.
"Good enough for me," one of the bigger fish must have said as he darted ahead, impaling his upper lip, and tightening my line.
A person either gets or doesn't get, understands or doesn't, the grand reduction here of time and effort to gratification, the kind otherwise associated with graduations, weddings, births.
I released the trout.
"Nice fish," Cole said. And we left it at that.
Dennis Anderson firstname.lastname@example.org