Saturday, February 16, 2008

Aldo Leopold, Western Wisconsin Fly Fisherman

This from the legendary conservationist Aldo Leopold in his landmark book A Sand County Almanac (1949) Oxford University Press, pp. 42-43. Leopold, aside from writing the seminal tome on American ecology, was a pretty fair outdoorsman. His farm, just north of Baraboo, WI was near quite a few of the streams chronicled in Trout Fishing Western Wisconsin. No doubt he fished many. Interestingly, Leopold, in this section of the book, creeled all the trout mentioned. This was before the catch and release ethic really came to fore. Were Leopold alive today, he would most certainly be preaching stream and trout conservation. Enjoy!

Excerpted from “The Alder Fork--A Fishing Idyll”

“Time to be at it now--they will soon stop rising. I wade waist deep to head of navigation., poke my head insolently into the shaking alder, and look within. Jungle is right! A coal-black hole above, so canopied in greenness you could not wave a fern, much less a rod, above its rushing depths. And there, almost rubbing his ribs against the dark bank, a great trout rolls lazily over as he sucks down a passing bug.

Not a chance to stalk him, even with the lowly worm. But twenty yards above, I see bright sunshine on the water--another opening. Fish a dry fly downstream? It cannot, but must, be done.
I retreat and climb the bank.

Neck deep in jewelweed and nettles, I detour through the alder thicket to the opening above. With cat like care not to roil his majesty’s bath, I step in, and stand stock-still for five minutes to let things calm down. The while, I strip out, oil, dry, and coil upon my left hand thirty feet of line. I am that far above the portal to the jungle.

Now for the long chance! I blow upon my fly to give it one last fluff, lay it on the stream at my feet, and quickly pay out coil after coil. Then, just as the line straightens out and the fly is sucked into the jungle, I walk quickly downstream, straining my eyes into the dark vault to follow its fortunes. A fleeting glimpse or two as it passes a speck of sunlight shows it still rides clear. It rounds the bend. In no time--long before the roil of my walking has betrayed the ruse--it reaches the black pool. I hear, rather than see, the rush of the great fish; I set hard, and the battle is on.

No prudent man would risk a dollar’s worth of fly and leader pulling a trout upstream through giant tooth-brush of alder stems comprising the bend of that creek. But, as I said, no prudent man is a fisherman. By and by, with much cautious unraveling, I got him up into open water, and finally aboard the creel.”