Steelhead migration continues on the BruleIt is nearly steelhead season once again, a time when each and every Wisconsin trout angler rejoices in the passage of winter.
By: Darrell Pendergrass, Superior Telegram
It is nearly steelhead season once again, a time when each and every Wisconsin trout angler rejoices in the passage of winter.
At this time fishermen pay homage to the swelling of rivers and streams, and we celebrate the crossing over from dark to light. Finally the lake-run rainbow trout of Superior will migrate en masse before our very eyes, proof forever that life and hope moves forward against all odds.
Dark clouds, chilled winds, rain and cold cannot keep my brethren or me from venturing to the banks of our chosen streams. In past years my place of worship has been the Brule River, where big waters churn through Douglas County before spilling out along the south shore. I like it there. No, I love it there. You can feel and smell and watch life awaken before you among the cedars and the pines. Everything is new again.
It's hard to describe exactly what the pull is, about why we need to stand beside a river awash with April rains, why me and others like me have to go. We must go. Yes, it's about fishing, but it isn't about fish. I feel reborn standing on the river, as if the waters have cleansed me somehow. It's a pilgrimage I have to make.
In 2006, since my six-year-old son was being baptized into the steelhead-church-of-angling that year, I stayed closer to home for the opener. I picked the Sioux River, just north of Washburn along the Big Rock State Campground. This is where we paid our respects and this is where I wanted my son to don his waders for the first time, to cross the flowing waters to the pools and holes that hold the trout as they make their sojourn to places up above.
With Jack's hand gripped firmly in my own I led him from the shore into the swirling waters as it rushed over rocks and boulders that were born at the dawn of time. We moved through the chaos of rushing waters to the calmness of deepened pools, carved out to give the trout a rest as they work their way up stream. Sometimes we all need some help, no matter our journey.
For the first time Jack's small hands worked the line and the bait and the rod out across the pool, his body and his mind and his thoughts learning what it means and what it takes to be a steelheader. I stood beside him, without a rod. I did not fish.
We could not see and did not see trout before us as Jack fished. We did not see the anglers around us catching trout, as they too worked their chosen spots. But Jack is learning what it means to have faith; a faith in what cannot be seen with eyes alone.
We did not spend an inordinate amount of time on the river, just enough to set the mind to thinking and pondering. I wanted Jack to catch a glimpse of what a steelhead fisherman is, without boring him with the details. I want him to discover that 'catching' is just a small part of angling.
Still, the details are this. An angler who comes to iced waters chilled from the melting snows of winter, who cannot see through clay-red waters two feet in front of him, who will risk life and limb to cross the weight of a river alive and on the move, for the possibility of catching a fish that may or may not have arrived at that spot, has faith. Not a religious faith. But faith in himself, but more so, a faith in nature - with all its glory.
When we were finished Jack and I crossed back to shore without incident. There were no strikes for us this day; we didn't see any big steelhead hens rolling below us. For some it would appear we simply came to the river, fished for a bit, and then went home. Simple. It's so much more than that.
In the truck, heading to town for lunch, my son looked out the side window and to the river. His feet were wet, his jacket soaked and his hands were red with cold. Jack had his hat pushed back on his head, his face tan with wind burn.
"Dad," Jack said, his eyes never leaving the river. "We didn't catch anything. But I had a great time."
And the migration to the river continues.