Thursday, November 7, 2013

Iowa And Back Again

We pulled into their driveway and was greeted by a smiling old lady sweeping a small concrete slab of a porch. The cloud of Iowan gravel dust caught up with Trapper and I as we exited my Taurus. The ash-like particles by this time had completely encrusted my car's rear to the point of obscuring my black "Driftless" bumper sticker.

"Are you you boys having a good day?" she asked,
"Well that's wonderful!" her face creasing to an even bigger smile.

We were looking for permission to fish a creek that flowed though private land. In Iowa, unlike Wisconsin, fishing is allowed only on designated publicly accessible streams. This creek, south of Lansing, was not one of those.

It was Saturday afternoon. My intention was to be there much earlier, but I had car troubles. And like the starter I finally found in stock at the 4th parts dealer that morning, we found permission at our 4th attempt asking. No one was home at our first stop. The friendly gentleman at our second stop didn't own any land on the creek. On the third stop, we ogled the pastured and very excellent looking waters from a rickety bridge on a long driveway, but sadly no one was home there either.

Wisconsin inland trout season is now closed, Iowa's is year round, so here we were standing inside of the porch of Mr. and Mrs. Kiley's (not their real name) household. Make that Nurse and Doctor Kiley. Older folks are so much more up front about who they are and what they do. Mrs. Kiley had invited us in to talk to her husband because although they don't own the land across the road on the creek, he was going to be able to help us out in some way. What followed is a conversation that I don't expect to be able to recall very accurately as the conversation itself was very blurry.

Mr. Kiley M.D. appeared form another room beyond the cluttered kitchen. I could see a small photo framed and standing on the top of the fridge featuring a fisherman with several trout lined up on the grass before him. A good sign, I thought.

"Well... that isn't our land across the road there." We knew that already. Mr. Kiley was old. He was stooped over with cloudy blood-shot, blue eyes and a thick thatch of gray hair sprouting out of each of the nostrils beneath his red bulbous nose. The hair on his head stood up on one side, likely because we had roused him from a recliner parked afternoon watching Wheel Of Fortune. I felt a little guilty to have disturbed him.

Yet he was persistent at trying to help us. The dialog was disjointed. At one point we didn't know if he owned any land on the creek. Then he told us he gave permission to another group of anglers who returned the favor by gifting him a big bottle of vodka. Ok, so he did own land. But where?

"Uh.... if you head back to Lansing down this road a quarter of a mile..." He was rubbing his head and tugging at the hairs in his nose as he spoke.

" about a quarter of a mile there's a house on the left and a red barn on the right. A road goes to the right,"
There are no roads within a quarter of a mile down the road from his house.
"Whats the name of the road?" asks Trapper.
"Uh... I don't really know." Trapper glances at me with an are you getting this? Look on his face.
"Dolty Drive..." he finally sputtered.
"Oh, is there a high bridge?" asked Trapper.
"No, there isn't any high bridge."
There is in fact a relatively high bridge on Dolty Road.

As the conversation meandered between cryptic directions and barbless hooks (Doctor Kiley was concerned about his stream being fished out), I finally had enough and pointedly asked if we would be on his land if we fished upstream from the Dolty Drive bridge.


Only somewhat confident that we now had permission to fish on private land, Trapper and I got back to the dusty gravel. There was barn that might had been red at one point and a house that could have been the one he was talking about. We could see trout from the bridge.

We climbed down and began to fish. Trapper caught one below the bridge and I moved upstream. I caught nothing and Trap caught nothing beyond that first one. The stream was highly damaged by spring storms and we verified this by looking at Google Maps later. What was once curvy is now straight and shallow.

Oh well, we tried.

We made our way over to the Sportsman's Inn to check in. As I wrote in the past, this is an excellent little base of operations in the Iowan driftless.

Night descended, and after some time following a few drinks that accompanied a microwave burrito, I decided it was time to go mousing.

A popular area by day was all mine at night. This creek is mere yards from our motel and I made it a point to just lay on the bank and stare at the stars for a bit. Stargazing ended when I started to hear clopping and splashing, presumably by trout, in the creek.

For the next hour or so, I flicked a Morrish Mouse into the darkness. Sometimes it was followed by a reciprocating splash. Sometimes a brief tug. And one time it just wrapped around a length of barbed wire slung across the creek. Ultimately, I could not stay connected with a fish.

I returned to the inn and promptly caught up with Trapper's beer count. And vodka. Trapper snores by the way, in case anyone was wondering about that.

That next morning I treated myself to an absolutely monstrous breakfast, even by my standards. The inn serves fresh breakfast as early as 6 am. We were there quite a bit later.

Someone had tipped Trapper off about an oft overlooked  stream and we wanted to check it out. In the parking area, only a hunter was present, waiting for his crew to return. We hiked downstream a ways so we could fish back up. It was tough going. Lots of downed trees and a very sandy stream bed. And very few fish. However, we did kick up a trio of trout. Trapper and I have a different account of this, but the one almost looked like a twenty. Trapper however only placed it in the upper teens, and he was closer. In any event, those were the only fish we saw. At all. Trapper vows never to return. I might. It was time for plan B, for Bear.

Another incredibly popular creek, I braced for the worse. Indeed there were two vehicles parked at our destination, but we never saw anyone as we fished upstream. The fishing was slow, likely due to the blazingly bright sunny skies. But we still had a great time at some points. Fish began rising at a festive rate in one pool. These trout were very picky. It was remarkable how much they continued to rise as we both slapped the water with various offerings. Finally, it was small white flies that seemed to do the trick, but by the time we figured that out, they were getting wise to us. I caught a few brown trout that afternoon and lost a nice rainbow. One of the browns had nearly fluorescent dots.

On the way back, I tried a few casts on what had been an active hole earlier. In three casts I lost  3 flies. Who does that? It was clearly time to leave. We ate at a supper club in Dorchester and ended our Iowan adventure for the time being. When should we return?

It turned out to to be the very next weekend.

Sunday opened up for me and I would not be denied a chance at redemption for Trapper and I.

At Trapper's place on the way out. Trapper traps, imagine that.
Earlier in this post I mentioned a 3rd attempt at asking permission to fish a private stream. A long rocky driveway featuring corrugated metal grids to keep the cattle on one side while allowing vehicles heftier than mine to cross, lead to a small wooden bridge across the creek. On the other side, we drove up a slight grade until reaching a pair of trailers surrounded by work vehicles.

A pair of friendly little dogs and a smattering of cats greeted us before Trapper knocked on the door of the newer looking trailer. This time, someone was home.

I'll say the man introduced himself as Rich. Trapper started with some conversation about Rich's wood splitter, easing our victim into the impending ask. Rich answered our request with a quick yes. He seem perfectly happy to let us fish his land which spanned between a fence he pointed out to the west, and the "far bluff" to the south. It was an impressive amount of stream!

After a bit more polite conversation, we drove back down the rumbly driveway, but not before stopping to peer over a bend in the stream on the way out. What we saw excited us greatly. Dozens of upper teens trout scrambled in response to our presence. Then there were the several enormous, fat trout in the 20s. We were in the standing beside what I would consider prime water.

Rich's property ended quite a ways downstream so we drove about half way there and walked in through a farm entrance. We ambitiously tried to give ourselves a long way back to the driveway we had just driven from. But that was overkill. We ended up wasting a bunch of time in frog water, not seeing any fish.

Trapper and I split tactics. I, with the fly rod and Trap with a spinning rig. He alternated between spinners and Rapalas.

Slowly, we started getting into fish. The fishing picked up when the speed of the water and the amount of rocks increased. When classic riffle, run, pool sequences started appearing, Trapper in particular started seeing a lot of fish. Catching them too. With a spinner, he was able to watch many fish follow his lure during a retrieve. At one point, an 18 incher almost reached his feet!

Though I did enjoy some dry fly action, most of my fish were caught on streamers. Trapper saw the biggest fish though. At one point he casted one into a quick, relatively shallow riffle and had a brown in the upper teens trash wildly for a few seconds, only unbutton itself and sulk in plain view.

As we neared the driveway, the creek would at some points widen into a large pond, only to shrink back down upstream, where fishing picked up again. The pools were deep, green and seemingly bottomless. But the water was gin clear and the sky again was bright blue. What would this creek be like on a better fishing day?

At last it was time for the mother load of a pool we observed earlier. Fishing had been slower than expected. And things would not change here. We caught fish at this pool but they were dinks. I suspect the big boys stayed low. Far beneath even Trapper's spinners. Once the little guys got ahold of you, the alarms went off. Game over.

Further upstream, the fishing continued with moderate success. We were going to keep few fish. What a treat to have wild trout during the Wisconsin off season! I was the creel man. At one bend upstream from the honey(less) hole, I noticed Trapper up on a high bank throwing something at me. It crashed though a bush and landed in the water. It was a trout. A trout had been thrown at me! I can honestly say that no trout has ever before been thrown at me. I laughed the hardest I'd laughed all week. (Full disclosure: the trout made it and went on to father 1000s of baby trout upstream.)

A brown trout guarding its redd 
You may recognize the fly as "Craig's Obsession" form Fontana Sports in Madison
It was early afternoon by this point and time for lunch. We ate back in Lansing at a place called Milty's. I had a burger that I would rate as satisfying but not worth the $8 they were charging for it.

After eating we headed straight back to that creek. The permission was good for the day, we figured.

I had been saving two special beers for Trapper and I. The Viroqua Co-op, I've noticed, seems to rotate small quantities of oddball microbrews and here was another one I've never seen before. "Ten-Fidy". The name, if I'm not mistaken, is a reference to its 10.5% alcohol content. It was a porter so dark, that when I cracked open the can, even the smallest droplets were completely opaque. This was not Trapper's usual brew, and after reluctantly taking a few swigs, I had to dump it out for him. I finished mine, but was myself a little out-classed by this swill. I couldn't have finished Trapper's can.

With that ceremony out of the way, we began round 2, skipping straight to where the action started last time. The trout were having none of it. "No double dipping for you two!" The creek seemed to say. Even the honey hole cursed our reappearance by giving up nothing but a little shaker. Trap said "let's go", I said "no, I can still see!". It was getting dark though, and soon, I called it quits too.

I vow to return to this creek. I think Trapper agrees. We were at odds with the sunny weather. The phase of the moon was off. I drank the wrong beer. Trapper wore the wrong shirt. Next time. IT WILL BE GOLDEN.


  1. Thank you for changing the names to protect the innocent. Retracing your path wont be easy and I'm fairly certain I'll need to be on the lookout for traps. I always ask myself if it is worth it before undertaking any challenging. From experience I know that plundering another guys honey hole is always worth it.