Article by Tristan Kloss
Tenkara-style fishing was made for fish like brook trout. Brook trout were made for Wisconsin waters. Is it merely coincidence that the language of the Sauk and Fox people, the original stewards of the lands surrounding the Baraboo Hills, has a similar sounding word, tewehikana, which can be translated to mean, “by way of the air, food for fish”?
It can be translated that way; but in a much more accurate sense, it actually translates to “large drum.” Little white lies come with the territory when listening to an angler.
The Sauk and Fox did not have a method for hook-and-line fishing. The German settlers that followed were probably the first to harvest brook trout by rod, a tactic for which they had their very own, very long, incomprehensible word—forellenfliegenfischen, mayhaps. Their method was also divinely offensive: legend says the colors of the brook trout are the result of being touched by the gods, who deemed the fish too beautiful to kill. It’s only right that today we can choose to take them by “fishing from heaven.”
The Baraboo Hills are fishing heaven, though possibly an acquired taste even among Driftless anglers. Narrow, brushy edges swallow casting lanes whole by the end of Summer. It’s not uncommon to stand in the middle of the channel, reach out both arms, and touch dry land. The brook trout are filthy thick in spots and eager for a fly, and on warm Spring evenings craneflies and caddis make dry fly fishing a dream.
But it’s Winter I look forward to when fishing this particular little creek, when the weight of fresh snow has pushed last season’s grasses away from the banks. A handful of beadheaded soft hackles drifted along undercut banks will stir-crazy brookies out for a swim. And so I go upstream, following the switchbacking stream bends, hopping from bank to bank to find an opportunity to cast. The rod tip pauses briefly, then bows to the water, and the choreography of predator and prey begin.
I’ve left behind more flies in the roots of the prairies here—and more memories of half-caught monsters and broken tippets, more loosed curse words still suspended in the ether above the Wisconsin River valley—than any other water since moving to Sauk Prairie five years ago. With every visit I leave behind another small piece of myself, and to replace it another droplet of trout water works its way into my veins. One more brookie, since caught, now slips through my fingers. Having touched this heavenly fish, I am briefly filled with a sense of the divine.
Perhaps the Sauk and Fox have found a word for this feeling.
Or, at the very least, the Germans.
Tristan Kloss is a former geologist and fly shop manager, full-time civil servant and father, and part-time angler and writer. Sometimes his writing ends up at The Caddis Hypothesis.
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