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:

There are no words to describe the moment that a fisherman loses a big fish. One moment your rod is alive, trembling and bowing to the pull of the fish. You can feel that fish. Its weight. Its energy. It creates an intoxicating effect, the potency of which is strengthened by the compression of time. Then it’s over. He’s gone. A rushing vacuum of despair replaces the high-spiritedness of the prior moment. Then the moment is immediately relived in slow motion. The swirl of the fish. Rod lifted high. The flash of line. Reel whirring. The forcible halt. Deep tug. The sideways pull. Head shake. The line in retrieve. Sudden rush. The rod springs free. He’s gone. Silence. No words are spoken. Reflection. A new bit of information has been gleaned. Resilience. More than a bit of experience has been added to my arsenal. Resentment. I am struck by an excerpt from Norman MacLean’s A River Runs Through It: “I shall remember that son-of-a-bitch forever.”    – Paul Stillmank (a.k.a. WiFly)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

This year’s foray to the far northern reaches of Wisconsin is a short one, compressed by work and other obligations of life. The lost days have been stolen forever, never to be returned. The melancholy imposed by such forfeiture is made even more fervent because this is not just any trout river: it’s the Bois Brule. Fictitious in many ways, this river is only made real by experiencing the legendary firsthand here each year. And so this excursion must not be dampened by lost time. It must be celebrated. Yes, the proportion of time here is made irrelevant by the mystic effects of this place. We draw near the river in the low light of pre-dawn. Our senses are deeply stirred:  melodic sound of water harmonizing with wind in the trees; scent of water and woods; refreshing feeling of air and mist. We are transported to past years, past fish, and past memories.

The canoe scrapes along the gravel landing at Stones Bridge until the water lifts us to a silent drift. We feather our paddles, slipping between the currents that will carry us far down river. We’ll return here considerably later to disembark in the dark of night. For now, we drift quietly, listening to the sounds and taking in the beginning of a perfect day.

By mid-morning, the rain is light but steady. The float down river turns out to be a wet one. The water is tinted to a burnt umber – tannin seeping in from the soil beneath the cedar and pine forest. The aroma is heady and adds a calming effect. It has been a wet year. The river is at its highest level since we started fishing here back in 1997. This makes for an easy float, removing all trepidation of jarring the large granite sarsens that hide beneath the surface.

We start out with small streamers, casting them tight to the tag alder edges. A momentary pause lets the fly sink before it is retrieved in short, quick strips. This strategy pays off as our #8 PPB is rushed by many colorful brook trout.

A brown drake is spotted drifting in the current just below us. It takes flight untouched. A splashy rise downstream.  I reel in and switch to a brown drake emerger. We drift in silence, waiting and watching. The rain has paused. The surface of the water reflects black in the light of the overcast sky. The current is almost indiscernible even though we know it is flowing at about 120 CFS or more. I make a quiet cast. My brown drake drifts along, tracing the currents’ filigree where the tag alders break the water’s surface. A sudden flash! A brook trout rushes to the fly and smashes it before attempting to return to the safety of the root-wad below. I halt its retreat, turning it down river and working it to the far side of the canoe. Joe tosses me the net. This brookie is well above average.

The streamers seem to work the best in this stretch although we continue to see some brown drakes popping infrequently along the way – enticing a few more fly changes before we reach McDougal’s.

McDougal’s. I’m sure many people don’t know the reference, but some do. It’s a spring. We have marked its location along with many others on our personal river map. For us the river map is no longer needed. Notable landmarks mark the approach and arrival of the best places. We always pause at McDougal’s, aligning the canoe broadside in the river so that we can shoot flies far into its cold waters. The high water this year allows us to get our streamers further back into the base of the cedars that line the bank here – some of them appearing to dip into the water before bending skyward again. We tarry here for about an hour, having one of our better outings at this hole since we first started fishing this water. One of these piscatorial wonders even has fangs – something that we’ve never seen before.

Make sure to fish on the inside edges of downed trees that have fallen mostly into the river and then been pushed by the current to angle downstream. These are called “sweepers” and fish hangout on both the upstream and downstream side of them. Tucking a cast tight to the bank on the upstream side of a large sweeper occasionally results in an unexpected battle with a large brown trout or scrappy brook trout. This year we have a bit more depth for those flies. This year we’re getting hung up a lot less and we’re picking up more fish.

The rain has returned in a steady torrent now.  We hold up at one of the fisherman’s shelters. It’s mid-day so we sample a bit of food while our clothes dry in the rafters. Even our Filsons are soaked through – and that’s a first. We’ll have to remember to wax those this coming winter, returning their resiliency to resist water. We pass the time with a deck of cards while we wait for the rain to let up. It never does…

We paddle back upstream and conclude our day with an evening’s fishing near the wing dam that we fondly refer to as “brook trout wing dam”. Although many brook trout are taken here, the reward this evening is a fat, 15-inch brown trout. The charmed fly is one of my newly tied #8 white wulff’s with a deer-hair spun body. This fly floats very high and I’m pleased with the way it’s hackled. I’ll have to spin up several more of those for other Bois Brule adventures.

So our first day on the river is rewarding albeit wet. We arrive back at Stone’s Landing in pitch darkness and commence with the ceremonious cleaning and hoisting of the canoe. As we lift the canoe high, water rushes out from the gunnels and pours down my arms. I barely notice because I’m that wet. We head back to the cabin on Lake Nebagamon, put on some dry clothes, and head to a little bar called Bridges. We toast our damp day and its beautiful fish with dark beers and sausage pizza. We’ll be back out there tomorrow!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Today’s forecast is for the best weather day of the trip. The upper river is reasonably pleasant, treating us much better than yesterday. Joe works the canoe artfully along while I parry the edges of the river with streamers, emergers and dry flies. The sky is overcast and we hope to see some brown drakes hatch during the day again.

Mid-way through the various wing dams that mark the upper river, we see a very large mayfly crossing the water below us. But it’s not brown drake – it’s a Hex! The Hexagenia Limbata (a.k.a. the Hex) is the largest of mayflies and is well known for bringing up super-sized trout. Dimples of water are scattered below us; each one a Hex struggling to break through. One after another, they come forth. Many hatches normally reserved for evening have been known to come forth during a damp, overcast day. The Hex, however, hasn’t been one of them. It’s a first and I immediately change over to my own Hex pattern:

Hook: #10 3xL lite wire
Tail: 10 to 12 long moose mane fibers
Body:
Very fuzzy, roughed up yellow dubbing; tapered
Wing: Elk hair post
Hackle: Parachute style with two feathers – one barred ginger and the other a lighter cream.

This fly produces fish all the way down the river.

One exciting moment comes as we float through the stretch just above the largest wing dam. The river bends here just as the wing dam comes into view. A large, mid-stream boulder gives away its position with a rose-quartz crown cutting through the surface. Below the surface, an ancient piece of cedar timber is jammed into the base of this boulder. A small channel of water flows between the boulder and the tag alders that line the bank. All of this makes for a fish haven: there’s a fish rising between the boulder and the tag alders, another above the boulder, and yet another in the slot directly below the boulder. We actually marked this spot yesterday after taking a very nice brown trout rising to drakes in the rain (sorry – no picture).

The fish of note today is upstream of the boulder and tight to the tag alders – facing upstream. The tag-alder bank curves here creating an extended point. The water pours into the bank here sliding around the point and continuing downstream. This requires a curve cast to the left to present the fly. Our target fish is sitting in the spot right where the water collides with the bank.

The magic fly has all of my confidence and the cast is spot-on. An aggressive swirl engulfs the fly. It’s a size-able fish. I rotate my rod high and away from the tag alders, quickly getting him on the reel. This brute knows his way around the end of a leader, and muscles his way back into the tag alders, forcing me to over-play him. I pull the hook and he is gone. He is gone.

There are no words to describe the moment that a fisherman loses a big fish. One moment your rod is alive, trembling and bowing to the pull of the fish. You can feel that fish. Its weight. Its energy. It creates an intoxicating effect, the potency of which is strengthened by the compression of time. Then it’s over. He’s gone. A rushing vacuum of despair replaces the high-spiritedness of the prior moment. Then the moment is immediately relived in slow motion. The swirl of the fish. Rod lifted high. The flash of line. Reel whirring. The forcible halt. Deep tug. The sideways pull. Head shake. The line in retrieve. Sudden rush. The rod springs free. He’s gone. Silence. No words are spoken. Reflection. A new bit of information has been gleaned. Resilience. More than a bit of experience has been added to my arsenal. Resentment. I am struck by an excerpt from Norman MacLean’s A River Runs Through It: “I shall remember that son-of-a-bitch forever.”

We tarry here a bit and extract a few of the mid-stream trout; however none compare to the prizefighter that was hanging tight to the bank.

We float down to another favored stretch where Joe and I usually split up. I take “the circle hole” and he takes “the up and downs”. The “circle-hole” has stood the test of time for me. I caught my first size-able brown trout at this spot back in 1997. It was our first run down this river and there were three of us wedged into a single canoe. Our guide, Keith Behn, had the stern position. I was in the bow. And Joe held steady in the middle. Back then my only fly rods were a 7W and a 4W. I had the 4W strung up and ready to go. Our guide chastised me a bit for having a rod that was too dainty for this water. He strung up a 5W and brought it along for me; however, I was determined to use my own gear. The fly of choice seemed to be a #6 pass lake wet fly (peacock body with a calf-tail wing). Again, I was determined to use my own ties and I saw no reason not to fish my new creation: “Paul’s Polar Bear” or the PPB as we have come to know it.

Also a streamer, the PPB is a very effective fly. The body is heavily weighted with lead wire for the entire hook shank. Its silver, mylar body provides a bit of flash. Its wing is layered in polar bear, black bear and polar bear again. The head is built up with white thread which is tied off before a collar of red thread is used to imitate the flared gills of a bait fish. The PPB imitates the abundant dace in the Bois Brule. There are some nice publications by the Wisconsin DNR that are worth a read. “Fishes of the Bois Brule River System” not only recounts the trout, stealhead and salmon; it summarizes the abundant bait fish in this fishery. Also see  Aquatic insects of the Bois Brule River System by Robert B. Dubois.

So there we were – drifting along with our guide who kept telling me to be sure to use that large Pass Lake (I’m sure the fly produces). As we approached the Circle Hole, a violent rise occurred well off the port side of the canoe. Keith tells me it’s too far off to reach with my lighter rod; however, no sooner has he finished his sentence when I drop the PPB within two feet of that splash. Strip, strip, strip. Too say the strike was violent would be a gross understatement. I set the hook hard and the fight was on. The river bottom here is mostly scattered boulders and rocks. Eventually I got this monster on the reel as Keith hopped out of the canoe to net him – but not before a good fight on each side of the canoe. It was the largest brown trout that I had ever seen at this point. It had a deep, rich golden flank with lighter-colored radiances surrounding its black and red specks. It was beautiful. That fish (that trip) hooked me on the Bois Brule for a life time.

Back to 2010. Just below the Circle Hole is a stretch that Joe refers to as “the up and downs”, named for the varied river bottom that rises and falls like a sinusoid through this stretch. We beach the canoe on a little peninsula off the main river channel and Joe heads down into his dream water. I carefully, slowly, quietly wade out to the middle of my own.

The Circle Hole is not really a “hole” as most fly fisherman would define it. It’s not a deep piece of water with a head, pool and tail. Rather, it is a very wide bulge in the river that is created by the abundant springs entering the river from its southwest bank. The main spring coming in on the upper end of this stretch keeps what appears to be a backwater completely clear and free of algae. Its edges are lined with sticks, brush, and rocks creating a myriad of locations for trout to hide. The cold spring water flows through these spots on its way to join the main river. That current is critical to carry food to these skulking trout. I enjoy wading out to the center of this “circle” and target casting to the edges – tucking casts into difficult spots and stripping back quickly to entice strikes. Several fine-looking brook trout are caught and released. This is where I honed my casting accuracy over the years. Now I’m at the point where I can drop a fly back in the tag-alders along the river’s edge with near pin-point accuracy. That’s where the bigger fish have interred themselves while they wait for the evening’s banquet.

I work the perimeter of the circle hole before hopping back in the canoe and floating down through that snaky piece of water, overtaking Joe, and entering the water again three bends down. As I overtake Joe, he tells me he’s had a very nice brown trout lying beneath one of the over-hanging cedars. He says that fish are rising to something throughout this section. This piece of water has been very good to us in past years and we like to finish up an evening’s fishing here once a season. It’s actually the farthest we’ll come down if we plan to paddle back upstream to Stone’s Bridge at the end of a night – over a 90 minute effort in the shadowy night forest.

Joe eventually catches up to me and we continue our paddle. We’ve spent more time than we had planned to in the upper portion of the river. It’s easy to loiter about here, wafting flies to nice-looking spots among the currents. So we’ve no time to work the area around Cedar Island Estate. This is another wonderful spot for the astute fly-rodder. It offers a deep spring and wary Rainbows that come to the net only when the hatch is on and the river obliges. Instead, we decide to peruse the faster water down below in hopes of plummeting select pockets with our bead-head nymphs and heavily weighted stone-fly patterns. So we skip over the Dining Room Pool, slide beneath the Green Bridge and paddle on through Mays Rips, Big Twin Rapids and the numerous eddies, chutes, and s-curves that make the upper river so charming to the canoeist and fly fisherman. It’s particularly enjoyable with this high water. We examine the river here and there; however we do not stop again until we reach a favorite location for the evening’s affair.

Some severe weather is threatening. In fact we can hear the distance rumblings of Mother Nature as we paddle through Big Lake – a bit foreboding. We wonder what the evening will bring. Indeed. We are no sooner in position for the evening hatch when the owner of the boathouse at the tail of Big Lake comes down to warn us that the forecast is calling for inch-sized hail and 60 mph winds. And it will be on top of us in about 20 minutes! We gracefully decline an invitation to seek shelter right here and high-tail it off the river altogether (and just in time). We linger at the forest’s edge as the torrent unleashes. In the end, we decide to surrender the river to the treacheries of nature and head back to out cabin. Perhaps we should have lingered until that storm subsided. I’ve always been curious about the manner of insects and fish after a front like that moves through. However, a severe electrical storm is not something to second guess.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday starts out as a very bright day. We head into Superior for some breakfast and to visit the fly shop there: Superior Fly Angler. We need to pick up a few missing materials to tie up a few more PPB’s (3xLong #8 hooks and lead wire). There’s a pretty nice selection of materials here. We are delighted to see some locally tied fly patterns that mimic the native hatches.

We get on the river around 1 p.m.  Today we decided to walk in at the stretch between Big Twin Rapids and the fast water above Big Lake. Sucker Lake is in this stretch. The road is marked Anderson Road on one part of the Gazetteer, but then it becomes CCC farther south – also labeled Hilltop Road. Another adjacent road is labeled Francis Willard Road or Willard Road.   Right where the road bends from Willard to CCC there are two small areas to park. We should have been at the lot that’s further north, but chose to walk in from the southern one. The trail here is clear enough at first; however it disappears into heavy woods and thickets and we end up having to hack our way to the river in true Lewis & Clark fashion. We wade out to some prime water just upstream of Big Twin Rapids. Just as we ready to wet a line, a steady and torrential rain sets in – again!

Now this is a new definition of wet! We hunker down under a couple of the large cedar trees overhanging the rivers’ edge. Cedars have large, webby foliage and provide great accommodation in a situation like this. We’re kept completely dry – at first. The rain becomes so steady that the cedars eventually become soaked. Water seeps down from above, penetrating the lower branches and then falling in drops from the lower branches. Eventually, these steady trickles just find their way in. And then we’re soaked as well. I should note that we left our Filson Jackets behind on purpose this time. We want them dry for the evening. We’re not that far from the FJ and we decided that if we got wet, so be it. We can always hike out and put on some dry clothes later. So I’m wearing a gray t-shirt. Drip. Drip. Drip. Steady and relentless. My t-shirt gets completely soaked and then that water works its way down until eventually there is a good amount of water sloshing around in my waders.

The rain eventually lets up a bit, although not entirely. We’re already soaked through so light rain isn’t even a nuisance any more.  I work my way downstream through Big Twin Rapids, plummeting that fast water with big streamers and heavy weight. I like to think that I would have picked it over more carefully and thoroughly if I hadn’t been doing so in such conditions. I’m convinced that we can deep nymph some of these fast water slicks and dredge up a trout or two. I know we can.

The rain starts to let up right as we reach the head of Sucker Lake. We divide the lake between us. I take the east bank and Joe the west. The idea here is to cast our flies along the bank as we pick our way down stream. Joe hooks up with a couple of brook trout almost as soon as he begins casting. The east bank seems pretty fish-less despite some nice cover from tag alders. I’m over half way down the lake when I finally take a couple of small brook trout.

I stop to examine the spread of shoreline before me. My attention is drawn to a large cedar tree. Its on of those setups where the trunk bends down to greet the water before bending skyward again. Remember, it’s a high-water year this year. I’m fishing with a small streamer on a #10 3xL hook that is designed to look like a brook trout fry. I get off a good cast tight to this cedar tree right where it touches the water. I barely begin my retrieve when a more size-able fish just smashes it. I lift the rod high and it leaps completely out of the water. I get it on the reel and apply some pressure: another magnificent, floppy jump. We can both see that it is a rainbow. It measures over 12 inches at the net and is richly colored. Joe snaps off a couple of quick pictures to capture the moment and the fish.

After releasing that rainbow, I return to the exact same spot and continue to cast around that area before continuing to move down. Within a few more casts I am into a decent sized brook trout – almost 11 inches. This fish is also beautifully marked.

I pause to take in the scene. There is a blanket of fog misting over the river. It appears to be moving. Yes, it’s flowing in measure with the river – passing over us in waves as it moves downstream. It’s not eerie. It’s actually ethereal; adding motion to the landscape and deepening the experience.

We continue to follow the currents north along each bank as the lake starts to narrow to its outlet. On the east bank, the lake water pushes into what I can only describe as a corner before turning back to its narrows. It’s the northeast corner of the lake. I drive a long cast into the darkest water of the boulder strewn corner. An even bigger fish roles on my streamer and begins to fight. This fish is size-able; however it does not jump. Rainbows almost always jump whether in still water or rapids. This fish is a brown trout and decides to stay deep in his watery world to wage the battle. And a battle it is. It takes me a couple of attempts to get this fish to the net. We try to land our fish quickly here and sometimes a fish is not ready, making a determined run right at the net. Eventually I get him in. He is well over 15-inches long and plenty fat.

This ends up being the fish of the trip for me. I had one of similar size the other night on a hex bug. However to catch a fish like this during the day is special. It’s overcast right now, but also very bright. Very enjoyable.

So here I am with a “triple” on the east end of the lake: Rainbow, Brook, and Brown. All of good size. Joe’s had a few small fish, and as gracious as he is, he’s got to be thinking “what the heck?”  However within a couple of minutes, he hooks and lands a nice brook trout. So now it’s my turn to reel in a snap a photo of his catch. And no sooner have I waded back to my northeast corner when he strikes a monster fish. I can see the deep bend in his rod. Hell, it’s bent full over! It is a stalwart fight as this brute runs for wood and Joe tugs him back to open water. But this fish is determined to escape and does. He runs back into the sweepers on the west bank and when Joe attempts to once again horse him back to open water he pulls the hook. It’s a tough situation to be sure. How much pressure can you apply without applying too much?

We return to our respective quarters to continue our efforts when Joe calls out to me “hey, there’s something blue floating down behind you! What is it?”  I turn around and here comes a Coors Lite floating down the lake – probably from some people up river that flipped their canoe in the rapids.  It hasn’t been cracked and the top is bobbing above the water’s surface. I pick it up. Pfsh! And I have a little Coors Lite on the river. Pretty nice. The beer’s original owners soon appear working their way all over the river and the open lake area trying to retrieve their lost elixir. Heh.

So I continue to work my way down into that north east corner until it turns into that great run that leads into Big Lake. I carefully work my way across to the other side and begin to work the water below Joe. There’s a nice hole here; however the water is a bit fast and I’m not able to get the fly down deep enough before drag on my fly line becomes un-mendable. I’ll have to fish that again next year with something heavier. Or get closer to it, shorten up, and nymph it with a rig that lets me mend and snake a good fly down through there. A sinking line might be the trick as well – from above. Yes, there are many ways to tackle a spot like this.

In any case, as I start to fish the west side, Joe crosses the river and begins working over that north east corner. He fishes even farther back into the corner and takes another nice brown from over there. So now Joe’s now battling away in that corner and this time the quarry comes to hand – over 14 inches.

So we had quite a nice time on a lake that for some reason is called “Sucker Lake.” Perhaps it’s named this to ward off fisherman from a favorite spot. We certainly did not see any suckers on this trip. We had tremendous fishing here with each of getting “triples”: brook, brown and rainbow trout in a single outing.

Let me remind you that we are both completely soaked to the skin here. I still have the same amount of water (or more) sloshing around in my boots that I had when we worked our way down the lake this morning. Joe exits the river on the west bank and immediately spots the trail that we intended to take this morning. It’s quite a nice path that takes us all the way back and just north of where we walked in from this morning. So we return to the FJ, pull out the dry-bags and shed our wet clothes. It feels good to be warm and dry again. We peel open the sardines and Joe produces some corn bread muffins that he made yesterday. We crack open a jar of kalamata olives and break out some fresh musk melon. This isn’t exactly a meal we’d plan at home; however it seems like a feast fit for kings when we’re out here.

We get all of our gear reset and head to Stone’s Bridge. We’re bound for this evening’s hatch. There’s another notable fish on the float down. I am working the edges with that hex dun pattern described earlier. I drop it tight to the tag alders on the east bank near a dark piece of water. A really nice rainbow trout just smashes it and then leaps fully out of the water. We can both see its crimson side writhing in mid-air before it plasters the river in a magnificent splash. We both gasp as it runs into a tangle of roots and is lost. Silence. Reflection. Resilience. Resentment. Son-of-a-…   That seems to be more common on this trip, especially with these bigger fish. We’re trying to horse them back out of the wood and we end up popping the fly.

We finish up down below the big wing dam in a place that we usually don’t stop. We see spinners and duns in small numbers. We have some fish coming up, but not for repeated rises. So the hatch ends up being a bit of a non-event – although the weather is fantastic. There is a light breeze keeping the mosquitoes off. There is a light sky fueled by the moon hidden in the clouds. The bugs were there – flittering and struggling by in small numbers. We both take some fish. Joe lands a 10-inch brown trout early. He also hooks up with another sizeable fish that gives him the slip. I take a nice brook trout on my high floating White Wulff pattern. I also have one really nice fish take a slash at my fly – a new hex spinner that I came up with.  And that’s it. It’s a very enjoyable paddle back off the river. In fact it’s all you could hope for from a summer evening. Light breeze, no bugs, high water and we arrive at Stones Bridge around 11:30 p.m. There were only about four or five other canoes on the upper river tonight.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

It’s the last day of the shortest trip that we’ve ever taken here. “Charlie Murphy!” Joe shouts as he bursts forth from his bedroom. We spend the morning debating where and how to spend the day. We could float the upper river and finish up in the wing dams. We could hike back in at Sucker Lake and go back up without the pressure of the rain through those fast water sections around Big Twin Rapids and beyond. In fact, we could do the latter and still put in somewhere for the evening hatch – much like yesterday. Will it be the wing dams, Big Lake or the summer home section?

In the end, we decide to hike back into Sucker Lake and fish our respective positions of yesterday. And it’s a good thing too. Joe does quite well with a size-able brook trout and a size-able brown trout. That brown probably goest north of 18 inches and is replete with beautiful red spots spread out across its flank. It also has a nice corn-yellow belly on it. Those red spots radiate with lavender halos for a wraith-like effect. Very unique and certainly a different strain of brown trout than we are typically catching here.

Joe’s fly:
Hook: #10 2xL Nymph Hook
Tail: 8 to 10 pheasant tail fibers
Body: Burnt orange (almost ochre) dubbing and spiraled with flat tinsel
Throat: Brown hackle fibers
Wing: Mallard flank feather dyed yellow and tied in the down position with the flat side up.

I take mostly brook trout with one going 10 inches. The north east corner that I chronicled yesterday is barren of fish. We hike out, lunch and then pack everything up to head to Stones Bridge. The sky is clear and we’re hopeful for some moonlight in the upper river this evening. Moonlight and Hexagenias!

We arrive at Stones Bridge around 7 p.m.  A man walks over to our canoe and examines my net. He says “you can send this in for re-finishing if you like.”  I say “are you Lloyd?” He responds “yes.” Lloyd owns LDH Landing Nets. I found him online many years ago and ordered three nets: my trout net, a steelhead net, and a long handled net for landing fish from the canoe.

They are all beautiful, functional art. So it was nice to meet him in person finally. I recall Lloyd emailing me photos of different types of wood. I selected the Curly Koa wood for my primary trout net. Lloyd also counseled me in the types of wood that could be used in that long handled net and still handle the weight of a nice fish. Walnut was the recommended choice. As we head down river, Joe notes how far I’ve come that I can walk into the Brule and meet the guy that made my nets; and then he notes that the boy that made his net is still living in Pakistan or Korea.

The evening is perfect. Darkness falls. The Whippoorwills sound off.  I’ll post a sound file of the Whippoorwills here later.

Well that’s a wrap on a Saturday night on the Bois Brule. I don’t even know what to call it. A flyer? It just didn’t come together.  A disappointing day for me; however Joe is more than pleased with his afternoon’s trout.

A reflection for next year relative to the Big Wing Dam – I am drawn to it mostly on the memory of that big fish that we caught while floating through there in the rain one day several years back. It’s a very difficult stretch to wade at night. It’s boulder strewn with nary a place to get a boot to the bottom. It seems we would have been much better off up near the brook trout wing dam. In fact, we’re starting to realize that other veterans of our craft, like Bemidji, are going after what they refer to as “the flats”. These are typically a bend or so down below the larger wing dams. Here, silt and sand have deposited making these stretches better hatch areas for the burrowing nymphs (hex and brown drake). And these stretches are very wade-able allowing for easier wading. In fact the stretch above the brook trout wing dam (and below it) has flats stretching for over 100 yards. Something to review for next here.

I’ll be out hitting the Hex hatch on some streams closer to home in the coming weeks.

I’m also planning a major expedition to Yellowstone this fall. I’ll post some links to pictures from that trip here as well.

Tight Lines!  ~WiFly~

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 ~

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 –

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 ~