Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011 – Wading for Whoppers

The weather forecast for today calls for rain early and late. What to do? Indeed! We head to a little known spot that we often turn to on such days. Our intention is just a mid-day foray, but we end up staying until almost dark – how could we walk away from steady hatches serving up the biggest resident trout in the river?

The rain never shows. Instead, all of that precip manifests as a heavy mist wafting down the river – creating an eerie effect that we’ve only seen in movies. The temperature hovers around 50oF.

The day turns into an extraordinary one. No sooner do we arrive at this favored location than we realize a sparse brown drake hatch is already underway. It continues throughout the day and early evening with vacillations of intensity. In fact, there seems to be more than one size of drake here – we’ll need to look into that. And with those hatches come the trout: some rising mid-river and some nestled tight to the banks. From bejeweled brook trout to behemoth browns, this will be a day to remember.

The first order of business is flies. We carry a range of brown drake patterns so this should be a good day to see what works most reliably. I stab a few different patterns onto the fly patch on my Filson:

  • Extended-body brown para-drake. This #10 fly has an extended, deer-hair body, an elk hair wing post, and a  parachute style hackle.
  • Paul’s Drake. This fly has a micro-fibbet tail. The body is yellow floss wrapped over brown dubbing. It is parachute hackled like the previous fly; however, the wing post is mixed organza. The organza wing is made up of fibers of white, brown and gray rolled together for a mottled effect.
  • Sparse Tie. This fly sports a #10 light wire hook, micro-fibbet tailing, sparse dubbing and two turns of grizzly hackle. That’s it.
  • Yellow Humpy #10.
  • Other, less notable brown drake variants.
  • Sulphur Comparadun. Yes, those are hatching as well in about a size 16.
  • The Professor – our go-to fly on this trip.

I start out with the extended body para-drake and I don’t change flies until that one is just plain worn out. Multiple, nice brown trout are landed along with a plethora of brook trout. The browns typically go 14 to 15-inches with the largest brook trout pushing 12-inches. I lose one larger brook trout while trying to land it: it goes wild and throws the hook. I’ll guess that is was nearly 14-inches. We photograph the more notable fish. I have to thank my brother Joe for reeling-in to take these pictures – something that’s not that easy to do when bugs are hatching and fish are rising.

Joe is having a remarkable day of his own. He lands several nice fish including an 11-inch brook trout and this beautiful 17-inch brown trout. The fly? The professor of course! Joe’s the one who turned us on to this very appropriate wet fly. In a size #10, it is absolutely reminiscent of an emergent brown drake. Other flies that work for Joe include the sparse hackle Brown Drake (mine never made if off my vest). He also uses a PT Nymph that he strips along the edges of the river to entice takes. He shares that a few other flies did not produce today: the Coachman wet; the Pass Lake wet, and a BH Prince Nymph.

The prize for me today is a 20-inch brown trout with an enormous mouth and visible kype. This trout gets my attention not just because of the size of its rise-form, but because of the shear reverberation of it: I can hear it rising from over 50 yards away! There’s a spot in this section of the river where several sub-surface boulders barely kiss the surface of the water. They unite to generate a variation of currents, crossing this way and that, making it difficult to manage a drag-free presentation through there. So this ogre is just sitting there – right in the middle of this spot – letting those mixed currents serve up a smorgasbord of drakes from every direction. The rises are aggressive and relentless: big, swirling rises to brown drake duns. There is good cover overhead from the pine and cedar forest lining the bank here. It’s a good spot for a big trout.

I begin by drifting my extended body paradrake downstream to him. This fly has been my “go to” bug all day. I watch as it drifts into the zone. The drag is intense despite my s-curve and the brute is put down. Less than two minutes and he is rising again. Whew! I reel in and add 4 feet of 4x tippet to my rig, keeping the same fly. Sometimes adding a good length of tippet provides additional drag free time as that tippet snakes through the current. No good.  I make several more attempts with this rig before I decide to change positions. I make the long walk across the river, down the west bank and back over to 45o below him. I manage some solid drifts here (at least from my perspective); however, he is not fooled. The next hour (yes hour!) is much of the same. I move on to other flies, other positions. The drake parade continues – a flotilla of insects on their watery ride to the grave. With all of these duns being visibly taken by my quarry, it takes a bit for me to come back to the professor. Hell, I’ve spent well over an hour trying to get this thug to take a dry fly. Now, it takes only a couple of minutes on a wet fly. I should note that I am back upstream and above him now. The first cast is really just to gauge the distance. I let the fly drift downstream until the leader is invisibly over the “spot”, while the fly line is still well upstream. I begin to strip things back upstream through what I imagine to be the last rise-form.  I can see the almost indiscernible wake of the professor just below the surface. Strip, strip, strip. Smash! An explosive take. Umpf! The hook is set. Damnation! The fight is on.

I can feel his weight as he muscles into the security of a large boulder. I charge downstream holding the rod high, retrieving line, and applying solid pressure. He rushes up and across stream into the sandy flat before me. I can see him as he flies across the river for the refuge of the far bank. It’s a surreal scene: his dark body rushing across the light sandy bottom. The line cuts wildly through the surface. Water sprays. I don’t need to reel: he takes up the remaining slack in my line and more. He just begins to disappear from view into the deeper water of that far bank when I lift the rod higher to halt his progression. This battle will be waged mid-river. My rod pulses as he throws his body into the fight; it bends under the pull as he makes another mad rush for safety.

These are the most exciting moments of anticipation. A large brown trout is solidly hooked. The tippet is a beefy 4x. The river is fraught with obstacles from large boulders to downed timbers. Several judgments and trade-offs are made in short order. He is twice at the net before he is mine. And what a fish he is! My brother is at hand and I toss him the camera with exuberance. We examine this paragon of the Bois Brule carefully, keeping him in the water as we snap off a handful of photos. He is then afforded some time to revive –little is needed – before being released back to the wild. He heads in one direction before making an abrupt turn, heading for the east bank with determined haste. A safe haven, no doubt. This fish did not get this big by hanging out in the shallows – especially with the number of bald eagles we’ve seen here so far.

Check out the size of this trout’s mouth compared to mine (top photo).  This animal is designed to devour large prey whole! No wonder he has reached such behemoth proportions.

As if this was not thrilling enough for one day, I end up hooking another giant. This one takes the micro-fibbet drake with yellow floss wrapping (Paul’s Drake). This fish is cruising back and forth in a large pool back in some timber along the shoreline. It’s “black deep” back in there and he visibly exposing his nose as he feeds on the numerous Brown Drake duns floating through. I cast my fly into the mix and throw a big mend into my line in hopes of a nice long drift. The giant porpoises on a natural before rising to take my fly seconds later. This battle is short lived however. I pull the hook!

 

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 – Speckles Identify Trout?

We breakfast at the Rustic Roost in Iron River this morning, replenishing our stores from bakery and butcher shop. Back at the cabin, we knock out a handful of flies for the day. Joe then turns to his Spanish while I organize yesterday’s photos. We’re getting into a rhythm here: sleep; relax away the morning; get on the river mid-Afternoon; fish into the night.

Rain, Rain, Rain – turns out to be light, but steady. Nonetheless, how can we not return to the area where yesterday’s legends were made? We each end up with a nice fish at the beginning and then dead calm sets in.

When we break for lunch, we stop to examine the best trout photos of the trip – locked in place on the camera. It’s then that we notice a similarity between two of the fish. Upon closer examination, we realize that a fish that I caught on Sunday, was caught by Joe yesterday:

We see many matching elements here; however the three distinguishing marks shown here are enough to match these fish:

  1. An oblong marking crosses the lateral line
  2. An oval shaped spot on the gill plate
  3. The freckles around the trout’s eye

You can examine things more closely by clicking on the image above. Yep, it’s definitely the same fish. I guess we shouldn’t be  so amazed – anglers have been returning to specific holes to fish for the same monster from season to season even. I guess this makes Joe the better fisherman since he caught this trout after I did – when it was much smarter from having been caught by me.

After catching that truly magnificent resident brown, I spend a bit of time with the camera photographing Joe. He knocks down a couple of additional beauties while I sit in the woods with a long lens enjoying the scene.

Friday June 24th, 2011 – Stones Bridge to Big Lake

Our last day on the river for this trip. It’s been one for the record books. We’ve become more intimate with the Bois Brule, unlocking a few more of its secrets. We’ll float it from Stones Bridge to Big Lake today – I want some better pictures of that Bald Eagle’s nest on the upper river. The weather is fantastic: 65 degrees and sunny. Before we even get started I notice some beautiful columbine in the woods. My tripod is already battened down in the canoe, so I shoot these with an Image Stabilizer lens. I work around the plant looking for a dark background and set my focal length to blur out that background while focusing on the bloom. Lovely.

We paddle carefully through the upper river, parrying the edges with small wet flies and picking up several brook trout. When we arrive at the nest, all three eaglets are active and visible. I set a tripod up in the woods and get some wonderful photos of them jumping across the nest and trying out their wings a bit.

It’s rather windy up there and each eaglet in turn spreads its wings,  feeling the wind and teetering back and forth under its power:

We’ve never seen an adult on this nest and are left to wonder if the beautiful Bald Eagle that we photographed below Lucius Lake is the parent of these three youngsters.

We enjoy a nice foray on the upper river before shooting down to “Favored Drake” – a location of our own naming. There’s a multi-hatch tonight: drake spinner fall; baetisca; light cahill; and sulphur spinner fall. Whew. It’s time like this when you need to target a fish and figure out what it’s taking.

Joe takes a fish on a professor while it is actively rising before dark. Interesting – that’s the same way I hooked the monster well above here.

The light slowly dissipates into dusk which gives over to dark just as the Night Hawks arrive. Night Hawks are mottled gray-brown birds with white bands across their long, pointed wings. They winter over in South America and return to Canada and the Northern U.S. during the summer months. Tonight, they are foraging on the Brown Drakes and other insects just like the trout. They are a much more welcome friend than the bats which will come out shortly.

I can hear Joe down river from me working diligently over some regular risers. He hooks three more fish in total  – bringing a 14-incher to the net. Successful flies were a sparse brown drake #10, a #12 Light Cahill, and a #12 Adams. I manage a 12-inch brown trout on a #12 Light Cahill. I hook a large fish, but he pops the fly (the professor again).

Things quiet down after that. We reel in and stand near the canoe – ears and eyes straining in the dark of night. Our eyes turn to the sky. The starts are brilliant. We hop in the canoe and begin our foray upstream to the takeout. We slide past a few other late night anglers still tossing bugs to a few sporadic fish.  This fish are cruising now – covered by the safety of night as the Bois Brule succumbs to its reputation as a Night River.

Once we’re clear of those fisherman, we move to the middle of the river. Joe paddles steadily while I infrequently flash a halogen light to determine a bearing. We reach the wide open river down below Lucius Lake and douse the light – taking in the night and all its beauty. It’s a wonderful way to finish our time here.

– WiFly

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