Wisconsin – South Western


Fly fishing is a contemplative sport. I often come back from an outing having explored thoughts “that often lie too deep for words.”1 This week’s outing is a father-daughter excursion. My daughter Caitlin has a single week off between now and the end of August and we’re spending it together. I couldn’t be more delighted. She is working toward her Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree at Marquette University and spare moments are a rarity these days. She didn’t get out here at all last year – a shame considering her upbringing on these waters! To have an entire week is simply unheard of. The week is filled with great trout and good times, making me reflect on my relationship with my daughter: the little girl who grew up to be my friend.

1 Normal MacLean’s “A River Runs Through It”

Friday, May 13, 2011 – Timber Coulee Cottage

Tomorrow morning I’ll wake up, walk out the front door of a small cottage, waltz over to a trout stream less than 30 yards away, and spot a rising fish. We’re headed for Timber Coulee Cottage which sits on its name-sake creek.

The drive out here is via a 4-lane stretch of highway that is temporarily down to only two lanes – one in each direction. We crawl along for some time adding almost two additional hours to the usual drive. But no worries: we have some new books on tape form audible.com (Grave Peril by Jim Butcher); we have our music (Caitlin is into Jazz right now); and we have each other (neither of us shy about filling any dead air with conversation).

We arrive with a smidge of daylight left and waste no time in going down to examine the creek. There’s a light rain falling, but that won’t put us off. It’s been too long since Caitlin has approached any trout water. We throw on our Filson jackets and grab a single fly rod, a box of flies, and a pair of hemostats. As we approach the water, we see that a few fish are rising.  Caddis. No words are spoken. I tie on a #16 Elk Hair Caddis and hand Caitlin the rod. She moves down below a steady riser. The water’s surface is dappled with rain, but the bugs keep coming. Her form is excellent as she leans into to her cast to eke out an extra bit of distance. It’s just enough. The brown trout is wild, colorful, beautiful.

So we’ve kicked off what is going to be a week-long sojourn wandering around the West Fork Kickapoo River, Timber Coulee Creek, and exploring some new water. We have a few interruptions planned as we shuttle back to Milwaukee for a couple of events: a first communion and a company marketing event. Caitlin has a Jury Duty obligation every morning as well and we’re hoping that she doesn’t get pulled back. We won’t let those interruptions dampen our spirits. We are in one of our favorite places on Earth about to spend no small amount of time in pursuit of that most ethereal of fish: the trout.

Saturday, May 14, 2011 – Kicking up a few on the Kickapoo

We spend a gratifying day on the West Fork of the Kickapoo River. Every time we come out here, the local fly shops tell us the river is not fishing very well; and every time we come out here we have an absolutely spectacular outing. Perhaps they’re helping to frame our psyche! If this is what the river fishes like when it’s “off”, I can’t imagine what it’s like when it’s “on”. We don’t see any of the truly large brown trout that we’ve had here in the past; however, we experience steady action over the entire course river that we fish.

It’s chillier than it was last week: mid to upper 40’s right now. The air temperature reaches about 50-degrees and holds there throughout the day. There are heavy, intermittent clouds with sunshine poking through now and again. In fact, it’s going to be cool and overcast for the next several days. And we know what that means: good hatches and good fishing. When we get to the river, we get an added bonus. The water is a bit off color – just enough to  conceal us a tad more. That also means we’ll be using darker nymphs today until we figure out what the trout are taking. “Dark day, dark flies” is an old adage that has proved its worth over the years. The idea is that bright, artificial materials look unusual or out of place on a low-light day whereas a darker fly fits better with the darker, stained waters and darker light conditions. Light colored flies are generally better in clearer water and brighter conditions because those conditions light up naturals equally in that fully-lighted water world.

We are on one of our favorite stretches (we won’t say where) and it does not disappoint us. We rig up our 5W and 4W Sage fly rods. I fish the 5W using larger #12 or #10 bead head nymphs with much smaller dropper flies below like a #16 scud or hydropsyche larva. Most trout today take the dropper fly. Caitlin fishes the 4W with a single #14 bead-head fly (various patterns). Caitlin lands 4 nice trout with the largest pushing 14 inches. I land 8 notable fish, the two largest going 14-inches and 16-inches.

There are a couple of scenarios worth noting here. First, there is a spot where a very large tree overshadows the river along one of the wider stretches. Just upstream, a fast riffle gives way to a deep pool as the water slides beneath that tree. Look for spots like this on any river: a change in water depth; an insect factory fueled by the shallower upstream water; plenty of cover from an over-handing tree. I fish a #12 BH prince nymph and a #14 pass lake wet through this water, picking up a few brook trout with their splashy rises. These mini “streamers” are skirted just below the surface and sometimes I can see the wake of a brookie coming up stream to catch that fly.

Another spot presents a scene where the river rushes beneath a dead fall as it gives way to a deep tongue at the head of a pool below. The water barely slows down to form a pool before entering the next run. The trick here is to cast my heavier nymph rig all the way up to that dead fall and mend it into the seam on either side of that tongue. A few on-target casts allow that suspended rig to ride right into the deepest trough of the pool delivering a number of fish including this 16-incher.

Another bit of erudition comes when we get to the last two big bends of this stretch. We each take one of the holes following through from one of the bends – Caitlin upstream with me just below her.  I lean against a tree to adjust my rigging and decide to just watch Caitlin for a bit.  She sits down just about half way through the length of the pool, tucked low, obscured by the brush and high bank. She casts her single-fly, bead-head nymph up stream to the head of the pool and then guides it back down through to the end of the bend. She typically makes only one adjustment (some might call it a mend) while the fly is still in the upper half of the hole. Then she repeats with another cast up to the head. She is fishing Czech Nymph style and doesn’t even know it. She gets several hook ups and lands a few nice browns.

So the key take away here is not the style of fishing so much as the fact that we have the ability to nymph a hole continuously despite catches, misses, and lost fish – and continue to have success. We are not resting these holes more than a minute or two before fish are back on again. We are using some of our favorite rigs.

We wrap up the day just before 6 p.m.  I wouldn’t mind hanging around to see what kind of evening hatch is in the making; however we’ve both had a good number of fish and Caitlin has been in the field with me for a very long time – something that might be unbearable on its own merits let alone the after effects of final exams wearing her down. At one point she tells me that 7 hours of sleep just isn’t enough to go out and spend a long day in the field like this – ah youth!

So now we’re headed back to the cottage where Caitlin prepares a special chicken dish that she’s mastered. Where am I? Scavenging a couple of pools on the Timber Coulee Creek behind the cottage!

Monday, May 16, 2011 – Birding & Brown Trout

We make a late start today, planning to have more time on the water later in the day. The morning is spent carefully approaching the myriad of birds flitting about the trees near the creek and cabin:

Spring Cardinal

Red-breasted Gross Beak

Purple Finch

Red Bellied Woodpecker

With breakfast, birds, and coffee behind us, we decide to pick out a new piece of water that we have never fished before – an entirely new creek. We enter the river off of a County Trunk Road and work our way up through several small pools catching some 10 to 12 inch brown trout. This is “visible fishing”.  I can see the target trout very clearly. I lean on a downed tree in front of me to steady myself before casting to a specific fish. That fish disappears in a cloud of silt. Extra care is needed to avoid bumping into any of the timber that I am climbing over or leaning on as I cast to these small pools.

Eventually, I take a nice brown trout or two giving me the chance to record a couple of underwater movies as I release them. I have a new, small, water-proof camera and it works nicely. It’s a Pentax Optio Wg-1. Here’s one of the videos we shot.

Caitlin is downstream fishing off of a small island below the bridge. I stand above her on the bridge like a sentinel – just to observe. She works out more line as she gauges the distance to the head of the pool. Her eyes never leave the water. Concentration. Her intensity is a true reflection of my own. The first cast produces a slash, but she misses. She sits back, fly line coiled by her side. She is resting her back as much as the pool. After a few minutes she is up again. The fly lands softly in the quiet pool. The water is deep and slow. She draws in the extra line as the fly moves back. A sudden wrist action. She’s twitched the caddis to incite a rise. It works. She catches a remarkably beautiful brook trout and insists that I come down to photograph the little jewel. She wants the picture to capture in a drawing.

Caitlin makes beautiful works of art to reflect trout and the things that they eat.  She wants to replicate this little char in colored pencils. Here are some examples of her recent work:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 – Kickapoo Valley Reserve

Tuesday is one of those days that we have to scoot back to Milwaukee again – work related. We decide to stop by the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, an 8,000 acre tract of land located between the villages of La Farge and Ontario in SW Wisconsin. There are several groomed trails here that run along marshy areas. We see more colorful birds (finches, orioles, etc.) and traipse across a couple of bridges as we explore the place.

On the way out, the attendant asks us if we captured any good photos. We show her my camera replete with a left over grizzly photo from last year’s Yellowstone trip. She gasps at the sight of it and we laugh and tell her a story or two.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 – Timber Coulee Creek

We head back to our trout sanctuary in SW Wisconsin this morning, scouting a few rivers on the way back from Milwaukee. Pine Creek and Willow Creek among others. We cut through the back-country as we get closer to Fennimore, climbing small ridge lines and descending into deep valleys. These aren’t Blue Ridge Mountains, but the effect is the same. Morning mist drifts across the landscape painting a picture of rolling hills in the distance.

The cottage makes for a relaxing retreat as we let the day warm up – still hopeful for a mid-afternoon or evening hatch. We eventually head for Timber Coulee Creek: a stretch that we have fished often. There is an older gentleman walking off the river just as we begin to head downstream, compelling us to hike a good 20 bends down river before fishing our way back to the FJ.

We see some small mayflies and caddis coming off. A handful of trout fall to dry flies with some nicer fish taking our nymphs. The best fish, of course, gets away. There’s a tree on the east bank here just below the 2nd island in this stretch. I’m fishing a tandem rig. The anchor fly is a big, poxy-back green drake nymph. The dropper fly is a #16 BH prince nymph. I toss this rig up into the water above the tree and watch the suspender glide down into the water below the tree. Wham! A nice brown smacks the nymph. I lift the rod to set the hook, turning him over in a magnificent, gold-bellied flop. He throws the hook and disappears into the depths. What a fish! We know bigger ones are in here – and now we know where to probe for one the next time that we come.

Another day with over ten good fish landed. I’m quite satisfied with this outing and stretch of water. Working through twenty bends of river with different hatches and water depths means a lot of fly changes and other adjustments to our rigging. We’ll need to retie our rigs in the morning and set out to fish the West Fork once more and then head back here again in the afternoon.

Thursday, May 19, 2011 – West Fork Kickapoo River

This morning finds us back on the West Fork.  Countless trout are landed with two larger ones working their way off again. Caitlin lands a very nice 15-inch brown trout. She’s very proud of herself!

We’re hungry for some lunch so we stop off at the grocery store in La Farge. The deli there will make you a sandwich and wrap it to go. We head down to Hwy 82 intending to fish upstream; however, there are other anglers here. We head downstream instead to a section that is outside of the catch-and-release water. The water here looks just as good as the water upstream. And of course the trout no nothing of the artificial barrier that classifies this stretch differently than the one above. Nor do the Bald Eagles. No sooner are we near the river than we see one take off, ascending to an incredible height and then soaring in circles above us.

The first couple of holes produce browns between 9” and 11”.  The next fish is a shockingly large chub. Some of water here is very, very deep and probably requires probing with a sink-tip line or much longer leader to get the flies down deeper for a longer drift.

Caitlin climbs the high bank. I wade the river channel. From her vantage above, she spots a couple of large shadows moving up stream in the water. At first she think they’re monster fish (trout on the brain), bit then realizes they are big old beavers.

This section merits more attention in the coming years. The water is a bit degraded compared to upstream, but that just tells us that it’s big brown trout water. Something has to eat those over-sized chubs!

We reach the Highway 82 Bridge by 7 p.m. and decide to venture upstream to examine that water as well. There are more big runs and wide bends up here and we note that this section merits a full day to explore as well.

 

Friday, May 20, 2011 – Transition to Fennimore area – Fenway Hills Motel

It’s our last day on the West Fork Kickapoo before heading down to Fennimore for the weekend. The weekend’s arrival is marked by numerous anglers coming out to enjoy the river! We sneak off to a couple of hidden spots for some solitude – fishing only three or four holes for our entire time morning. We’re nymphing these holes up close with Czech Nymph rigs and techniques. We learn that the fish can be rested very quickly, returning to rise after only a handful of minutes; and this despite the fact that we hover on the edge of a somewhat tapered bank taking trout after trout. We take several brown trout from each hole, trading positions from time to time.

We hop back on the road and scoot over to the Bishop’s Branch for a look. Enticing. Nonetheless we decide to get an early start for Fennimore, stopping by another treasured, small creek on the way down. When we arrive at our treasured creek, there is a tree that has fallen into one of my favorite holes. That small stretch of creek is ruined for the time being – at least from a fly fisherman’s perspective.

Father and Daughter – The Early Years

Down in Fennimore, Waukesha Stillmanks drive in to meet us for the weekend: my brother Joe, his wife Brenda and my nephew and niece Nicholas and Violet. We all stop in at the Cottonwood Club on Highway 61 for some pizza and beers. We play around with some pool cues and chat about life.  Brenda reminds me that Nick is 8 years old now – the same age that Caitlin was when we indoctrinated her to these waters. That’s a lot of water under the proverbial bridge. I recall very well that year. Brenda took an iconic picture of “father and daughter fly fishing for trout” along the Blue River near Bowers Road. Caitlin is 24 now so that was 16 years ago. All those years ago. 16 years! We’ve all enjoyed every minute of it.

Back at the motel, we check in on the weather for tomorrow. There is a possibility of electrical storms. We’ll have to keep an eye on that. My weather radar shows most of the rough weather pushing through well north of us. It’s definitely going to be overcast. Hopefully it will treat us well and Joe & Brenda can help their own “young of the year” get a trout tomorrow.

Trouty Stillmanks

Saturday & Sunday, May 21 & 22, 2011 – Big Green River – RJ and Waukesha Stillmanks Join the expedition

My good friend RJ Reimers arrives from Chicago today to get some of his first schooling on a fly rod. He is one of those fellows that are so adept with map and compass (and GPS) and are able to navigate just about anywhere. And so RJ meets us at a remote spot out on the river.

By the end weekend, my piscatorial progeny, Caitlin, has had what can only be described as the best outing of her life. On Saturday, she catches a 17-inch+ rainbow trout on a #14 elk hair caddis while fishing in “Daniel’s Hole”. We’re pretty much out of that #14 caddis now, having burned through the few that we had between the trout and the trees. We still have some of every other size between #18’s and #12, so we’ll make due.

And then today, Sunday, she puts together two additional trout gems. First she catches a really nice 14-inch brown from a piece of water that we typically pass over to get to more familiar spots. She replicates the Czech Nymph style approach that she apparently mastered on the West Fork Kickapoo. She is using a tandem nymph rig with a larger cress bug on top with a #16 black nymph trailing (black GRHE Nymph with a PT nymph style tail). The brown trout took that

Later on, she replicates that technique further upstream near “Daniel’s Hole” again. This time she’s using a single fly: #12 BH PT Nymph. She’s well below the tree that marks the that hole and right where the water deepens as it bounces off the rip-rap to form a long pool. She is using the 4W with a strike indicator and tossing the rig up along the current line and letting it drift down. When it swings below her, she tugs it back upstream and repeats the ritual.  On about her 4th cast, she is suddenly up on her feet and shouting for the net – she has knocked down another size-able rainbow. I hustle to her side and she battles the brute to the net three times before I am finally able to nab it. My God! Just beautiful colors. Congratulations Katy Molly – well done!

 

I take a couple of nice browns in Hole #1, suspending a cress bug drifted behind a Hydropsyche larva.

RJ gets some of his technique down, landing a couple of smaller trout. Those are big trout as well – because they are first trout. The beginning of something special. He is a quieter more reserved man, but I can tell he is excited to be out here. No doubt! I think RJ is hooked enough (pun intended) to join me for part of the Bois Brule trip coming up here in June.

 

 

Today, I rouse myself at the earliest of hours. The clock reads 3:30 a.m. I stumble down the hallway of the Fenway Hills Motel and put on a pot of coffee to help wash away the sleepiness. Even at this early hour, I’ll need to hurry if I’m going beat the sunrise. I’m headed over to photograph a personal icon of the area – the milking barn on County Trunk K. Capturing this image is a celebration of the 20 years that I’ve been coming out here in pursuit of trout. Whenever the pre-dawn finds me heading to the Big Green River, I always turn up this road with this small dairy farm in mind. It’s a comforting place. The farmer, the cows, the dark of night. This drive, this place, my fly fishing, my trout.

I steal down the road in the pitch of night. Eventually I am struck by the stark lights that run the length of the milking shed: a beacon of illumination in a countryside otherwise abandoned of light save for moon and stars. Cows line up in their milking stalls, tails swooshing. The farmer is there somewhere. He’s keeping these early hours on a regular basis no doubt. That’s the extent of my relationship with this place. I usually drive on to my trout waters.

Not this time. This time, I will take pause. I will get a little more familiar with the setting. I will attempt to capture the essence of my memory of the place in a photograph. I arrive at the farm around 4:00 a.m., dimming the lights of the FJ Cruiser and easing onto the shoulder of this small country road. Sunrise today is not until 5:30 a.m.; however the natural light will be constantly in flux between now and then. I have my tripod in tow – a necessity for low light shots like this. The scene is as I expected it would be. I step out into the bracing night air. It’s exhilarating. After all, it’s May in Wisconsin. Combined with the coffee, the chilled night air has me fully roused now. I move quickly. Tripod raised. Camera mounted. Shutter release in place. Lens cover removed. I move the rig up and down the road, studying the scene from a gross perspective. I’ll be ‘shooting’ to the North because that view is how I remember the place.

I knock off a few photos to help meter the scene. This is where time becomes the enemy. Some adjustments are needed and they must be made quickly. There is a floodlight tucked beneath the eaves of the foremost out-building. It flares bright in those first photos. No adjustment seems to be able to eradicate its affect while leaving the remainder of the scene exposed to my liking.  Fortunately, there is a telephone pole about 50-feet in front of this building and I can adjust my position so that it blocks the floodlight from the scene. Now I am down to shutter speeds, f-stops, time-values, and aperture-values. What is it about this place that I am trying to reflect in my photograph? Is it the periwinkle sky giving way to the deep greens in the background? Is it the blackness of the place saving for those lights? Is it the span of the milking shed with the light fading along its length?

My hands move deftly in the dark. Changing settings. Changing focal points. Reviewing results. And then doing it all again. I stop at 5:22 a.m.  There is too much light now and the “moment” has passed. I carefully tear down my setup, savoring the early morning before heading back to family and breakfast. Later, I sift through the images and find the one that captures the place as I remember it most:

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, April 24th, 2010 – Spring is Sprung!

Father and Daughter – The Early Years

 

 “Many men go fishing all their lives without realizing that it’s not the fish they’re after.”  – Henry David Thoreau

That quote hangs in the lobby of the Fenmore Hills Motel beneath a photo of a man standing in a quiet stream, fly-rod in hand. Solitude. Reflection. Recuperation. Time-off to gather one’s self. Time to spend with the best of friends. Communing with nature. It isn’t the fishing: it’s what the fishing brings into our lives. This picture of my daughter and I when she was about 9 years old will become a family heirloom no doubt. It is a reflection of the non-fishing part of fishing: time together.
Spring is here in Fennimore. Signs are everywhere. Newly born calves. Robins building their nests. Red-winged Black Birds defending their turf. I’ll be here for four glorious days. That’s just enough time to settle in a bit and feel like I’m a part of the place. As I drive down these old county-trunk roads listening to Van Morrison, it strikes me why I enjoy coming here so much. I feel free here. I feel like me here. This is me.

The forecast for today had been for electrical storms. I thought I might have to spend the day hunkered down tying flies. The lightening, however, never arrives. The rain is light. The game is afoot!

I head for a favorite spot in the woods. Rain seeps down through the trees. It’s wet out here. It’s a light, steady rain. The trees collect water into larger, more substantial raindrops that fall from budding leaves. The sound of these large raindrops dappling the forest floor creates an enchanting sonata of water that seems to be in agreement with the flow and rhythm of the nearby stream. I pause to listen. This is a perfect place.

I am going after that particular fish that I like to revisit from time to time. Or at least the spot where I know a larger trout resides. I watch the river intently. The surface is dimpled with raindrops, sometimes hitting the water so hard that a little bubble pops up from below and drift downstream. The water is not as clear as it was in March. Rain has a way of making these green rivers green.

I find myself walking more quietly along these smaller streams. Not setting down heavy footsteps. I’m taking a very casual walk and putting each foot down softly, deliberately. I read many years ago that “a heavy foot makes for a lighter trout.” We know that the lateral line of the trout is a sensory organ; that it is used to perceive prey underwater. So the vibration of a heavy foot along the bank can also be detected by these larger fish (large fish have larger lateral lines) and give them reason to be more wary or just plain gone.

OK, here’s the setup. I’m fishing my 4-Weight (4W) Z-Axis Sage rod today. This one does not get the workout that my SLT Sage does – also a 4W. I love that rod. However today, I purposely focused on some different rods to give them a try. I’m fishing a #12 Elk Hair Caddis trailed with a #16 scud with a flashy back. That dropper is about 24 inches.

I toss the rig up into a nice foam line. Foam lines are important to target. Wherever the currents are accumulating foam on the surface of the water, you can be sure they are accumulating drifting insects in the water below. That concentration of bugs is where you’ll find the fish. It takes the addition of a micro-split shot to the dropper to eventually tease two small brown trout out of the shadows.

I walk upstream a few bends into tighter quarters. I have never fished up here before. I come to a spot that is somewhat more open as I turn and face back downstream. There is a pair of large, flat, limestone ledge-rocks jutting out into the stream here. They make a perfect casting platform. I kneel down on the lower stone, concealing myself. A simpler rig can be used here. A bead-head pheasant tail (PT) nymph. There is a small sweeper on the far bank worn away to the point that it looks like drift wood. I cast my PT downstream and feed out some line. As it reaches the downed timber, I mend my line into the current on the right which lets the fly swing down into that woody area. Bang! A nice, colorful 10-inch brown trout.

I switch to a slightly larger, heavier wet fly. Black body. Black bead. A couple of turns of webby, black hackle around the collar. “Dark day, dark fly.” The next fish is an 8-inch brook trout – the first that I have ever caught on this water. This motivates me to explore a few more pools upstream, tossing off a few “bow and arrow” style casts that pay off with small brown trout as well. The next time I come here, I will bring my 3W rod or my 7-foot 4W. These are more appropriate for fishing these tight, woody areas.

~ WiFly ~

Saturday, April 24th, 2010 – Favored Water

So now I’m off to a more than favored stretch of river; however this time I choose to walk downstream and well below my usual haunts. I am no more than two bends into it when I see some perfect riffle water. The stream is 40-feet wide here and the river chops along a steady clip for about 60 yards. I rig up a bead head prince nymph and cast it to the far bank, letting it swing in a downstream arc through the current. When it reaches the bank below me, I strip it back in along that quieter water. Several nine to ten inch fish are taken here. Fun.

Further down, I come to a spot that I shared in one of last year’s blog posts. It is a deep, deep pool at the tail of a nice, fast run. The head of that run is a furious torrent as the river takes a hard right bend. Water pours into the bank as it turns downstream.  With the long riffle and a nice rock garden just above, this all adds up to bug factory for the fish down below. I rig for deep water. The foam line here is more than obvious. I deliver a cast to the middle of the pool, mindful to work the lower stretch and then work my way up. Nothing. Another cast. Nothing. I stay in my current position, stripping out more line. The next cast just reaches the end of the tongue – the top of the pool. The brown trout flashes gold as it rolls on my fly. This one fights hard and makes stalwart efforts to stay on the far bank.  It is the first of five fish taken here. Each one flashes gold deep in the pool. Each one goes the full opening of my net. Each one is a treasure.

I finish off the day up in “Daniel’s  Hole,” picking up fish all along the way. Daniel’s hole delivers a solid brown trout with some nice shoulders on him as well.

~ WiFly ~

Sunday, April 25th, 2010 – Chocolate Water

Somehow I lost track of the fact that the early season closes tomorrow. In Wisconsin, the water is rested for a week after the early season and before the regular season. That presents a problem that can only be solved by a jaunt into Iowa where the season will still be open. I’m excited about the prospect of new water. That, however, is for Monday and there is time to be spent here first.

Last night I laid down to take a quick rest at 6:30 p.m. and did not wake up until 4:30 a.m.  Fresh air and a long day in the field have a way of doing that. I needed the rest! I spent this very early morning getting my blog posts up to date as I was still behind from last year.

It’s worth noting that Fenmore Hills Motel has outstanding wireless service: better than some big-city hotels that I’ve stayed in recently. Thanks Dale! This makes it nice for blogging, uploading media . . . and researching Iowa a little bit online. I check out some local TU blogs while figuring out where to go on Monday and Tuesday. Dale also tells me that Prairie Du Chien has a Cabela’s, where I can pick up my Iowa fishing license, Iowa gazetteer, and anything else I need.

Breakfast is at Friederick’s on the corner of Hwy 61 and Hwy 18. It’s an excellent place. Remember to bring cash or your checkbook though – Friederick’s does not accept any kind of plastic. That’s all right with me since the food is outstanding.

It’s all of 11:00 a.m. by the time I get to my first stop today: Castle Rock Creek. I am disappointed to see that the weather has put this water in a bad state for fishing – it’s chocolate brown. Castle Rock Creek is an excellent spring creek; however it does not respond well to rain like many of the other rivers in the area. I walk up to where the big spring flows in – it looks surreal to see the crystal clear spring water swirling around in the chocolate water of Castle Rock.

I decide to stay, “man up”, and drag a black, cone-head muddler through these murky waters. Sometimes the only way to see if something will work is to try it. The rain is relentless and despite my stanch efforts, I walk away without a trout. I shall return Castle Rock Creek – in early summer when the rains are gone and your waters run clear.

I wrap up to day with a bit of photography and a stop by the Spurgeon Winery to pick up some Cranberry Wine before heading off to Cabela’s to get ready for tomorrow. While I’m there, I pick out a new toy for Gabe: a play set with a canoe, a kayak, paddles, a tiny fishing rod with a functional reel, two fish and a small net. We’ll play with that in the kitchen sink as soon as I get back – no doubt!

~ WiFly ~

 

Monday, April 26th, 2010 – Go West Young Man . . . to Iowa

The town of McGregor sits across the Mississippi River from Prairie Du Chien. It’s under an hour’s drive from Fennimore. Once the main highway is left behind, Iowa becomes a labyrinth of gravel roads, limestone bluffs towering overhead. These winding roads lead the way to two choice rivers that more than reward the effort to explore them.

The first river is blue ribbon quality water: riffles chuck full of bugs leading into deep, aquamarine pools. There are fish rising to a #16 caddis hatch in almost every calm flat. I can only presume that the caddis are of the species Rhyacophilla since every rock has one or more cases for that caddis larva – also referred to as “green rock worms.”

I cover quite a bit f ground, taking several fish along the way, before coming to a second barbed wire fence. It’s a bit difficult to get past this one, but it’s manageable. This next section has been posted by the DNR: All fish, 14-inches or larger, must be immediately released; artificials only.

No sooner am I clear of that barbed wire than I come to the first tongue of water leading into a deep pool. Standing on a high bank looking down from the broken, crooked tree that overhangs here, I can see a large school of fish finning in the depths. It is the first school of fish like this that I have seen here. They are, of course, trout.

A few more bends down from here and I come to an exceptional piece of water. There is a riffle that cruises around a bend. There are also some rocky shoals that are also pouring water into the head of this run. There is a big, deep pool with a clear foam line. And there are fish rising here as well. The small caddis again. I decide to go all the way to the top – to the fish that is rising there. A dry fly of course. It is not an aggressive rise; however, it delivers a 16+ inch, brown trout! Wow.

I sit down to reflect on what just happened. That water was so clear that as I played that trout, I could see every twist of its body. As I spooled up my extra line, he just kind of sat there cruising. I thought, “that’s not my fish; where’s my fish?”  When I lifted the rod, that fish lifted its head. So he was just kind of cruising back and forth in the pool quite comfortably as I reeled in the extra line. Then we fought.  I could see everything as I played him in this clear water. Extraordinary.

This fish went 16-inches and I am surprised to see a larger brown trout rising to such small dry flies.  We know the bigger hatches of brown drakes and hexagenias reliably bring brutes like this to the surface; however, brown trout usually become dusk and night hunters as they grow larger – stalking small fish.  It takes an overcast day like this to really get on them during the day. I guess it somewhat depends on the river and what’s available. This is a spring creek to a large degree – and I am sure it throws off a wide range of hatches on a regular basis. It must to grow fish like this.

This is a solid piece of water. Time to find another.

I head over to the tributary of a different river. It’s less than a 40 minute drive. This creek is not that much smaller than the water I was just fishing.  I stop to examine a riffle for insect life and I am stunned to see one of the best aquatic environments that I have examined in some time. Mayflies. Caddis. Cress Bugs. There are a wide range of mayflies in every size and color: brown, black and olive. I turn over a 6-inch by 6-inch rock and it must have 100 nymphs on it! This is an insect factory. Light is beginning to wane, so I work the pool above the riffle first. There are fish rising up there to an evening caddis emergence.

As I walk toward the bend, I immediately start sizing up the trees. Can I get a good cast through here? It looks like it. I have a tandem rig. Two hydropsyche larva – a larger one trailed by a smaller one. There is a deep, dark slot up here along a limestone bluff. I catch about half-a-dozen browns with one going 14-inches.

Iowa. It has been here the whole time. And these rivers are within an hour or less of McGregor – some within an hour of Fennimore. I’ll be back!

 ~ WiFly ~

 

 

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

I creep through the town of Cobb, Wisconsin on the way to Fennimore. It’s the earliest of early-season trout for me this year. When the forecast earlier this week said that it was going to be 75oF in Fennimore, I knew it was time to set aside work for a day and pick up my fly rod. I am planning to fish only select holes on a few pieces of water today. It’s nice to be familiar enough with the water out here that I can have an enjoyable day of it even with the 2 ½ hour drive in each direction. I’ll end my day near Spurgeon Winery and get a couple of bottles of cranberry wine before heading back in time to help put the babies to bed.

The drive out here provides just enough time to make the changeover from work to play. And when two-and-a-half hours are not enough, there are three land-marks that exude their calming effect to help nudge the transition along. First, there are the limestone bluffs that start to appear on the far side of Mt. Horeb. They tower in the distance and where they meet the road, walls of porous rock seep with water. Next are the long rows of wind-mills. These are not a natural landmark, but they count down the remaining miles to Fennimore and so have become synonymous with trout fishing out here. And finally, not really a landmark at all, are the Palominos. We see these horses in more numbers out here than anywhere else in Wisconsin. These three unique icons of the area will always beckon the years spent here and the tranquil effects that they oblige.

More mindful of such landmarks, I observe an old chimney in a field amidst the last of the towering windmills; the only remains of an old house. It would make a superb picture to wander out in this field and take a perspective shot of this old chimney standing there with the large, more modern windmills as a back-drop…

I begin to notice the names of the roads on the last bit of the drive. Blue River Road is the last road before entering Grant County. “Fennimore 11 Miles” a sign reads. County Trunk G is next and leads the way north to the Blue River. Holzer Lane. Anontin Road. Preston Road. Orr Road. Each road bearing the surname of a farming family no doubt. The Fennimore water tower comes into view.  Fennimore, population 2,347.  And here is County Trunk Q bearing North. That’s a turn that I have taken countless times as we drove up to Castle Rock Creek – the indoctrination water of Caitlin and Daniel. We usually stay at the Fenway Hills Motel. The Eagle Creek Inn has sadly gone out of business – forever known to us by its former name “The Silent Woman Inn.”

One of the nice things about coming out to Fennimore is that the Wisconsin Gazetteer is no longer needed for this area. I am sure the inhabitants of the area know these roads much better; however from a trouting perspective, I know these roads better than most! And it wouldn’t be a trip to Fennimore without the company of Van Morrison. “And it Stoned Me” with its references to fishing rods and water has crept into the annals of time for us – a song that can never grow old.

First Stop. It’s 10:30 a.m. and the rods are strung up and ready to go. I have fresh 12-foot leaders on both rods with some favorite prospecting flies:

  • 4W Sage SLT with a 12-foot 5x leader and a #16 Elk Hair Caddis
  • 5W Sage SP with a 12-foot 4x leader and a #14 Bead Head Prince Nymph

I’ll be starting with that devil of a fish that eludes me from time to time and escapes most times even when hooked. He’s an artful rogue. I’ll see if I can entice him up from the depths before dropping downstream into some of the easier pools. I don’t get far before spotting a rise below a bend in the river. There are caddis flies on the water. I apply my craft with the 4W and take the first trout of 2010: a plump 10-inch brown trout. And on a dry fly, no less.

If you’re going to fish long leaders, be prepared to patiently work out a few tangles along the way. Long leaders are wispy things and even a slight breeze can play havoc on them. Remember, every tangled line is an opportunity to rest the fish.

I reach the devil-fish water and although I hook and lose a fish, it was not the fish – not nearly heavy enough. Having disturbed the water here, I head back downstream to “the third pool.” The third pool produces another 10-inch brown with beautiful coloring: white trim on its fins and deep red spots throughout its flank.

There are #16 caddis hatching here and fish continue to rise in regular fashion. They are smaller and I have but one day, so I decide to move on to another piece of water.

On the hike along the creek, I see some obvious holding water that we have often looked over in the past – it just looks trouty. This time, however, I see two to three large trout finning in the currents there. This little run is short and the current is fast. I need a rig that will get deep quickly. I rig up a #8 Hydropsyche Larva and place a foam indicator about 3 feet above it. I end up having to leave these fish for another time as well – I spooked them. It’s an upstream cast to the left bank – there are little bits of this-and-that jutting out to catch the leader, making it a difficult situation. It’s a good, heavy fly that’s wanted here – it has to be cast softly and then get down quickly. I’ll have to think that over. I am sure that over time and with the right rigging, I’ll be able to extract a trout from this fourth pool.

Second Stop. I am now walking the banks of one of my favorite trout rivers – and as early in the season as I have ever been on it. The weather is gorgeous. The sky is bright, it’s blue luster smeared with white and gray clouds. It is warm with a slight breeze. This may be ideal. Why do I love this river so much? Probably because it’s singular in its capacity for large trout. It is most certainly the place where I have had the most repeatable bouts with large rainbows. This is where I caught “Goliath”, “Slab On A Bug” and “The Twin Titans”. That’s why I’m back here. I’m here to handle a big fish and muscle it to the net.  That’s the big draw to this river.

I see some nice splashy rises going on up in hole number one – or should I say “the number one hole” J My Goddard Caddis (I fished it for you Chuck) brings a 12-inch brown to hand. This fish did not have a fleck of red on him – he had more of a charcoal caste to him. That fish was making a small, splashy rise, so I suspect there are larger fish here as well. As I dry out my bug, I notice the caddis flies on the water are smaller than a #16. They are tan. I catch and release another nice brown trout before moving around the bend.

I am fishing up into a run above the next pool. Then it happens. A rainbow! Not a behemoth by any means, but a respectable 13+ inches. It leapt from the depths no less than three times. It took a #10 Hydropsyche Larva fished about seven feet below a foam indicator. This fish marks one of many like it for the rest of the day:

I finally reach the spot where my brother-in-law and I fished last year when I took another size-able rainbow.  I never gave that noteworthy fish a name. On a second outing here, we ran into that monster of a Snapping Turtle in the same spot, so I think I’ll have to work that into naming this fish. I don’t get a fish nearly that size this time, but I do manage an 17-inch fighter that snatches up a Rhyacophilla imitation.

My net goes just under 21-inches from end-to-end with a 13.5-inch opening.

Rhyacophilla Larva

This Rhyacophilla fly is an Oliver Edwards tie, using a technique that calls for twisting strands of fine yarn together and then thinning them at the ends to get the tapered effect. Tying in the partridge legs on this fly is the hardest step; however all can be mastered with time.

Right before I caught this rainbow, a small and remarkable bird was running along the rocky area near the river’s western bank. Actually, there were two of them. They would flit in and out of the rocks, trilling and fanning their tails – perhaps a mating ritual. One of them settled into a spot just behind me and I was able to later identify it as a Killdeer.

Killdeer

I stay and fish just below this spot, connecting with a respectable brown trout that jumped so high when I hooked him that he nearly landed on the bank. There were some little black stoneflies hatching here as well – they went about a #10 in size, but were very thin. If I were to tie this fly, I would use a 2xL #14 hook and tie the wind a little long off the back.

Final Stop. It’s a 24 mile ride to the next piece of water. The peacocks are in the peacock house, tails hanging down…the perfect tree is just down the road…the tin house…  There is only enough time to walk the banks and re-familiarize myself with this next creek. I consider this Caitlin’s water, as Joe and I have yet to hit this stretch together. Trout are schooled up in the hole that she so enjoyed fishing on our first outing here.  I look forward  to a mid-Summer jaunt out here with her.   ~ WiFly

Tuesday, May 12th and Wednesday, May 13th, 2009
 

Planes are steadily coming and going from the General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The FJ is parked outside of baggage claim for only a short time when Ingemar emerges, bags in hand. Ing and I have known each other for about 8 years. We worked for the same company in different cities back in the late 90’s. However, it wasn’t until the aftermath of the dot-com bust in 2001 that we were thrust in front of each other as we fought to get a fledgling company off the ground. We immediately hit it off. We both approach work and play with the same intensity, passion, and resolve. Life eventually took our careers in different directions; but we stayed connected through our fishing – making occasional treks in late March for Michigan steelhead on famous rivers like the Rogue, the Manistee and the Pere Marquette. In all that time, we never fished my home waters, so I feel pretty damn good about heading out with Ing for a couple days to a favorite spot or two.

We are headed for Vernon County: a county that sits right in the middle of the “driftless area” and is host to hundreds of miles of trout streams. “Driftless” refers to the lack of glacial drift meaning the material that gets left behind by retreating glaciers. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, this area was spared one last pounding by the driving nature of glacial drift.  The Wisconsin Glacial Episode was the last major advance of ice in the region, and its retreat started far to the north of this area. Being spared helped to preserve deep valleys, high limestone bluffs and the perfect chemical make-up for some of the best trout streams in the world.

Driftless Region

Driftless Region

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Driftless_Area

Ingemar always introduces me to local fly-shops during our forays in Michigan, so our first stop is a fly fishing shop in Viroqua called The Driftless Angler. Mat Wagner is the owner. Mat left his Rocky Mountain paradise in the winter of 2006/07 to pursue a new paradise right here in Wisconsin: The Driftless Area. He opened his shop in February of 2007 and has never looked back. Mat maintains a fishing report for the area. .  The person tending the shop is very helpful, but tells us that the river we came to fish has been pretty off this past week. Caddis seem to be the fare though, so we grab a few extra bugs from the shop and head for the river.

It is pushing almost 5 p.m. when we finally get to the river – those of you that have fished with me know that spot. We step into a bend and face up stream. Above us is a deep, right-angle corner in the river that pours water through a riffle into a fast, short run that terminates in a pool at our feet. We have our caddis flies in tow, but having fished here for years, I rig up with a black stone fly #10 and trail it with a #14 prince nymph. The length of leader between the bugs and my poly strike indicator is about 8 feet to start.

Ing watches intently as I complete the setup and then offers me first cast so that he can see how I fish this rig. I am two casts into the lower part of the run when a fish takes. I play him out in the softer water below – a fat, 13-inch brown! Not bad for kicking things off.

Bead-Head Stonefly With Zug Bug Dropper

Bead-Head Stonefly With Zug Bug Dropper

This first fish makes me realize that I left my net back in the truck. Yes, I am a net man. I can land fish without a net, but after years of this habit I prefer to net my fish. This stretch has produced some bruisers in the past so I head back to the truck to grab us a couple of nets. When I return, Ing informs me that he has had couple of nice fish here and one that got off. He is a true gentleman and offers me another shot at the run before we move up. I decide to move down a little, cross the river and approach from a different angle. This affords me the ability to drop my rig close to the top of the run and get a pretty good drift down the long seam that heads into the pool. On my third, consecutive drift a fish strikes hard and heads for a spot deep in the bottom of the pool. It is a heavier fish than the first one and it takes me a bit to coax it down stream. I finally land him and he is a solid 15-inches. It is another nice brown trout. Ing grabs a camera and snaps of a nice photo before we release him back to the depths.

Vernon County Brown Trout

Vernon County Brown Trout

We are both enthused by this bigger trout and continue to work our way toward the head of the pool for “the big dog”. We never raise a fish at the head of the pool, but you should always work that spot hard. It is a prime spot for big fish.

Next we approach the deep water above this spot. There is a fish rising at the head this next pool, so we immediately switch to a #14 elk hair caddis and go after him. Several drifts do not raise the fish. After a few more casts, he rises again. We mark the location. The next cast is spot-on, but the hook set is too quick and the fish is only stung. He is gone.

A couple of bends up, there is a reputed hole where water rushes down a literal drop-off and into a partially submerged tree. Below the tree the river forms a nice pool. Further down is a large, sub-surface timber that lies across the river. We draw nearer, using this log to mark our approach and never moving closer than within a few feet of it. I am already rigged up for this spot, so I hand my rod to Ing. After a few casts, he is into a respectable, fat brown trout and he lands it.

Satisfied Angler!

Satisfied Angler!

I ask him “do you want the good news or the bad news.”

He replies “give me the good.”

“You just caught a nice little brown trout.”

“Then there is no bad news!” he quips.

“The bad news is that it’s my turn at this hole now!”  Ing hands the rod back to me and I check the fly. I notice an abrasion about 6 inches up the line. I don’t want to risk losing a big fish so I decide to retie the rig. It is a good idea to check your line often, especially after playing a fish. Since I had to re-tie anyway, I moved to a more heavily weighted fly. The water here is very fast and I want to make sure the fly is getting down quickly. I am rewarded with another nice brown –

There is some friendly banter over whether the fly change was a known recipe for success here. I toss the rod back to Ingemar and remind him that I am not his gillie today! We both laugh as he works another fish. We continue to take turns extracting fish from the pool by working the seams on either side. Wonderful. The river is “on” like I have seldom seen it before. Ing is getting spoiled by one of my favorite Wisconsin streams.

Deep Run, Big Brown

Deep Run, Big Brown

Evening is sneaking up on us so we hustle up to a spot where a spring comes in and the colder water holds some nice brook trout. We switch to bead-head prince nymphs and start swinging the flies down and across. Just like below, I am demonstrating the technique to Ingemar when a fish strikes right away. It is a female brook trout. We rig both rods the same way and I move up river a bit to give Ing some room. He strikes a nice fish a few casts later and I come back down to photograph a beautiful male brook trout – his first.

Ingemar's Square Tail in Full Colors

Ingemar’s Square Tail in Full Colors

I head back up river again and this time I notice a large, flat boulder with a nice pocket right below it. I stay well across river from the spot, but position myself about 15 yards upstream as well. I work out some line and start my down and across swing. I continue to lengthen my line until there is enough to swing my fly right through the pocket, exposing only the leader to the slower water in the pocket. Thump! I feel the fish and set the hook. He leaps into the air and runs down toward Ing. It is another nice brown trout. The light is falling so the picture is a little fuzzy, but I had to include it – the biggest trout of the day.

Twilight Trout

Twilight Trout

Monday, May 11, 2009th

Mother’s day weekend is spent at home – time well spent with a wonderful woman – some would say a saint! . We have a 2 ½  year old on the run and another little guy arriving sometime in August. And so I have left the Mother’s Day caddis hatch to future years. Nonetheless, as Monday dawns immediately following Mother’s Day, I am back on the water for a few days with two good friends.

There is nothing as venerable as good friends heading out to spend time together in pursuit of trout – I always leave such excursions even closer to the companions that join me.

First up is my friend Joe – not to be confused with my brother Joe who is also a truly great friend. This Joe lives in ‘Tosa. Let’s call him ‘Tosa Joe. I roll into ‘Tosa Joe’s place early Monday morning and we head out for what will be the last spring pilgrimage to SW Wisconsin. After this it will be time to follow hatches to the north. Our first stop is the little river that I have now fished with my brother Joe and my daughter. Each visit reveals a little more about this small fishery. In truth, I tried to focus on water where Joe could work on his casting (first time out for him this year) and still have a shot at some fish. He doesn’t disappoint.

'Tosa Joe Works His Way Into a Fish on a Small River

‘Tosa Joe Works His Way Into a Fish on a Small River

He does, in fact, get a nice brown in that first spot and then he joins me while I plummet the depths for the devil trout that escaped me the last time I was here. Will I ever give up on that spot, that fish?!

Satisfied Angler!

Satisfied Angler!

Satisfied with our first trout and the fact that Joe has his casting groove intact, we head for bigger water. Joe and I separate after awhile – he knows what he is doing and we each seek our trout on different stretches of the same river. His cast improves steadily over the course of the day.  In fact he is throwing much tighter loops than me; so I make note that I need to get out and do a little more casting practice of my own!  In any case, it is a good day in that ever-so-favorite of stretches.

Workin' it!

Workin’ it!

After Joe moves back down river, I step into a spot that regularly produces some nice fish and rig up with my standard DEEP rig that I use here. I fish it from below. I fish it from above. I dead drift. I swing flies. I add more weight. More drifts. More swings. Nothing. I then go back and fish this same spot from down river again – casting upstream. That’s when I switch over to an elk hair caddis with about a 36 inch dropper. Bang! That rig put me into a fat, 13-inch brown trout. So shortening up and fishing lighter actually worked in a spot where I usually fish very deep. Make a note of that. The fish took the dropper.

Next, I fall back down to a spot just above a small island that I like to fish. There is a fast little run here that shoots around two large boulders before dumping into a pool and heading down toward that island. Here, I rig up with an even bigger caddis (#8). It serves as my strike indicator. Behind it I tie on about 3 feet of tippet and a #10 hydropsyche larva. I take a couple of 8-inch browns about half way through the pools as the rig returns to me. That’s not what I want though. I want the fish at the head of the pool – the prime spot where the big ones hang out. Here, big trout get first dibs on the insects washing down out of that fast little run. I start to adjust my rigging. Joe sees me repeatedly casting up to the run and shouts for me to move on – “there can’t be anything there”. At this moment a black cow steps into the water behind me and Joe snaps off a surreal picture of this cow looking over my shoulder as I continue to cast to my target area. Joe heads down below me reminding me as he passes that it might be time to let this spot rest. Oh, really? A few more casts and I decide to adjust for a deeper presentation. Fishing deeper does not always mean adding more weight to the leader. In this case, I choose to add about 15 more inches of 5x tippet – just extending the dropper out to more than 4 feet below that big caddis.

The casting ritual is repeated again and after several attempts I connect with a solid 16+ inch brown trout. He runs into the pool, sees me and then heads back upstream to the fast little run. I turn him. He runs below me and I step across stream leading him to the shallow water just above the little island. He heads back to the pool again. On the next pass, I lift his head high and net him. Wow, look at the shoulders on this fish! I have to thank Joe here – he hustled back up stream to snap an awesome photo of this fish – it actually looks like a shark with that dark eye.

Bovine & Squaoliformes Trout

Bovine & Squaoliformes Trout

 Thanks ‘Tosa Joe, it was good to get out there with you.  Too bad we couldn’t have stretched it.

Paul

Next Page »