A quick jolt transferred through my fishing rod to my arm as I drifted a nightcrawler along a deep riffle in a crystal-clear trout stream. The hit was followed by a series of solid jerks as a voracious trout attempted to make off with my bait.
I quickly reeled up the slack and set the hook hard. At first, the fish barely moved. Then it turned and made a long run up and down the stream before I gently played it toward shore.
The portly rainbow trout appeared to have been eating well, and I admired its deep, radiant colors before slipping it back into the water.
After the long winter, it was good to be back on the trout stream.
The sun had been slipping over the horizon when I pulled off along a rural Iowa road and grabbed my fishing gear. The long drive south of the border had provided its share of entertainment.
Even at this early hour, tom turkeys were strutting their stuff in open areas where the hens could see them in their splendor. In nature, it’s the hens that normally travel to the toms — so broad tail feathers and a brilliant-colored wattle and snood go a long way in the turkey world.
Mating pairs of Canada geese stood alongside streams and even some field edges, waiting for their eggs to hatch.
And of course, whitetail deer seemed to be everywhere, feeding on newly growing buds and anything else they could find to replenish calories after the long, cold winter.
As I walked through a green pasture toward the stream, the raucous honking of a half dozen geese flying up and down the stream bore a striking contrast to the relaxing sound of water rushing and gurgling over the sandstone rocks.
There didn’t seem to be a nest nearby. But the geese apparently wanted to feed and stage in the pasture — and were not at all happy that I was on their turf.
There are times when I can’t wait to cast a fly into the water. Caddis and mayfly hatches, for instance, offer almost immediate gratification, and the sight of a big brown trout slurping a caddis dry fly off the surface of the water keeps me going back for more.
I also enjoy floating a prince nymph or an olive caddis nymph along a productive stream, watching intently for a slight pause in my line.
But there are times when I have to feel a big trout hammering on a nightcrawler at the end of my fishing line. This was one of those days.
After releasing the rainbow trout, I moved up stream and made another cast into the riffle. This time, I hooked into a stout brook trout that dug deep before coming to shore.
Related to lake trout and arctic char, brookies are one of my favorite fish to catch — and eat. In my opinion, they are among the prettiest of the trout-like fishes and are better tasting than either brown or rainbow trout.
Even so, I wasn’t planning to keep any fish on this trip. So it wasn’t hard for me to remove the hook from its mouth and slip it back into the stream.
I moved downstream and over the next hour, caught and released several brown and rainbow trout. After landing a nice 12-inch brown trout, I knelt down near the water to release the fish. As I looked back up, a mating pair of wood ducks landed in the stream next to me.
I’m not sure who was more surprised — the ducks or me. Either way, they flushed into the air nearly as quickly as they had landed.
The sun was high above the trees when I hiked back to the truck. The flock of geese settled down into the middle of the pasture and began to feed.
As I drove away, I was reminded that sometimes fishing isn’t only about the fish.