The author with a spring Sheyenne River walleye caught from a run near Bald Hill Dam.
By Nick Simonson
Water is freedom, no more so than in spring.
Casting off the icy bonds of winter, breaking them into pieces and then absorbing them is the completion of a flow’s self-fulfilling and seasonal prophecy. So too for the angler, flowing water represents the possibilities to not only move with life’s direction, but to challenge it and go back in time in a sense and find those places the riffles speak of upstream where trout, or bass or walleyes hide beneath the calm surface.
It’s been said that we never stand in the same river twice, no matter how many times we might fish it, and with that constant change comes the continued freedom, not only of the water but for the angler as well.
Stepping gently into a small Wisconsin trout stream, my most cautious steps were not enough to avoid stirring up the slightest silt layer that whirled and eddied like a streak of chocolate milk that twisted in a ribbon downstream from me. I followed it until I lost the swirl in the clear waters of the spring-fed creek and laid a cast to a corner pocket with a smooth surface and connected with a wild brown trout hiding along the edge, not far from the slight slick of stain I had sent spinning downstream. It seems too that even through the act of exploration and in our mistakes, we find ways of reading the flowing language of water.
Becoming fluent in it is another thing altogether, requiring time on a river translating its dialect, its cadence and how meanings change with the mood of what moves in and out of the banks that define it. When rushing and strong, it’s a counter-intuitive slowness that serves to connect with the voice of the residents within. Finding a brace or a pocket in which fish rest comes with time and experience that often doesn’t last long.
In low times, it’s looking for the depths, the holes and the places out of the reach of the harsh sun where sunken secrets lie. In those even-keeled times with the flow just right, is when the language of any given water is truly learned and the words of wisdom for those spaces and places which hold feisty bronzebacks, secretive walleyes and other fish become a regular dialogue between river and angler.
There’s a beginning and an end to every river or stream and to every stretch of it. Whether bounded by dams or shallows that cannot be navigated on the upstream end or emptying its collection of knowledge from the miles before into a greater flow or lake to in turn add to their character, the end of a stretch of flowing water marks the beginning of a new one, or at least a vital addition to it. There, fish come to seek food, oxygen and the things carried with the new water and oftentimes anglers stand there too, sorting through the secrets of both bodies in the setting sun’s light.
As the rivers, creeks and streams shed their ice, swell with the influx of melting water and the freed trickle of springs and seeps, and offer up their subtle voices – and quite possibly in some areas in the coming days, their roar – take time to listen to their tales. Stand within their banks, glide across their surface in a canoe or a boat, and explore them top to bottom or as far as your segment of independence from the worries and chores of the day allows.
Finding fish will come in looking for those silent spaces of stillness, listening for the slight murmur of a riffle, or observing just how the dark water of an inflowing creek or the silt stirred by a few errant steps can point to success. But remember that no matter how many times you fish the same river, you stand in a different one each time from season to season and even day to day.
Understand that each of those flows provides a chance at freedom unlike any other place…in our outdoors.