I’ve grown used to feeling cheated by the weather on weekends. This is western Nebraska, after all, and you can get hit with a faceful of snow on a Saturday in May, or count on an intemperate blast of prairie wind whenever it’s least welcome.
A three-day weekend ought to be different. Fate deals most of us a six-card hand in that game, two of which – Christmas and New Year’s – land in the dead of winter. You’d like to think the others would be worth the wait. As holiday weekends go, this wasn’t one of those.
I spent Saturday on Lake Minatare in search of walleyes, with a buddy who shared my curiosity about whether the annual gush of Wyoming irrigation water had improved the fishing. I spent the first couple of hours alone before picking him up at the dock, getting a few unproductive hunches out of the way. Our luck didn’t improve much afterward. Over several hours of fishing we caught only four small pike and no walleyes, while carrying on one of those cast-by-cast conversations that fishermen share, in which it’s possible, after a long spell of silence, for a dangling sentence to finally get finished or a nearly forgotten question to receive its answer. Although little is actually said, by the end of the day it can feel a bit theraputic — which, for all that, still isn’t as satisfying as actually catching fish.
The next day brings the only blue sky of the break, accompanied by gentle reminders that the vegetable garden isn’t in yet and May is already heading for the exits. With some tilling and shopping and planting, I get most of that out of the way.
Memorial Day itself brings drizzle and a sense of gloom. I need something good to happen, but a second fishing trip gets rain-delayed. As a last resort, I stuff raingear and a rod into the rig and decide to take a look at a local trout creek. I find it stained but not muddy. I’ve fished in worse. I take a deep breath, suit up and walk in as raindrops work their quiet percussion on my parka.
On days like this it doesn’t just shower droplets of water. It rains wind gusts, swaying obstacles, treacherous footing and branches that grab at your rod and your hat. Even after working some windage into my casts I get the spinner about where I want it but still lose the trailing line in tall grass or thickets of streamside brush. I break off a few lures as I work my way upstream, until all that remains in the box is a tangle of treble hooks, rusty wire and tarnished blades that have survived so long by being unconvincing, to me or to fish. As rain works into my spinning reel machinery the bail quits flipping reliably, and every couple of casts I have to close it by hand.
Eventually, though, it all starts coming together. I sidearm low casts that cut through the wind and then get the spinner moving quickly enough to flutter above the mops of algae that swirl in the current. I move deliberately and with such quiet stealth that I startle a bedded doe only a few yards away across the creek. She bounds off with her tail in the air, giving me a jolt that sharpens my sodden sensibilities.
I catch a few nice trout along the way, browns and rainbows from eight to 11 inches or so. Some I spot from a distance as they rise to bugs knocked from the air by droplets. A bend that I know holds a deep pool is especially busy. I creep up slowly, picking away at it from the bottom end. Then I take a deep breath and shoot a long cast up the gut. I reel for a moment around slack line before realizing that the bail hasn’t tripped. That gives the spinner a moment to sink, and after I close the bail and start my retrieve the hooks settle into something solid.
That kind of mishap can booger a pool if you hoist up a muddy branch or a tuft of weeds. I mutter and give a tug, but this time the obstruction moves. For once, I’m into solid fish instead of tumbleweed. A big brown bulls around the pool for a while as I hold my breath before wading to the tailout and beaching it. It’s a 19-incher, not my biggest trout, but in my lifetime top 10 — my best Nebraska trout, and the largest I’ve ever caught from any stream. There’s no witness around on a day like this, but the iPhone takes care of that, the fish laid out in the damp grass for a quick photo, the slender handle of the ultralight set alongside for comparison. I hold his tail gently as he revives, until he swims free.
Better writers, working better fish in better waters, have explained with more eloquence why any fool would be out here alone tossing spinners in a storm. But the most engaging angling literature enshrines an Eden of waters and fish that may never exist again. Here, in 2015, remains an uncrowded prairie creek with compliant trout, nearby a winding river and a pair of interesting lakes only minutes from town, other opportunities over every horizon. Such fishing can’t last forever in modern America, and in fact it’s not as good as it could be, or as it once was. That’s reason enough to make the most of it, while there’s still time left, still public water, still elbow room and a chance of landing a real fish that beats most anything you’ve ever caught before.
Steve Frederick is the Editor of the Star-Herald. He writes a weekly fishing column during the spring and summer months. He can be reached at steve.frederick@@starherald.com or 308-632-9055.