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Lessons from trout openers past

8/17/2005

Opening day of Minnesota's trout season in 1968, as I recall, began under blue skies, mild temperatures and a lazy breeze that impaired not a backcast. Also included with the opener was a zoo atmosphere.

Hordes of Minnesotans, anxious to shed their winter blahs and hail the coming of the dandelion season, would flock to the Whitewater River Valley, filling state parks, private campgrounds and Mauer's Tavern in Elba. Some of the folks even went trout fishing.

Yes, the opener was always a circus on the Whitewater, but in a festive manner. Serious trout anglers despised the day but they'd always get over it.

Back in those days, the state's trout opener was a May event, which promised nicer weather and included more pent-up demand for an excuse to go fishing. Hence, the stream-bank crowding.

When state officials moved the trout opener to April, the meanest weather month, the weekend seemed more subdued perhaps because there was more angling than partying along the stream banks.

Those of us who remember probably don't miss the trout bashes along the South Fork of the Whitewater. A nice couple I knew always pitched a tent near enough to the stream to hear the water ripple while they drank wine with the same name.

When the trout bite was tough on opening day, those of us who took ourselves too seriously would blame the partygoers. That was a bunch of hooey, of course. Ain't a brown trout whoever swam would give a fin flip if somebody streamside yelled for more beer.

In addition to my first taste of Ripple, my most memorable moment on the South Fork during the 1968 trout opener was a chat with a fella named Ed Posz, while the two of us sat on the stream bank.

Ed was in his 80s and could no longer ply much of the Middle Fork, but he'd never think of missing opening day. We talked about trout this and trout that, but what I remember most was a question I asked about the Whitewater River and his surprising answer.

As a young angler, I had always assumed the trout fishing must have been better before my time. And I suggested as much to Ed, adding that the trout were probably easier to catch decades ago. And bigger ones, too.

"Has the river changed much?" Ed was asked.

He thought for a moment and answered, "Yes, the river is a lot better, clearer water, the whole thing."

When he was a boy, Ed went on to explain, the wooded hillsides and hilltops in the Whitewater Valley had been intensively logged, cleared and plowed. And the stream suffered for it.

As the decades went by, however, trees and brush returned to the hillsides and more farmers learned to practice soil conservation measures on their hilly fields.

Ed Posz is long gone now, but on opening day in 1968 he taught me an important fishing lesson: The good, old days we experience are not always old.


Ron Schara may be reached at ron@mnbound.com.

Schara's 250-page book, "Ron Schara's Minnesota Fishing Guide" (Tristan Outdoors; $19.95) is available by clicking here or by calling 888-755-3155.

April through June, Ron Schara's short feature "The Outdoor Beat" airs at 7:55 a.m. ET Sundays on ESPN2. Click here to view this week's show descriptions.