Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011 – Wading for Whoppers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– WiFly

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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.

 

 

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 ~

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 4th thru Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Paul’s Orvis “Super Fine” 7-foot 4-Weight rod with Able Reel – A great little rod for fishing small streams amidst woods and tight stream brush

Paul’s Orvis “Super Fine” 7-foot 4-Weight rod with Able Reel – A great little rod for fishing small streams amidst woods and tight stream brush

Wisconsin Fly Fishing Fever continues!  I dropped my brother Joe off at his home in Waukesha last night and then drove into Madison to pick up my daughter Caitlin and we headed right back out to SW Wisconsin. It was a rough round trip last night – 6 hours of driving to switch out fishing partners. I actually had a pretty good night’s sleep. Caitlin, however, is still sleeping at 7:30 a.m.  One of the challenges when I am out trout-ing is that I really don’t need a lot of sleep and I tend to keep pretty extreme hours. That’s not the case for those that I travel with.  So I am sitting here reading “Techcrunch” for updates on Twitpic, TweetPhoto, and facebook’s open APIs – all on a fabulous little device created by Amazon called the Kindle 2.

Once Caitlin is up and moving, we head out to the small, category-3 river that Joe and I fished yesterday. In fact, the next few days will be focused on three small pieces of water all located in Grant County, Wisconsin:  one labeled a River, one labeled a Creek, and one labeled a Brook.

It’s Monday morning and we have a pretty good looking sky right now – the sun is out. However, the weather forecast for the next couple of days is less than ideal: rain tomorrow and extreme electrical storms on Wednesday. We had better make good use of today as we are likely to be hunkered down tying flies later in the week. Rain very seldom pushes us off of a river, but an electrical storm is another matter. You don’t want to be standing in a river waving around a graphite rod when that kind of weather starts to roll in.

Check out these lightening safety tips to consider when fishing:

http://www.streetdirectory.com/travel_guide/215841/travel_tips/lightning_safety_tips_for_fishermen.html
http://fishing.about.com/od/basicfishinginstruction/a/fishing_light.htm

http://www.health.state.ny.us/environmental/emergency/weather/lightening/

A Small River. Let me just say that the first stream to be fished today can be referred to as a “younger sibling to a big brother”.  It is always a good idea to investigate the tributaries that feed some of our larger trout rivers. They can be surprising in terms of the fish that they hold. They also become havens for trout during the heat of summer.  This particular piece of water has few areas that afford an opportunity for easy casting. I guide Caitlin to one of the nicer openings where she can work until she gets her casting rhythm back (the college years leaving little time for pursuit of trout). We’ll leave the debate to the annals of time as to whether she should be looking over her shoulder to watch her back cast unwind or just focus forward to where her fly will land – like her dad tells her. Some of her best casts do come when she is keeping an eye on that back cast. However she does not get into fish until she finally relents to my barmy rant and focuses all attention forward. Her first fish is smallish, but with the knowledge that she is no longer “skunked”, things seem to come easier.
My Daughter Caitlin Faces Off With the Trout on a Small River

My Daughter Caitlin Faces Off With the Trout on a Small River

We stay here and hit a few of the pools that Joe and I hit yesterday. I just finished up on that sweet little run where I took that 16-inch brown yesterday. Things go a little awry today compared to yesterday: snags, lost rigs, and not paying enough attention to the trees. Despite all this, we still manage to hook another sizeable fish in here. It is a complete replay of yesterday except without landing the fish. This bruiser charges for a deep, undercut bank further up in the run. It is lost despite my stalwart efforts to soak my arm to the shoulder again. I walk back through the woods, the residue of sadness lingering with me for having lost that trout.
Whenever I lose a substantial fish like this, I always analyze the situation: looking for lessons-learned for next time. Here are some thoughts on what to do in a situation like this:
  • When you hook a big fish and it heads for cover, do not switch the angle of attack with your rod. You cannot turn your fly rod in the opposite direction. For example, if you are leading a fish downstream and it ducks for cover, you cannot turn your rod upstream – you’re just letting the fish control the situation, embedding itself in the roots, tangles and debris beneath the bank. You need to keep your angle of attack the same and tug that fish back out the same way that it went in.
  • Don’t feel compelled to keep tension on the fish once you get to the bank and have control of the leader with your other hand. Instead, induce some slack to allow your other hand to work the fish free – you just may get your trout back!

Use Your Fly Rod to Manage the Proportions of Your Rigging. We head back to the first good pool of the day, but now it is my turn to work the spot. I am fishing with a #16 bead-head (BH) Pheasant Tail (PT) nymph for the point fly. About 18-inches above that I have a #14 BH Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear (GRHE) nymph that is tied with some really spiky dubbing. My rod is a 9-foot 4-Weight Sage Z-axis fly rod lined with 4-weight line. Let’s review the proportions of this rig relative to my fly rod. What I’ve got here is a point fly that is placed in the little ‘catch’ near the cork handle where you can hook your fly. The next fly up the leader is just above the first guide. The strike indicator is all the way up at the tip of the rod before the line turns to go through the last guide. This is exactly the proportions that I noticed coming out of this hole yesterday. I may measure it later, but I really don’t need to. All I need to do is make sure that I have the dropper fly in the ‘catch’, the next fly at the first guide and a strike indicator at the top. Noting proportions like this makes it easier to set up the same rig again. The next cast may be into the bushes and you will have an easier time rebuilding to a rod-proportional leader recipe.

Our next stop is a small stream that is labeled a “brook” on our older Wisconsin gazetteer. It is a bit of a drive and we lose some time when we stop to examine large numbers of peacocks at a farm as we make our way east.  We are losing light fast by the time we reach the water. There is a stream re-hab project in the works here. We can see the timbers for building lunker structures and the rock piles that will be used to secure them in place. Lunker structures are used to provide in-stream cover for trout while also stabilizing stream banks:

Lunker structures Provide Cover For Trout While Also Stabilizing Streambanks

Lunker structures Provide Cover For Trout While Also Stabilizing Streambanks

We decide to fish much further upstream so we drive to the upper-most bridge. We are on the water for less than 15 minutes when we start getting into fish. I am using a #12 Bead-head Prince Nymph, casting it down and across this narrow stream and then stripping it back in as it swings across current.  I manage to land a couple of nice brook trout right before dark. One of these square-tails exceeds 10-inches, is quite fat, and has beautiful coloration. Sorry – no picture. The light is just too low..

Getting Even. All light is gone save for a three-quarter moon when we decide to head back to the truck. Now is my chance to get even with Caitlin for hiding the truck from me back in April. She gets into the truck and closes the door just as I slip between the two rear wheels – underneath the truck! I just wait. I can hear Caitlin adjust her position as she looks around. She calls my name. I do not answer. She opens the door just a crack and calls for me again. I remain silent. She closes the door. After a long wait, she decides to exit the vehicle and head to the bridge overlooking the stream. Perhaps she thinks I wandered upstream for a look around. I let her have it with the full “Cape Fear” effect as she turns back to the truck. Now we are even!.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Rain has moved into Fennimore, although it is fairly light. The forecast has changed from rain today with thunderstorms tomorrow to rain and rain. Hopefully it won’t be that bad. We’ve got the “Filsons” ready to go. Filson Wading Jackets are made from waxed cotton which makes them very water proof and yet very breathable. We love them. In our early years, we would fish right through a torrent in them and stay pretty warm and dry.

So we don our Filsons and head back – to where? Why to the little river with the big brown that escaped us yesterday. So here is a lesson in trout fishing – or perhaps it is a damnation. There is a trout that escaped me yesterday. I feel compelled, as I think most of us do at some point, to go back and take another crack at that fish. This is no longer about exploring new water. It is about knowing a spot a little better and then tackling-up a little smarter to wrestle a big, wary fish into submission. I am bent on catching that fish, but alas, he is nowhere to be seen. So after more than an appropriate investment of time trying to coax him from the depths, we head back to our little “brook” in pursuit of new water. I must return here in the fall or next year to try again!

A Honey-of-a-hole. While driving to the upper stretch of our little brook trout fishery, we notice a fisherman’s access well down from where we finished up last night. It is fairly obscured with no style available. We slip underneath some tight barbed wire near the posting. The banks here are really steep – some plummet as much as four feet down to the water.

A Small Wisconsin Stream Supporting All Three Species of Trout

A Small Wisconsin Stream Supporting All Three Species of Trout

We are fishing a couple of nice little runs here. I can see that Caitlin’s rod bent with a fish, but now she is working out a tangle in her leader – it must have gotten off. I wander down her way to see how she is doing. When I arrive, I see that she is sitting on top of a veritable “honey hole” – she has hooked several trout, but they all get off as she attempts to land them. She is mildly frustrated and asks for help. I remind her that she has not been able to dedicate much time to the sport for the past few seasons and that she just needs to get back in practice.

She has a nice little ledge that she has been casting from on the stream’s steep bank. I guess you could say that I am getting a chance to “take her to school” a little bit on how to play these fish to the net.  We switch places and she makes ready with the camera. I successively land a rainbow trout, a brown trout, and what has to be a trophy brook trout for this water – going more than 11-inches and in the full ceremonial dress.  Wow! Look at the size of the mouth on this brook trout. Brook trout are actually not a trout (genus Salmo), but rather are a member of the char family (genus Salvelinus Fontinalis). They are native to Wisconsin and I prize catching a nice specimen above all else.

Salvelinus Fontinalis – Wisconsin’s Native Trout is Actually a Char

Salvelinus Fontinalis – Wisconsin’s Native Trout is Actually a Char

Having a chance to see a few fish successfully landed, Caitlin jumps back into position. She decides that she has been futzing with her reel too much and that these fish simply need to be played by stripping in line and managing line tension. Good observation! She gets off a nice cast and is into a brown trout almost immediately. She strips in line quickly and reaches down to the water to net the fish –got it! This is a case where a net is almost mandatory – the banks are steep here and the fish need the support of the net so that they are not being pulled from the water head first.

Caitlin tandem of pics wit brown trout

My Daughter Caitlin Lands a Nice Brown Trout

Caitlin asks me how big I think her brown trout is. I say “10 inches”. She says that she thinks it is between 11 and 12 inches. So we take one of the pictures where the fish is squared up to the camera across her hands and take some measurements. Upon measuring Caitlin’s hand and the fish in that picture, and her hand in real life, we are able to create a ratio and gauge the size of her trout. It comes out to over 11-inches. She had estimated it to be between 11 and 12 inches so she is feeling quite pleased with herself. So I am feeling quite obliged to have her make me another peanut butter sandwich – reminding her that there is a pecking order out here!

We decide to rest this spot and head back to the upper most section. Seeing it in daylight, I realize that Joe and I were here in 2005. It’s the same water, but we were all the way up in the headwaters section looking over the huge spring that is this stream’s namesake. It is steadily raining, so I throw on a Filson and hike up to the spring while Caitlin reads in the car. We are a wrap for the day.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009.We shot up to a small creek just north of Fennimore to have a look at things. But we decided to go back to the stream that we finished on last night. We’ll start with the “super hole” and then move onto to explore some new sections of it. This time, our route takes us past a tin house. Tin house? Yes, a tin house! This house has a red tin roof and silver tin siding. We wonder why anyone would have their entire house sheathed in tin – it must get bloody hot in there. There were many beehives on this property as well – maybe that has something to do with it. I searched the internet and the only thing that I could find was a reference to temporary tin houses being erected in some locals to accommodate displaced people. Twenty years later and these are now permanent residences in some places. This is not the case here, but it does speak to the fact that some people do live in tin houses.

As the road turns to drive along the still somewhat distant stream, Caitlin spots a bald eagle feasting on a fish on the high banks. We back up to get a better look while grabbing a long lens for the camera. Alas, the eagle picks up it prey and takes to the air. Still, it is good to see a bald eagle out here. It is the first one we have seen in this part of the state.

When we get to the spot we fished yesterday, we see that there are very few fish present. Are they tucked into the bank? Did they move up or down stream? Is this an effect of the pressure change? We make a note in our journals to keep this in mind for later reference. Rain and lightning are rolling toward us, so we decide to exit the scene and visit a small, local winery that we notice yesterday while driving about.

This little winery is called “Spurgeon Winery”. I found a website for them if you are interested in sampling their fare: http://www.spurgeonvineyards.com/. So we wile away a couple of hours sampling wines, eating cheese and chatting with the owners while the rain moves through. Very pleasant. I did get a little crazy (possible inebriation) and bought about dozen or so bottles of wine including several bottles of sweet, crisp cranberry wine. That’s a Wisconsin original!

The rain has stopped, so we head back out on the stream to examine the remaining bridging on this water. At one bridge, we see some sizeable brook trout. The water is crystal clear and we are easily able to distinguish the browns from the brook trout. Caitlin stays up on the bridge while I slink to a far corner of the bridge-work and start roll casting a #12 caddis with a deep dropper.  We are just starting to get the rigging tuned to the water depth when a big storm rolls in. BIG storm. It is a deluge of rain out here. The horses in the field have run for cover in the barn and we have run for cover as well. We get a little bit soaked, but are excited to have seen those fish.

Some confusion as we got off the water.  My wading boots are pretty muddied up from the muck I was standing in at the base of the bridge, so I head a little upstream to rinse them off. Caitlin yells through the howling rain “what are you doing?” I shout back “I am rinsing my feet!”  She hears  “I lost my keys” and brings her sorry little butt back down to the water and starts looking on the ground for m keys – getting more thoroughly soaked in the process. I thought I would just capture that memory for her for later on.

Anatomy of a seam. Here is a look at the seam below the bridge. There is a very nice foam line on the left. Remember, wherever the current is pushing the foam on the surface, it is pushing the insects below the surface. Wherever the insects are drifting through, that is where you will find the trout. We spotted pockets of trout all the way from the bridge up to that little tongue at the head of this pool. These are marked with a “T” in the photo below. Where ever there is an “X” is where we took fish. Caitlin also notices some fish on the left side of the sand in this picture – one rushed to have a look at our dry fly, but did not take it.

Anatomy of  a Seam

Anatomy of a Seam

Well, that’s a wrap for this outing. See you oth the other side of Mother’s Day Weekend! If you get a chance to fish the “Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch” enjoy it – we have found reliable little black caddis up and arround the streams surrounding Iola, Wisconsin. Enjoy!

Fauna and Fowl of Fennimore

Fauna and Fowl of Fennimore

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009 – Opening Day of the Regular Trout Season

Windmills on Hwy 18 En Route to Fennimore

Windmills on Hwy 18 En Route to Fennimore

Well here we are on opening day weekend in Fennimore, Wisconsin and I am finally out with my brother Joe – appropriate on an opening day in 2009. The first order of the day was to knock out a quick blog post covering a little controversy on the blog with respect to how much detail is shared on streams that we fish (see below).  The controversy being that sharing too much information could bring an overwhelming number of people to a fairly fragile resource. Having considered input from a few readers, I am now going to chronicle the detailed information offline for my family (generations to come) and then pare down the detail for the blog, maintaining information about general locations, hatches, techniques and more. This way, the blog still captures the stories and fishing reports that might incent others to get out there and explore a little. In some cases I will still provide stream names for well-known waters. Seems like a good balance.

It is just about time to get on the road so we gather together our gear including the digital recorder that I use to capture my thoughts while I am “out in the field”. Last night, I used that device to capture my brother’s melodious wood-sawing as he piled up cords of wood in our room up at the Fennimore Hills Motel. Thanks brother!

Our first stop is not a river, but a restaurant – a little breakfast to start the day. If you make it out to Fennimore, stop by Friederick’s a the north end of town on the corner of Hwy 18 and Hwy 61 – it is a great spot for breakfast and lunch. We recommend the polish smoked sausage as part of breakfast and you will definitely want to try the turkey club for lunch – it is essentially a BLT with moist turkey in the mix – it is raving good!

After breakfast we head to the river. This is open pasture land and lends itself a little better to keeping track of two rods on the river, so I set up both a 4-weight and a 5 weight.:

  • The 4W rod is setup with a #12 elk-hair caddis and I will add a dropper at various lengths once I get to the river.
  • The 5W rod is setup as a nymphing rig with a #10 hydropscyhe larva as the top fly and a #14 grey cress bug as the point fly.
  • You can see the setups for the general rigs that I fish in the blog entry titled “Favorite Fly Fishing Rigs”

Joe is using a 5-weight St. Croix rod with a #14 Bead-head Prince nymph. He may add a smaller fly as a dropper when he gets to the water. He likes to use Ross Mueller’s “dark-ribbed yellow” for a dropper.  Joe ties his prince nymphs using gold-colored goose biots at the collar of the fly (as opposed to white ones) and then wraps a small, webby black feather around the collar as well. One of the benefits of tying your own flies is that you can experiment with materials and adjust flies to your liking or make up your own patterns. We have “tuned” our bugs for Wisconsin waters over the years.

The Old Barn on Cty Tk K

The Old Barn on Cty Tk K

We unlatch the gate to the farmer’s field, but we take care to double check that it is secure before we head to the river – we do not want these cows to get out! We hear one cow bellow its moo and we take notice of the echo coming back to us from the limestone ridge across the road. We are on that ever-so-favored spot on the Big Green. We seldom see people fishing this stretch, however this morning there is a pair of fisherman working over some of the pools that we like to fish. So we head well upstream. The fisherman that is further upstream is sporting hip waders and smoking a big old stogie. He isn’t very chatty so we walk well around him. Good protocol here is to walk well wide of others and their water – say 50 feet or more – and leave a good stretch of water well above for them to work through. Stay wide of the river all the way along – you do not want to spook any of the nice fish that someone else may be working up to. We continue upstream for quite a ways.

Eventually we come to a wire crossing our path – an electric fence. There are a couple of them here as we work our way up. This first electric wire is high enough off the ground that we can slip underneath it. Do this with great care. I recall one outing where it had rained and with my hand pressing into some wet mud, I bumped my cap on the wire as I scooted under the fence – it was more than a shocking effect! I was stunned and initially was not sure what had happened. My jaw hurt for a bit afterward and I remember stretching it repeatedly to help shake of the after effects. Be careful of electric fences!

The first fish of the day is taken, most appropriately, on the Hydropsyche larva #10. We continue to fish this spot alternating between the two of us as we inch up. After about half-an-hour with no strikes, I decide that I might be fishing a little too deep with the heavily weighted Hydropsyche. So I switch over to a #14 Bead Head (BH) Gold Ribbed Hairs Ear (GRHE) nymph trailed by a #18 black Pheasant Tail (PT) nymph. A 9-inch brown trout comes to hand. It took the PT. We continue to fish here, but not with the success we had hoped for. When we walk up on the bank and look through the water with our polarized glasses, we no longer see the volumes of fish that had been here just over a week ago. Fascinating…they have either dropped down further in the river or perhaps moved up stream – in either case, we have to go find them now…

So this is the first time that we have come in at this location and then head downstream through a 2nd style (or over a ladder as it were). A few bends down and there is a nice little riffle that dumps into a big pool. I am still fishing the BH GRHE nymph with the black PT trailing – except that I add a little micro-shot shot above the top fly to help it get down a little further. This does the job as a very wild brown trout takes it on the third drift. This fishliterally jumps out of the water 4 to 5 times – quite wild – and he was hooked just in the lip on that little black pheasant tail nymph. This brown measures 13-inches.

Another noteworthy fish comes right as we are wrapping up on this stretch of water. I finish up the day with a similar rig to the one that I started with – except that the bugs are flipped around and are of differing proportions: a heavily weighted #12 Cress Bug on top and about 15  inches of 5x tippet leading to a smaller #14 Hydro at the point. The spot that I am fishing has a nice riffle heading into a bend in the river. The effect is a rush of water to the downstream bank of this curve in the river. This makes for a nice seam on the far bank and produces an obvious foam line. Foam lines are important when you are nymphing. They tell you where the main current is driving things – including the insects below the surface. Fish your rigs in and on the edges of foam lines like this and you will hook up with more trout. It is on the upstream, right side of that foam line where I hook up with my final brown of the day. He takes the fly with authority and then really throws his shoulders into a nice run. I think he is going to jump like the fish earlier today and I am ready to drop my rod-tip if he does. Dropping your rod tip when a fish jumps takes the pressure off the fish and reduces break-offs. This fish does not jump, but he does make a couple of more really good runs including one right when I had him at the scoop. I get him landed and snap off a quick pic. This beautiful brown trout measures 15-inches – a nice way to end the day.

Brown Trout Taken at Day's Close

Brown Trout Taken at Day’s Close

This stretch of river downstream of our normal haunts is really good looking water, however it merits being fished with deeper rigs. The wind has been a bit of a problem today – as it is any day that it reaches gale force levels and you’re out trying to wield a fly rod.

Before heading over to the Cottonwood Sports Bar for dinner and beers, we stop by Crooked Creek to look it over and consider it as a possibility for tomorrow. Crooked Creek can be reached by taking Hwy 61 north to Townhall Road and then turning north and driving for less than a half mile. The bridge here strikes us as reminiscent of the River Itchen at Warwickshire: it has two arches and is of stone and stucco makeup. I am sure it will be replaced some day and we will be sad to see it go as we have fished along this area over the years. That’s the crossing at Crooked Creek.

When we get to Crooked Creek, we are greeted by a fisherman from the Chicago area. He laments that he left one of his wading boots back at home. He is working from the bank in his sneakers – not to be undone! Fish are rising to some small caddis and he hasn’t any so we opened up our fly foxes and shared a few flies back and forth. He gives us a bead-head caddis emerger that worked for him on the Big Green earlier today. It looks to be tied on a #14 scud hook and the bright green chartreuse butt on the fly makes it stand out in our boxes –we will put it to good use!

The rises up and down the creek motivate us to grab a fly rod and head upstream. There is still a little day-light left! We left our fly vests and waders at the motel, however the FJ always has some spare fly-boxes, clippers, tippet, and an extra fishing license – so we are all set to hunt down a few more trout before sunset. We begin by working upstream with a #18 and #16 caddis, but after we put down the first few fish, we change over to a BH prince nymph and work a downstream and across presentation – that puts us into fish. My daughter Caitlin tied those prince nymphs this winter at our annual, winter fly tying party up at River Wild Life in Kohler. We take about 10 brown trout in this water before dark by just swinging that prince nymph down through little runs and slicks or upstream into certain pockets. It is a fun way to end the evening – wandering around in our dungaries and clogs to take the day’s final trout.

Paul

The fly fishing rigs mentioned in the blog-entry “Big Green River – Day Trip (April 23rd, 2009)” are some of my favorites. There was an inquiry for some illustrations to help clarify how these rigs are built so I am adding those here. I am repeating the formulas for easy reference.

Before we look at those, let’s get some basic terms defined:

  •  Fly Line: the colored stuff on your reel that you throw around to carry your flies out to where the fish are.
  • Leader: The clear, tapered line that attaches to your fly line on one and and your flies on the other. The leader needs to be tapered to allow it to “unroll” as your flies are delivered to their landing spot.
  • Tippet: As you change your fly from time to time, you are clipping away precious inches from the end of your leader. At some point, you need to add some line back to the end (tip) to extend it back out. This is called tippet material and it is used to both extend the leader and to add a second fly to a tandem rig (called a dropper).
  • Top Fly: The first fly tied on to the end of the leader.
  • Dropper: Any fly tied off the top fly. Some rigs use a single dropper and some use two. Some droppers are tied to tippet material extending from the bend of the top fly while others are extended from the hookeye of that same fly.
  • Point Fly: This is the term applied to the fly out on the point. If a single fly is being used, then it is the point fly. If a dropper is at the end of your rig, then that is the point fly.
  • Fly Sizes: #16, #14, #12, #10, etc. – these numbers are part of a system that is used to guage the size of the flies that we fish with. They are actually the guage for the hooks that the flies are tied on. A larger number correlates to a finer/smaller hook size. So a #10 fly is larger tha a #16.
  • Tippet Sizes: 6x, 5x, 4x, 3x, etc. – these numbers are part of a system that is used to guage the diameter of the tippet material (both the very end of the tapered leader and the spools of extra material used to extend the leader and to add flies to a rig). The larger number correlates to a finer/smaller diameter material. So 3x tippet is much fatter and 6x tippet is much finer. This is similar to the lb breaking strength we were used to when using monofilament to spin fish. In fact, each tippet size has a correlating breaking strength as well. For example 3x correlates to about 8 lb test strength.
  • Florocarbon: This is just the type of material that the leader and tippets can be made of. It is a little more expensive, but posesses properties that make it less visible to the fish.

So now let’s get back to those favorite rigs that I described in my last post:

Tandem Nymph Rig:

  • 15-foot leader end-to-end (that includes the leader and tippets all the way through to the dropper).
  • The dropper (point fly) is a #16 tan scud that was separated from the top fly by about 18 to 36-inches of 5x florocarbon tippet. Other droppers can be used as noted below and depending on the insects available in the river you are fishing.
  • The top fly was a #10 caddis larva (hydropsyche) attached to 24” of 4x florocarbon tippet attached to a 10’ 3x leader.
  • A strike-indicator is placed anywhere from 6 feet to 10 feet above the top fly depending on depth of water being fished.
  • A micro-splitshot (or two) is occassionally used 8-10 inches above the top fly to help get down faster.
Fly Rig: Tandem Nymphs (Color Coded)

Fly Rig: Tandem Nymphs (Color Coded)

Caddis Fly with Dropper Rig:

  •  10 and 15 foot leaders are used here.
  • One fly combination is a #14 Goddard Caddis for the top fly with a #16 bead-head prince nymph dropper trailing by 3 to 5 feet. This is the rig that my brother-in-law chcuk used to extract his fish this past week.
  • Another combination is a #10 Elk-hair Caddis top fly with a #10 hydropsyche caddis larva dropper  trailing by 36-inches of 5x florocarbon.
  • The dry fly served as a strike indicator and as fly in both of these combinations.
Fly Rigging: Caddis Dry with Caddis Larva Dropper (Color Coded)

Fly Rigging: Caddis Dry with Caddis Larva Dropper (Color Coded)

These most favored of setups are used when plummeting the pools of almost any of our Wisconsin Rivers. The two caddis larva (hydropsyche and Rhyacophilla) are very common. I often use a small olive or black mayfly nymph for the dropper fly on the tandem nymph rig – there are a tremendous number of mayfly nymphs available in all of our streams as well.

Of course there is no single, perfect formula for setting these up – that is why the lengths for the leaders and tippets are shown to vary. You will need to learn to adjust the length on those droppers based on both depth of water and behavior of fish.

 pauls-colorful-brown2

 

Hope this helps you in your trout outings this year!

 Paul