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Larry Reis

Winneshiek County Conservation

www.winneshiekwild.com

Winneshiek County trout stream map

Winneshiek County Conservation

Larry Reis

Winneshiek County Conservation

Larry Reis

Winneshiek County Conservation

www.winneshiekwild.com

Winneshiek County trout stream map

It’s a little hard for Larry Reis, natural resources manager at Winneshiek County Conservation, to explain what he does—because there aren’t many wildlands activities that he hasn’t performed at some point in his career. A naturalist by training and an avid fly fisherman and wildlife photographer, Larry himself is a resource. He’s one of many committed protectors of the waterways and prairie—including native prairie remnants—embedded in Winneshiek County. If he had to choose, though, the trout streams might be his favorite, both for the enjoyment of fishing and for what habitat for trout represents.

For starters, the Driftless Region’s only naturally reproducing (brook) trout population to survive the last ice age and modern industrialization was discovered in Winneshiek County in South Pine Creek, near Bluffton. Through careful management, those trout spawned generations of brood stock, now introduced and self-sustaining throughout the county’s 19 spring-fed creeks and 32 miles of fishable water. “We’re finding reproducing trout in just about every tributary stream that’s cold to the Upper Iowa and on to the Yellow River in Allamakee County,” Larry reports. “It’s incredible to see.”

He’s talking about another kind of legacy, one that Winneshiek County has invested in for decades: stream restoration, prevention of erosion, often from agricultural lands, and widespread awareness of how rare and valuable the local karst topography really is. Today, Winneshiek County Conservation performs outreach and education alongside Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources, which stocks more than 76,000 catchable rainbow and brook trout, and 30,000+ fingerling brown trout between April 1 and October 31. The DNR also releases excess brood trout from a state fish hatchery in Decorah, measuring between 14 and 24 inches and weighing two to eight pounds.

“The rich and diverse environment is why I live here—spring creeks, oak savanna, marshes, wetlands, prairie,” Reis explains. “Our streams are more intimate, more fertile, and far less busy and more accessible than the wide Western rivers. The fish grow fast here.” His favorite spot? “Probably Coldwater Creek in the northern part of the county. There’s a good piece of water about every 10 feet, not that it guarantees you fish,” he says with a grin. “But around here, you up the odds.”

Brianne Huiskamp knows a thing or two about how a leather cowboy boot should fit—after all, the Driftless native grew up wearing hand-me-down boots from her older brother, both of them learning to ride horses with their dad, a professional bareback competitor and horse trainer.

“I remember my mom saying there was no place to buy boots locally,” Brianne says, which made it hard to get  the fit and style just right, whether the boots were needed for work or well-tailored fashion. That’s why, when Brianne had the chance, she opened Broker Leather boutique in downtown Decorah. Today, she and her “herd” of talented local employees specialize in providing expert advice on the fit of more than 25 brands, as well as finding exactly what a customer needs, from everyday slip-ons, belts and other leather goods to one-of-a-kind boots for a bride’s big day.

The goal, as their logo suggests, is to showcase high-quality, hand-crafted footwear and leather goods that are as unique and trendy as they are durable. Each purchase, she says, should feel significant and well-researched—an investment in both form and function. “Most people don’t realize that boots are limited-edition. Stitch designs and colors change with the seasons—and when they’re gone, they’re long gone—so when you find something you truly love, it’s definitely something to cherish and hold onto.” Broker Leather also offers gift cards, so a recipient can choose exactly what he or she likes, free shipping on all purchases over $100, and interest-free payment plans.

Among the store’s most popular lines are Viking sandals, as well as Ariat Cruiser moccasins. “If you have one pair, you have three—they’re that lightweight and comfortable,” she jokes. Broker Leather also carries commemorative footwear, such as baby moccasins, as well as handbags, jewelry, and clothing. Her favorite boots are made by Corral. “My dad bought me my first pair,” she says, “and I remember how special that was. There’s just something about the softness of the leather and how they truly conform to your foot.”

To get the store started, Brianne reached out to established retail buyers in Decorah’s business district. “Stephanie Henning at Modish even took me to my first trade show in Dallas and mentored me in what worked for her, and how to serve the community’s needs with products that complemented other businesses in town.” Every chance she gets, Brianne pays this valuable advice forward, by directing new walk-in customers to other Decorah storefronts and by donating a portion of sales to local charities and service organizations. The outreach helped the store earn runner-up as Iowa Boutique of the Year in 2019.

And the name? It has to do with a horse, of course. When Brianne’s own daughters, Paysen and Ryggen (a take on bareback “riggin”) were just toddlers, she happened upon a gentle black-and-white paint horse named “Broker’s Paycheck” through a saddle club on Facebook. He just seemed fated to join the family, since Brianne’s husband’s name also follows suit. “My husband, Payne, is my opposite and the calm to my chaos as a business owner,” she explains. “I get here every day excited to pursue my dream and see the joy that great service can create.”

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