Last Spring the phone rang and it was my old friend Jim. We talked for quite some time. He shared with me that one of his sons had recently broken up with his wife of ten years and wasn't doing well. He asked me if I would take Brad fishing and take his mind off his dilemma. I had fished with Brad a dozen times in the past and enjoyed his company and thought it would be a good idea to get him out in nature and get his mind off his worries. I knew the exact place to take him.
We met up on the outskirts of town. We talked a little and off we went to our destination with two cars. We parked Brad's truck at the upper part of where we were to fish and Brad jumped in with me and we drove down to the lower beginning area. Brad was really quiet and I did not pry. I thought if he wanted to talk about it he would.
I had not fished this stretch in early season before. The stream looked much different than it had in the green of summer. The bluffs and landscape seemed a little more stark and not so lush and beautiful. The beginning stretch was embraced by rock bluffs. I let Brad fish a little ahead of me so he could get the rust off his casting and catch his first fish. It didn't take long and Brad had a beautiful brook trout to hand. The colors of the trout were neon and seemed out of place with the browns of early spring. We admired the male brook trout and sent it back to its home.
I then decided to fish alongside Brad so we could talk. He opened up and told me his wife had left him out of the blue and told him he should take the two boys because she wanted to start a new life. He was having a hard time with the transition and his five year old and seven year old boys didn't understand the situation at all. I could see he just wanted to fish and leave his problems behind for the day. We continued on with our adventure.
Brad really liked the rock bluffs. He said they made him feel safe and looked after. The water was crystal clear and the trout were eager. I watched Brad catch a decent brown and he admired it and set it free. Brad stayed crouched for a while after the release and I walked up to him. He wiped tears away and stood up and continued to fish.
The next hole looked perfect. The weeds that were typically in the hole had died off from the winter cold weather. We could see activity at the head of the hole. Brad stood in one place and caught 20 trout. Each one of his casts seemed easier and smoother. The soothing effect of nature and the trout melted away his anguish.
The brown of early spring were the dominant colors when we began our adventure. As we went upstream the color began to change to a little more green. I explained to Brad that there were lots of springs in the area and that was why the color was changing. Brad just nodded his head and did not speak. It was obvious he was still quite injured by his wife. We slowly fished upstream. The only words exchanged were when we admired a trout we had caught.
We walked up on to the biggest hole on the stretch. I told Brad it was his to fish. I sat down and watched as Brad dissected the hole. Brad fished the hole for 45 minutes. He changed flies 10 times and sized down his tippet with no results. Brad and I talked about the hole and where the trout would be laying. Brad said he felt defeated by the hole. I quickly told him that maybe there was only one really big trout in the hole and we had not thrown something it wanted to eat. I smiled and said maybe next time you will catch the monster that lives there.
Brad wanted to know how I stayed positive throughout my life. Brad had read many of my stories about my youth. He wanted to hear how I kept upbeat when my Dad died when I was 10 years old and left my mother and five sisters behind. I told Brad my mother had always stayed positive. She had always shared with us stories about other families that were worse off than we were.
Brad was through with the hole so I went to the head of it to take a photo. I snapped a photo and I saw something in the foreground. There were a couple structures about 30 yards from the stream. I had never seen these structures before because I had always fished this area in summer and now the vegetation was down and I could see better. Brad and I went to investigate.
The first structure was round and at first glance looked like an outhouse. It was made of blocks and the door opened only partially down. The roof was made of stones and there was an opening in the middle. The roof was moss covered. I kidded Brad that the moss was probably older than he was. We decided it was an old smokehouse. It seemed way out of place out there in the boonies with no roads and limited access. A smokehouse was a necessity not a luxury back in the day to make it through harsh Wisconsin winters.
We went to the next structure. It was about 30 yards away and tucked up against the hill. We both walked up to it and had the same comment. We both said "WOW!" simultaneously.
There we stood in front of an open hearth and chimney. There was no house attached to the structure. The family that had lived there was long gone. We admired the stone work. I told Brad I bet that the whole family helped make that hearth and that many meals were shared in the glow the fire created. We guessed the home to be 80-100 years old.
Where had the family gone? Did a fire take their home? Did the influenza epidemic of 1918 destroy their family like it did many families in Wisconsin? Had the Wisconsin winters been just too harsh for the family to withstand? It seemed like a perfect homestead site with the stream so close for bathing and food. This place must have seemed perfect when the home was built up against the hill sheltered by the rock bluffs.
The sun was going down fast and we needed to keep fishing. Brad seemed like a different man. He had more energy in his casts and a smile on his face. The two hours of fishing just flew by.
We were at Brad's truck in what seemed like a blink of an eye. We stuck our rods in Brad's truck and headed to my truck. We stood in the waning light of the day and took our waders off and talked. Brad thanked me for taking him and said it was fate that we stumbled on that old homestead. His life was easy and the family that had once lived in that old homestead had put his life in perspective. He drove away with a big smile.