My first time fly fishing for trout was on the Kinnickinnic River. It was a rainy day in late April of 2014. A buddy and I spent the morning watching Premier League soccer at my place in Uptown. We paid close attention to the radar to find a break in the weather. That break never came, but we embarked anyway.
The Lower Kinni at the dam is probably the most fished stretch of trout water within two hours of Minneapolis. Local guides take beginners fishing here. Kayakers begin float trips here; these trips end at the St. Croix River several miles downstream. College kids spend afternoons and evenings with beers in hideaways below hillsides. It’s a busy place.
That first day was cringe-worthy when I look back at it. I fished with no previous instruction or training. A fly shop in River Falls recommended a purple prince nymph, which I promptly fished like it was a dry fly. I would cast so hard that the bugs would break off without snagging branches or brush. When the rain picked up and our break in the weather was over, lighting struck too close for comfort and we were forced to seek refuge in an old stone kiln with the company of beers and another group of fishermen. Needless to say, I didn’t catch a thing.
I returned to this water later that summer. It was the middle of the day in an August heatwave. My boots rubbed my sweaty ankles raw and I still have the scars to show it. I dodged kayaks and rafts while pitching caddis at fish that weren’t hungry. Sunburn, bug bites, and bloody socks were all I had to show for this day.
Tuesday of this week was the first time I revisited this stretch of the Kinni since 2014. It wasn’t the typical crowds of people that kept me away, but more of an intimidation from water that skunked me twice early in my fly fishing days. I spend most fishing days on the Rush River getting into good trout without any sort of urge or desire to return to River Falls. I’ve landed cutthroat on the Snake River, rainbows in the Cascade Range, browns in downtown Boulder, and even bigger browns in Catalonia. But still, the Kinnickinnic was always in the back of my mind like something I needed to overcome to really prove to myself that I’ve grown as a fisherman.
It was a rainy Tuesday, just like that first day in late April. Thunderstorms passed to the south. The river was alive. Caddis danced of across slow pools. Olives fluttered above riffles. Trout were airborne. I got into more fish that day than I have in many months. Fishing is difficult and I’m sure I’ll get skunked again, but at least I know I’ve grown as a fly fisherman.
Also, destroy this fucking dam. Free the Kinni.