Friday, April 9th, 2010

Winter 2009/10. Gabe wanders up to my fly tying desk, crawls into my lap, and asks “what are you doing?”  Even though he is only 3 years old, he knows very well what I am up to. “You are making a fishy fly”, he proclaims. Yes I am – a Hendrickson to be precise. Gabe stares intently through the magnifying lense as I complette the wings. “Can I cut the string ?”

“Yes, you can cut the string.” This is not Gabe’s first exposure to flies or fishing. This past summer he stood on a pier at Eagle Springs Lake patiently waiting while I tossed a “fishy fly” to the bass sulking among the lilly pads. He netted over 30 fish in one afternoon. He was just a couple of months shy of 3 years old then.  Those Large Mouth Bass were never so loved!

I found this poem by Olav Smedal about a day in field with father and son. It sums up the sentiment quite well:

Give Him a Day

What shall you give to one small boy?
A glamorous game, a tinseled toy?
A Boy Scout knife, a puzzle pack?
A train that runs on some cruising track?
A picture book, a real live pet?
No, there’s plenty of time for such things yet
Give him a day for his very own.
Just one small boy and his Dad alone.
A walk in the wood, a romp in the park;
A fishing trip from dawn to dark.
Give him the gift that only you can.
The companionship of his “old man.”
Games are outgrown and toys decay,
But he’ll never forget
If you give him a day!

And now I’m giving him a day – on the Onion River where I endeavor to get Gabe his first trout. You won’t see many three year olds out on a trout river this year; however this little guy worked diligently with me for over two hours. We didn’t get him his first trout, but it didn’t matter: the bugs were enough! Gabriel is fascinated with the idea that there are bugs living underwater. We turn over a rock and three Cress Bugs scoot for cover. “A roly poly!” he squeals.

“No, that’s a Cress Bug,” I say.

He repeats” “Cress Bug. Can I have one in my hand?”   I oblige him of course. What is a three year old without a bug in his hand!

At one point, he throws his arms around me, “I love you deeda!”

“Deeda” – that’s me. When Gabe was very little, he got the syllables in “Daddy” mixed up and  we decided it was so cute, that we let it stick. And now I’m deeda.

We continue to pick up select rocks and by the time we leave he can identify “cress bugs”, “mayfly nymphs” and “caddis cases”.   By July, he will be ready for SW Wisconsin where the fish will not be the only one hooked!

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Well here we are on Sunday Morning, May 3rd – our 2nd day of opening weekend. Today we are headed for a much smaller piece of river. It is labeled a river; however it is much more the size of a small creek. The drive takes us through a significant change in elevation, past limestone bluffs and leads to some beautiful views of the valleys out here in the driftless region.

We park at the edge of a small wood. The spot looks somewhat familiar. As we approach the water, we see a large log fallen across the river and I realize that I have indeed been here before. The water is crystal clear and there is a deep pool that is situated just above this log which no doubt is an unreachable haven for some large, brute trout. Perhaps we can draw a fish out of this spot with a downstream presentation on the way back out.  There is a nice little sluice below this log as well. Joe heads downstream to explore with a prince nymph while I head up a couple of bends to see what this stretch of water has to offer.

This “river” looks to be anywhere from 3 to 20 feet throughout its course. The spot that I stop at first has a fairly sandy bottom. The sand is marked with gentle ridges that seem to be a reflection of the water’s surface. Boulders are strewn throughout this fishery along with short old-growth logs providing both cover and breaks in the current for fish to hide. It is a beautiful looking stream. It is quiet here and yet I am struck by the sounds that fill my senses – birds singing, current flowing – it is a peaceful and thoughtful place. It is not a piece of water for two people to fish together. It’s not big enough. However we can hop and skip over each other as we explore for the next couple of hours.

A quick look at some of the aquatic grasses and rocks at the shallower parts of the Little Green show that there is a tremendous volume of #18 olive and black mayfly nymphs throughout this water. I also see some rhyacophilla larva as always and various cased caddis as well. There are several aquatic grasses intermixed here. This vegetation is rich with insect life and the little fresh water shrimp that fly fisherman refer to as “scuds”. These are light grey in color and range in sizes from #18 to #14.

"Scud" - Fresh Water Shrimp

“Scud” – Fresh Water Shrimp

OK – I am at a bend in the river and I can see a nice little pocket ahead of me that holds about 3 or 4 bathtubs of water. It is a nice little pool that easily shows a few small trout finning in its deepest recesses. I throw my bead-head prince nymph up in there (still having that on from the prior night at Crooked Creek) and watch as these trout move about to investigate it as it drifts through. After a few casts, I decide to rest the spot a little while I change out my rig. I now have a feel for the currents flowing through this pool as well as its depth. This is another progression that every fly fisherman makes as they evolve their craft. In my younger years, I might have left this spot too quickly. Now, when success does not come easy, I take my time. I consider what I have just learned and I adjust my tactics. I equate the time it takes to modify my rigging to resting the water and giving the fish some space. Here,  I now switch to a tandem rig with a #14 caddis on top and a small olive mayfly nymph dropper. I want to see if I can induce one of these little trout to take my fly. Here is the rigging detail:

I will be able to watch the Goddard caddis drift through the pool and hopefully one of these trout will take the nymph.

Several casts later and I am thinking that my fly is not getting down far enough into the pool – meaning I need to lengthen the tippet material leading to my dropper fly. So I double the length of the leader to about 30-inches and I have now moved the micro-split shot to about 6 or 7 inches above the fly. I am still using the Goddard caddis – it is getting a little soaked, but I can easily blow the water out of it every couple of drifts.

A few casts later and I am releasing a 6 to 7 inch, fat little brown trout. Not a big fish by any measure, but very satisfying nonetheless. In this crystal clear water with these super spooky fish, it is very satisfying to adjust my rigging and presentation and then be rewarded by watching my little caddis ‘pop’ as it disappears when a fish takes the nymph; to lift my rod tip and feel that little trout on my light rig and then bring it to bear. The trout took that olive nymph right at the lip. You can see in this photo how big the nymph is and the beautiful coloration of this little brown trout. I am able to just grab the nymph and slip it from the trout’s lip without even handling the fish – helping to preserve the fishery.

Small River Brown Trout

Small River Brown Trout

My top fly is pretty soaked and I realize that I left my “dry shake” in the FJ – I will need to make sure to get that back into my vest for the next piece of water. Dry shake is a product that contains both a desiccant for pulling water out of the fly and a powdery floatant that helps the fly stay dry and ride higher on the water for many casts.

Joe has caught up to me now. We discuss the situation and how this little river is actually therapeutic. it’s like therapy to sit on a small streamside boulder or log and listen to this little water and watch the stream until a trout gives away its location by rising to take an insect on top or flashing below the surface to take a nymph. Joe shares that there is a nice pool downstream with several small trout flashing to tack nymphs. So the quarry here is small, but the relaxation is profound.

We continue upstream together agreeing to alternate fishing as we hit each spot. The next bend up from the spot that I was just fishing, Joe spots a nice little run coming around a hard right angle turn corner that is pushing water against some rocks on a far bank and dropping about a 10 to 15 foot foam line along the left bank facing upstream.

So I rebuild my tandem rig with different bugs that are better suited to this situation. I am now using a pair of nymphs and a strike indicator. The top nymph is a #16 olive scud pattern and 12-inches below this is a #16 BH Pheasant Tail nymph as the point fly. My strike indicator is only about 3-feet above the top fly. The first cast in and a fish chases it – a bite. I miss setting the hook and get a little snagged up in some shrubbery so I have to to re-build the rig again. It happens.  A couple of cast later and a 7-inch brown is taken.

LGRiv Brown Trout

 Looking this little run over, I can now see that the water is deep and dark right where it is churning and pours into the bank.  There are obstacles to overcome here. There is a tree overhead on my left requiring the cast to slice into the area at an angle from the right. I will also need to avoid a tree behind me on the left that overhangs the river even more.  And just for fun, the right bank is lined with plants and the dried out remains of last year’s burr plants – all waiting to take my fly if I make a mistake.

Anatomy of a Seam

Anatomy of a Seam

Joe and I discuss the difficulty of the cast and then I work out some line into a few false casts before making the business cast up into the run. I use a reach cast to the left to get everything coming straight downstream on that left side. The rig and strike indicator land right where we wanted them. No sooner has Joe uttered “nice cast” when a brown strikes. I can tell that it is a bigger fish, but it is not until it comes down below us that we realize that it is a sizeable brown trout – surely a trophy for these waters. That fish takes a couple of good runs and fights like mad as I try to hurry him to the net. I know that I need to control his fury quickly in such tight quarters. I finally get him on the reel and as I work him in I can see that he has some pretty nice shoulders on him – a very nice fish. My first reach with the net sends him running for the bank where he wraps around some obstruction in the deep undercut  – the line goes taught – disappointment swells over me – this is usually a sign that you have lost your fish. However experience prevails here as well. I rush to that edge of the river and plunge my hand into the water running it down the leader. I make it to the first fly – he is not there. I push down further and get to the fish on the second fly. I am able to flip him back into the main river where I quickly net him. Unbelievable!  And Exhilarating!  This is a very charcoal brown fish with clear spots accenting his flank in a very distinct manner.  Joe’s utters his ever famous quote as we extract a large trout from a small water: “they’re in there!” He snaps off a quick picture before we release this brute back to the depths. Thanks brother! You can see that my sleeve on my right arm is soaked from reaching under the bank to retrieve this trout.

15-inchBrown Taken in Small Water

15-inchBrown Taken in Small Water

We check the river upstream and note a few nice holes for next time before moving back downstream to fish some water that Joe felt merited attention before we left. The spot that he selects is all the way down stream to a spot where a barbed wire first obstructs our path. In true predatory fashion, we walk well wide of the river here and we also walk softly. We believe that heavy footed walking send vibrations that can warn larger trout of our presence.

Well upstream of this barbed wire and with plenty of room to cast is a beautiful deep pool coming out of another small, fast run. We take a couple of 10-inch brown trout here as well and I have no doubt we could have taken a few more if we had picked it over more carefully.

This is a beautiful little piece of water. I am here with my daughter Caitlin next week and we now have a couple of good holes in this section that she can work over.

Paul and his FJ Cruiser

Paul and his FJ Cruiser

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

There probably is not a more varied stream in SW Wisconsin than the Big Green River. Pasture Land with open room to cast. Wooded sections with overhanging limbs, downed timber and under cut banks. Fast and tumbling. Slow and silty. Deep and boulder strewn. Sandy in spots. Browns and Rainbows are the fare here and they do not dissatisfy. From the big rainbows down around Cty Tk K and Cty Tk T to the leaping browns at Collins Road, Spring Valley Road and Big Green River Road, this is stream that never disappoints us.

It is no surprise then that we are headed to the Big Green for the first trout trip of 2009. It is Saturday, April 18th. My daughter Caitlin and I drove into Fennimore last night so that we could be here to make an early morning of it. We are here to look over the Big Green River and either confirm or dispel reports that seasonal spring torrents have blown out the Big Green rendering it less than fishable.

This should be a nice father-daughter outing. The usual antics that attend our outings are left behind with my brother Joe who is not able to pull himself away to join us. Or so I think. You can imagine my complete surprise this morning when I wandered outside to discover an empty parking lot. Where is my truck? I had just hopped out to run back inside and retrieve my digital voice recorder. Caitlin knew I was coming right back. I was literally gone for less than a minute. What the hell. I left the keys in the car. Now I think the worst – has Caitlin been abducted right here on Highway 18? In fact, Caitlin pulled a fast one by hustling the FJ Cruiser well out of view leaving me to stand there to wonder what just happened. The little prankster! She rolls with laughter as we head up Cty Tk K.

Big Green River - Map 1

Big Green River – Map 1

We arrive at the bridge on Collins Road at 9 a.m. It’s a little later than we intended since Caitlin slept in a bit. The red-wing black birds call out as we walk toward the bridge to examine the water. Our shadows cut through the deep, green pool right below the bridge. The water is glassy smooth with a course of foamy bubbles breaking the surface. There are a few trout finning behind some rocks here.

About 40 feet below the bridge, the river takes a 45 degree bend to the right as it goes through a very shallow riffle. Another 100 feet below that, and it bends back to the left at a small tree (more of a bush) that is leaning over the river. As the river turns this corner, it makes a beautiful seam, pushing water into the far bank. There is a squared-off boulder sitting well above the water just before the river gets to the next tree. There is a beautiful seam from the tail of that riffle to that squared-off boulder and fish can be taken on both sides of this seam. Further downstream I see that the river takes a sweeping bend to the right before disappearing from view.

Looking Down Stream From Bridge at Collins Road

Looking Down Stream From Bridge at Collins Road

Upstream of the bridge, there is a shallow mud flat that gives way to that deep pool filling up the gorged out space below the bridge. Directly below the bridge and to the right, there are some nice sized rocks with several respectable trout sitting along the rock ledge. They quietly drift into the dark water perhaps sensing our presence. There is a nice foam line leading right to the spot that they just vacated – I will remember that. About 50 yards upstream, the river bends to the left and I can just see the first shallow riffle at the top of the bend dumping into a small bathtub-sized pool. I have fished this stretch many times. I remember near the beginning of my fly fishing days back in the early 90’s, walking along this bank above the bridge and stepping on a spot where a gargantuan trout – a 20-inch class brown trout – drifted out from below the undercut bank and disappeared beneath the bridge. That fish has always fascinated me about this spot and it is part of the charm in returning here now.

We decide to head downstream to that first nice seam just below the riffle water. On the way, we stop and spend a good hour in the riffle examining the insects. We turned over various rocks and saw lots of cress bugs – some going from as big as #10 and all the way down to #16. There were mayflies writhing about by the hundreds under some rocks and most of those were in the #18 size and smaller. We did find some caddis larva including both rhyacophilla (aka green rock worm) and hydropsyche. These last two bugs are some of my favorites to tie and we spent some time photographing them. They were consistently in the size 14 range. Caitlin found one particularly nice specimen of rhyacophilla and we got some exceptionally nice photos as it came out of its pebble/rock case when we turned the rock over to examine it.

Examining Insects in Riffle below Collins Road Bridge

Examining Insects in Riffle below Collins Road Bridge

Cress Bug

Cress Bug

Rhyacophilla (aka Green Rock Worms) in Cases

Rhyacophilla (aka Green Rock Worms) in Cases

Matching the Hatch - Hydropsyche Larva

Matching the Hatch – Hydropsyche Larva

We wrappep up in the riffle with a short video that shows how rich this river is in terms of aquatic insects:

Once we completed our little acquatic study, we headed down stream and fished that nice piece of water below the riffle. We hooked a few and landed one here. The smaller trout are more difficult to land: they don’t have much weight to them and when they dart all over the river, they slip off.

Another Big Green River Brown

Another Big Green River Brown

Next, we moved down to Cty Tk K and T to one of our favorite spots. The map below breaks this section into several pieces. I will cover this entire section as part of this blog, but only a couple of spots today. As always, this stretch was pretty good to us.

Big Green River - Map 2

Big Green River – Map 2

The big ones got off today: barbless hooks and I pulled a line trying to keep one big monster out of the weeds and rocks. So a couple of 15-inch or larger fish got away on us. One of these  larger fish jumped right out of the water when I did not expect it to. In such a case, you need to drop your rod to get the tension off the leader or else it will break from the weight of the fish. The risk though is that when you drop your rod tip to reduce the pressure and avoid the break, that the fish will be able to throw the hook more easily – especially if it is barbless and can just slip out. There are many things that can go wrong out here and we have seen them all! We did get a couple of very satisfactorily fat 13-inch fish and one 14-incher. We used a #10 hydropsyche larva with a #16 cress bug trailing it. Fish took both bugs about 50/50. We got pushed off the river around 2 p.m. by a little wind and rain – gave us an excuse to go get lunch and then look over another stretch of river.

Big Green River - Fish On!

Big Green River – Fish On!

Big Green River Brown Trout

Big Green River Brown Trout

We had lunch at Frederick’s on the corner of T and Hwy 18 in Fennimore. If you go there, try the turkey club sandwich – it is fantastic and we bought an extra one to split between us. After lunch, we head to the bridge at the junction of Cty Tk K and Cty Tk T. Looking upstream, we can see that a significant embankment on the left fell away due to spring’s high water – not uncommon. There is a smaller creek coming in here as well and we plan to extricate a couple of browns from that water before heading up into the woods upstream. This is a spot that we are familiar with from past years as well. This is section ‘b’ in the Map 2 above.

We have two different rods rigged up for this section. The first is a 5-weight rigged up with a 10 foot leader terminated in a #10 hydropsyche larva. Trailing behind this by about 15-inches is a #16 olive mayfly nymph. The other rod is a 4W rod rigged up with a 10 foot leader and a #16 elk hair caddis. We work our way up through the woods taking a few smaller trout before wrapping up the day and heading into Fennimore for a fish-fry and beers.

Paul.

Some of my earliest and best fly fishing memories are of Castle Rock Creek in Grant County, Wisconsin. This creek is located just outside of Fennimore and is labeled Fennimore Fork on most maps. My brother Joe and I were intensely devoted to that creek between 1993 and 1999 and we still stop by to look it over each year – walking its banks and remembering. Back then, we fished it from early morning until dark. Sometimes we would return after dark to see if we could raise a larger trout on a muddler minnow stripped through its big pools. Be careful if you do the same – the banks are intermittent at times and it would be pretty easy to take a mis-step. We also worked this water throughout the season: we fished it early in the season; we fished it in the heat of summer; and we fished it just before the season closed. We even named various sections for our own purposes. “Stilly’s Run” was a reliable piece of water below a shallow riffle in the first bend below the big spring – it seldom disappointed us as we swung a #14 or #16 olive scuds downstream to fool the rainbow trout that lurked there. The “big spring” is located just north of Church Road on Cty Tk Q.

Castle Rock Creek

Castle Rock Creek

This is also the spot that I brought my kids to at the ages of 7 and 9 to put them through their paces with a flyrod. My daughter Caitlin idolized me back then. To be honest, I think she still does. She would follow my instruction to the letter when pursuing her trout. I remember one early spring as we walked across frosted grasses to get to the creek – it was cold. I told Caitlin that she had to crawl on her belly to the edge of the creek and be careful not to spook the trout. Then I watched in amazement as she reached the creek in this fashion, snagged her fly on a submerged piece of wood, and then carefully pulled back on her fly line, snapping off the fly so as not to disturb the water. Wow, some lucky guy is going to owe me big some day.

Caitlin shows off a Rainbow that she caught at Stilly's Run

Caitlin shows off a Rainbow that she caught at Stilly’s Run

Castle Rock Creek is a great place to take a kid – not because it is easy to catch trout there (because it is not), but because the creek runs through open pasture and there is plenty of room to cast a fly rod and provide some instruction. This gives a beginner the chance to get their line on the water and practice their technique – both in the air and in the water. In addition, the creek is very shallow at some of the riffles making for easy crossing. Kids love the feeling of walking through moving water: it’s an adventure. And those same shallow riffles provide a chance to turn over rocks and examine the aquatic insects that the trout love to eat.

Caitlin and Daniel at Castle Rock Creek

Caitlin and Daniel at Castle Rock Creek

Castle Rock is a spring creek in the truest sense. The section that we like to fish along Cty Tk Q has a large spring flowing in from the south and the water is crystal clear there. As I said earlier, the creek runs through farm land and we are sometimes disappointed when the farmer’s freshly plowed field combines with an early spring rain to muddy things up. However when Castle Rock Creek is clear, it is a flyfishing dream – showing off deep aqua-maring pools as it meanders along undercut banks. Most of the hatches here are caddis in the #18 to #14 range. The “little black caddis” comes off from late April into May and reliably brings up fish. Mayflies range from the smallest that you can imagine to some that reach a #14 size, although we have rarely seen these larger species. Leeches and small bait fish can be mimicked with various streamer patterns. There are also crustaceans like scuds and cressbugs in the mix so most of your spring creek flies get the job done.

Castle Rock Rainbow

Castle Rock Rainbow

We have caught some big trout here – both rainbows and browns. I’m talking in the 18” to 21” range. In our early years, Joe and I used to approach this water with a competitive spirit. Who would land the first fish? Who would catch the most fish? Who would catch the biggest trout of the day? We kept a close tally (or at least I did). I remember the stretch of water just above the farmer’s bridge where we have each caught some bruisers by swinging bigger streamers down through the fast water above the bridge and then stripped them back up along the banks. One year, Joe hooked a truly spectacular rainbow trout in that section. As he played it, I jumped into the creek, net in hand, to help land it. It got off at the net and a 10-year shadow came over me – did I intentionally bump the fish off the line or was I really trying to net it? I truly was trying to net that fish. One lesson was learned here for sure: to each his own. It is your battle to win or lose and, once won, it is even the sweeter that you conquered your prey yourself!

The author with Castle Rock Creek trout in hand

The author with trout taken on Castle Rock Creek

Accomodations
If you go to Fennimore to fish Castle Rock Creek or any of the other amazing streams in this area, you can find accomodations as follows.

Fenmore Hills Motel: http://www.fenmorehillsmotel.com
The Fenmore Hills Motel is just outside of Fennimore on Hwy 18. You have to drive through Fennimore and continue west to find it and it is easy to find. These are spacious rooms and we like this location for easy access to the Big Green River early in the morning.

Eagle Creek Inn: http://www.eaglecreekinn.com
Another choice is the Eagle Creek Inn on mainstreet (also Hwy 18) in Fennimore. The Inn has a nice bar and restaurant and excellent food.

– Paul