Guest Blog Post by David Fawcett
I started fly fishing about a year ago, and hadn’t really run for about 10 years until March, when I started running with my daughter as her soccer training went virtual due to Covid isolation. Running felt great as my mileage increased, and trout fishing provided a great escape from the realities of the first half of 2020.
This made me super psyched when I found Flyathlon and the Socially Distant Flyathlon Challenge. It gave me license to create an adventure, set some goals, train for something, and do some good in the process.
The Minnesota Driftless has over 700 miles of designated trout streams, including 221 miles of angling easements on private land, plus access in Minnesota State Parks and State Forests. Some of my favorite creeks range from street to sidewalk width. You can catch native Brook Trout, naturally reproducing Brown Trout, stocked Rainbow Trout, and the pretty rare Brookie - Brown hybrid Tiger Trout.
I started my challenge day early, parking at the approach before sunrise. Corn all around, no moon, stars and planets still glowing. I brewed up some coffee in the Jetboil and sipped it until it was light enough to start. When I got to the stream, it was lower than the last time that I had been there, with a slight stain in the pools. The stream-side vegetation was a lot taller too, overhead in a lot of places. A hot day, but the water temp in this Driftless spring fed creek was in the low 60s.
No rising fish in the first pool, so I rigged up a #18 rusty brassie below a local favorite heavy Pink Squirrel variant. I caught a really small Brown Trout at the top of that pool, and was relieved to have at least circumvented the DNC (Did Not Catch) designation. Some more Browns in the 10” range took the brassie as I headed upstream, and then things shut down despite changing my approach several times.
My designated turn-around point was a rock at the top of a pool where I had been about a month before with an awesome local guide. We had watched a good-sized trout sit up against that rock and gulp insects off of the surface as they floated by. We had both made casts to the fish and coaxed it to strike, but neither one of us was able to connect with it.
On this day, I stopped at the bottom of the pool and watched the rock for a while, but there were no rises. After tangling up my double-nymph rig to the point of no return, I cut it off so I could just tie on a new one. As I started, from behind my back, I heard it, “slurp...”.
New plan! I attached a #18 Missing Link Caddis that I had tied myself, and after several attempts, placed the long cast where I wanted it. The fly drifted right past the Brown, and he grabbed it. I kept him out of the late-season vegetation, landed him, took some quick pictures, and made sure that he was ready to swim away so we can play the same game again next time.
What an awesome start to the day! Fishing alone on a beautiful, isolated stream, and for the first time, catching a trout on a dry fly that I had tied myself. Confident that I would not be able to top that for the day, I wrapped up my line and hiked back out to the car.
For the running portion of the challenge, I headed over to Whitewater State Park. The park is 100 years old, with the Whitewater River and another trout stream running through it. There are some really spectacular overlooks on the bluffs, and some cool Depression era CCC construction in the valley. You can also fish for trout in the park all year round with a catch and release season after the traditional season ends in September.
When I started to scope out a place to run, I realized that Whitewater had about 12 miles of trails, and it really was a classic representation of the topography, geology, and fisheries of the Minnesota Driftless.
I started on the Dakota trail in the valley, ran up past a couple hundred million years of paleozoic rock, and deposits of rock dust ground up by the Late Wisconsin glaciers that missed this part of the state. From the top of the bluff, I headed back down to the floor for an out and back along Trout Run Creek, and then up a few hundred stair steps to the rim and on to Inspiration Point. I worked my way counter-clockwise through the park trails, with several more trips up and down the scarp. I hit 10 miles, realized that I had enough to complete the full 12, and then finished my run at the swimming beach for some natural cryotherapy, soaking in the cold, spring-fed pool.
After driving back home I wound down with a False Pattern from Modist Brewing and a Garden Rager from Wild Mind Artisan Ales. I am already excited for the Driftless Area Flyathlon in person in 2021!