Sure, I went ice fishing plenty this past winter, because even a bad day of fishing in -10 degree weather with wind whipping across a frozen farm pond with a foot of ice is better than a good day in the office. It’s especially good if I have a couple long-lasting tasty cigars to smoke and can share the fishing occasion with my son, Jon.
Jon is even more addicted to fishing and outdoor adventures than me. When he still lived at home (he has his own family now), we were probably the only people in the county who fly fished, and certainly the only ones who fished out of float tubes.
Marilyn says my float tube makes me look like some sort of prehistoric creature, which is just the way I like it. When other people drive up to the pond where I’m fishing, usually by myself, someone invariably says, “I’ve heard about that kind of fishing, but it looks weird to me.”
A half hour later and after I’ve hauled in a dozen or so hefty fish while they were watching me, someone usually yells from their boat, “What are you using?”
“Oh, just a fly I tied. Do you want one?”
As they maneuver their boat close to me to pick up a fly or two, usually the next question is, “Aren’t you afraid you’re gonna drown in that outfit?”
I answer, “I can’t think of a better way to die than fly fishing, especially if I have a big one on when I go.”
How do fly fishing and good farming go together? The answer is, lots of ways.
I won’t fish a farm pond, creek or lake below a feedlot or farm/ranch land that is intensely cultivated and has lots of manure, fertilizer, farm chemicals or pollution runoff. I prefer to fish water that emerges from a spring or marshy area thick with grasses, cattails and weeds that filter out sediments and neutralize many pollutants.
I have filter strips along all the streams on my land, even though the creeks are too small to fish, but the prairie plant strips harbor abundant wildlife to hunt and they serve as healthy ecosystems for birds and animals of all sorts. One of my favorite places to take a hike for fun and exercise is a 60 acre field enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
Half of the field is owned by a like-minded land owner. We could earn more income by farming the land instead of placing it in the CRP. However, the conservation land absorbs some of the air and water pollutants from a large cattle feedlot upstream.
I figure I owe it to everyone who drinks or uses the water that flows through my land to hold back excessive nitrogen, phosphate and other pollutants as much as possible. This little creek eventually feeds into the Gulf of Mexico, where there is a large dead zone most years around the mouth of the Mississippi River from the accumulation of fertilizers and other unnatural substances that collect in its huge drainage during spring runoff.
The CRP land is also a hedge against future needs for clean land on which to raise crops and livestock. I want the next generations to have usable land to farm, and on which to restore themselves.
Nothing soothes a tired stressed-out farmer like a good hike outdoors, or even better–fly fishing. I can’t think of anything else except how to maneuver a brawny bass out of a weed bed when I hook a big one or have to figure out what the crappies or trout are feeding on. Worries disappear.
Fly fishing in a float tube has always been one of my favorite ways to meditate and regain perspective after days of pushing to get the crop in the ground or out of the field. I can capture the sensation even when tying flies at my work bench or when filleting a bunch of fish.
I like to give a portion of the fish I catch to the owners of the ponds as a favor for granting me the right to fish on their property. I clean and vacuum-seal the fillets in a plastic bag; the owners are always grateful. Several families have acquired as great a liking for bluegills, crappies and trout as my family.
As you are reading this, Jon and I are fly fishing for trout in Northeast Iowa this weekend in the driftless region where the last great glacier did not level off the terrain like it did in most of the Midwest. And I hope I have a big trout on the line.