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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."

Coaster Brook Trout ONE TIME USE ONLY
A North Shore coaster brook trout, Carl Haensel's favorite fish. This is one of 200 photos in Haensel's new book, "Fly Fishing Minnesota."
Contributed / Carl Haensel
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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.

New book "Fly Fishing Minnesota"
Carl Haensel's book, "Fly Fishing Minnesota," is available at fly shops across the state and online.
Contributed / Carl Haensel

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.

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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.

Book "Fly Fishing Minnesota"
Carl Haensel's book, "Fly Fishing Minnesota,'' includes detailed descriptions of what to look for and how to be successful on trout streams and lakes across the state.
Contributed / Carl Haensel

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.

From the book "Fly Fishing Minnesota"
"Fly Fishing Minnesota" includes dozens of maps offering guidance on where and what to fish for on lakes and streams across the state.
Contributed / Carl Haensel

Home waters

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.”

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Maeve, Carl and Jade with Steelhead2 (2).jpg
Duluth-based fishing guide and author Carl Haensel with his wife, Jade Thomason, and their daughter, Maeve, 2, and a nice steelhead rainbow trout.
Contributed / Carl Haensel

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.

Steelhead trout ONE TIME USE ONLY
A nice Northland steelhead rainbow rout. The photo is one of more than 200 in Carl Haensel's new book, "Fly Fishing Minnesota."
Contributed / Carl Haensel

“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.”

Conservation ethic

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.

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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.

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smallmouth bass ONE TIME USE ONLY
Jade Thomason with a nice smallmouth bass caught on a fly. She and her husband, Carl Haensel, run Namebini LLC, a guiding and fly fishing freelance writing and photography business based near Duluth.
Contributed / Carl Haensel

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.”

Geoff Vukelich said fly fishing helped him leave a youth of bigotry, hate, bias and prejudice behind.

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.

New book "Fly Fishing Minnesota"
"Fly Fishing Minnesota,'' by Duluth fly fishing guide Carl Haensel, includes detailed information on hundreds of lakes and streams across the state.
Contributed / Carl Haensel

“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.”

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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.)
John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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