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There's something about fly fishing for Kurtis Proulx – even if the fish don't always cooperate

It was a beautiful evening to be on the water; or, in Proulx’s case, in the water.

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Kurtis Proulx works a cast as he fly fishes on the Red Lake River at Old Crossing Treaty Park near Huot, Minnesota on Monday, August 22, 2022.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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HUOT, Minn. – The temperature might have been in the 80s, but signs of fall were in the air on this August evening as Kurtis Proulx stepped into the Red Lake River at Old Crossing and Treaty County Wayside Park.

Down here, below the bluffs that tower above this scenic river, which flows for 193 miles from the western side of Lower Red Lake to the Red River in East Grand Forks, it was easy to forget that the wheat harvest was in full swing just a couple of miles away.

While farmers raced to harvest what appears to be a bountiful crop, Proulx’s evening proceeded at a slower, more relaxing pace. If he happened to catch a fish or two – a smallmouth bass, perhaps, or maybe a goldeye or a line-testing carp – all the better.

If not, that was fine, too. It was a beautiful evening to be on the water; or, in Proulx’s case, in the water.

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A junior lab technician at the University of Minnesota Crookston, Proulx, 34, was testing the waters with fly fishing gear for a couple of hours after work on this hazy August evening. There was no need for waders, and Proulx in short order was standing in waist-deep water tossing flies.

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The water, he said, felt pretty darn good on this warm August evening.

To catch these fish, Proulx brought two 5-weight fly rods – both spooled with 5-weight line and a 10-pound-test length of leader. One rod had a Wooly Bugger tied on the end and the other sported a black streamer, a feathery creation that resembled a leech in the water.

“Last week, I hooked into a few goldeye down here, and they’re fun,” Proulx, of Red Lake Falls, Minn., said. “They put up a bit of a fight.”

So, too, do the smallmouth bass that are a favorite among many anglers who fish the Red Lake River.

“You don’t have to go too far for smallmouths,” Proulx said.

Catching the bug

It’s hard to pinpoint when he got the fly fishing bug, Proulx says, but he started out using a fly rod that a late uncle had gotten with points accumulated from buying Marlboro cigarettes.

“A real classy one,” Proulx said with a laugh, recalling the cigarette-point fly rod.

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It took a couple of days to master the art of casting a fly, Proulx says, but patience, persistence and how-to videos on YouTube eventually got him where he needed to go.

“I just decided to go out and try it one day, and then I started looking up different fish to go after in the area,” Proulx said. “There’s a couple of different places where they stock trout, so I thought I’d give it a shot, and from there, I’ve been doing it ever since.”

That was “four or five” years ago, he says.

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Bluegills are a blast to catch on a fly rod and willingly bite in the spring on Maple Lake near Mentor, Minnesota.
Contributed/Kurtis Proulx

The Turtle River at Turtle River State Park west of Grand Forks is a favorite trout-fishing destination, along with the Clearwater River northeast of Bagley, Minn. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department stocks the Turtle River with rainbow trout every spring and fall, depending on water levels, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources stocks rainbow trout in the Clearwater River.

The Straight River near Park Rapids, Minn., is another favorite and renowned for its brown trout. Most of the stocked rainbow trout Proulx encounters on the Clearwater River are in the 12- to 13-inch range, he says.

“I was chasing trout over there a lot this spring,” he said. “I didn’t have much of a chance to fish the Turtle River, but I’m hoping they stock it again this fall.”

Besides the variety of fish he can catch on the Red Lake River, Proulx says he’s also had good luck in the spring for bluegills on Maple Lake near Mentor, Minn.

“They’re like goldeye on the line, but they’re easier to catch,” he said.

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Not that difficult

Learning to cast a fly can be both intimidating and frustrating, Proulx admits, but it’s not as difficult as it might appear.

“I’m no expert at it,” he said. “I love doing it, but it’s not quite as hard as movies make it out to look. You have those perfect casts, and they’re perfect because they’re done by world-champion fly casters in movies.

“A couple of days just swinging flies and you kind of get it down.”

Getting started doesn’t have to be expensive, either, Proulx says.

“You can probably get a decent rod-and-reel combo setup for anywhere from $50 to $100,” Proulx said, adding he’s upgraded from that Marlboro-points fly rod he used to get his start. The rods and reels he now uses cost about $200 “for the whole setup, but some can be outrageously priced – just like any fishing rod.”

Based on his experience, Proulx says there doesn’t seem to be many people into fly fishing in northwest Minnesota and the Red River Valley – at least where he fishes.

“There’s some – but not a whole lot,” he said. “I haven’t been able to hook up with any. You don’t see a whole lot of them on the (Red Lake) river. Every once in a while, I’ll cross paths with them. I did over on the Clearwater River near Bagley and down to Park Rapids (on the Straight River) a little bit.

“There’s not as many in Turtle River State Park when I’ve been there.”

Guiding aspirations

In an effort to change that, Proulx says he’s tossing around the idea of starting a guide service for fly fishing. So far, Proulx says, he’s only taken family and friends out fly fishing, but he thinks the concept has potential.

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Fly fisherman Kurtis Proulx adjusts his line Monday, August 22, 2022, on the Red Lake River at Old Crossing and Treaty Park near Huot, Minnesota.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

He’s reached out to other fishing guides, including Grand Forks catfish guide Brad Durick, for tips on starting a guiding business. Topping the list of requirements are liability insurance, fishing gear and – perhaps most important – establishing a market and a client base, Proulx says.

“I’m kind of just exploring it right now,” he said. “(Fly fishing) not being very big around here, I feel like there’s a big opportunity for it.”

In the meantime, other fly anglers, expert or otherwise, are welcome to join him.

“I’d be more than happy to take someone out fly fishing for whatever they want to catch,” Proulx said.

Even on a productive stream like the Red Lake River, the fish don’t always cooperate – especially when it’s just a short excursion after work – and Proulx doesn’t hook any fish.

Still, he says, there’s an intimacy to fly fishing he doesn’t get with spinning gear. Therein lies at least part of the attraction, he says.

“I suppose maybe it gives you more to do while you’re fishing – you’re not just sitting there the whole time,” Proulx said “On top of that, the fight’s a little different – it’s hands on, when you’re pulling (a fish) in with the line in one hand and the rod in the other. Then, once you get them up to the net, you get up real close to them – especially when you’re in the river.

“There’s just something about it.”

  • For more information:

Contact Proulx on Instagram at barometer_outdoors or by email at kurtproulx@gmail.com.

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Kurtis Proulx wades into the Red Lake River on Monday, August 22, 2022, at Old Crossing and Treaty County Wayside Park near Huot, Minnesota.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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