Fit To Be Tied

Posted on Jun 1, 2009 :: Down Time
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Dave Lisle, president and CEO of Wausaukee Composites

The swollen Oconto River runs hard this April morning and the current swirls and eddies around Dave Lisle, hip-deep in the river, just below Stiles Dam. A spring chill lingers in the air, but the rising sun glints off the water, warming body and soul. A fly rod whips rhythmically, metronome-like, in Lisle’s right hand, the line looping and curling before dropping the fly gracefully on the water. Lisle, the president and CEO of Wausaukee Composites, has made a quick fishing stop on the journey from his Brown County home to his Gillett plant just 30 miles north of here and then to his Wausaukee plant, 50 miles north. He’s crossed the bridge on Hwy. 141 and gotten off on Stiles Road. Ten minutes after he’s done fishing, he can be back on the highway, headed north.

“It’s a nice accessible river. You can jump in and get 30 minutes, 60 minutes of fishing in, even on a work day,” says Lisle. “It’s not a bad way to spend some time on the way to work early in the morning or coming home late in the afternoon, especially when it gets toward the end of April and early May when the hatches come along – the mayfly hatches and the caddis hatches,” he adds, referring to the annual rite of spring when the mayfly and caddis fly nymphs hatch, providing the resident trout with one of their favorite feasts.

“Sometimes the best time to fish the hatches is toward the end of the day,” says Lisle, as he continues to whip his line across the river, hoping to drop his fly in front of a willing and hungry trout. “If you find yourself in one of the hatches you can have a lot of fun. Sometimes you’ll come out here and catch a brook or rainbow trout, and sometimes you’ll catch 10 or 12 inside of an hour if you time the hatch well. You never know what you’re going to get here.”

Like a lot of his business brethren, Lisle lives in perilous and often troubling times. Wausaukee Composites now employs about 600 workers – more than triple the number of employees in 2002 when Lisle became president, following his father’s retirement. Tom Lisle had acquired the former Thompson Boat plant in Wausaukee in 1982, along with Cruisers Inc. in Oconto. He sold Cruisers to KCS International in 1993.

While his company is doing a lot better than many others, Lisle laments that he was forced to lay off 61 workers at his Cuba City plant earlier this year. Lisle traveled to Cuba City to deliver the bad news in person and to reassure the workers as best he could. In May, Lisle traveled again to Cuba City to welcome back 25 of the laid-off employees, and he hopes to have the plasnt back to full strength eventually.

“I judge success – both personal and business – by keeping people employed. That’s why this time is so difficult for so many employers,” says Lisle.

Today, though, he’s stolen an hour or so to soothe his soul in the clear, cold water, searching for just the right fly to tempt a trout. He starts with a tandem rig – an olive caddis nymph and a midge nymph. Neither is working. He tries a few other fly patterns, with no more success.

“Trout are very finicky fish,” says Lisle. “They’re good fighting fish, which makes it fun to catch them, but they’re very picky about what they eat and when they eat it. That’s why it’s so important to match the hatch. Whatever bugs are active on the river, you want to find a fly pattern that matches the activity on the river at that time.”

There’s no obvious hatch going on this morning, which could be part of the reason for the lack of trout action. Also, the river is almost wall to wall with suckers.

“The trout are fighting right now for space with the suckers,” says Lisle. “The river really gets choked with suckers sometimes and that crowds the trout.”

No matter. Lisle seems at peace with his rhythmic casting. After an hour, he tucks his fly rod beneath his arm and wades ashore.

“It would have been nice to tie into one,” he says, “but that was pretty cathartic anyway, wouldn’t you say?”

A few minutes later, he’s back in his truck, heading north. The morning sun is still low on the horizon and there’s a full day ahead. And if he wants, there will be a spot on the river waiting on his return trip home in the evening.