From March 18, 2008
Several weeks back, my friend Josh from Ames asked if I’d like to join a group of guys planning a trout fishing trip in mid-March to a stream north of Decorah. I gladly accepted, even though, on a scale of outdoors skill, I fall closer to troubled rocker Courtney Love than to famed Gazette sportsman Orlan Love.
I haven’t fished regularly in 20 years, and never for trout. The outdoors gear I have is best suited for watching a football game. I did see “A River Runs Through It” about 10 years ago. So there’s that.
But by Friday, I was beyond ready for an outdoor escape. Inside is where I spent the draining winter, reading scary headlines and wondering how to raise kids in a world of deadly illness, schoolyard child-grabbers and campus shooting scares. Inside is where I heard endless weather alerts and cringed at blue Doppler blobs.
Outside had to be better. So what if I was going to Decorah toting $20 waders with tags still on them, three lures and a borrowed rod and reel? Did it really matter that I have trouble catching fish at a grocery store?
After a meandering drive north, including stops at Steamboat Gardens in Waterloo for a deep-fried lunch and at Joe’s Family Foods in New Hampton for critical provisions, we arrived at the Old Hospital Inn in Highlandville. It’s a great place to stay, by the way, if you can find it on the winding roads that make this part of the state both unique and confusing. The terrain also made my BlackBerry useless and unreachable.
My escape was complete.
After a bratwurst dinner, several hours of robust drinking and too few hours of sleeping, we trudged Saturday morning across the still-deep snow to Bear Creek, where the sound of rushing water cuts through the crisp air. True, I looked more like Elmer Fudd then Brad Pitt, wearing a camouflage duck jacket, a leather hat, with fashionable ear flaps, my discount waders, tags removed, and a bag of borrowed fishing gear with uses I had yet to fully comprehend.
We walked, and walked, and walked some more. Quickly, my worries about being too cold melted into sweat running down the sides of my huffing and puffing face. At last, we reached Josh’s favorite spot.
I must note that Josh served honorably as a fishing foster parent, and I needed supervision. I’m very good at losing lures, casting into trees and making a perfectly good spinning reel into a bird’s nest. In each case, Josh stepped in with the patience of a skilled fisherman, despite a hangover sponsored by Bushmills’ distillery. I lack the patience it takes to make microwave popcorn.
We fished and hiked the stream all day. And when I caught myself getting too wrapped up in fishing line, I’d stop and look around — at the stream and the soaring bluffs and the massive trees that somehow find a way to anchor themselves in the limestone. The sun shone with a hint of spring, bald eagles made a flyby to chuckle at my fishing technique and all the world’s big problems seemed far away.
And, at about 4 p.m. Saturday, the unluckiest rainbow trout in northeast Iowa was caught by the worst fisherman in North America. Do you believe in miracles? No, but I believe in the need for escape.
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