It’s The Thought That Counts

The trip looked glorious when we were planning. Drive the bikes and fly fishing gear to Lanesboro, set up camp, load the bikes with fishing gear to fish the many river access points of the Root River State Trail and catch trout and sip on suds until nightfall, then do it all again the next day. As this trip showed Parker and I, things don’t always go as planned.

Friday, the day before we were scheduled to leave, we learned that Lanesboro was having its annual summer festival Buffalo Bill Days. Cool. I love festivals and food and fireworks. This meant, however, that the campground we were planning on staying was the host of said festivities. Tent spaces would spend the weekend as food vendor spaces. The water we wanted to fish was between Preston and Lanesboro. All other campgrounds within five miles of Lanesboro were booked. No bother. We found an opening in Rushford, 20ish miles east. The trail was billed to have ample water access, so we’d just fish a different stretch of water. Not a bad improvisation. This was just the first of several plans not going as, well, planned.

It was a hot day. Temps were pushing 90 as Parker and I pedaled west from Rushford. The Root River State Trail was flat and passed quickly. I was rolling on my El Mariachi 29er while Parker was on his Handsome Cycles Handsome Devil CX whip. Four miles into the trail we got to Peterson, a tiny town on the Root. A sign told us the nine-mile trail segment to the next town was closed for resurfacing and bridge repairs. “How bad could it be?” we asked ourselves and rolled onward. The first bridge we happened upon required a step up to cross. The next bridge was completely impassable. We were forced to ford the creek Oregon Trail style, but without oxen and TB. Aside from a brief nettle encounter, we weren’t any worse for the wear.

Ten miles later, we had yet to see an access point to the water. The trail sits atop an old rail bed. A steep, brushy 20-foot slope kept us from the water. Tubers and kayaks passed by. The water was stained, but clearer than it appeared because of the sandy bottom.

We got to Whalan, another tiny town on the Root. A sign told us to beware of rattlesnakes. Cool. Rattlesnakes in Minnesota. The species is the timber rattlesnake and it is protected. If spotted, the sign requests reporting encounters with the Department of Natural Resources. No rattlesnakes were observed, though it would have been fascinating to see one.

Two miles after Whalan was the confluence of two branches of the Root. We saw it on the map and figured at least one branch would be free of tubers and quiet enough to fish. The welcoming party of 300 people drinking on a sandbar with tubes told us otherwise.

We couldn’t help but laugh. We were 17 miles from the car. It was almost 3:00 pm. Rather than pressing on, we decided to roll back to Rushford, get the car and drive to Preston where the water is smaller and likely tuberless. Because that pesky bridge was out, we opted to take a gravel road as a detour. Another mistake. Gravel was freshly laid and the road took us up out of the river valley before descending back down to water level. After a long, slow climb and surprisingly quick descent on what felt like marbles, we decided to rejoin the trail and take our chances again at the bad bridge we detoured to avoid. More laughing ensued on the way back to the Subaru.

Once we got out of the car at Preston, we were on the water in minutes. It was nearing 6:00 pm. Bugs were circling and lazy fish were rising. This was the place I caught my first trout on a dry fly and it would be the place Parker got on his first trout. But not before two hours of snags, nowhere casts, infinite knots and endless swearing. I almost started to feel bad when I was landing fish after fish a mere 10 yards away from him. Then it happened. He landed a tiny brown on a caddis. It was a great cast with a stellar drift right into the mouth of a trout.

We spent the next hour reeling in rainbows and browns before retreating to a Preston bar for frozen pizza, popcorn and an extended, inappropriate conversation with a woman named Shannon who was celebrating her “22nd” birthday. Despite all of the detours, adaptations and improvising, I couldn’t have asked for a better day on the water.

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