Trip Report by Tristan Kloss
As I stood at the bank to set up my line, a snowshoer tromped along the hiking trail that crossed the stream. He stopped and watched my numbing fingers struggle with a slip knot.
“Setting a snare?” he asked.
“Fishing,” I said.
“Have you ever come across a fish in this creek?”
I broke out into a grin. Does one ask Han Solo if the Millennium Falcon is fast?
“You know,” I said. “I never have.”
He shook his head.
“Thought so. I’ve never seen anything, either. Isn’t this a Class I trout stream?”
My remark was delivered Sahara dry, but this gentleman took it rather earnestly. Now, I felt a bit bad. I didn’t mean to lie to him, and the fact this is trout water is not a secret. Still, I was already committed to this path and there was no turning back. The conversation evolved into what constituted a Class I trout stream in Wisconsin: in short, water needs to have the capacity for natural trout reproduction.
I may have omitted the fact this particular creek had one of the highest concentrations of brook trout in the state.
The man wished me luck and continued on.
A while later, I bushwhacked my way to a point further along the trail and came across a couple and their dog.
“Any luck?” they asked.
“Not yet.” That was the truth, at least.
I enjoy winter fishing the most when it doesn’t feel like winter. Terribly cold days, windy and wet days, are days for something else. But today, with temperatures just about freezing and no wind, is about as good as it will get until April. I’ve never caught much through the first few months of the season, but there’s enough for that later. January and February are the times I use for experimenting with new flies and rods, trying new things, scouting new stretches of water.
Today the experiment is a new tenkara rod—the Tenkara Adventure Outfitters UNC, a rod that’s been on my mind since it was first introduced by Badger Tenkara but only now, finally, in my hand—and a pocketful of bead-headed things I haven’t bothered to name: gold bead, green thread body on a small emerger hook with a bit of soft hackle for a collar.
My cast is rusty, but at first blush feels good. It helps that bank-robbing vegetation is still slumbering beneath three inches of fresh snow. Where last season’s husks of prairie plant snag the line, I tamp them down and away from the stream’s edge, consider it my own stream improvement project, and move on.
The stream is narrow, the water clear and cold. Dancing eelgrass contrasts against sand scours on the bottom. I bumble along on my haunches, then my knees, and dark forms scatter into the undercut banks at my approach. This is peak early season form, my version of the of two-inning, six-run stat line from a pitcher in Spring Training still working out the kinks. With each flick (pitch) flick (pitch) of the rod, the line screwballs over and delivers the green nymph with a gentle strike at the water’s edge.
At last, the line comes alive as the fish answers the gold bead’s intrusion. A brook trout comes to hand.
It’s been hardly an hour since my conversation with the snowshoer. In a long weekend bookended by greater responsibilities, it’s a short time stolen for frivolity. On the first weekend of the new trout season, after a long off-season, after a year of the unprecedented, uncertainty, unexpected days working at the kitchen table, watching friends and family under glass, wondering what the hell is coming next, one hour is a brook trout in hand: brief, and then gone again.
It feels tremendously normal. And, for the moment, it is enough.
To the anonymous snowshoer from Baraboo: there’s at least one fish here.
– Rod: TAO UNC 8’6″ rod
– Line: Yamatoyo Fluorocarbon level line 3.0, approx. 10′
– Fly: Unnamed (Orvis Emerger hook sz 14; 1/8oz gold bead head, brass; 8/0 olive green thread body; Hungarian partridge hackle collar, sparse)
Tristan Kloss is a former geologist and fly shop manager, full-time civil servant and father, and part-time angler and writer. This stream encounter also happened to be Tristan’s last trout of the year, after welcoming his second child in February. Thankfully, he had more than enough fun chasing bluegills with his oldest son, Colton, to make up for it.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2021-22 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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