Minnesota is walleye country, and sitting in a boat on a summer’s night on Mille Lacs, Upper Red, Rainy or any of a few thousand other state lakes, jigging, casting or trolling for these iconic fish is an experience that is relished by many who live here — in part because they are exposed to it so early in their lives, and so often.
Less well known in Minnesota is stream fishing for trout, an experience that is as evocative, and satisfying, as sitting in a boat on a lake, drowning bait, hoping for a walleye nibble. Some who are passionate about rivers might even say that strolling alongside Hay Creek in southeast Minnesota, for example, or the Whitewater, also in the southeast, or perhaps the Kadunce on the North Shore, is more invigorating still.
Yet whether an angler’s pleasure is trout or walleye, the river or lake upon which each depends must be clean enough, and sufficiently rich in aquatic life, to sustain its fishery. Therein lies Minnesota’s modern-day challenge: In a time of increased urbanization, and with it decreased exposure to nature-based recreation, anglers must somehow be plentiful enough in number to lobby successfully for the conservation of their favorite watery resource.
Which is one reason the Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo presented by Minnesota Trout Unlimited is being held beginning Friday for a three-day run at Hamline University’s Walker Field House in St. Paul.
“We think for people to care about our water resources, and be advocates for them, they have to get out and fish,’’ said Carl Haensel of Duluth, who along with Jade Thomason, also of Duluth, is an expo organizer. “Our big goal for the event is to connect users of our natural resources with the different groups and businesses in the region that share their conservation goals.’’
The brainchild years ago of the late Tom Helgeson of the Twin Cities, the Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo is now, for the second year, the province of Minnesota Trout Unlimited and its volunteers. Expo profits support the group’s stream-habitat projects. But the larger goal is to invigorate true believers, while providing newcomers multiple reasons to join the fly fishing and conservation fold.
“We’ll have a lot of opportunities at the expo for people to learn,’’ Haensel said.
• Free daily casting lessons, using the Hamline swimming pool. These include instruction in spey casting, a two-handed casting method long popular on many big western steelhead rivers and increasingly popular also on Midwest trout streams.
• Seminars on fly fishing for carp, as well as West Coast steelhead. smallmouth bass, northern pike and muskies.
• Continuous fly-tying exhibitions and lessons, including a learn-to-tie table at which novices can practice the basics of constructing their own feathery lures.
• Daily appearances and instruction by renowned fly tier, author and artist Dave Whitlock, developer of, among other flies, Dave’s Hopper, a grasshopper imitation. Whitlock, who lives in Oklahoma’s Ozark Mountains. also will sell his books and artwork.
Helpful as these features might be to expo visitors, most inspiring at the event might be a Fly Fishing Film and Video Showcase to be held Saturday evening at the Anne Simley Theatre on the Hamline campus.
Shown will be a series of two- to six-minute videos shot by anglers from throughout the Midwest, doing what they love best in the outdoors: wading in, and alongside, streams and rivers, celebrating those waters and the fish they hold.
Film fest sponsors include various craft beer breweries, whose contributions to the event might help, Haensel said, “attract people to fly fishing and to conservation who might not attend a more typical conservation meeting.’’
“As we move forward, trying to attract a younger crowd and revitalize the conservation community, we need to give people various reasons to attend,’’ he said. “Some people might not come to a typical conservation-group meeting, or if they do, might not come back. A film and beer night provides another way to attract and engage these people.’’