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5/21/2020
Publisher’s Note: As referenced in the May-June 2020 print issue of On Wisconsin Outdoors, the Ellis column Memorial Day-Trading it all… directs the reader to this website for stories of Americans in battle during World War II and Vietnam.  Posted in the April 30 Ellis Blogs on this website Tanks in a Mine Field is the eye witness story of 709th Tank Battalion gunner John “Mike” Kunnen during the bloody battle of t...
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Fencerows: Portrait of an August Brook Trout

By John Luthens

The sun watched as I hurried up through central Wisconsin. It was high August and the ripening corn waved gently in the last glow of summer. My face felt flushed and itchy. Goldenrod along the road side was slowly working up a head of steam. In sloping fields beyond the ditches, round bales of hay were stacked as far as the eye could see and the sharp smell of fresh cutting rushed in through the open car window.

Green fields surrendered slowly to hardwoods, north through Barron and Washburn Counties. The sun sank lower and my heart beat faster. Small acorns crunched and flew beneath my tires. By the time I hit Douglas County the horizon was nothing but fire. I knew the western shores of Lake Superior were sucking the sun into their cold, iron-stained waters. Jack pines took over the scenery. I was getting close.

It was near dark when I rolled into the cabin’s drive. I stood for a moment behind the cabin and above the valley swamp. There was a cold stream running hidden below. I couldn’t see it in the gloom. But I could smell it. It smelled like green life and oozing mud. It smelled like brook trout. I didn’t bother making up a bed. I threw a sleeping bag on the floor and slept restless.

Morning found the valley draped in mist. The coldness of a spring-stream in summer is a picture to behold. Cobwebs held the dew of a humid night, breaking into a million strands of silver as I poked into the valley with the tip of my fly rod. The creek ran like a dark rope through the alders. It is only a tributary trickle into to a much larger river, but I hoped the brook trout would be there to wait out the August heat.

Fencerows: Portrait of an August Brook Trout

Daybreak above an August trout stream.

I baited a hook with a worm. In a brush stream, where the summer sun never hits fully upon the water, conventional fly casting is thrown out the window. The overhung trees will snap a back cast in two and a roll cast will end up rolling right into the waiting jaws of a brush pile.

 The worm wiggled as I pitched an underhand cast towards a flowing seam of current. I held the tip of my rod flush with the water, letting out line, careful not to make any sudden moves lest I end up tangling in the brushy overhang. The current sucked the line deep beneath a rooted bank.

A small trout will tap-tap on the end of the line, nibbling the worm a piece at a time. The tip of my rod bent into the water and line ratcheted off the reel. A big brook trout doesn’t fool around. It shoots like a spotted shadow from a dark hiding place in the swamp, takes what it wants, and dives back for cover. I sucked in breath and splashed into the brushy hole in pursuit.

Darkness swirled with flashes of living silver beneath the bank. Just a small stream, but the power of flowing water cuts deceptively deep. I stumbled and my waders shipped a little water. Ice ran down my legs. I grabbed a log to brace myself and was reassured that the rod was still alive and the trout wasn’t tangled beneath the roots. I backed out, pulling the trout with me.

I played him out in a small spot of open water. I was lucky to have a little space. There are times on a stream such as this when your only option is a chance-all jerk, with the trout either breaking off or landing in the alders behind you. A little open space is better for the fish and the fisherman alike. He tugged again for the safety of his rooted home, but he was tiring. I brought him thumping and heavy into the net.

Brush-stream brook trout.

Brush-stream brook trout.

I sat on a fallen pine that stretched across the creek and rested the trout next to me. Breakfast of bacon and trout was on my mind, but I let the fates decide. I snapped a picture of the fish as we both recovered from our fight. Maybe it was a bit of showboating on my part. At any rate, I wasn’t caught unawares. The brook trout decided enough was enough. A quick flop, and then gone, back into the safe confines of brush and logs.

 A wet spot upon the moss of the fallen pine and the beating of my heart was all that remained to tell of the battle. It was cool and peaceful in the shaded water. The August sun had barely crested the rim of the valley. The stream stretched endlessly ahead of me into the tangles and the brook trout were here in the spring-fed water as I’d hoped. I picked up my rod and moved silently onward. Breakfast would take care of itself.

John Luthens is a freelance writer from Grafton, Wisconsin. His first novel, Taconite Creek, is available on Amazon or at www.cablepublishing.com  or by contacting the author at Luthens@hotmail.com