Guest Blog Post by Patrick McCue
This is my third flyathlon—the Iowa version. The one that requires a disclaimer—there is trout fishing in Iowa (there are people in Iowa). The first two were spectacular community events a few miles north of where I’m standing now, alone in the dark in the parking lot at Effigy Mounds which may soon be Iowa’s first national park. I would love to be swapping beers later with fellow flyathletes, but we’re all aware of the recommendations against that. Working at a hospital, I feel like even more like a biohazard. I know I won’t see anyone this early, that’s the point, but I will get to see the sunrise over the Mississippi River by the time I turn around. It’s cold and dark, but it feels fantastic. This is my first fishing day since March.
The other reason for standing alone in this parking lot in the dark is that I promised I’d be back home by early afternoon. I have a three month old, which is the primary reason that fishing has been scarce this year. His name is Henry and his fingers are the perfect size for tying size 22 dries, but his coordination isn’t quite adequate. To run, to fish, and to beer all before noon required a 3am alarm, which really isn’t an odd time to be awake lately.
To this point, I’ve read a few other trip reports. Like another flyathlete group, I have run over Pawnee Pass west of Nederland, CO. My route today won’t compare, but the trail sign does warn of 300ft elevation gain in the first half mile. That’s worth one bonus point to my flyathlon total. Plus, it makes me feel like a legitimate trail runner.
Off I go up that first 300 feet, and I’m in my heart rate red zone immediately. I don’t typically wear a fancy watch when running, but I need to track this run and my wife’s teal Garmin is buzzing on my wrist telling me to slow it down. It is worried about heart attack. I know I am supposed to warm up, but who has time for that when there are baby diapers waiting to be changed by two this afternoon? I do trip once on a root in the dark which is a bit embarrassing, but more worrying because I’m a dad now—elderly—so I need to be careful. Before long, I’m at the turn around point. I’m overlooking the Mississippi, barges passing below, sun on my face, and cool air helping to slow my thumping heart. It is my first time back to the Driftless, that odd pocket of hills and dales in the upper Midwest filled with coldwater trout fisheries, since March, since Henry. It is uplifting to be here, it feels right, it gives me a sense that my identity is still intact and fulfills the vision I have of myself—you know, Simms hat, slightly unshaven, drinks craft beers sitting in the back of my Subaru. (If only I had a Tacoma…)
But there’s no time for standing around. I need to maximize my fishing time because it will be very embarrassing if I go fishless. I did this on my first flyathlon. In fact, many of us went fishless that year so there was no shame around the campfire that night, but it is harder to explain later to family and friends—“the water wasn’t quite right”, or “they were really picky fish”, or “I’m just not good at fishing”.
And the first fish I catch is a stocked rainbow. Who cares? I might have cared at one point, but this is the first fish I have caught in months. And it is in my net before I’m untangling my line from a bush or tree overhead (note to visitors to the Driftless: creeks can be small and the same fertile soil that produces more corn than any nation needs produces some bushy banks).
The day couldn’t be more beautiful. Nobody else is on this stretch of stream, a heron passes over and then a hawk too. I catch some more fish, none to write home about, but they are forgiving of my rusty casts and they make me smile when I’m sitting in the back of my Subaru with a craft beer, wiping my brow under my Simms hat and enjoying the resurrection of such an important part of my life and looking forward to the days when I have traded in changing Henry’s diapers for convincing him trout fishing is indeed more interesting than Fortnite or untangling his line from countless bushes while hoping that he isn’t watching my casting form too closely as he takes up fishing and as he learns to love the sound of water weaving through riffles and gulping past submerged boulders or the sight of a trout rising on the far bank or the sunrise coming up over the stream or the taste of riverside coffee or whiskey or beer or the taste of dirt when he face plants from catching his toe on a tree root trying to run up a steep hill at five in the morning or the sense of satisfaction he will have when he ties his first size 22 dry for dad to cast into a bush or tree.