Dennis Anderson
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– Because fishing can provide lifelong learning opportunities — and challenges — it can change lives, as was evident the other day here on Split Rock Creek.

Toby Halley, 28, of Northfield, Minn., was wader-clad and knee deep in water not far from where the Split Rock enters Lake Superior, while nearby and also in the river was Megan Johnson, 30, of Elk River.

The two were casting flies upstream of where they stood, then watching the current carry their lines toward open water. Conditions weren’t great: Recent downpours had turned every river on the North Shore chocolate brown, making the pair’s flies tough to see for any steelhead or other fish in the river.

Still, only minutes earlier, Halley’s spey rod had bowed and soon he had brought a small steelhead, or migratory rainbow trout, to hand. As quickly, the fish was released.

“Megan and I met on the Brule River [in Wisconsin] last fall,” Halley said. “She’s hard-core. We’ve put up with some pretty awful weather and conditions. But she’s always down to go fishing.”

Halley also met Brock Haugrud of Duluth last fall on the Brule. Haugrud had hooked a fish, and Halley’s dog ran to him to assess the commotion.

“Brock and I started talking and became really good friends,” Halley said.

Halley grew up in Northfield, in southeast Minnesota, but wasn’t a trout fisherman as a kid. Instead, most often he fished for bass and northern pike with his grandfather in the Brainerd Lakes area.

Then, about six years ago, a friend asked him to go brook trout fishing. Soon thereafter he bought a fly rod, fishing initially in the southeast for trout, before stretching his angling horizons to the Great Lakes.

Now in March each spring, he and his friends start steelhead fishing on Lake Michigan streams north and south of Milwaukee, before working their way up to the Brule and finally to the North Shore.

Halley is particularly smitten with the North Shore, its rugged beauty and especially its streams and the fish they hold.

“One day this spring on the Shore I caught 28 fish, drifting nymphs,” Halley said. “That’s when I decided I need a new challenge and I bought a spey rod. Now I swing my flies. I don’t catch as many fish, but it’s more rewarding.”

Next for Halley et al is a trip this summer to Ontario’s world-famous Nipigon River to fish for big brook trout. This fall, they’re headed to British Columbia for steelhead.

All of it — the new and intriguing destinations, the many fish caught and released, the new friends and especially the lessons learned — because Halley’s grandpa sparked an interest in fishing when Halley was a boy, and because a friend invited him to try fly fishing six years ago.

“Fishing,’’ he said, “is a great way to get my mind off of everyday-life stuff.”

danderson@startribune.com