Back in Louisiana many boys learn to fish at
about the time they learn to walk. At 43, I
have been walking for a while now, but I only
started fishing about three months ago. Why
I chose fly fishing I'm not sure. If I knew
the answer to that, I would have much greater
insight into myself regarding a whole host of
unanswered questions. In short, I don't know
what took me so long to discover my life's
I live in Alabama now, and I'm fortunate to travel
just enough on business to enjoy it. My goal when
traveling is to fly fish everywhere I go. When I
found out my next destination was to be Milwaukee,
Wisconsin, I was very pleased. Wisconsin holds a
special place for me because my mother attended
the University of Wisconsin. At a time when
African-Americans could not attend graduate schools
in the South, Wisconsin provided a wonderful window
of opportunity. She always spoke with great fondness
of the beauty of Wisconsin and its people. I was
probably the only kid in Louisiana who was a diehard
After a bit of searching, I found the Milwaukee Lakes
and Stream Fly Fishers (http://www.speakeasy.org/~mlsff).
The Milwaukee Lake and Stream Fly Fishers, also known
as MLSFF, is a group of fly fishing enthusiast located
in and around the Milwaukee area. Through their web
site I came upon a phone number and the name, "Ken."
So one evening sitting in my Birmingham home I decided
to give this Ken guy a call. When I called, a man
answered the phone and I said, "Hello may I speak to
Ken?" He responded by saying, "Who is this?" I began
to give him my name and the nature of my call when he
suddenly barked, "Why the hell are you calling me Ken
anyway? I don't know you!" Fearing he was about to
give me the old telemarketer hang up, I shot out the
phrase, "I called about fishing." It was those four
words that saved me! The proceeding tenor and tone
of the conversation completely changed. It was obvious
that Ken loved to fish, and that I had struck the cord
that soothed the savage beast that all telemarketers
After making that core connection, we subsequently
exchanged several phone calls and emails. He sent
me pictures of the clubs fly fishing outings as well
as two of his favorite flies. He even sent fly recipes
and an actual fly he tied himself. I took the recipes
to "mission control." Mission control is the Riverside
Fly Shop located on the only tail water trout stream in
Alabama, the Sipsey Fork of Warrior River. The owners,
John and Elizabeth are always happy to assist and never
try and pressure you with a lot of sales talk. John gave
me a few pointers on northern trout because he has fished
in probably every element known to mankind, and Elizabeth
tied my flies for the trip based on Ken's photos and
recipes. Elizabeth even tried to replicate one of Ken's
now famed flies, "The Zeilinski." It was given the sir
name of its creator, Ken Zeilinski. The Zeilinski is
now a key element of my arsenal. After a week or two
and a bit of hand ringing, Ken called me and told me
that he had finally found someone to take me fly fishing.
He paired me with Michael Dearry. Michael was perfect
for the task. Incredibly, Michael is a graduate of
Auburn University, a major university here in the
state Alabama. He had spent many years in Alabama,
and his roots are very deep. He had to be the most
northern "Southern Boy" I had ever met. He was an
incredible combination of North, South, urban, and
country. From his Birkenstock clad feet all the
way up to the pinch of Copenhagen in his lip, he
was the perfect fusion of two extreme elements.
The ease and comfort with which he blended and
presented these contrasting styles was to be envied.
Now it was the morning of our fishing trip and my
last day in Milwaukee. Michael and I had a great
breakfast at some extremely Milwaukeean diner
located on Kinickinic Street. After I was nearly
too stuffed to move, Michael and I headed for the
appropriately named trout waters of Paradise Springs.
With me in tow we met Ken at a park and ride and he
led the way. After a pictorial display of the
Wisconsin's country side, we arrived at truly a
paradise. The water was crystal clear. I know
this is often a very over used phrase, but not in
this case. The whole area was amazingly clean.
I did however notice one sheet of paper. It was
in about six feet of water so clear you could
actually read the writing. I am ashamed to say,
but this was quite a contrast from most public
places in Alabama. Although my home state of
Alabama is quite beautiful, far too many of its
residents fail in protecting that beauty.
With our waders on and rods ready, Michael and
I following Ken's lead as the three of us waded in.
This was my first time ever in a pair of waders.
The water seemed freezing cold especially to a
boy from the Deep South, but I was warmed with
excitement. There was what also seamed like a
lot of trout in the water, but Ken told me he
had seen many, many more on other trips. It still
looked like a lot of fish to me! The Browns and
Rainbows looked as though they averaged mostly
around a foot or so. The fish could be clearly
seen throughout the water thanks to the polarized
glasses that Michael loaned me. It became very
evident after a couple of fruitless hours however
that catching them was a lot harder than seeing them.
I soon learned that trout are very cautious
fish by nature, and these had obviously been
exposed to quite a bit of fishing pressure.
In Ken's words, they were very educated. For
me they might as well have been Rhode Scholars
on leave from Oxford. Nonetheless, it was still
time well spent. Because of the tree lined overhang,
I was forced to work on my roll cast. I can't
adequately tell you how much I need that. After
several tries, I finally acquired some consistent
degree of proficiency, and was very pleased.
However, near the end of the day I admittedly
began to resign myself to the thought of not
catching my first trout. The other guys were
not on fire either, but at least had caught a few.
It was also getting late and I had a plane to catch.
I found myself lazily fiddling with my rod while
rationalizing why this had still been a good trip.
Sinking like quicksand into this rational, my rod
suddenly jerked hard and bent downward. I had a bite!
It was a beautiful foot long rainbow. I'm not
sure who was the most excited, Michael, Ken, or me!
Michael was shouting, "Keep you rod high!" Ken was
yelling, "Easy! Easy," although there was nothing
easy in his tone. Between the fighting trout and
the shotgun like commands from Ken and Michael, I
found myself standing in an almost Kung Fu like
position trying to heed each instruction! Between
the three of us the trout didn't have a chance.
At last, I had caught my first trout!
Now that I am back in Sweet Home, Alabama, reflecting
on all of it, I know I will never forget that first
trout I ever caught, or the guys who made that happen
for me in beautiful Wisconsin. ~ acorbin