116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Elkader Central’s Derek Ehrhardt finds solace fly fishing
By Jacob Jansen, Elkader Central senior
Mar. 31, 2016 11:52 am
ELKADER - When someone tears their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), they usually are cooped up and immobile.
This has not been the case for Derek Ehrhardt.
For the past few months, Ehrhardt can be found casting his fly rod along banks of the northeast Iowa trout streams.
A junior at Central Community School, Ehrhardt participates for the school's varsity football, basketball, track and baseball teams. In a small school, his involvement is key to the success of the school's athletics teams.
On Jan. 5, Ehrhardt stole the ball in a close and heated game against Turkey Valley. On the way up from a breakaway layup, he was fouled but completed the pivotal play with a made bucket. But on the way down, Ehrhardt's junior year of sports came to an immediate halt.
The impact of landing resulted in a complete ACL tear that would require surgery.
'I knew it was bad, really bad,” he said. 'Obviously, I was thinking of the worst. I instantly started realizing I was going to have a lot of hard work ahead of me.”
The surgery took place Feb. 1 and left Ehrhardt down in the dumps.
The news of having to sit out for the rest of basketball season and miss track and baseball wouldn't sit well with any athlete.
While resting, Ehrhardt came across a few fly fishing articles. Fly fishing is a method of angling, using an artificial fly to catch fish. A fly rod, reel and specialized weighted line are used to cast an artificial fly. Casting a nearly weightless fly or 'lure” requires specialized techniques. The articles intrigued Ehrhardt and he wanted to learn more. He got in contact with one of his friends from North Fayette Valley who had a lot of experience in the sport. The friend shared a lot of stories and tips.
It was something Ehrhardt wanted to try and, once he was mobile enough, there was nothing stopping him.
Near Wadena and West Union, Ehrhardt has spent the past few months venturing private trout streams. Trout are an elusive type of fish that are commonly found for in northeast Iowa streams. There are a variety of tactics to catch trout, but Ehrhardt prefers fly fishing.
'I like it because not everyone can do it nor has the drive to do it,” Ehrhardt said. 'Fly fishing is challenging. It's not for everyone and that's what makes it special.”
If Ehrhardt doesn't have physical therapy, he often heads out to the trout streams. He tries to go three or four times a week. Usually, he uses his new Reddington Butterstick fly rod and will wear Froggtog waders with Cabelas wading boots. He also has a fishing belt to hold his tackle boxes and other equipment.
Even with the variety of gear, Ehrhardt still is limited by his injury. Trout streams have deep holes and many slippery rocks which could reinjure his knee. Healing his ACL is his top priority, so in many cases, he is forced to make the safe decision.
'I can see awesome parts of the stream and realize I can't venture down to it because of it being too dangerous,” he said. 'It's frustrating, but at least I still get to go.”
Another standout quality from the injured fisherman is his strong belief in the catch and release philosophy.
'I think they (trout) are just too pretty of an animal,” Ehrhardt said. 'I have nothing against keeping fish because I know they do taste delicious. I prefer to let them go so they continue their life.
'Maybe I can catch them again when they are bigger.”
He also doesn't care what kind of trout he catches. To him, any trout is a good trout. But he has discovered nothing fights like a brown trout.
Having to sit out for three different sports has been a major blow for Ehrhardt, yet trout fishing has kept him happy and inspired.
'Trout fishing has allowed me to enjoy the outdoors and replace sports for this short time,” he said. 'But now, I have found a lifelong hobby in fly fishing.”
The opportunity to explore new places, the isolation, and the enjoyment of the outdoors captivates him to continue trout fishing. In fact, even when he is healthy and sports take up the majority of his time, he plans to find time to trout fish.
Ehrhardt's injury is healing at a progressive rate. Doctors have been very satisfied with the results and Ehrhardt is able to do body weight exercises and ladder drills. By August, he intends to be back to full health.
It will be just in time for his senior year of eight-man football, where he hopes to help lead the team to another playoff appearance and, hopefully, a state title.