May 2010


Sunday, May 16th, 2010

All Images  can be ‘clicked’ on to view them in a larger format

Stenonema Vicarium (Family Heptagenidae)

I see a pattern here. I discover a new piece of water and I get fixated on it. Those magnificent brown trout! Despite my disease, I am in no rush to get moving today. I want to relax, spend some time blogging, breakfast in Fennimore and crop some photos from last week’s outing with Joe. It’s inevitable though that I will make the trek over to Iowa (again!) and see how that water held up from the rains of this past week.

The horses are all the way up to the Stile – so I walk the length of the barbed-wire down to the river and then follow its edge to the first good riffle. I stop here to photograph some bugs. There are numerous Stenonema Vicarium nymphs here. Two bends down there lies a large boulder where trout stack up in large numbers. The water was gin clear last week, but now it’s a bit murky: I can no longer see to the bottom. I’m actually encouraged by this. It provides some cover as I work to extract a couple of big browns from the nice pools further down stream.

I move down to the piece of water where my brother Joe got that monster brown last week. He dubbed that fish “Goliowa” (Goliath + Iowa) and now I’m here to have a crack at him for myself. I start down by that deep water above the wood debris and work the ledge rock on the far bank. The water is murky here as well and I wonder how well the fish can see my fly. I’ll make several passes and cover the water very thoroughly.

Eventually,  I start to work my way up to the head of pool. I switch my fly from the #12 bead-head prince nymph to a tandem rig with #8 hydropsyche larva followed by a weightless #16 Pheasant Tail (PT) Nymph. I try something new here with the rigging for the dropper. I tie a perfection loop (see below)  and place a PT on the first coil of tippet – the one that is pulled through to create the final loop it self. As I coil the second wrap around, I slip the PT through and tug the knot down tight as is usual with the perfection loop. Now I have a nice loop with a fly on it.

Perfection Loop Used for Dropper Fly in a Tandem Rig

This fine loop allows the PT to swing freely for a more natural effect. I consider changing it out as I’m not sure if it will hold for a bigger fish, but what the heck – I’ll never know if I don’t try it. I toss the rig up into the tail of the run that leads into the pool few times and finally connect with a nice trout. Unbelievably, it is the same brown trout that I caught over a week ago: with the very distinguishing marks by its right eye. I am pleased to say that this fish took the dropper fly on that loop which held up nicely as I battled this brute to the net.

I continue to work upstream into faster water, adding a single micro-split-shot above the first fly along the way. I pick up two smaller brown trout as I approach the faster, shallower water. I then sit down to enjoy the moment. this is a beautiful spot. There is a natural spring here that joins the river right at this prime piece of water – creating a cooling effect and giving trout just one more reason to congregate here.

The weather is sublime. The wind has picked up a bit providing some surface disturbance. The wind is bitter-sweet to the fly-rodder. Although it makes casting more challenging and tends to blow hatching insects asunder, the surface chop definitely aids in concealing the angler. The sky is overcast. It’s gray as far as the eye can see.  The sun has created an obvious bright spot where it is working to burn through those clouds. All things considered, I think there should be a hatch on this river! Three weeks ago, I took all of my fish here on dry flies – caddis to be precise. Then Joe and I saw a few nice march browns hatch out on a single bend in the river last week (hardly enough to call it a hatch though). You’d think these conditions and this time of year would be producing an abundance of bugs up and down this river. However, it’s 2:20 p.m. and I haven’t seen a single bug on the water nor any rising fish.

A blue heron takes flight just downstream prompting me to head down river, camera in hand, to find another spot to enjoy. I carefully approach the next large bend in the river and see several nice trout finning in the depths. I move down below them and re-assemble my nymph rig. I have a field day landing over a dozen nice browns and rainbows in this stretch. Further down, a  massive snapping turtle rests on a submerged branch, possibly waiting for some unsuspecting prey to pass by – it certainly blends in well with its algae-covered shell.

It’s amazing what an overcast sky and a little murky water can do. I catch trout in every hole on this river for rest of the day. I have to say that I love this creek when it runs so “bloody”. Replete with a tremendous day on the water, I head back to that first spot to have a final try for “Goliowa”. I start at the very bottom of the hole. I am no more than a half dozen drifts into it when I feel a light take. I set the hook. The fish makes a tremendous run, pounding its way to the head of the pool, and then driving into the riffle and run above – against the current!!  Line rips off my reel which suddenly goes limp as the entire rig breaks off in the rocks. Argh!!  I am simply amazed at the power of this fish. Was it Goliowa? I’ll never know. I never saw the monster – it just took line faster and harder than anything I’ve ever had on before. Ever!

~ WiFly ~

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Saturday, May 15th, 2010 – Back in SW Wisconsin.

Last winter, my mother-in-law asked me if I would be willing to offer up a day of guided fly fishing as part of a silent auction for a charitable cause. Of course I obliged. Susan Gramling is the recipient of that gift:  a day out in the field with rod and fly. I spend an early morning just outside of Fennimore scouting for water clarity while Susan is still making her way west.  There are some thin clouds lingering about, but I expect we will have a very bright day. No worries as I know where to go even on the brightest of days to tease a trout from a deep pool or from a stream running through a shadowy wood. I am very much looking forward to sharing what I know with someone who is eager to learn about this sport.

It’s about 7:30 a.m. and I’m  headed over to take a look at the river below the Collins Road bridge. I haven’t hit that stretch yet this year and did so well there at the end of last season. The river at here is a bit high and demands a weighted presentation. I don’t have time to finesse a trout from here this morning and make it back to pickup Sue on time, so I walk the banks to examine the water. It’s quiet save for the sounds of nature: the rushing and gurgling of the river; the birds tweeting and singing about the edges; the wind blowing high in the trees. It feels like a good day and that is exactly how it turns out.

Sue caught trout on every piece of water with over five fish landed in total – a few others got away on her. We hit the Big Green, the Little Green, and the Blue River. I also ran down to take a look at Castle Rock Creek, but it was chocolate-colored once again. That discolored water almost caused us to skip the Blue River, but Sue wanted to see some spots that she could hit if she returned again. Once we got to the Blue River, I was surprised to see the orchard had been torn out and a significant stream re-hab project had been completed. The water looked plenty clear and we saw rising fish throughout its course. I caught and released a very nice 14-inch brown on this stretch – our biggest fish of the day.

Sue was great to guide for. She knew her way around a fly rod and she came with the expectation to learn with any fish caught being a bonus for the day!

 

Saturday & Sunday, May 8th – 9th, 2010
It seems unnatural to open the regular trout season anywhere else but Wisconsin; however we are about to do just that. Wisconsin is well known as the premier blue ribbon trout fishery in the Midwest. Bar none. The driftless area, however, is not bounded by state lines. It is an area defined by geology. Southwest Wisconsin, Northeast Iowa and Southeast Minnesota all share this common geological history. The result includes limestone acquifors that are essential to create, replenish and sustain the spring creeks throughout this area. The Driftless Initiative is an effort to unite organizations and individuals within the Driftless Area to support the region’s ecology, economy, and cultural resources. Check out this link as the site is pretty well done in terms of resources, information and data.

Ross Mueller wrote an outstanding book “Fly Fishing Midwestern Spring Creeks – Angler’s Guide to Trouting the Driftless Area.”  It serves as a reference and guide for this area.  We also like his book “Upper Midwest Flies That Catch Trout and How to Fish Them” since we are into tying our own bugs. His dark-ribbed yellow nymph is a staple fly in my arsenal.

This spring has been warmer than usual. Looking back a the last month, we note that hatches are advanced by two weeks or more. This is Mother’s Day weekend, but we saw the Mother’s Day caddis hatch over two weeks ago. Today we will see some of the first hatches of some of the larger mayflies. My mind turns to a northern river, replete with fat brook trout and over-sized orange-bellied browns. If that substantial hatch of Hendricksons comes off two weeks early, I’ll have to be on that water the week of May 24th. I wonder if the larger, migrating browns key off this advanced weather pattern as well, or if they will begin their pilgrimage in early June as usual. There’s only one way to find out! But that’s for later this month…

Today is spent on the piece of water that I fished last week – right after Wisconsin’s early season closed. We climb over the ‘A’-frame stile and head through a pack of horses  to some prime water.

Joe immediatey spots a nice run leading into a deep, dark pool – the end of which is jammed with wood and debris right where the river thins out again. There is limestone rock flanking the far side of the river and I call out to Joe to lengthen his leader as the spot looks VERY deep. We’re brothers though, so no piece of trouting advice can be taken in either direction! Joe slinks over the bank with his rig set just the way he likes it. He is fishing a 4W Sage rod with a 9-foot leader. His terminal fly is a #12 beadhead prince and he has a small, yellow pinch-on foam strike indicator about four feet or less above his fly. He tucks his casts up along the ledge rock on the far bank and well upstream. On his third attempt he hooks up with a nice fish – and as soon as it turns, we both know it is a trophy.

I forgot to mention that Joe is fishing a custom Bradley reel that showed up under his Christmas tree a couple of years back. Richard Bradley of Bradley Reels is reputed for making custom, high-quality reels and we each have one inscribed with “Brothers of the Fly”- the insignia for our exclusive club with only two members. These reels are throw-backs to the days of old (Edward Vom Hofe circa 1875 to 1878) and so they have the classic pillar design and absolutely no drag. That’s right: Joe is playing the fish of a life time on a 4W rod with a reel that has absolutely no drag. And this brute makes some strong runs into the submerged wood down below. I stand on the bank looking down upon the surreal as Joe’s rod is bent full over to battle that big dog back from the wood. A combination of forced retrieves and deep, powerful runs makes for an intense mêlée.  More than once I wrote this fish off – “it will never see the net” I thought. Then I noticed that Joe does not have his net on his back. He left it back in the FJ. What to do? There are a few unwritten rules between us when it comes to the pursuit of trout. The first and most important rule is that “no advice or help is needed or wanted”. It diminishes the satisfaction of self accomplishment that comes with the reward of a rare trout like this. I break this rule far too often; however Joe is a tolerant brother. The battle is underway now, so no words can be exchanged. This is a personal encounter where the wisdom of years is dished out in the flash of minutes. It demands concentration.  I toss my net into the slack water behind Joe and walk away. It’s up to him to decide if my net fell there by accident or whether I tossed it there. In the end, the fish is a monster: neither of us is likely to see another like it for some time.

Now it’s my turn. It takes a bit longer, but I eventually connect with a brute of my own. No where near the size of Joe’s monster; however this respectible 16-inch fish is more than satisfying. This brown trout has a distinguising mark near its right eye:  a dark shadow and an arc of consecutive spots descending in size as they curve aroud the edge of its eye. I mention this since it will not be the only time I catch this fish this year.

We drop down stream to fish the deep clear pool where I caught the 17-incher last week. I hook up with another nice brown on a dark-ribbed yellow nymph; however, he is smarter than I and we part ways before I can bring him to the net.

We decide to hike downstream and explore the area for future reference. The river cambers through woods and greets a number of  railroad trestles as it works its way east. We scramble over or under these and realize how special this place is. We can see where ancient limestone rock has been blasted away to to make way for the railroad:

Satisfied that this river will eventually go down in the chronicles of our flyfishing adventures yet to come, we decide to explore a second stream. This next piece of water lies south and west. It’s a tributary to the mighty Yellow River. Getting there demands a slow, curving drive through beautiful surroundings – taking sharp turns and driving along the edge of cliffs with only a few stops to examine the elk (yes elk) and a band of sheep that we see along the way.

I work the water several bends below the bridge  where it crosses the creek. I am using a #14 Elk Hair Caddis trailed by a #16 bead-head gold-ribbed Hairs-ear nymph. This rig ties me into about a half-dozen brown trown all of which come to hand.

Upstream of the bridge is also a wonderful experience. This time Rainbows are the fare. I take about four 12-inchers that truly fight and jump. These are very rewarding as the casting here requires  an upstream approach, but with deeply overhanging brush on the left – and that’s where the fish were. The right bank offers no mercy with a high, weedy bank that risks tangles if not carefully considered with each cast.The backcast here requires a high overhead loop that can not be allowed to approach anything close to the normal horizontal trajectory. The forward stroke has to direct the unfurling line forward in a curved motion so as to slide the entire rig up under the overhanging brush on the opposite bank – allowing a long drift to run parallel to that bank. Each time that the cast is delivered properly, I am rewarded with a nice fight. The last trout jumped so high that it got tangled in the overhanging brush and was swinging there slapping the water with its tail before breaking off!

We finish up on a third river that must have been of Spanish descent. X50 and the Key Stone mark our route and we only have time to range up and down and hit a few deep pockets. My rig here is a black GRHE nymph with a micro-splotshot about 10-inches above the fly which is four feet below a small strike indicator. The indicator helps to both manage the depth of the rig and detect strikes. Several more nice Rainbows here!

Iowa Trout – the quarry and captive of The Brothers of the Fly.

Sunday, May 9th, 2010 – Mother’s Day
The road to Fennimore a few weeks back was not a direct one. My route took me through my home-town of Janesville, Wisconsin. I stopped over to see my dad. There’s a lot of nostalgia in that big, old house. Dad has a slide projector set up in the dining room at all times and we peel through the pictures of our youth for a couple of hours. It seems fitting to include that reflection here as Mother’s Day Approaches.

Looking back all of those years, it strikes me that as children we don’t really think about time. It’s one of the gifts of youth: to happily go about your business with little consciousness of the years rolling by. The next wheel of slides drives the point home. It shows the family picnics that my paternal grandmother Loretta Stillmank organized at Traxler Park from time to time. My parents, grand-parents, and cousins are all in attendance. I see my Grandma Dorothy Dain and Uncle Jack Dain. They were very integral to our lives –  as formative to how we turned out as our own parents in some ways. The slides glide by. At the age of eight, I didn’t realize that my parents and grand-parents were in the throes of their lives – and that we as children were just a part of it and not the only priority. We were just having fun, running around and getting into trouble.

The next slide is a photo of my mom that resonates most with how I remember her: dressed up for church, smiling, and enjoying a sunny day out with the family. I miss her. She’s been gone for over a year now; however, for me she’s still here as a part of my Dad. Over 50 years of marriage has a way of making two people into one unit: “Mom & Dad.”  So now with her gone, there’s not half of them left – it’s more like three-quarters remains behind – it’s hard to convey. Perhaps that’s because Mom was such an overwhelming part of their equation. I’ll always remember her at her best – and that’s how it should be!

– WiFly –