My waders dated back to the 1980s and my fishing vest was purchased at Long’s Sports Shop in Eau Claire, Wisc., around 1961.
The fly rod and reel were recent vintage. My polarized glasses and fancy “sighting” leader were new.
I felt halfway in time, between old things and new things, but not really anywhere.
Geographically my location was certain: 42.95 degrees North, -91.77 degrees West, also known as Glover’s Creek Wildlife Area southeast of West Union. It didn’t take long from turning off the road to make me think I’d left Iowa: a tunnel of trees led to a babbling brook against limestone walls.
It felt wild. But in truth it was only wild partially. The trails were mowed; a beeline walk of 20 minutes would take you to a farm field. The wildlife area hosted wild animals, but it was no wilderness.
The reserve was kind of wild. For me, it was wild enough. As a location new to me, it held more mystery and possibilities than perhaps to an old hand.
Heavy rains early in the week quashed my fishing plans. Muddy creeks are worthless for sight-hunting fish. But I figured the two dry days we had would be just enough to clear the water in upper reaches of small streams. On this Saturday morning, I guessed correctly.
The water was flowing quickly. Evidence of flattened vegetation told of recent flooding. But now it was a reasonable flow, neither a drought nor a deluge, somewhere in between.
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The water wasn’t gin-clear like driftless streams are famous for, but not muddy either. Let’s call it “dirtied” water but clearing, halfway.
I mentioned I was toting a fly fishing kit. But a closer examination of my terminal gear and technique revealed I wasn’t fly fishing as most envision. There were no flamboyant casts to gently deposit a wisp of hair and feather wedded to a hook.
No, I employed a technique called “euro nymphing.” Instead of casting, I rather reached with the long rod to suspend the lure midway in the water column and then traced the speed of the current until my length gave out. This I would do many times in a particular spot before moving along.
I certainly wasn’t soaking or worm or spincasteing, but I wasn’t imitating Hemingway either. Euro nymphing splits the difference. Even the lure, mine was a size 14 gold bead pheasant tail, was a mugwump.
It is supposed to represent the particular stage in an aquatic insect’s existence when it leaves life as a creepy-crawly on the river bottom and assumes the nymph stage to make its journey to the surface. At the surface it changes again to take flight.
The nymph is a halfway stage in their lives, very temporary and almost meaninglessness, save being a transition between two points.
I slid into the water as gently as I could. I waited five minutes before fishing to let the commotion of my ungraceful entry subside.
I was halfway in the water and halfway out. After a few passes, a startling thing happened.
I felt and saw my leader change direction. Up went my rod tip. Up went my heart rate. Up and out lept a trout. And then up and out and on the bank was fish and angler.
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It worked? I truly was surprised. This was my first solo attempt and first catch euro Nymphing. Was it a fluke?
Into the water I plopped to gain a larger data set for the experiment. The cold flowing water pressed tightly the waders to my legs. The pressure felt good on my knees. The swift current also stripped heat from the same, forcing me to retreat occasionally.
I may have been prepared to be halfway in the water but even then I could do so only half the time.
It was no stochastic catch. Within the morning, my creel filled with a limit of trout. Mostly wild fish, either stocked as fingerlings to grow, or 10-inchers to catch immediately.
They were wild animals manifested in an artificial system. Neither truly wild nor domesticated, they were in between the extremes. And that was just fine with me as I made the most of my morning in middle parts, in a place halfway from home.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.
John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School and sits on the Linn County Conservation Board.