My first outing of 2022 was on a Thursday in January. The cold temps and  wind had been sucked or blown to some other latitude. My locality was to reach 33 degrees with calm winds. Perfectly acceptable conditions to sneak away into the snowy woodlands and escape the shack nasties. 

The previous weeks had been typical January cold. Numerous sub zero nights followed by single digit highs during the day. This unfortunate monontony is the norm of daily life in the Northern Driftless. Another angry winter was shaping up in 2021-22 and there would be few chances to angle without old man winter testing my resolve for freezing fingers or ice filled guides.

I was tickled silly as I daydreamed about that first tug on the line. It is amazing how that childish excitement returns every year when I am away, too long, from flowing water and the fish I fancy. There was another day  when conditions were favorable. I passed on the outing in favor of work,,,,but not again,,,,not today. I had my jam on and made the decision to extract myself from technology and go. Go to the place where fake news does not exist. Go to my solitude, my sanctuary, my sanity. Go fishing.

A short distance from my house my little dream stream flows. I can arrive in 10 minutes, fish for 2 or more hours and return home refreshed.

Considered an errand in my mind, like groceries or Menard’s, I like to run  this one at least a couple a time a week during the spring and summer. The river is small to medium sized by our standards and just being discovered by the masses. The trout are plentiful and plump. Mostly I know where they live. In the wintertime, the deep pools where the trout enjoy their slumber, mostly freeze over, but with clever tactics I can usually coax a few to hand.

As I drove along the rivers lower section, the prospects of playing in the water began to diminish. The cold winter weather had turned most of the water to ice. My eyes struggled to find moving water, or anything moving for that matter. I continued driving down stream towards the Mississippi in hopes my favorite spot would be fishable. This series of riffles, runs and pools would surely have some angling openings. Much to my surprise the majority of the river channel was cold and hard. Open water was seen sporadicly, but was isolated to the fast and shallow rocky runs and a few openings along the streams edge. As my eyes continued to scan what was shaping up to be the cold hard truth of winter trout fishing, my brain finally recognized why the stream channel appeared so unfamiliar.   

BEAVERS had built a dam spanning the entire river. The subzero temps of the past week had frozen the slow trickle of water that had flowed over the top of the structure to ice. A recent 2” inch snow had covered everything in white. The water upstream of the dam had been slowed to a snails pace and frozen as well. As I walked from the edge of the road to the edge of the stream I continued my investigation. I realized the bark had been chewed off dozens of trees. Branches littered the stream bed. The abrupt lines of the pointy aftermath of the fallen elms, willows and box elders had been softened by the newly fallen snow.

As I stood quietly behind the giant willow pictured above, marveling at the enormity of the task , I heard the rhythmic chattering of teeth on wood. Peering around the side of the tree, I saw the wide, squat, shiny, blob of brown, gnawing on its latest victim. I swear I could see the little pink tongue of the varmint as it ejected shards of wood from its tiny mouth to the forest floor. Earlier in the day I had spoken to a friend who had just been skiing the Vail area of Colorado and was so excited to tell me about the shirt he had purchased at Beaver Liquors  I broke out laughing and scared the beast away. I never got the photo.

Needless to say I did not wet a line that day. My time spent was both enjoyable and refreshing. I returned home from my errand with a bit of spring in my step. I am ever amazed by the felling technique and perserverence of the beaver and its ability as a crafter. My mind continues to wander back to the possible fate of my toothy brown friend come spring. The course of action the land owner may take will likely not favor Mr. Beaver. However, the spring rains may take care of the whole damn thing.