A week or so ago, Fisherman and I traveled to northern Wisconsin to make a go at the Steelhead on a famous Lake Superior tributary. It was my first time and — though I landed but one 8″ smolt — worth the trip if only for the majesty of the river and the opportunity to see the woods and water in the dressing of gray, cold November.
We got to the river near dusk on Saturday and fished for a half-hour in the dying light, slinging our rigs into the dark river, stumbling over the unseen river bottom. After a beer at the car, we drove into Superior where we met Fisherman’s brother Black Belt and his roommate at the infamous Anchor Bar. We had burgers and beers and walkin’ SamH even came down and dined with us. After that we lingered too long at Duluth’s drinking establishments, which ended up cutting into our fishing time on Sunday.
This particular river flows mostly through state forest, which means lots of access, but few bridges. Instead, we hiked from gravel parking lots anywhere from a hundred yards to a mile to the river. When decked out in the multiple layers of clothes called for when standing for hours in a near-freezing river, hardly moving a muscle, those hikes got a little sweaty.
Though Fisherman has spent a good number of days exploring this river over the past few years, he was still guiding us based as much on his map studies and lengthy conversations with other anglers at the fly shop where he works as he was on his own firsthand experience. Which meant those hikes to the river didn’t always lead us to very fishy water.
Toward mid-afternoon — which is closer to the end of the day than the beginning this time of year — we ended up back at an access point we had scouted earlier in the day but had thought too crowded, with six or so cars parked there. Of course, we had also rejected other accesses because no cars meant everyone else must know something we didn’t know. When we returned to this access, there were half as many cars as there were earlier and we were running out of time, so we headed down to the river. Once in the water, we found the river I had imagined: ancient cedars arching over the water, which flowed over all manner of stones and bedrock.
We fished a few hours on that stretch of stream. Casting and casting again until it grew too dark to do so. As I revealed in the first paragraph, no massive fish were hooked, much less landed, there were no epic battles or runs so fast they were gone before you knew you had them. But the fishing was still good.
As my body tired and grew sore from the repetitive casting, the cold, and the previous night’s poor decisions, I let go of any weight I had put on the idea of hooking an elusive steelhead, but continued to cast, angling only for the moment. I fished because that was what we were there to do.