At the end of last week, two days before the Minnesota Legislature was scheduled to adjourn, news outlets reported that our duly elected hadn’t completed their work. Nearly all of the session’s major legislation was essentially no more than muddled paperwork that had yet to pass both houses of the Legislature, not to mention survive the Governor’s veto pen. The Legislature’s intent was to cram over the weekend for the final moment at midnight Sunday, hastily slamming together three-months-worth of law-making. An errant lawmaker cheekily observed that governing a state, which is what legislators are elected to do, is just like making sausage: The process is messy and you don’t know all the ingredients, but the end result tastes delicious.
Talk about an affront to sausage makers.
Remember your grade school classmates who didn’t complete their assignments and excused their failures by blaming the kids on the other side of the room for shooting spitballs at them? When they subsequently didn’t pass the test, they blamed the teacher for being too strict or not covering the material in class or simply being out to get them. If you’ve ever wondered what happened to those kids, well now you know. We elected them to office. They still make lame excuses and lay blame on others for their shoddy work performance, just like they did in grade school.
Fortunately, this wasn’t a year when lawmakers took aim at conservation and the state’s outdoor users. The biggest exception was a foolish bill intended to hamstring the state’s muskie program and upend DNR fisheries management. That was watered down to a ban on muskie stocking in just two Ottertail County lakes. Kinda makes you wonder what could possibly convince a lawmaker to stoop to this level of micromanagement for two of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. Time wasted in committee “debating” this fisheries farce would have been far better spent addressing a real outdoor issue, such Chronic Wasting Disease. Of course, taking the decisive actions necessary to curb CWD—such as banning deer feeding, placing a moratorium on new deer farms and starting to buy out existing operations—would require courageous leadership and bipartisanship. Those two attributes are sadly lacking in St. Paul.
Looking at the big picture, while lawmakers found time to meddle with muskies, they failed to fully address the opioid crisis. Their inaction on that front will have real consequences. Minnesotans will continue to endure the pain and suffering of seeing loved ones in the throes of opioid addiction, including attending the funerals of growing number of casualties in this crisis. That’s why governing doesn’t have a darned thing to do with making sausage.
You can be disgusted with politics and politicians or you can go fishing. Yesterday, I chose the latter. Make a few casts and you soon forget the news of the day. I started out on a tiny trout lake, hoping the splake were biting. A hybrid of two related chars, brook trout and lake trout, splake bite best shortly after ice out. Or so they say. Making an entire circumference of the lake in my canoe, I had just one strike. Trolling and casting with a weighted spinner tipped with a hunk of nightcrawler didn’t work. Neither did trolling and casting a weighted streamer. But the fly-casting was the most enjoyable method.
The sun shone brightly from a cloudless sky, not the best weather for trout fishing. Instead of doing a second lap around the lake, I headed to the access and loaded up the canoe. Maybe they were biting somewhere else. On a whim, I stopped where a large trout stream crossed the road. It was a place I hadn’t tried before. In fact, I’d never seen anyone fishing there. At the very least, there was room to cast a fly.
I started out beneath the bridge, where the river was deep and shaded. Almost immediately, something smacked my streamer. The fish zoomed around so vigorously on the end of my line that I assumed it was a small pike, not an uncommon catch in North Shore rivers. Then I got a better look at the fish. Lo and behold, it was a 13-inch brook trout. Hungry for fresh fish, I kept it for dinner.
A nearly impenetrable wall of snow-bowed tag alders lined the bank, but I was able to wade along the river’s edge with knee-high boots. I had a couple of more strikes in the shade beneath the bridge; but had no more action when I stepped into the sun. Eventually, deep water prevented me from going any further. I vowed to return, wearing chest waders.
Stream fishing for brook trout, once a favorite activity of past generations of anglers, seems to be a dying art on the North Shore. Even as fly fishing surges in popularity, those newly minted long-rodders seem far more inclined to chase steelhead or bob about in float tubes on stocked trout lakes. The cold headwaters where brook trout dwell are largely left alone. The most likely reasons are many small creeks are too brushy for fly fishing and that it usually requires some woodcraft (another dying art) to reach the best brookie water. The footpaths that once led to favored pools and beaver ponds have been long overgrown. Oh, there’s one other thing. When the brookies are biting, so, too, are the black flies and mosquitoes.
While it is by no means the easiest, fly-fishing for North Shore brookies may be the best trout fishing Minnesota has to offer. As wild fish living in wild places, brook trout offer anglers a top-notch fishing experience. Where the stream habitat permits (meaning where you can find deeper water), brook trout topping 12 inches are not uncommon. Sure, you can catch five-pounders in the monstrous Nipigon River, but 12-inch-plus brookies are trophies just about anywhere else. My best brook trout on a North Shore creek (excluding Lake Superior coasters) topped 17 inches.
This year, I intend to spend some time exploring trout streams in search of those fabulous 12-inchers. Aside from my dog and the occasional moose, it is unlikely I’ll have much company. And that is trout fishing just the way I like it.
By Shawn Perich