Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Opener

New Years Day has a special meaning in the hearts of those who fish for trout in Minnesota.  It is opening day of the MN SE Stream Trout Catch and Release Season.

Many of the streams of southern Minnesota's Driftless Area do not freeze completely over during the winter months because they are fed by spring water that flows from the ground at temperatures around 40 degrees.

The weather forecast for Wednesday did a good job of tempering my excitement for opening day and I remained undecided about whether or not I would brave the elements in pursuit of my favorite hobby.  An afternoon session on Facebook helped me make up my mind.  

While going through my news feed I saw a post from a fellow named Frank Koch that my buddy Nick and I met at the parking lot of "Stonehammer on the Rush" one cold day last winter.  

My eyes lit up when I discovered that I wasn't the only one crazy enough to consider going fly fishing with air temperatures hovering around zero degrees.  I may have decided to see if Frank would like some company at Hay Creek but even though I have fished it a few times with some success and I'm sure I will fish it again I have never really fallen in love with the place.  There are rivers like the Rush, The Kinnickinnic, The Brule and even the Willow that hold special places in my heart but I have to say that Hay Creek is just not one of them.  I did however catch my first winter trout there a few years back.  I don't name every trout I catch but the name I gave that one was Sub-Zero.

I still wasn't fully convinced that I had what it took to fish the frozen tundra of Southern MN when I continued on perusing my Facebook news feed.

After seeing Rick Kauppila's post about cross country skiing at negative 8 degrees I figured if they can do it, why cant I?  My self esteem was given another boost when I saw how Henry Hepokoski reminded them about possessing the SISU.

According to Wikipedia

"Sisu is a Finnish term loosely translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.  Sisu is about taking action against the odds and displaying courage and resoluteness in the face of adversity.  Deciding on a course of action and then sticking to that decision against repeated failures is Sisu." 

While I have some news that the Stream trout of SE Minnesota are not going to like very much because I am 50% Finnish and have a little Sisu of my own to dish out.

Once my mind was made up I didn't put too much effort into getting anybody else to go with me.  I had already planned on going down on Saturday with two friends and most of my other friends either had to work or were preoccupied with other New Years Eve and New Years Day festivities.  Foxy however graciously volunteered to accompany me on the trip.  One nice thing about going it alone was that I wasn't bound to anybody else's time constraints.

My mind starting drifting to the actual fishing that I would be doing opening day.  If someone were to ask my what my least favorite thing about winter fly fishing is my answer would undoubtedly be, "Ice in the guides".  It is the bane of every winter fly fisherman's existence.  It is the reason why most guys with common sense won't even consider going unless air temperatures are above freezing.  Having been plagued by it in the past I was determined to find  a better solution to this problem.  For this I would utilize the search engine commonly referred to as, "The Google".

I found many suggestions to help alleviate this comment ailment some of which included Dunking the rod in the water, coating the guides with Chapstick or PAM Cooking Spray and one guy even recommended treating the fly line with "STP Son of a Gun".  None of these solutions made my eyes light up but when I found a YouTube video where a fishing guide recommended using Stanley's Ice Off Paste to treat both the line and the guides I felt as though I could surely see a light at the end of the "Ice in the guides tunnel".  I already had a small container of "Stanley's Ice Off Paste" but had previously only considered coating my guides with it which was largely unsuccessful.

Now that I was no longer stressing about having my guides ice up I could finally relax.  I went to bed around 11:45pm on New Years Eve and was probably fast asleep by the time 2014 rolled around.  

When I sprung from my bed New Years Day morning it might have well have been Christmas Morning because I was excited as all get go about what lay ahead.  All I had to do was a little bit of cleaning around my place and pack up my fly fishing stuff and I would be on my way.

If there is one thing I dislike it is coming home from a day of fishing to an unclean house.  December was a pretty busy month for me with work and I was rarely at my place other than the times where I was sleeping or making messes.   I don't like living in utter squalor but there is something to be said for making hay while the sun shines and despite the cold temperatures that December offered up the sun sure did shine on me.  So needless to say I spent a little bit more time cleaning than I had planned.

I wish I could say that packing up my trout fishing gear was a quick and easy task but it was not.  I have long suffered from a debilitating condition known as TMC.  TMC is more commonly known as, "Too Much Crap".  If an accessory exists that one can attach to their fly fishing vest I probably have it attached to mine and that is just the tip of the iceberg.  I am now up to eight fly rods in my quiver as well countless other things that make my time on the water as enjoyable as it can possibly be.  During the season I usually have most of this stuff jammed into one huge duffel bag and the only major decisions I have to make before going fishing is what rod(s) I am taking along and where I am planning on going.  During the last couple months the contents of said duffel have spread out into different places and I felt like all the kings horses and all the kings men trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.  A great smile spread across my face when I found my small container of "Stanleys Ice Off Paste".  

I finally hit the road sometime after one as I remember snapping this photo of my cell phone as I made my way through the southern suburbs of the Twin Cities Metro.

If I would have had my CD collection with I probably would have been listening to "Here I go again" sung by some of my favorite rockers from the 1980's known only as "Whitesnake".   I didn't have my CD's with me but the song played triumphantly in my head.

"The lonely street of Dreams" on this day would be Minnesota Highway 52 which I have endearingly nicknamed "The Driftless Express".  But I would like to make one small clarification that every highway and byway within the "Driftless M Quadrilateral" can be referred to as the "The Driftless Express" when one is affected by the condition known as "Trout Fever".

As mentioned in one of my previous writings,"While some prefer to focus their efforts within a specific stream or county I prefer to focus my efforts withing a slightly larger area. The "Driftless M Quadrilateral". On a map draw four strait lines connecting Minneapolis, Menomonie, Madison and Mason City. The quadrilateral you have created is the "Driftless M Quadrilateral". I believe that this area contains many streams and rivers that are chock full of 23 inch or better trophy trout."

And to clarify that my, "Lonely Street Of Dreams" wasn't even all that lonely for I had ol' Foxy keeping me company on my voyage.  

Stopping to fill my tank in Zumbrota I was reminded of another one of my favorite hobbies which I'm happy that I can do while fishing for trout.  I'm always scanning the banks and hillsides for signs of Bigfoot.  I haven't had any confirmed sightings but I haven't seen a mountain lion yet either.  I just know they are there.

This was after I told Foxy that she wasn't going to be able to go swimming in the creek this time around.

The drive went by pretty fast and before I knew it I was making my descent into one of the great river valleys that the Driftless Region is known for.  It never gets old when you are driving through relatively flat lands and all the sudden the road just starts going down and down and down.  Soon you find yourself in a valley filled with wonder.  This scene is repeated over and over again in the Driftless and even that act of bearing witness to it gets me thinking about all the awesome experiences I will be having here in the coming months.

Kyle and I had talked about this one super deep pool under a bridge in one of our favorite rivers and how it would probably be a major wintering hole for many trophy brown trout.  I had been thinking about fishing this place for a while but upon arrival the entire area was iced over.  I theorize that the river runs slow and wide at this point and with the low air temperatures a thin layer of ice had developed.  I wasn't sad I just headed upstream in search of open water.

"Eureka!" I thought I should have shouted when I found open water.  It reminded me of the time I struck gold but then I remembered that I have never struck gold.  

Of the rods I brought with me I decided to go with my 9 foot, two piece, Sage DS2.   I refer to this old bird as the "Millenium Falcon of Fly Rods".  To quote Hans Solo, "She'll do point five past light speed.  She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid." 

I received the DS2 a few years back as a either a Christmas or Birthday present from my dad.  While two piece fly rods are largely a thing of the past there is something to be said for the one step assembly process.  The line I chose was of unknown weight although probably five or six spooled on the ever economical and reliable Okuma Sierra.  I bought the line in a package deal with a bunch of other stuff from some guy on Craigslist years back and had no problem coating the first 30 feet of it with a generous helping of Stanley's Ice Off Paste.

Once I started fishing I was pleased that the Paste seemed to be working much better when it was applied to both the line and the guides.  The joy I felt overshadowed the fact that daylight was diminishing.  It was just nice to be back out fishing again.  I liked that the only footprints I saw were my own and those of the woodland critters that call the Driftless home.  It wasn't so much, "To boldly go where no man has gone before" but more like, "With Sisu I travel where nobody else has been lately".  And that my friends is the beauty of fishing on the opener.

Foxy was happy to see me when I arrived back at the car.  The end of the opener.  The beginning of the season.

The End

Eddie Rivard Fly Fishing is now on Facebook.

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