THERE ARE FEW things in this world more soothing to heart, mind and soul than a trout stream.

I cut my fishing teeth on one such stream; a burbling, gurgling stream that winds 4 miles from Plum Lake to Big St. Germain Lake. Plum Creek holds thousands of memories for me. Most memorable perhaps as the place where, as a 5-year-old, I caught my first trout.

Since then, there have been scores of trout streams that have lured me to their banks and into their cold waters in search of what I consider the most beautiful fish in the world, the native brook trout. Only slightly behind the brookie in beauty are the brown and rainbow trout, both of which have filled me with wonderment and awe more times than I can count.

My dad and I, during my adolescent and teen years, fished many of the best trout streams in the north, some well known to all anglers, others known to only a select few. In the summer, my dad usually had two days off during midweek and oftentimes, I was able to get off from my summer jobs at the same time. It was at those times we would head out for an overnight trip in search of trout streams and new adventures.

I was about 12 when he first took me to the Ontonagon and Tamarack rivers not too far outside of Watersmeet, Mich. It was a hot, bright, sunny late afternoon in summer when we donned hip boots and readied fly rods for an assault on the Tamarack.

Dad headed downstream while I went up. Three hours later, we met back at the car to compare notes. Neither of us had seen a trout, much less enticed one to attack a fly.

We retreated to a campground where we spent the night listening to the sound of water crashing over a small waterfall before rushing through a narrow rock-sided trough downstream.

Barely after dawn the next morning, we launched the canoe for an expedition on the Tamarack. I took the fishing spot in the bow while Dad handled the paddle in the stern. We hadn’t gone too far when Dad held the canoe tight to the inside of a bend where the water had carved a deep hole undercutting the bank on the outside. 

I wasn’t exactly a pro at fly fishing at the time, so I had traded in my fly rod for spinning gear. I tossed a small French spinner into the hole and reeled in, nothing. Three more times I cast, covering the length of the hole and on the last of those casts, had a strike.

This was no ordinary trout. He socked it like Joe Louis mauling Buddy Baer. He swung a mighty uppercut which jolted me to the core, but being young and tough I gave it back to him as good as I got. He slammed a shot at my mid-section which hurt, but then, I stunned him with a right cross and a left jab.

We fought on and before long, we were both staggering. Eventually though, my adversary began to tire. Youth was on my side. Holding on for dear life I began to pump my huge trout, he felt like a 4-pounder, nearer and nearer to the canoe. My dad offered encouragement, but when asked for words of advice he simply said “You’re on your own, kid.”

Gradually, I was able to increase the pressure on my trout and though he never gave up, he eventually was brought to the side of the canoe where Dad scooped him into a waiting net. He was a 4-pounder. But he was not a trout. He was a smallmouth bass, a true brawler and a trophy catch, just not the trophy I was looking for. So back into the Tamarack he went.

Since then, I have admired the beauty of many more trout streams. There have been many trips to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where I have fished the waters of rivers like the Firesteel, Sturgeon, various branches of the Presque Isle and others. Some have yielded up bountiful catches of trout while others gave me nothing more than the peace and serenity only a wild, secluded trout stream can.

Northwest Wisconsin, a place where my outdoor storytelling idol, Gordon MacQuarrie, lived and fished during the first half of the 20th century, has become my favorite go-to trout country of all.

There I have cast flies and spinning lures in the water of the famed Bois Brule River, a river where I caught my very first brook trout on dry flies. I have grown very fond of the Namekagon, Sioux, Potato, Marengo and others. Some I was introduced to by Dad, others I have found on my own.

My very favorite would be the White River, sections of which, not too far out of the town of Delta, hold brown trout thick as your arm and strong as an Olympic weightlifter.

I fish these trout streams, and have fished others like the Sand and Old Woman in Ontario, Canada; the Temperance and the Minnesota Brule in the Gopher State; creeks like South Clear, Leigh and West Tensleep in Wyoming; and the San Antonio River in New Mexico. 

I love them all not only for the trout they’ve put in my fry pan, but even more so for all the quiet beauty they all afforded me.

For you see, it is not just the trout that soothe my heart, soul and mind. It is the dazzling beauty of mid-May swamp marigolds along the White River, the smell of cedar along the South Old Woman, the family of geese swimming on the placid waters where the Bois Brule widens into Big Lake, the sound of a partridge drumming behind me as I wade the waters of the Namekagon and all such other wonders of nature to be found along the trout streams of the world.

At umpteen below zero on an early February morning, it may seem strange to be thinking so much of trout streams, but it is those very thoughts that warm me to the bone as I count the months, weeks and days until I can hear the white-throated sparrow sing from the valley of the Brule.