Blog: Midwest & The Rest

Photography, experiences, and essays about conservation, restoration, ecology, and all things nature in the Midwest and the rest of the world!

June outing at Whitewater Fish Camp

Fly fishing at Laughing Trout „Whitewater Fish Camp“ 

Randy, Craig, Chip, Rufus, Rich, Bob Trevis, Steve W, Jason, Larry, Dick, Tom, Al, Joan, & Grace

Weather  Forecasted to rain the entire day, but it held off until we ate dinner! Remarkable. Air temperature in the 60’s, partly cloudy with gusts of wind topping 20mph here and there in the morning. Sunny afternoon with calm breeze.

Fishing Arrived at the fish camp around 09:30 and ate breakfast whilst preparations for the day were being finalized. Craig and Steve left the area for hope of clearer, more productive waters. Fished river from Randy’s towards Chip’s until Randy was ready to begin. No luck with soft hackle, but found tiny mayfly larva, size 18ish. First walkie talkie transmission of the day was hard to hear over the toppling wind. Passed Chip, Rufus, and Rich before meeting Randy in his Jeep. Al was watching from his camp.

 Al onlooking as we passed his abode.

Al onlooking as we passed his abode.

 Chip mending his line, trying for trout.

Chip mending his line, trying for trout.

 Rich loading his line to cast to a new spot.

Rich loading his line to cast to a new spot.

 Rufus walking upstream before giving it another go.

Rufus walking upstream before giving it another go.

Two of us made our way to Joe’s cabin through Loyd’s pasture. Randy informed me of 2007 flood and relevant stories, how the river changed course, and how they had to move camp locations. He’s been fishing here since 1965, first years were spent in a tent. Cow city! Parked at cabin and fished first downstream, then up. Tied on black woolly bugger given to me by Arthur, coworker and mentor, per Randy’s suggestion given the murky water clarity. Fished the banks. Foam is home, wood is good. Was not long before landing 11“ brown at the head of a pool. Later brought a 7.5“ brown to hand from the following pool. Fishing upstream, Randy connected with a decent brown that packed a punch for his 2/3 weight rod. He was fishing an „old 56“ fly (could be mistaken on exact name) and then a chartreuse woolly bugger. Landed a 12“ brown with same tackle but as I pulled it out of the water, the barbless hook came out and fish flipped out of my grip. So it goes. Randy said it counts because it was brought to hand, even if for a second. Randy landed another fish or two before departing area.

 Cow City!

Cow City!

 Randy fishing downstream.

Randy fishing downstream.

 Throwing a loop!

Throwing a loop!

 Caught and released promptly to river home.

Caught and released promptly to river home.

Made way back to camp. Randy tended to thawing fish filets, told me to fish more. Not about to argue. Entered river near Mike Tanguay’s camp as Dick was leaving for graduation party. Told me that he found the „Stop & Go“ to be successful. Suggestion taken to heart. Headed upstream to fish riffle with larger boulders. Ted on a size 16 or 18 nymph. Convinced I caught one of the boulders, but it did not look to be such as it jumped out of the river! First fish ever caught hiding out feeding at the head of a boulder. Had to trot downstream to follow fish instead of overpowering it. Brought it to hand. Solid 13“ brown. One for the highlight reel.

 Definitely not a boulder...

Definitely not a boulder...

Followed river downstream and noticed a mayfly falling. And then another. Then a third! Spinners! Before reacting to the sudden event, rises were left and right of me and quite consistent. Cut off nymph, traded for a sulphur dun made with deer hair and observed rises. First hook ups were downstream approaches and either hook was pulled away from fish too soon, or hook set was off from being upstream from fish. Changed placement stealthily to be downstream and instant tight line! Others did not believe me, but radio batteries died out by this time in the afternoon, so this event was enjoyed alone. Lasted a good 30 minutes with many connections. Simply marvelous.

 A day in paradise.

A day in paradise.

By 16:00 or 16:30 returned to camp and met Craig and Steve. Started dinner preparations and soon others trickled in. Chip, Jason, Tom, and maybe a fourth chef fried up about 70 crappie/sunfish and we feasted under a large tent and maples as it began to rain. Randy said two prayers, we all talked smart, and Craig gave me one of his home-brews, and American Wheat, the ones with his face printed on the bottle cap. Could not imagine a more desirable place nor friendlier folk. Surely this day will be recollected time and time again. My sincerest thanks and good wishes to everyone involved. Wish I could stay longer, but it’ll do.

 Talking smart during happy hour. 

Talking smart during happy hour. 

Yours,

-M-

River Tour

Rose early to ease into an outing on my day off, but was adamant to prepare food and camera for I had no clue when I would return home. Drove to Cabela's parking lot to meet members Rich and Gary of my fly tying group, Laughing Trout. Waited 20 minutes to ensure no stragglers were straggling, and then we were Wisconsin bound. Our destinations were the Kinnickinnic and Rush rivers and Rich was our own tour guide.

 Gary and Rich, Rich and Gary.

Gary and Rich, Rich and Gary.

Began as most ventures do, with the sharing of friendly stories and questions of what lies ahead. Both Gary and I are relatively new Minnesotans, he moved here over five years ago and I barely five months ago...luckily Rich has been here since 1966. Took 94 eastbound to 65 northbound, heading towards the upper branch of Kinni. First stop, there were 22 in total for the day if I counted correctly, was just off the highway. Pull into an unplowed, snowy lot to find one party fly fishing. No luck and lines were freezing, yet spirits were high. As we talked smart, a father and son arrived, determined to give a try. Said our goodbyes and headed onward.

 Snuck a photograph of stranger fly fishing. Seconds later he took his fly, rid it of ice as best he could, and then gave it another go.

Snuck a photograph of stranger fly fishing. Seconds later he took his fly, rid it of ice as best he could, and then gave it another go.

Taking a moments break from the rivers, parked the truck on the main drag of River Falls to visit Lund's Fly Shop. First time there, fell in love with a cap, but since I am saving money, had to forego the desire to take out my wallet. Wish to return when I begin hunting for Muskies on the fly because they have a great selection of large fly tying materials!

Back on the road and into the backseat. Leaned forward to peer over dash, spotting the holes and riffles Rich suggested. Can you guess at which bend along the river the Mcdonald's Hole is located? 

 "Across the river you'll see a path, follow it across the field..."

"Across the river you'll see a path, follow it across the field..."

Soon after drive to Rush river, it is roughly 27 miles long and has about 25 miles of fishable waters. Rich told stories about annual river clean ups along its shores that involved upwards of 70 volunteers, taking half of a day of work or so. Instinctually more fond of the Rush, not only because it shares the name as my favorite band, but also because it has more topography. 

 A look at the Rush river.

A look at the Rush river.

 Hard to fathom, but this picture is exactly 180 degrees around from the previous picture...how a river can change depending on structures in the water and condition of its riparian zone.

Hard to fathom, but this picture is exactly 180 degrees around from the previous picture...how a river can change depending on structures in the water and condition of its riparian zone.

Some access points have camping sites available. Two nights maximum stay at the bridge park past the Red Barn. Just after saw Rich's namesake hole, located adjacent to a couple feeder springs and distinct riffles.

A few more stops and then the tour was up. Instead of taking a right turn to get home, we continued straight into Ellsworth. When in Wisconsin, one must visit a creamery and gorge on cheese curds. Not sure why, but that is tradition.

 Land alongside river donated by Koch family.

Land alongside river donated by Koch family.

The tour was direct, yet personable. My excitement to fly fish is growing past the point of containment and once a warm day aligns with an off day, may have to duct tape my hole ridden Neoprene waders and jump in a river. 

Thanks to Rich, Gary, and Laughing Trout, now I know where to jump in.

-M-

 

Faith for overcoming obstacles

"...The trials of winter are unavoidable if we wish to soar into a brilliant springtime based on faith." - Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin - 

winter versus spring

Using weights whilst exercising, resistance can build muscles. This logic when applied to our daily lives and characters means that hardships, struggles, and traumatic experiences can fortify wisdom, compassion, and courage.

I have been absent from sharing my thoughts and pictures since December, for I have been dealing with my fair share of burdens. Most notably before the holidays, someone broke into my Jeep by shattering a window and stealing my backpack that included prized books; lettering materials; journal filled with contacts, meticulous notes, and recordings of phenological events; as well as my laptop. 

Though I took the loss in stride, I found myself having difficulties maintaining creativity and passion with my storytelling and advocacy. I took some time to reflect, I took other times to simply live. After a few more untimely struggles, I have taken the initiative to strengthen my character and daily lifestyle.

What follows are photographs that I have taken whilst working in the woods, adventuring with my significant other, ice fishing in Minnesota, volunteering with a my first bird count, and more. 

I hope that the lack of background and details will prompt you to reflect, not only on the photograph, but more so on happenings in your lives. 

Regardless of what yesterday brought, today brings anew, and I encourage you to take any trials in stride, so to strengthen body, mind, and spirit for the blossoms that will follow.

-M-

waterfall frost
 
the smoke it rises
 
a drink
 
charred logs
 
preparing the ice rink to play
 
unity
 
fish and beer bring us together

Transition to Winter

Though it has snowed and grown cold during autumn, winter arrived this week with a dominating presence. Commutes to and from work have lengthened for everyone due to slippery conditions, trees and shrubs must now bear the weight of snow and ice on their branches, and the wildlife now leaves ultra visible traces of activity in the blankets of snow. I must wear thermal layers and have traded my ball cap for a beanie. But I take delight in these changes!

 A gnarly white oak ( Quercus alba ) burl, caused by the fungus  Phomopsis . The burl is an uncontrolled growth that has atypical growth rings and wood structure and takes the form of a hemispherical bulge. Most burls do not seem to harm trees, although if the burl would be removed, the open injury could expose the tree to decay or diseases. I left my helmet and gloves near the tree for a size reference...massive!

A gnarly white oak (Quercus alba) burl, caused by the fungus Phomopsis. The burl is an uncontrolled growth that has atypical growth rings and wood structure and takes the form of a hemispherical bulge. Most burls do not seem to harm trees, although if the burl would be removed, the open injury could expose the tree to decay or diseases. I left my helmet and gloves near the tree for a size reference...massive!

 

We have wrapped up our fall overspray treatments, seeding, and prescribed burns. Our work focus has transitioned to only cutting pretty damn quick, and the week has given insight on how the remainder of the cold months will be. This week our main project is working at a park that is transitioning a hardwood forest into an oak savanna, the type of ecosystem that had existed in pre European settlement times. With years of fire suppression and limited management, the hardwood species such as maple (Acer spp.), ash (Fraxinus spp.), cherry (Prunus spp.), and more have encroached and staked their claim on the land. 

 

Our task at hand is to open up the forest by means of felling all trees and shrubs that are not white oak (Quercus alba), bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa), and trembling aspen (Populous tremuloides). This will give the existing mature trees more elbow room and the saplings of these species an opportunity to access sunlight, nutrients, and water more readily. 

 Spotting a sawyer so park goers and other crew members remain safe.

Spotting a sawyer so park goers and other crew members remain safe.

 

As we arrive on site, we ready our gear, partake in dynamic stretches and exchange safety tips for the day, go over the objectives and assignments, and then we hike into the forest. Our main tools are a chainsaw (we use multiple Stihl models), a bottle with premixed chemical treatment to apply to the stumps, and our chainsaw safety equipment:  chaps, work boots, eyewear, helmet, leather gloves, and ear protection. 

 
 Gearing up for a day of fun and hard labor.

Gearing up for a day of fun and hard labor.

 
 A Stihl chainsaw and good ol' work boots, tools of the trade.

A Stihl chainsaw and good ol' work boots, tools of the trade.

 

Assignments are sawyers and draggers/spotters. Sawyers will fell the trees and also apply the chemical treatment to the stumps and the draggers/spotters will spot the sawyers and ensure that no parker goers or crew members are walking into danger and after will haul the downed trees to areas where they can be piled up and burned. Most of the downed trees will be burned to speed up forest openings and remaining downed trees will be decomposed over time.

 

Since it is a selective removal, there are times where felling a tree takes even more careful consideration than normal to prevent “hang ups”, where a tree does not completely fall to the ground. There were numerous times throughout the week where we had to take a step back and ponder how to prevent a hang up or how to down a hung up tree, and luckily we had no issues and no injuries! Often when a tree was hung up, one crew member could push down on the tree or drag the base to free up the crown of the tree. On two separate occasions, as the tree was falling, it jumped up at the base and could have smacked into the feller but the trees were small and the fellers backed away after the tree began its descent. They were definitely teaching moments and we were able to analyze how they occurred from the wedge cuts and we engraved these close mishaps into our memories.

 Hung up slightly, but determined to have an oak savanna!

Hung up slightly, but determined to have an oak savanna!

 
 What can be an often occurrence, chainsaw getting stuck during cutting. To remain safe, it is best to get another saw or tool to fell the tree and free the saw.  He is assessing the wedge cut before using another chainsaw to finish felling the tree, thus freeing the stuck saw.

What can be an often occurrence, chainsaw getting stuck during cutting. To remain safe, it is best to get another saw or tool to fell the tree and free the saw.  He is assessing the wedge cut before using another chainsaw to finish felling the tree, thus freeing the stuck saw.

 
 Walking away from an exciting, yet safe felling!

Walking away from an exciting, yet safe felling!

 

The piles of logs and branches are located throughout the forest. We chose areas away from dead standing snags and away from poplar trees (Populous spp.) because they could easily catch on fire if an ember where to land on them. Piles were made in areas that had an opening in the forest canopy. Later in the season when there is more snow cover, we will return to burn the piles. Who knows, I or a crew mate may bring hot chocolate and s’more fixings that day to share with everyone! 

 Making and tending to the burn piles.

Making and tending to the burn piles.

I look forward to the days ahead and hope each of you are excited about the upcoming holidays and changing of seasons!

 

Take care,

 

-M-

Woodland mop up

Though not over, this week has been physically the toughest one this fall. On top of our normal work of woody brush and tree removal, my crew and I have successfully completed multiple woodland prescribed burns, and stayed late ensuring that all signs of fire, embers, and smoke have been extinguished. Earlier in the week I could not say whether my itchy throat and laboured breathing was due to smoke inhalation, which is typical especially since I was lighting much of the interior on the burn units, or if my symptoms were the start of a sickness. Well, it is pointing toward sickness, but good news is that since I am forced to rest, I have time to document and share!

 My current burn crew finding out that we extinguished the last, smoking log! Accomplished and cheerful, we packed up our gear and ended the work day. 

My current burn crew finding out that we extinguished the last, smoking log! Accomplished and cheerful, we packed up our gear and ended the work day. 

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It must be noted that the first half of November was fairly typical:  brisk with rain and a few snow events. This past week there is a warm spell with swift winds, the ideal weather to burn a woodland! Monday’s burn was in Whitetail Woods, a county park in Minnesota, and it was our groups first major burn this season. The burn unit was roughly 35 acres large, and our burn covered most of it, skipping areas we prevented fire from moving to such as piles of downed, woody debris. Winds were around 20 miles per hour but constant, so it was ideal to travel over hills and penetrate the hardwood trees to fuel the fire. We lit our test burn around 13:00, the air temperature was around 55 fahrenheit, and with the approval from our burn boss, we proceeded to let the fire grow. From that moment until 20:00 I was engaged in both spreading the fire in the interior of the forest where the oak litter and grasses needed some encouragement, and also extinguishing. 

 

 We used the hiking trails at the park as burn breaks; this trail was in the middle of the burn unit so the fire was able to cross over, if it wished to.

We used the hiking trails at the park as burn breaks; this trail was in the middle of the burn unit so the fire was able to cross over, if it wished to.

 

Unfortunately for us, more than a few girthy, standing snags caught on fire without our immediate notice. A couple were rapidly extinguished, but four were problematic. I found one that was over 20 feet upright, and the fire was about three quarters the way up. It was also within falling distance of a hiking trail, which park goers were still using at their own risk, so extinguishing it upright or felling it became my top priority. I chose to fell it. 

 

 First sight of burning snag.

First sight of burning snag.

 

After informing the burn boss of my finding and receiving the go ahead, I grabbed a chain saw and two crew members to have as spotters. I felt confident in the situation, but the winds were ever blowing, so I wanted more safety precautions than normal. They watched intensely as I struggled to make a proper face cut into the snag. Our saws have been under enormous stress with daily use and this particular saw was unable to cut normally though the chain teeth were sharp. I grabbed a second to try, and this one was difficult to start, and proved to be out of commission. So I grabbed a third saw and got to work. By this time the fire was growing up, the wind was raging, and the sun was setting. I had to step away from the snag many times because embers were falling on me and smoke was making it difficult to see or breath. I made the best cuts I could into the hollow snag, but it was not enough, so we had to improvise and make some woodland wedges to bump the cut open more so gravity could do the rest. We did precisely that and the snag soon laid at our feet. I could not have been comfortable or able to do that without the help of my crew, and after thanking them, we moved onto new objectives.

 

 Crew member Adam helping me fashion and pound in some "woodland" wedges to finish felling the snag.

Crew member Adam helping me fashion and pound in some "woodland" wedges to finish felling the snag.

 
 Finally, the snag had been felled and was no longer a hazard! We smothered out the fire shortly after.

Finally, the snag had been felled and was no longer a hazard! We smothered out the fire shortly after.

 

We had hardships with our gear, and we had hardships with having access to water. One pump on our water trucks broke and it was too time consuming to fix on the burn. We had to make due without it and we set off into the night with our hand tools, following the trails of embers. Those who had water used it sparingly whilst the working water truck retrieved more water. The only benefit of moping up woodland fires in the dark hours is that one can see every ember, but that also is the problem. It can be daunting and demoralizing to see how much more work is left. I found encouragement looking into the distance at fires vanish, knowing that my crew was working just as hard as I was.
 

 A trail of embers and fire lit the way during the dark hours. Our work was visible with each passing moment, but we worked efficiently, quickly, and safely!

A trail of embers and fire lit the way during the dark hours. Our work was visible with each passing moment, but we worked efficiently, quickly, and safely!

 
 Here I am pictured using a polaski hand tool to knock embers off of a snag. I soon after felled the tree with the axe side and continued scrapping the embers closer to the ground so they could not fly away in the wind. Photograph credit: Adam Myers.

Here I am pictured using a polaski hand tool to knock embers off of a snag. I soon after felled the tree with the axe side and continued scrapping the embers closer to the ground so they could not fly away in the wind. Photograph credit: Adam Myers.

 

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I am thankful that all the burns were completed safely and that come spring, the land can repair itself with rejuvenated soil and open spaces for sunlight to penetrate to new leafs.

Best,

-M-