Sunday, November 13, 2011

Anger Meets Ignorance on the Brule ~ The WI-MN Diaries (Part 4, Nov 7, 2011)

   With a smile, I greeted the landowner who had called out to me, expecting a ‘how is the fishing going?’ type of question.  Oh no, this guy was mad. 
   Doug and I had headed out from Duluth, MN, the morning of Nov. 7, 2011, to the Bois Brule River in Wisconsin.  For me, it was day 3 of fly fishing.  2 days of Musky followed by a final day of hunting for ‘Steel’ on a great river.  I dig multi-species trips & Doug loves to fly fish for Steelhead.  I was happy to be fishing with him.
   At the Red Gait parking lot, I saw buddy OC’s Yota.  Soon after, we found him at Howenstein Hole.  We talked and he told us what to expect upstream, including that when we got to the state park sign it would be private property & we would have to stay off the land but could still wade.  We thanked him and headed off to find holes of our own to fish. 
   We fished, crossed the river a couple of times , discovered one hole which had a huge blanket-topped picnic table bordering its shore, and near another hole I re-discovered an old enamel stove I came across last year when fishing with OC.  My guide friend has fished these waters with clients & is very respectful of others & the law, so I knew this hole to be accessible to the public.
   After rounding a couple more bends in the river, I discovered a property with a richly-colored golden-brown cabin on it and a vehicle in the drive.  It looked peaceful and it was here I discovered the private property signs posted on its neatly-trimmed border.  So, I backed up and left the trail staying 20’ clear of the posted property and respectfully staying out of eyeshot.  Despite the friendly IL neighborhood where I live, I still like the opportunity for privacy on my tiny property but find it difficult unless I remain indoors.  It is easy to appreciate another’s desire for privacy.
   Doug soon came by, he crossed the opposite riverbank, and we fished a hole large enough for two.  No fish.  We elected to head back for a late lunch.  I returned to the trail and it was here we met the ‘Angry Landowner’.  He informed us that as ‘sportsmen’ we were to respect the rights of the property owners.  I assured him that we saw his signs and had not crossed on to his property.  He told us his property extended beyond the signs to the ‘pipeline’ and he was not required to post signs but as ‘sportsmen’ we should be aware of the rules and not be disrespectful of the property owners.  He threatened us with law enforcement and fines unless we left his property.  He asked us, ‘would we want him on our property?’  Doug replied that currently, he’d say no.  We assured him we had been leaving and would continue on.  Doug asked how far the pipeline was. Landowner replied it was obvious.  Becoming angrier, he ordered us off of the trail and into the water, advancing toward Doug.  Doug told him to back off and we waded downstream.  Angry Landowner followed on the trail for a short time.
   Back at the Red Gait parking lot, which is where the pipeline and the trail to the river are located, we again met up with OC.  He was finishing off a beer left-over from our previous 2-day Musky trip. Dang!  I thought that beer was in my CRV.  No fish, angry landowner, and no beer for lunch.  What a day.
   We ate and told our tale to OC.  We realized we’d never seen a state park sign and it was still very unclear where the landowner’s property ended and state property began.  With no more than 1.5 hours of fishing daylight left, OC told us we could head back down the trail toward the Sauna Hole.  However, he cautioned us that part of the trail was again on private property (posted) but as long as we remained on the trail, the landowner didn’t mind others accessing the property.  When we came across the signs and entered the property, I admit to being a bit anxious.  However, I trust my friend and continued on.  The recommended hole was already being fished.  We found a nearby hole.  Near dark, we returned to the first hole and Doug and I again shared it.  The inside shore of the hole was banked by the trail and the owner’s very cheerful-looking sauna.  Now bankside, Doug watched me fish as the remaining sunlight was replaced by moonlight.  Another angler began to fish upstream of me.  Doug and he conversed.  As I left the water, the other angler moved on.  Doug told me the angler was also the property-owner.  I wish now that I hadn’t been so involved in fishing to stop and say hello.  I certainly would’ve thanked him for allowing us to share this section of the Brule River with him. 
   Overall, I believe both Doug and I would claim to have had a good day of fishing on the Brule, although we neither caught nor hooked any fish.  I’d also claim we experienced some ‘adventure and education’ on the Brule, again not due to any appearance of fish. 
   I learned that I need to have more knowledge of the waterways I fish.  While I wouldn’t recommend the Angry Landowner’s approach, he did further my education on the matter, so I appreciate crossing his path.  Other than employing a psychic or a land surveyor during fishing trips, I’m still clueless how to know when un-posted land is private property but I intend to learn more. (If something clear-cut presents itself, I will add it to the end of this post.)
   I think many people would label the ‘Angry Landowner’ a jerk or worse, and consider the ‘Happy Landowner’ to be a great guy.  I simply think of the Angry Landowner as, well, angry and very frustrated.  I feel badly for the guy.  I imagine he put down a large chunk of dough to buy his riverside retreat; a place to escape.  Perhaps all he wanted was a place in which he could leave civilization behind.  Alas, he bought property on the Brule, a river well-known for its Trout and Steelhead fishing.  No more can he stop the 2-legged human animal from entering this rich land than birds, bear, and deer.  A few will knowingly trespass and, I believe, many others -like me- who are ignorant, will accidentally cross his property lines.  This man, who paid a high price for property and peace will never truly get the peace he wants.
   I imagined to myself, what if Angry Landowner grilled brats outdoors on occasion and invited the stray angler over for a meal?  How many people from how many places would he meet and how many stories would he hear?  Or what if he just conversed with those crossing his land and wished them well?  I do know he would receive true ‘respect’ and while he would still find others on his property, responsible anglers would help ensure his property was cared for and avoided by the irresponsible few. 
   I believe both the Angry Landowner and the Happy Landowner deserve respect for their property rights.  The Happy Landowner, and those like him, are also deserving of kindness and gratitude from those who are allowed to enter their land.  But to answer the Angry Landowner’s question:  Yes, I would let him enter my property.  If I should ever realize my dream of owning a cabin with a little boat on a fish-filled waterway in which I give keys to all those who have offered me kindness and instruction in my fly fishing journey, I would give the Angry Landowner a key.  Indirectly he did teach me about fishing. But more importantly, I wish this man more experience in feeling the kindness of others.   
   The morals to my tale:  1) Learn the rules of the waterway.  2) If you should err and meet this angry man or another like him, tell him he is right and give him your kindness and understanding no matter what he expresses to you.  Returning a river of anger creates a dam; little penetrates either side but bad things spill over.  Continued streams of kindness may alter the course of the river.  Take the high road.  You may be sent below the trail to wade in the river, but the river is beautiful and only you can remove yourself from the high road.      


  1. Thanks for sharing your story LD! Awesome read :)

  2. I've also had a run-in with Angry Landowner. Except I was fishing and then hiked up to the trail past the one posted sign on the west side. It's just a little goofy because there are so many great people on that river each weekend. Great post.

  3. Thanks guys. I believe we crossed the river at the 'wrong' time, missing this one posted sign, otherwise we would've turned around. As visitors of the Brule, we still had a good day. I wonder if A.L. did. And yes, up until that day, all my fishing experiences have been friendly. Still great odds!


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