May 7—TIFFANY — The little stream is a narrow, gravel-bottomed tributary of the Rock River that cuts through Rock County farmland in a slow, lazy swath.
It's skinny water that's local enough to float you right past cornfield hillsides and regular guys in ball caps out scouting their residential backyards for blown-down tree limbs and twigs. Nothing exotic.
But if you're sitting in local fly-fishing guide George Kaider's 13-foot-long rubber raft, you start to forget about all of that.
Somehow, the gentle Zen in Kaider's voice transports the boat and its riders to some quiet, steady mountain stream of the mind.
A public school counselor by trade and a resident of Lake Geneva, Kaider guides spring and summer fly-fishing excursions in the streams and rivers of Rock and Walworth counties.
Kaider is 51, but he has fly-fished more than half his life. And this spring, he launched In The Flow Fly Fishing Guide Service.
Kaider instructs and guides fly-fishing novices, intermediates and experts alike with a soft, reassuring voice as his customers work on stretches of local streams that can hold some big Wisconsin game fish.
In The Flow probably is the only local guide service that uses the waters of Rock and Walworth counties to run excursions exclusively dedicated to the sport of fly-fishing.
"I just wanted to start something for myself on my own. Southern Wisconsin area has some really neat fisheries, trout streams, smallmouth bass and pike streams. But it's really not a very well-known region for fly-fishing," Kaider said. "I just saw an opportunity to build a business and to build something with our unique fisheries here in southern Wisconsin."
Kaider scans the stream from the center of his raft, scouting along banks overhung with leaning willows and box elder trees.
He's hunting the stream's surface for ripples, bulges and eddies that he calls "nervous water." They are all telltale signs of fish motion just beneath the surface that give away the hiding spots of 20-inch-long, golden-brown smallmouth bass and long, green, saw-toothed northern pike.
These are fish that favor sudden, massive attacks. Ambushes.
To catch them, Kaider casts hooked fishing flies he hand-wraps with colorful chenille and feathers that flutter and dance like miniature foxtails through the clear, springtime water.
Kaider tosses a blood-red fly tied to the line to the water. The line and lure flutter toward the bank, sailing from the long fly rod in a graceful arc. The line falls slowly as if it's in a trance, and the fly flutters just beneath the surface.
Then, a big fish, probably a smallmouth bass, flashes out from the shade of the stream's bank. It smashes into the fly.
"Oh! Did you guys see that? It was a tank!" Kaider says. But he says it softly—a blackbird perched on a limb nearby doesn't even spook.
Kaider doesn't land the big fish, but he's not worried. The float down the river is mainly recon.
Kaider is scouting the stream for changes in depth and structure from the prior year. It's still early spring, so the mayfly hatch and ensuing fish feeding frenzy hasn't started. Many of the biggest fish are still working their way back upstream from deep, winter holds in the Rock River.
But come high summer, Kaider hopes to have his days booked up with eight-hour fly-fishing excursions with a blend of newbies and fly-fishing enthusiasts.
His clients early this season have included a pair of international business travelers who drove up to southern Wisconsin looking for a rustic break from business conferences and a few young couples who tried out Kaider's service as an out-of-the-ordinary, daylong, outdoor date.
Some people Kaider takes out floating, wading and rowing the skinny streams of southern Wisconsin don't know a whit about fly-fishing.
Kaider loves that because then he gets to draw from his professional wheelhouse as a career-long educator.
"This just seemed to be the natural fit for me, really using all my skills as a teacher, as a counselor and a coach. I mean, these are the things that I do out here on the water with people. There's some anxiety that goes into learning something new. Sometimes folks are getting in a boat for the first time or they don't know how to cast or think they just can't do this. Don't worry. You coach them and teach them through it," Kaider said.
What Kaider is doing is a different take on local fishing, using a long rod with a light line and nearly weightless, feathery lures.
Somewhere downstream, Kaider hops out in his neoprene wading overalls and pulls the little raft over a shoal near a long bend in the stream. He grabs one of his long fly rods and wades out into knee-deep water.
Near the bank, another man works the shallows for fish. The man is fishing the stream the way almost everyone except Kaider would, with a typical, spinning reel and rod with regular tackle he might have bought in the fishing aisle at a hardware store.
Yet he and Kaider regard each other with a sense of mutual respect. Then, both men slip into their own personal pursuit of fish, engrossed in the late-afternoon slant of light as it hits the water and casts shadows that outline the stream's rocky bottoms.
Kaider said he likes to teach people he guides about the unique hydrology and ecosystems of southern Wisconsin streams. But what he likes most, he said, is when people get lost in the fishing. If nobody's saying anything, Kaider knows they've reached a state of mind that is the basis of his guide service's name.
"That's what I mean by in the flow. You find yourself someplace where time stands still. Five hours feels like five minutes," Kaider said. "You're just fishing."