Duluth author compiles new bible for fly anglers
Fy fishing guide Carl Haensel has compiled a creel-full of Minnesota fishing information in "Fly Fishing Minnesota."
DULUTH — If you think being a professional fly-fishing guide, photographer and author might be a great lifestyle, consider that Carl Haensel answered his phone last week while on the oceanfront in Mexico.
“We’re catching bonefish, permit, barracuda ... and a bunch of others,” Haensel told a reporter who was stuck back in winter.
Haensel said he and his wife and fellow fly-fishing guru, Jade Thomason, take a couple of those warm-destination winter trips each year, part fun and part work, as he gathers information on fishing in exotic locales and she takes photographs for stories that will end up in the many fly-fishing publications they contribute to.
The Duluth-based couple also were celebrating the publication of Haensel’s new book, “Fly Fishing Minnesota,” a new go-to source for beginners and experts alike for taking all manner of species across Minnesota's varied lakes and streams on the fly.
The book’s 358 pages are packed with data on how, where and when to catch not just stream trout in typical fly-fishing rivers, but also trout-stocked lakes and warm-water lakes and rivers for smallmouth bass, muskie, panfish, walleye, lake trout and other fish.
There are more than 200 photos and 60 maps covering 125 big lakes and rivers as well as lesser-known tributaries, branches, lakes and streams. The maps show where to access the waters as well as fishing easements across private land and places to camp and park as well as information about dams, hiking trails and more.
And, of course, there are “recipes” on how to tie the favorite regional flies used across the state. There are even hatch charts for mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies around Minnesota.
“It’s flying off the shelf,” said John Fehnel, proprietor of the Great Lakes Fly Shop in Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood. “Carl knows his stuff.”
The book is a cross between a reference guide you’ll want to keep in your day pack (albeit a heavy one), to a coffee table book you’d put out in your living room. Available at namebini.com and in fly shops across the state, it has so much information about the lakes, rivers and species across Minnesota that anglers who don’t fly fish might even want a copy.
Haensel grew up in the Twin Cities and has been guiding since he was a teenager. He earned a degree from the University of Minnesota and was expecting to embark on a career as a biologist and ecologist. He worked for a time as a regional manager for Pennsylvania’s Fish and Boat Commission, where he managed education, programming and aquatic resource issues for a region in the Keystone State.
But Haensel had already been bitten by the North Shore trout bug. In 2006, he returned to Minnesota to settle in the Duluth area.
“I’ve actually been guiding now for close to 28 years,” said Haensel, now 45. “But I made the decision in 2006 to move to Duluth and focus on the North Shore and northern Wisconsin and the rivers I loved most. … I wanted to be able to fish, guide and advocate for the streams of the North Shore.”
The couple, along with their latest addition, daughter Maeve, 2, live just a long cast from the Sucker River, which Hansel considers his home waters. He not only loves to fish it, but the family has helped preserve shoreline along the river's banks in conservation easements to prevent development that could damage the cold, clean waters.
The family’s fly-fishing business of writing, photography and guiding, Namebeni LLC (pronounced "NAM-uh-BIN-ee") is named after the Ojibwe word for the Sucker River, Namebeni-Ziibi.
Haensel spends much of the open-water season guiding clients across the Northland, from Wisconsin’s Bois Brule River, to the St. Croix, to the many North Shore streams he frequents.
“I love guiding. … I love the people. It’s truly a great experience to watch people catch their fish of a lifetime,” Haensel said. “But it’s not always easy. … It’s great when people are catching fish and the sky is blue and the sun is shining and everyone is having fun. But when it’s windy and raining and cold and the fish aren’t biting … it can be tough. … You can’t control either of the two biggest factors for guiding. You can’t control the weather and you can’t control the fish.”
Haensel also has an ulterior motive while guiding: He tries to sneak in a little conservation biology between his client’s casts.
“Good fishing spurs good stewards. … If people can connect the fish they catch and the enjoyment they get (while fishing) with the quality of the water, they become advocates for the environment, for clean water,” Haensel said.
Haensel said fly fishing saw exponential growth in Minnesota during the pandemic-inspired rush to get outdoors.
“That’s continued. There’s still growing interest in fly fishing. But it’s more sustainable now, not quite as crazy as it was a couple years ago,” he said.
In addition to their guiding and freelance writing and photography jobs, the couple also is active in conservation efforts. Haensel serves as the Northern Minnesota vice chair for Trout Unlimited and Thomason is the editor of the statewide publication "Trout Unlimited Minnesota." The couple also manages Trout Unlimited's annual Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo held at Hamline University in St. Paul in March.
“It’s a great relationship because she is such a good editor and great photographer. I could never have done the book without her,” Haensel said of his wife. “She’s half of it, no doubt.”
The couple spent more than two years compiling information and taking photos for the book, finally seeing the finished book available in December.
The book covers most of the state’s major trout streams, of course. But it also goes much farther, with maps and photographs of multiple species that can be caught by fly rod across the state, from catching giant muskies on Mille Lacs Lake, to bluegills on lakes in Minneapolis, and hand-sized brook trout on beaver ponds up north.
The book is aimed at people who want to explore the state and try new fish in new places as well as people who have maybe never fished here before, either novice residents or visitors.
“Other books have already focused on Minnesota trout streams, the North Shore and southeast. I wanted to create something that people could use to form a plan to fish all across Minnesota, for all sorts of species — not just trout,” Haensel said.
Haensel and Thomason, also a conservation biologist, took many of the photographs in the book and have fished most of the waters listed. Haensel had to think some about what Minnesota fish tops his list.
“Asking about my favorite fish is a challenging question. But, at my core, I'm a brook trout guy. And I really treasure the wild brook trout along the North Shore,” Hansel said. “Knowing that you're fishing for a native fish like our coasters is truly special. Since they're less common, catching one makes it an experience worth savoring and reflecting on.”
About the book
- "Fly Fishing Minnesota" by Carl Haensel
- Self-published in December by Namebini LLC
- Paperback, 358 pages, $34.95 (plus tax and shipping.)
- Available at Haensel’s website, namebini.com , and at fly shops across Minnesota. Every order on the website includes a free one-year membership to Trout Unlimited (usually $35.)