Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Posted by
Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters

Fly Fishing Through Generations: A Boundary Waters Blog by Joe Steffen

Joe Steffen, Wisconsin Chapter Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Board Member, on his annual trip to the BWCA and fly fishing like his grandpa before him


7 years ago I ventured into Boundary Waters Canoe Area for the first time not knowing what to expect.  It didn’t take long for me to realize the BWCA would always be part of my life.  I have hunted and fished since I was a little kid and I have always had a passion for the outdoors, but trips into the BWCA are different.  It allows me to truly unplug from the grind of daily life.  No status updates on social media, no work emails and no unneeded senseless drama that life tends to throw at you.  Just the quiet peacefulness of the beautiful pristine wilderness.

This year I wanted to try something different that I had wanted to do for years but with life and work I was always putting it off. I decided that I really wanted to learn how to fly fish but felt that it was something that would be difficult to pick up on my own so I decided to look into fly fishing lessons.  My wife, Megan, was awesome and agreed to learn with me, so we took the class together.  

My grandpa Joe, who is arguably one of the most influential people in my life, loved fly fishing and I remember standing beside him as a young child as he pulled in bass and bluegills with an old fly rod.  When he passed I kept a few close treasures; old pictures that hang in my home of his ship in the Navy from WWII, a flag  two young sailors folded as they lay my grandfather to rest, and many other sentimental items including two boxes filled with ratty, old used flies that are decades old.  I always romanticized the idea of casting a fly rod and catching fish like I remember Grandpa Joe doing.  So after taking fly fishing lessons and feeling confident I was on the right path to becoming a genuine fly fisherman, I decided I would wait a few months until my annual trip to the BWCA to bust out the skills I had learned.

Fast forward to August 21st, 2018, and I am perched on a rock looking out over a bay on Knife Lake in the BWCA all the while Megan is buried in a book soaking up the sun.  I am casting from our campsite mid-day and after 10-12 casts I see the line pull and feel the tension of a fish.  I quickly pull the line in and land my first fish on a fly rod, an 8 inch small mouth bass.  That day would bring many more small mouth bass on fly tackle.  As we watched the sunset, Megan and I full from our delicious shore lunch, I couldn’t help but think of Grandpa Joe and how happy he would be to see Megan and I in this special place.  As high school sweethearts many friends and family had their doubts about our relationship lasting, but Grandpa Joe always knew we were meant to be.  After 15 years together we both cherish the week a year we spend with each other in such a beautiful place such as the Boundary Waters.   I lay down to go to bed for the evening, rocking slowly in my hammock gazing off at the star filled sky, I am overwhelmed with the tranquility and adventure that the landscape of the BWCA offers.  I cannot put into words how important it is to protect this special place, there just isn’t many places left like the BWCA.

Joe Steffen is a Board Member for the Wisconsin Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and AnglersJoe currently works as a Sergeant for a College Public Safety Department in Madison, WI and works part time as a Police Officer for two local Police Departments. Joe has also been a lead Hunter Safety instructor for the Wisconsin DNR for the last 5 years and volunteers his time for the Learn to Hunt program through the Wisconsin DNR. He is passionate about ensuring public land access for generations to come. 

To ensure generations of hunters and anglers have access to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, sign our petition here. It's up to us to defend our public lands, waters and sporting heritage.