Saturday, April 24th, 2010 – Spring is Sprung!

Father and Daughter – The Early Years

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ WiFly ~

Saturday, April 24th, 2010 – Favored Water

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

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

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

~ WiFly ~

Sunday, April 25th, 2010 – Chocolate Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ WiFly ~

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 ~ WiFly ~

 

 

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Monday, May 11, 2009th

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

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

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

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

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

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

Satisfied Angler!

Satisfied Angler!

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

Workin' it!

Workin’ it!

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

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

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

Bovine & Squaoliformes Trout

Bovine & Squaoliformes Trout

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

Paul

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

The forecast for Fennimore was sunny and 70-degrees today, so my brother-in-law Chuck and I high-tailed it back over the to Big Green River for one last foray before the regular season. We drove through some rain in Madison, but Fennimore did not disappoint us. The weather was nice with varied cloud cover and the sun peaking through on a regular basis.  We arrived at the river at about 11 a.m. and were greeted by strong winds. That made casting a bit difficult, so we moved in close and worked short casts with a combination of rigs:

Tandem Nymph Rig:

  • 15-foot leader end-to-end
  • The dropper or “point fly” was a #16 tan scud that was separated from the top fly by about 18-inches of 5x florocarbon tippet
  • The top fly was a #10 caddis larva (hydropsyche) on 4x florocarbon
  • A strike-indicator was placed anywhere from 6 feet to 10 feet above the top fly
  • A micro-splitshot was occassionally used 8-10 inches above the top fly to help get down faster

Caddis Dry With a Dropper:

  • 10 and 15 foot leaders were used
  • One fly combination was a #14 Goddard Caddis with a #16 bead-head prince nymph trailing by 3 to 5 feet
  • Another combination was a #10 Elk-hair Caddis with a #10 hydropsyche caddis larva trailing by 36-inches of 5x florocarbon
  • The dry fly served as a strike indicator and a fly. All fish took the droppers with only an occassional slash at the dry fly.

Streamer Rig:

  • 10 to 12-foot leader
  • A #10 soft-hackle, black crystal bugger was cast down and across stream and then allowed to swing to the near bank before being stripped back upstream.

There were some caddis on the water and whenever the wind died down, we did see fish rising.  The caddis looked to be about a #14. We both caught some respectable brown trout. Chuck’s Goddard Caddis rig worked its magic in more than one hole in the river.

The Author's Brother-in-law Fights and Lands a Nice Brown Trout

The Author’s Brother-in-law Fights and Lands a Nice Brown Trout

I fished rigs that ran a little deeper and was rewarded with a beautiful 19-inch rainbow: a truly remarkable fish. The back of this trout was a deep, rich green and its flank was well marked including the pronounced rainbow marking. This fish gave away its size as soon as it was hooked. The battle was short-lived as it ran close by and was quickly netted.

A 19-inch Rainbow Trout Taken on a Hydropsyche Larva Fished Czech Nymph Style

A 19-inch Rainbow Trout Taken on a Hydropsyche Larva Fished Czech Nymph Style

We had a chance to look over the water from a high bank and marked some good holes. One small stretch showed well over 100 fish in two nice slots that did not span more than 100 feet of river! We rested that spot by breaking for lunch and we were rewarded with a couple of more nice Browns for Chuck upon our return.

The Author's Brother-in-law, Chuck, with a Big Green River Brown Trout

The Author’s Brother-in-law, Chuck, with a Big Green River Brown Trout

The Big Green is a great fishery and we are not the only ones fishing it. Check out this monster snapping turtle that was cruising the river hunting for fish, frogs and anything else that it could find. You don’t get this big without ample food!

Paul's Other Catch!

We Did Not Fish Alone!

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.

Rivers talk to us. Early in our fishing careers, the sound is faint and we can only make out some of the words. As the river miles stretch out across our lives, the  message becomes clearer. Listen closely. Watch intently. By observing a river’s characteristics, we find intimations that affect our approach, our rigging, our fly selection, and our presentation. Characteristics like size – is it a full blown river, a stream or just a small creek? And what about speed? Nothing as technical as CFS, but rather things like a run, a riffle, a rapids, a pool, a meadow section.  Next there is bottom type – sandy, muddy or silted, cobblestone, freestone, pebble strewn.  There are other characteristics too, like temperature and water clarity. Even the aquatic insects that we find in the first couple of shallow riffles tell us something about the water and how to come within reach of our prey. Each one of these characteristics evokes some past knowledge, some inherent insight that strikes a chord and affects our method.

This scale – these attributes – they’re familiar to most people who fly fish. However most of us dont’t realize that as time passes, our fly fishing becomes more emotive – filling out the edges of the scale with smells, feelings and remembrances. Emotion. Is this a scale that can be applied to the waters that we fish? Well, there are “rivers.” That evokes one emotion. Then there are “trout rivers”: a completely different feeling emerges. And then there are “holy waters”. These are those rivers of legend that induce pilgrimages over the course of our lives. Rivers like the Madison, the Battenkill, the Ausable and the Henry’s Fork. And Finally, there are the “home waters” that reside in our own backyard. For me here in Wisconsin, this includes rivers like the Big Green, the West Fork Kickapoo, the West Branch White River,  the Timber Coulee and the wonderful Bois Brule River – the Bois Brule being a holy water that I am fortunate enough to call my home water as well.

The Bois Brule river has stood out singularly in my life and it defines the pinnacle of the emotional scale for a piece of water. I am intimate with this river. This means that the experiences that I have realized there are so treasured, so affecting, that they defy labeling altogether.

How does a piece of water ascend to this standing? Well it’s a journey of sorts. A number of things have to come together: rich history, beautiful trout, prolific hatches, pure waters, secret places and some extraordinary experiences. All of these came together for me over twelve years ago when my brother Joe and I first discovered the Bois Brule River for ourselves. And we poured our souls into that water: annual pilgrimages, aquatic studies, historical research, and 18-hour river days. We even created our own, personal river map noting every spring, hatch and relevant abundance of trout. Twelve years ago. Twelve whole years, and just now do I discover another river of intimate proportions. Just a short distance northwest of Green Bay, I find myself near the town of Breed on a stretch of water that truly stuns me, leaving me haunted as I lay in bed each night reliving what I experienced there: the South Branch Oconto River.

Amazingly, this area of the Oconto River was the focus of some of our earliest fly fishing excursions – all the way back to 1992. We began by exploring the Wolf River, the North Branch Oconto and the East Branch Eau Claire Rivers. All three of these rivers are right in this area. It is a memory from these earliest days that drew me back here. As we were working our way along a particular stretch of the North Branch Oconto, we ran into a fisherman with a spinning reel and rod who had just caught and killed a legitimate 18-inch brook trout (yes, we measured it). I say a “particular location” because although I can see the location in my mind, I did not keep the fastidious notes back then that I do now. I do remember that the pullout was deep enough for the fisherman to park his pickup truck perpendicular to the road. The river ran fast just across the road and down a very steep, woody embankment. The water was strewn with boulders and wading was challenging, but not impossible. What was impossible was mending the line on the fast and varied currents – a fruitless effort for me back then.

That trophy-sized brook trout is burned into my memory. I can see it now, lying on a bed of ice in the fisherman’s cooler in the back of his truck. He had rigged his line with a large float. Heavy split shot swung below to deliver a worm as he snaked his rig around various boulders to take his quarry. That trout amazed me and is part of what drew me back.

I am also drawn here because the South Branch Oconto River is currently marked as a catch-and-release fishery and I have learned what that means over the years as well – protected waters mean challenging fishing for larger trout. After searching the banks of the North Branch in vain for my memoried location, I head for the South Branch to check it out. The river strikes me as exceptional – the water is tannin colored with some nice seems visible upstream.

South Branch Octonto River

South Branch Octonto River

As I put on my waders, a black-and-white point-setter approaches. His is a nice dog and I befriend him with a bit of beef jerky. The land between the river and the road is heavily posted as private property. I take care to enter the stream close to the bridge and then move slowly up the right bank. The point-setter follows me through the hole just above the bridge – swimming right through it! He turns back and disappears as I move upstream.

Point Setter That I Befriended

Point Setter That I Befriended

I am moving up the right bank toward the first hard bend in the river when a trout rises in the bend. A #12 elk hair caddis brings a plump 10-inch brown trout to hand. I continue on slowly and carefully. There are no more rises, so I switch to a nymph rig with a strike indicator. I move at a snail’s pace and cover the water completely – nothing.

That first trout keeps me focused. As I continue on, an older man steps out of the woods and addresses me. “Catch anything?” he inquires. “Yes” I reply, “a plump 10-incher”. He acts surprised and says that the river has not been fishing well and that its hatches have been declining in recent years. “Where did you get in?” he asks. I tell him that I got in at the bridge. “Get out at all along the way?” he asks. I tell him that I have not – which is true. He presses me for how I managed to get around the large snag now behind me. I tell him that I climbed over it – also true. Clearly these are the questions of a private land owner.

He goes on to offer that there is better fishing downstream, below the bridge. He wants me to leave this stretch. I feel uncomfortable – just a little – but I thank him and press on. He turns away and heads back into the woods telling me that there is a path here that leads to the road and that I can use it if I want to. Maybe it’s not the land that he is protecting. Maybe it’s some favored fishing hole. Now I am intrigued – what lies ahead? He looks back and sees that I am clearly continuing upstream. “There might just be a big brown or two upstream as well” he says and I catch a glimpse of a little grin as he disappears from view. I creep forward with anticipation.

The river curves to the right here and greets a series of large, sub-surface boulders – big ones – the two largest cutting the water’s surface to mark their position. Above the boulders the river makes a large ‘hole’ as it pours into the bank on the down-side of the next bend above me. This is a magic place. The water is dark here. Deep too. There is ample cover for large trout including a well-shaded bank.

A Magic Place

A Magic Place

As I creep forward, a fish rises to take a mayfly – a hatch is trailing. I mark the time – it is 11 a.m. Moving forward, I am now stunned by the evidence of the super-hatch that is left in the streamside cobwebs. Spiders have created intricate networks of webs among the branches that reach well over the river. They are literally choked with mayflies. Some spiders have even bundled a dozen or more mayflies into ¾ inch diameter balls – preserving them for later. Just fantastic! Another trout rises . . .

"Super Hatch"

“Super Hatch”

"All Balled Up!"

“All Balled Up!”

This last rise is pronounced and it is immediately followed by another. The black water throws off light from the wavy ripples as concentric circles emanate outward and disappear into the disturbance made by the boulders just above me. That rise was right between those two boulders. I examine the flies in the bush once more and then switch to a #14 March Brown. Another rise. I work out some line and cast it up to the right of the trout to help gauge the distance. The current is more varied here and I realize that my fly starts to drag as soon as it hits the water. I adjust my position so that my fly line will fall to slower current and reduce the chance of drag. A 14-inch brown trout runs into the bend below me where I play him out. This is a great setup – I can hook fish above me and play the down below without overly disturbing ‘the hole’.

The next trout is much larger and I lose him as he runs to wood and I force the hook out trying to turn him. My pulse quickens as yet another large trout rises. This one is pinned against the right bank, deep in the bend. This presents a more challenging casting and mending situation. I size up my approach. At this point, I have advanced all the way up to the boulders. There are actually three of them. The first and closest is massive, breaking the surface while leaving a good half-ton of rock below. The second boulder is to the right and is about half of the size of the first. The third boulder is hidden below the surface and slightly upstream of the first one. It is between the biggest boulder and this smaller upstream one that I situate myself to cast to the next rise. I put him down. I wait. Five minutes and he rises again. This time, I get the job done – all 16 inches of it! This trout’s back is dark, dark brown and its flank is a rich, corn yellow. It is speckled with pronounced red and black spots – beautiful.

A South Branch Oconto Brown Trout

A South Branch Oconto Brown Trout

Unfortunately, this last trout stayed up in the deep pool to fight. I wait for some time hoping for another rise, but none appear. I change out my rig and nymph the hole before breaking for lunch. I take the old man up on his offer and use the path through the woods to get back to the road. Along the way I spot some pink trillium. I pause to admire its beauty. I can hear the sound of water bubbling along in the distance – I have found a new river to love.

Pink Trillium

Pink Trillium

Accommodations

Cecil Fireside Inn: http://www.cecilfiresideinn.com/. This Inn is at the corner of Highways 22 & R just east of Shawano Lake and right in the town of Cecil. The rooms are nice and the little bars and pubs in this town are alive with entertainment at this time of year.

Another Choice  is the Village Haus Motor Lodge in Shawano: (715) 526-9595 or toll free at (800) 533-4479. The lodge is just off the corner of Highways 22 & 47 on Airport road and offers great convenience in terms of restaurants and shopping right in Shawano. There is even a restaraunt that is part of the Lodge.

– Paul.

To Be Continued . . .