DULUTH-Here they came, down the snow-packed trail toward us on Wednesday night in Duluth. Two of them. Young boys, it appeared from a distance.
Each wearing a pair of chest waders. Each carrying a fly rod.
Nothing could have looked more out of context. Every lake in Duluth and beyond is still ice-covered, and a foot of snow had fallen just two days earlier. We were in a Duluth city park where there happens to be a good-sized pond. My first thought was, maybe they were just practicing their fly-casting over the ice.
They'd been fishing. They were happy to tell me where - in the little stream where it flows out below the pond. It's been ice-free for a few days, and Minnesota's stream-trout fishing season opened Saturday.
The boys appeared to be 13 or 14. I had to stop and talk to them.
"How was the fishing?" I asked.
"Good," one of the boys said.
He had a big smile on his face.
"I got a brookie about this long," he said.
He held his two index fingers about 8 inches apart.
"It wasn't that big," his friend said. "It was only about like this." He held his two index fingers about 5 inches apart.
The successful angler shrugged a "whatever" shrug. It didn't matter. It was April 17, and he had caught a brook trout, a glorious little fish speckled with red and yellow spots. The red spots are circled in blue rings that are the color of forget-me-nots. A brookie is about the most beautiful swimming specimen anyone around here is apt to pluck from a stream.
As most fly-fishers do, the young angler must have released the trout to swim again. Otherwise, he'd have pulled it out of some vest pocket to show off his prize. I'm guessing the fish is swimming in that icy water, and odds are the happy young fisherman and his buddy hope to catch it again someday.
The boys seemed to be exuding happiness. I have come across young people like them several times over the years. A young girl reeling up a nice walleye on the Cut Foot Sioux River north of Deer River. A gaggle of boys fishing for trout in Miller Creek behind the Kohl's store. Another couple of young men just leaving Amity Creek in Duluth with their fly rods on a summer evening.
I come away with a couple of strong feelings every time this happens. The first is that these young people have discovered the joy of fishing, which I believe they're likely to enjoy for the rest of their lives. Fishing will take them to beautiful places, where they will never tire of the almost electric sensation one feels every time a fish bites. It never gets old.
The other thing that blows me away is that it is still possible to catch trout in streams that flow through a city the size of Duluth. It says something about water quality and fisheries management and volunteers who have improved trout habitat over the years.
But mostly, on a snowy spring evening in Duluth, it meant two boys were really happy.