“Chuck, I’ve found a real good place for brook trout,” said my father when he picked me up at the bus station in Hayward. The spring semester was over and I was home for a few days before heading back to the University of Wisconsin at Madison for summer school. He was not primarily a trout fisherman, so I knew he had gotten the lead on a hot spot for brookies for my sake.
As we drove home I asked for details. He had gotten the directions from an old friend who fished it during the Great Depression. The friend was older than my father and had not been back to the stream since shortly after World War II. In my few years I had learned to be suspicious of wonderful bass lakes “that nobody fished because you have to carry a canoe in and trout springs that held huge fish because “most fishermen are too lazy to walk in to get to them.”
As an eager teenager I had carried a canoe through some pretty dense woods and waded through my share of swamps surrounding spring holes. While my fishing buddies and I did occasionally catch fish that way, we were never tempted to repeat those expeditions, being mainly just happy to have made it back to the car without getting lost or drowning. When he told me who had revealed this brook trout haven to him, I was even more skeptical: Ole (not his real name) spent most of his time enjoying retirement by telling tall tales in the local taverns.
I was looking forward to spending a few days fishing brown trout on the Namekagon River, but Dad was determined that we should try his friend’s stream on one of those days. Not being a “kiss and tell fisherman,” I will call it Frenchman’s River, with a nod to Robert Traver and his “Frenchman’s Pond.”
It turned out to be nearly a 40-mile drive, a third of it on National Forest Roads graded by men who had been trained to scrape large rocks up to the surface. I was driving, and Dad was giving me directions. We turned off a perfectly good stretch of Forest Road onto a trail that Dad had been told led to some cabins. The alders scraped both sides of my old Desoto, but we got to a turnaround where there were indeed two abandoned cabins.
The river did not look all that promising, but the thick brush on both sides made it clear that it wasn’t being fished very much. The trail crossed the river on a rickety bridge just beyond the cabins. My father announced that he would fish from the bridge, and that I could take my pick of going upstream or down.
When I got back from a half-mile hike that took me to some of the best brook trout fishing I had ever had, Dad was sitting in the car with a can of Leinies and his limit of trout. I cleaned twenty beautiful fish along the river and we headed home with just one stop at a tavern where we acted like any serious brook trout fishermen, explaining that “we caught a few small ones at a culvert where a crick crossed the road.”
When we got home and showed Mom our fish, I think it was the first time she told me that she really liked smaller brook trout.
She fried trout in butter or bacon grease accompanied by boiled potatoes and a green vegetable. My favorite was asparagus, but since we depended on harvesting “wild” asparagus from fence rows and roadside ditches, we often had to make do with peas or beans she had canned the previous summer.
If you ignore the recently created catch-and-release season, trout fishing begins the first Saturday in May and ends on September 30th for most streams in Wisconsin. In northern Wisconsin the asparagus season also starts in May, which may explain why I have always felt that asparagus goes especially well with fried brook trout.
Even canned asparagus makes a good accompaniment, but fresh asparagus boiled or fried until crisp-tender in olive oil and butter is the best. Mom usually boiled asparagus in a little water, but I prefer it fried. Here is how to make enough pan-fried asparagus for four.
1 lb. fresh asparagus
2 T butter
2 T olive oil
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Wash and trim the cut ends of the asparagus. You may need to trim a bit more on some stalks to remove the woody portion. Heat the butter and oil in a frying pan over moderate heat. Add the asparagus and turn to coat the spears with oil. Sprinkle on the salt and grind pepper over the spears. Cook them eight to ten minutes until tender but still crisp.
NOTES: You can also use this recipe to roast the spears. Preheat the oven to 400º and melt the butter. Mix the butter and oil in a glass baking dish and add the asparagus. Sprinkle the spears with salt and pepper and turn them until they are coated evenly with the oil and spices. Roast them for 20 to 25 minutes until tender but still crisp. I usually use sea salt for roasting vegetables, but ordinary iodized salt is okay.