Sunday, May 22, 2016

Let's Get Happy, Part II - Fishing with The Driftless Legend

This is part II.  Do yourself a favor and quickly visit Part I if you haven't seen it.  No fair just jumping into the middle...

I sent Eddie a message early last week, and it turned out he was going to be taking a few days to go fishing before he gets busy again.  He was in the Wisconsin Driftless Area on Friday, fishing with someone else around Viroqua.  We had a quick chat on the phone Friday afternoon before I disappeared from the cell grid into the valley that protects our favorite campground from bothersome cell phone signals.  The battle plan: Eddie would arrive at the Mobile Hotel® at 6 AM, and we'd find something nearby.

Eddie looks to be former military but claims not to be. (I suspect CIA...) Regardless, he arrived at the campground with military precision and found me sipping a cup of coffee outside.  There was nothing moving around us, so we quietly tossed my gear into his rig and tiptoed up the hill out of campground before any Russian spies became aware of our covert mission.

Goodbye Skunk Stripe!  Getting Happy Early.
Photo by Eddie Rivard - Click any photo to enlarge

We made a flyby of a couple of nearby spots, quickly eliminating one I was familiar with.  Two vehicles parked already at 6:15!  We circled back to the first candidate and geared up.  I put the 4 weight Redington Butter Stick together and tried tossing one of Eddie's streamers for a few minutes... Let's just say I won't be using this baby for much streamer work.  It quickly became apparent that Eddie has plenty of skill and technique.  Many times throughout the morning I found myself ignoring my drift in favor of watching him cast.

After getting skunked the previous weekend, Lady Luck took pity on me and tossed me a double bonus:  1) First fish of the day, and 2) MY FIRST DRIFTLESS BROOKIE!!!

A nice, fat little Minnesota Driftless brook trout.
Photo by Eddie Rivard
Brook trout were (are?) native to the Minnesota Driftless Area, but populations are small and isolated (as far as I know) in comparison to the brown trout that now thrive in most of these spring fed creeks.  I have read that the Minnesota DNR have stocked brookies into the "headwater" springs of this river, which makes a 1.5 mile journey underground after mostly sinking and running through a cave.  It emerges as an ideal, cool trout stream where the State is attempting to reestablish brook trout populations.  I grew up chasing brookies in the Wind River and Big Horn mountain ranges in Wyoming.  I consider it a privilege to finally catch one from its native range.

Eddie soon evened the count.  He pulled a nice brown out of the next hole upstream.  That fish was featured previously in Part I.

Shortly after that, he pulled ahead for good.  I didn't mind.  I was still pretty darn happy about that little brookie.

We chatted about backgrounds and adventures as we hiked or watched each other fish.  Seemed like we took turns re-rigging most of the time, so we easily alternated casting time as we moved upstream.  I enjoyed watching him pull fish out of spots that surprised me.

Eddie out in front

Beware the dark side

A craftsman at work, but apparently not happy with this one?
Not too much time later, I hooked up again in a deeper hole.  It definitely felt bigger, but that could have just been the 7'6" fiberglass Butter Stick passing along the experience.  I was happy to see the largest trout I've caught so far in my 2 years of fishing the Minnesota Driftless.

My best MN trout so far
Photo by Eddie Rivard
Eddie did me the honor of formally measuring.  A solid 13 inches, and a trophy in my eyes.

See Eddie.  See Eddie hunt.  Does he look Happy?
Eddie has a Driftless soul.  Watching him, I get the feeling he's part of the ecosystem here.  He admires every little detail around him, from the 60-foot limestone cliffs towering above us to the wildflowers on the banks.  I've admired his photographic work since I started reading his blog last year.  He took some great shots of me that I look forward to dropping into random posts down the road.

Eventually, we got hungry and retreated to the Mobile Hotel® for some lunch.  I grilled up some fresh Brats and a few hot dogs.  Everything settled, and then the Eddie wit reappeared: as I was emptying my gear from his rig, he suggested that I could leave the Butter Stick exactly where it was.  He'd used it for a few minutes and I guess he liked it a little.

Huge thanks going out for Eddie for putting up with me for a few hours.  I had a great time shadowing the William Wallace of Driftless fly angling ;)  (see this blog post.)

I was happy, too.  But I forgot to ask for an autographed sticker before he drove off into the sunset.


  1. Replies
    1. Indeed, Eddie. Thanks for making the side trip from the Wisconsin Driftless.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Kevin. Over the years I've learned that a good way to get better at something is to hang out with people who are better than you are. Now I just need to trick a few other people into an outing or two...

    2. You mean better than "you think" you are. =)

  3. Super nice stream, with some color browns--thanks for sharing

    1. You'd never suspect from the bridge where we parked that there's that kind of water just 150 yards or so upstream. Someday, I'll learn to explore on my own.

  4. It sounds like you're having a blast flyfishing the MN driftless waters. Way to go! I've flyfished all round the country except for that region, although western WI was once a home. I've got to get reacquainted. Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. I moved to central Minnesota from Montana in 2005. Since I'm not much of a warm water fisherman yet, I just moaned about being far away from Montana. Two years ago, I decided trout fishing was essential in my life. We're spending 6 consecutive weekends down in SE MN this spring, and we've already reserved out camp site for the same time next spring. The Mobile Hotel® aka 5th wheel RV is one of the best family decisions we've ever made.

  5. Chris awesome.
    Those trout are catch to remember.
    Like the colors on that wading belt.

    1. Yeah, and I had a witness!

      I figured you'd be the one to notice the belt. ;) Check out Wingo belts. I wanted to have SOMETHING a bit out of the ordinary out on the water.

  6. Very nice, and congrats on that brookie!
    Always cool meeting up with a blog buddy, especially when they are a fish whisperer.

    Love the Driftless, so much water, but needs so much time to explore.

    1. You're absolutely right about that. I started fishing SE MN just over two years ago, and I've barely touched 4 creeks in one MN county. Next time you're in the neighborhood, let me know if you want to fish with someone who barely knows what they're doing. :)

  7. I think it is wonderful when you can hook up with a blog buddy no matter the skill level, and, just flat out enjoy yourself and catch some beautiful fish. I am very envious of those of you have an opportunity to fish the Driftless areas. Maybe someday, but until then, I will keep reading about through blogs like yours.