Published September 23, 2009, 08:00 AM

Chasing trout at Whitewater State Park

ALTURA, Minn. — I fish, but I am not a Fisherman. I know Fishermen. They are serious about angling and commit much time and study to the pursuit.

By: Mike Longaecker, The Republican Eagle

ALTURA, Minn. — I fish, but I am not a Fisherman.

I know Fishermen. They are serious about angling and commit much time and study to the pursuit.

Me, I’m a lowercase fisherman — at best.

I’ve plucked walleye out of Leech Lake and bass from Lake Minnetonka. The Chisago lakes chain has been generous enough to relent several of its crappie and bluegill into my possession.

I also have known colossal failure.

One trip to Lake Vermilion yielded absolutely nothing. There was only my contribution to its waters: Dozens of leeches, agonizingly freed from my line over the course of several days.

In another instance, a frozen, fruitless night on Medicine Lake caused me to swear off ice fishing for nearly 15 years.

Yet for my occasional successes and considerable failures, the sport still attracts me.

Which is why I jumped this year at the chance to try trout fishing - a style of angling, I would learn, that’s all its own.

How could I not? I was lured with the prospect of pulling fresh trout from one of Minnesota’s fishing Meccas: Whitewater State Park.

Refreshingly, the result was one for my sparse win column.

The set up

Instead of intensifying the learning experience by attempting to fly-fish, I was told we would fish with live bait.

We rigged ultra-light rods with two split-shot sinkers and a No. 6 hook — slightly smaller than walleye hooks. Tipped them with night crawlers.

This simple rig was a welcome relief.

River fishing, however, was somewhat foreign to this occasional angler.

Trout, I would learn, are a crafty fish. You must approach them stealthily, taking great care not to spook them by casting a shadow on the stream.

Turns out the earthy tones that comprise the trout fisherman’s attire aren’t just a chance to show off snazzy Cabela’s purchases. They’re meant to offer a degree of camouflage against the skittish fish.

It was at this point that I realized the folly of my attire. Bedecked in my grey Twins T-shirt and shorts bearing my stark-white legs, I reflected the sun like a mirror, no doubt announcing my clumsy arrival to the trout.

I was the picture of an amateur. I was the newbie downhill skier hitting the slopes in jeans and sunglasses.

But I pressed on.

Hooked

Since trout face upriver, you present your bait ahead of them, then tease it along as the current carries it along the bottom.

After a few premature hook-sets — and the invariable ensnaring of a rock — I had a fish on. Once ashore, I was disappointed to see the familiar O-shaped mouth. This was not a foreign fish to me.

It was a suckerfish.

But armed with my newfound skills, it wouldn’t be long before I ended my trout drought. I found a sweet spot inside park limits on the Whitewater River near the south picnic area.

Turns out, two of my fish — brown trout — actually were keepers. I would regret my decision to release the 12-inchers after describing the length to my fishing partners, who laughingly scolded me for the miscue.

Go figure. It’s not like I’m used to bringing home fish from trips.

I refined my technique over the short trip to Whitewater, conning a few more trout onto shore.

Unfortunately, none of the rest approached keeper size. I guess karma is in short supply on the Whitewater, even if the river’s bounty is plentiful.

Rich history, trivia

Experiencing Whitewater State Park would have been its own reward, even if I’d gone fishless.

The park’s towering bluffs and extensive trails provide hikers and anglers with weeks’ worth of enjoyment and exploration. This may have been my maiden voyage to the park, but it certainly won’t be the last.

The park took shape about 12,000 years ago when a massive glacier melted, carving out the area’s dramatic topography. The Mdewakanton Dakota named the river Minneiska, meaning “white water,” on account of the milky color the river became as spring rushes eroded light-colored clay deposits.

While most of the park’s features are natural, man has left significant impact on the area with varying farm practices, which have affected erosion and runoff.

Man’s most unusual contribution to the park, however, is long gone.

In 1944 and 1945, the trailhead at Trout Run Creek trail was home to a German prisoner of war camp. According to park literature, prisoners there worked on local farms and businesses during the labor shortage near the end of World War II.

The camp’s buildings were repurposed for the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration and youth groups before the camp was destroyed by a 1953 tornado.

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