I am only on day three of my Great Mississippi River Road trip to St Louis. I made a planned detour off the Great River Road to the west, hopefully to end my fishing season with a trout at Whitewater State Park. I started of my fishing season this year with a catch of my first ever rainbow trout. Landing one at the end of the season would just be a perfect way to end my season.
I turned off highway 61 heading on highway 74 that wound through the beautiful Minnesota bluffs towards the town of Elba, MN. I was thankful for the shade of the hard wood trees as I drove towards my destination, as the outside temperature climbed closer to 90 degrees. These back roads are not busy with traffic and I met an occasional milk truck or tractor heading towards a field. Once at the top of the bluffs I could see for miles in every direction before the road dipped back down into the valley that held the small town of Elba where the Whitewater River runs.
I pulled into Whitewater State Park (this was now my 4th Minnesota State Park on this trip) just before lunch. I was told the cabin I rented was not yet ready to be occupied (normal check in time is 4pm).
It is easy to kill time in this park with all the hiking trails, river, and side creeks to explore. I decided to head into the shade of Trout Run Creek to check out a trout hole I had found this past Spring.
As soon as I opened my gear I noticed that my fishing net was missing! I had forgotten it on a dock in William O’Brien two days earlier. How could I make such a mistake?
Instead of beating myself up about a lost net, I went off with my remaining gear to find the hole where I was sure it held a few trout.
Even in the shaded area of the creek the heat was brutal for this time of September! I was already drenched with sweat. As I walked the well beaten path along the creek, I could see trout skirting back to the hiding places under the rocks.
Trout Run Creek is shallow, narrow, and crystal clear. The sandy bank sends out the vibration with each step you take. Sneaking up on a trout here is near impossible.
I found the hole and saw a brook trout under a root waiting for something interesting to pass by to eat. My hope was it was a nice fly I had just tied on my line.
I spent a good hour casting my line up and down the creek close to that hole. The trout was not interested. I decided to wait until dusk and try my luck again.
I have stayed at several of these small cabins in the Minnesota State Park system over the years, for $67/night they can’t be beat. Large enough to bunk 6 people, with a table, benches, and a nice covered porch area it was cool and inviting after fishing. With all the room available to myself, I was able to hang my tent (that was still damp from William O’Brien) out to dry.
After getting settled I headed out to the local fishing store in Elba to purchase a new net.
On my way into town earlier I had seen a sign for an old fire lookout tower. Now coming into town from the other way, I could see the tower above the town standing as a “dare” to me to hike to the top.
After loading up with a new fishing net, some new flies I took the universe up on the unspoken challenge. I headed towards the sign and the trail, that would lead me on an afternoon adventure in the heat.
The steps leading to the top didn’t look very intimidating in the start, but after the first few minutes of climbing the steep incline I was already thinking I had bitten off more than I had anticipated with this hike. My heart rate now reached the dangerous level of coming out of my chest and my legs cried out to stop. My head was determined to make it to the top. All I really needed was a place to rest a minute. There it was right in front of me a nice bench. I sat to re-evaluate my plan. My water bottle was already more than half gone.
“It really can’t be much further.” I thought trying to look up through the canopy to where the hilltop must be located and finding nothing to give me a clue how much further I needed to go.
I got up and continued my step after step climb. My clothes now dripping from more sweat! When I finally reached the top the view of the town was breathtaking although I was still puffing from the climb, I took in the beauty of the surrounding countryside from this vantage point.
I figured this tower would have a locked gate and no access (actually I was hoping it would) but was surprised to find a warning sign at the bottom of the tower steps warning people who are afraid of heights.
So onward I climbed!
The views from the top and the cool breeze that came through the tower was a welcoming reward for my climbing efforts.
Once I took in several minutes of the view from this vantage point, I started my trek back down the steps. Later I was told at the park headquarters that there was 770 steps to the top of the tower from the base of the trail! Now on my “Been There, Done That” list is the 1540 steps of this fire tower. Sorry, no accomplishment T-shirts available!
I headed back to the cabin and prepared for my dusk fishing on Trout Run Creek. I had a bit more success as several trout investigated, tasted, and then spit out my flies before I could hook them in the jaw and land them with my new net.
The evening after dark I spent on the porch in the cabin listening to the crackling of the campfire, owls hooting to each other under a full moon. It could only have been more perfect if the Hubby was there to experience it with me.
Day Four started with another try at fly fishing. I had a long day of driving ahead but I wanted one last chance at landing something before hitting the road.
This time I was on the Whitewater River off the beaten path.
I bushwhacked into the bend in the river and started casting. The river was running dark from the last few days of rain. The bank was muddy and slick. So I carefully picked my way up and down the river casting into the dark waters with a bright pink worm.
In the end I didn’t catch a thing. Slipped in the mud on my way out and now looked like a mud river monster. Nothing like mud, to add to no fish caught disappointment!
I loaded my gear, made a stop at the shower to rid myself of the mud and shame. Then headed off to my next location on the Great River Road and hopefully a cup of good coffee, Winona, MN.
Next blog Winona, MN and on to Iowa.
Do you have a fly fishing experience? How about an adventure or hike you started that ended up more than you anticipated? Travelled to Whitewater State Park? Share your experiences below.
© The Cedar Journal, 2019, all rights reserved.