The opening of inland trout season in Wisconsin can be a bit stark. Picture snow, bleak skies, an openess of the landscape, stinging fingers, numb toes, and frozen guides. The last month of the season is quite different with its high grass and weeds, bright blue skies, constant snags on surrounding vegetation, mosquitoes, and sweat trickling down your back. Since my summer months are filled with keeping our greenhouses running, these are the two periods when I do most of my trout fishing. Therefore, I love both March and September fishing, though I think I'd still love these two months of the season even if my fondness didn't grow out of necessity. So when I managed to fit a rare day off into the work schedule last week, I jumped at the chance to head to the Driftless for a day.
The trout weren't very active, but when they hit a hopper pattern they hit it hard. I found myself totally zoned out, just going through the repetitive motions of casting upstream, stripping line, taking a step, and casting again. The only thing that would disrupt my trance would be snagging my fly on one of the inumerable overhanging weeds in an attempt to float the hopper as close to the undercut back as possible, or by a sudden, splashy take that would snap me to attention.
Like most outdoor recreational activities, fly fishing lends itself to the accumulation of gear. Anyone with some money in their pocket can quickly spend mad cash on fly fishing "stuff." I have a couple friends who are true gearheads, and buying new fly fishing gear makes them happy. More power to them, especially when they occasionally let me borrow said gear. I, on the other hand, seem to rebel against the newest and greatest fly fishing paraphernalia. It was the same way during my college softball days. The newest and most expensive bats might help a bit with distance, but they weren't going to turn a good hitter into a great hitter. I stubbornly stuck with my dinged up bat and re-laced glove, and I did quite well with them if I do say so myself. I've ended up doing the same with fly fishing gear. If your casting is lacking to begin with, the newest and greatest rod isn't going to make you a great caster. I think my avoidance of new, high-end gear is in part due to my own frugality and in part my desire to avoid the accumulation of "stuff." I like simplicity. So I enjoy getting by with average hand-me-down gear. Perhaps a better rod would help get me get more distance and accuracy, but it wouldn't necessarily make for a more rewarding experience.
My husband and I recently visited my brother and his family for a grill out of wild turkey and venison kabobs and fresh corn on the cob. It was delicious. My little brother and I share a lot of commonalities: we both love the outdoors, we're hard workers, and we'd look like twins if I shaved my head and were six inches taller. Yet, whereas I appreciate a Spartan-like lifestyle, my little brother definitely likes "stuff." He already owns enough hunting and fishing gear to last three lifetimes.
Despite my aversion to extra gear and because he has more than enough, I took the opportunity during our visit to snag a special fly rod from his garage. My brother doesn't trout fish much, but he spends fifty times more days on the water than I do. As a graduation gift several years ago, I had a friend build him a fly rod. My brother uses it quite a bit for pan fish, but I wanted to take it back to its roots as a trout rod. The friend who built the rod actually took me out on my first fly fishing adventure before I knew anything about the sport let alone owned a pair of waders. I basically tagged along and became overwhelmed with all there was to learn, but I came home knowing it was all something I wanted to learn. We get chances to fish together now and then, and it's always a nice reminder of how far I've come in a short amount of time. Living five hours apart, we don't get to fish together as much as I'd like to, so I figured taking this rod to the stream for a day would be the next closest thing.
The rod casted like a charm. Technically, it may be no better than my regular rod, but because of its origin it was like having an extra friend on the stream with me for the day. I'll continue using it during the last month of the Wisconsin trout season or at least until my gearhead brother asks for it back. I'll be the one enjoying my time on the stream despite (and in part due to) my leaky waders, rusty reel, and other low-end gear.