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Many of you have written to me asking “why are you no longer writing in your blog?”  In truth, I never truly stopped keeping my journals and photography up to date – I just have not had the time to polish my stories to the degree I like for WiFly (you probably can tell that I am not a casual, weekly blogger). Today, I published a poem that I wrote over the Christmas Holiday called “Ode to the Cedar Tree”. That was fun to write and match to photos taken from this past season on the Bois Brule River in northern Wisconsin. Getting that post up was a breakthrough amidst a torrent of obligations to work and family. And now I’m motivated to close that three year gap covering 2012, 2013 and 2014. I will even be tucking in a few stories from my past trips our west (Yellowstone country) along with my first jaunts to Alberta Canada and Lower Michigan.

In the end, these blog entries chronicle time spent in woods and water through my lens for my family to read in years to come. I’m even pulling this content into a book format for that very personal purpose.

So…no apologies for the delays = life happens! You can get a sneak peak at some of the content that I’ll be sharing me by following me on Instagram: https://instagram.com/pstillmank/

Cheers,

Paul Stillmank (aka WiFly)

 

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Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011 – Wading for Whoppers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– WiFly

Friday, June 17, 2011 – Back to the North-woods

Each year on the Bois Brule River is a different one. Weather. Water Levels. Hatches. They all vary.  They all combine to create a unique experience here each year. The one constant has been my fishing companion, and brother, Joe. We have explored this fishery together for 14 years:  an unspoken pledge to return here together and discover whatever new secrets the river has to reveal.  And now that part of the equation will be a variable this year as well. Joe is juggling a promising career, a growing family, and a finite amount of vacation. He just doesn’t have the full week available this year. So my good friend RJ will spend a few days here as well – filling out the week with good companionship while I devote a full measure of time here. I’ll break this expedition into two pieces – too many good fish, photos and insights to share…

RJ is relatively new to the sport of fly fishing having just come off of his forays on the Big Green River and Lost Creek. He’ll spend three solid days here before flying back to Chicago from Duluth. As it happens, his plane will fly right over my brother Joe as he works his way up here from Waukesha by Tuesday evening. In fact, Joe was just in the area last week for a family vacation. He nary wet a line in the style that we are accustomed to, so he returns now for our unwavering sortie on this precious water.

This year’s trip begins with the long drive from Milwaukee to the northwest corner of Wisconsin along with RJ. Our conversation wafts from work to fishing as we turn the corner at highways 94/53 to head North. We arrive at the cabin around 1 p.m.  The town of Lake Nebagamon has been host to our excursions for the past several years; however, we keep struggling to find a place that can accommodate that last, precious day beyond a full week – so that we can drive home on the trailing Sunday. This year, we have found a place called At Waters Edge situated right on the lake in the town of Lake Nebagamon. We must have driven by it often in past years. It’s a fairly a large place that can accommodate several people. The street side entrance to the house passes through a rec room (formerly the garage), down a hallway past the three bedrooms and a laundry room as you make your way to a large, eat-in kitchen and a living room – both with abundant glass to show off views of Lake Nebagamon which is just down a flight of steps if you head out the back door. This lake side of the house has a patio, outdoor furniture and grill.

We unpack our gear and assemble two fly tying stations at the kitchen table. I knock off a couple of special ties recalling Joe’s success last year with a fly called The Professor.  In a size #10, this wet fly is surely reminiscent of a brown drake emerging from its shuck. We’ll see how it performs on “off days” or even during a hatch this year.


Fly Recipe: The Professor
Hook: #10 3xL nymph / streamer hook
Tail: 8 to 10 pheasant tail fibers
Body:
Amber or light orange dubbing; tied uniform
Rib: Medium tinsel
Wing: Mallard flank – barred wood duck – dyed amber
Throat: Brown hackle

 

Saturday, June 18th, 2011 – Canoeing the Upper River

This morning we drive into Iron River for breakfast, bakery and butcher shop. Breakfast is at the Rustic Roost – an old favorite. The stops at the bakery and butcher shop are to stock up on some cookies and beef sticks: essential food items for our float down the river today. We enjoy a leisurely morning back at the cabin knowing full well that we have a good chance to see some brown drakes this evening. We check over our gear, pack the cooler, load up the FJ and head for Stone’s Bridge – arriving there at 1:30 p.m. The Canoe is lowered and I begin to organize the items that we’ll need for our float today. RJ looks over the setup and comments that nothing appears to be placed by chance. Yes.  We’ve been doing this for years. Each item has its place: the spare rod fastened beneath the cross-bars; the Maine dry box locked to a gunwale behind the left side of the gunner position; two fly rods woven into the cross beams on tucked up against the right gunwale; pelican dry box with photography equipment; dry-bag style soft cooler with ice, lunch and snacks to carry us through the evening, dry bags packed with a change of clothes (just in case); boat net; vests; tie-off ropes; cane-back seats; paddles; all of it.

We finally launch the canoe around 2:30 p.m.  Whew. Back on the Bois Brule River. The air is rank with the mixed pine and cedar forest. Restorative! Today is spent in the upper river, canoeing from Stones Bridge to McDougal’s landing and back.

The first stretch of river is marked by a series of four to five small wing dams that compel us to begin working the canoe together.  I’m sitting in the unfamiliar stern position that my brother usually occupies while RJ has taken the position of royalty in the bow. He’ll have a chance to see an unfettered view of the scene down river. I’m excited to share it with him. We share stories of years long past and I suddenly realize that I don’t know a lot about RJ – our conversations typically revolve around work. I’ve known him for over 10 years and it took coming up here to take pause enough to really begin to know him.

RJ gets his casting skills acclimated to the sitting down position as we drift along. The river is only about 50 feet wide; however the challenge now is one of getting enough line out there while attempting some level of accuracy as the fish are tight to the tag-alder edges. I back paddle and try to afford some steadiness to our position – something my brother has mastered over the years. It’s not as easy as it looks!

We stop and tie off the canoe at one of the larger wing dams. RJ works on his cast upstream and I wade down into the dark, quiet water below. A rise! I pull some line off my reel and cast a brown drake imitation downstream, letting it land well upstream. I flip extra line out onto the water so that the fly can drift downstream unconstrained to that fish. The take is a splashy one – a brook trout.  It’s the first of many today. The fly is a brown drake emerger.

RJ has waded back down my way – he notes that wading here is a bit different than the calf deep water on the Big Green River. The Big Green is much narrower so the of the banks are typically at hand and much of the casting can be performed right from the bank without even stepping into the river. The Bois Brule, on the other hand, is a bigger river strewn with many hidden boulders – requiring a cautious approach ‘less you want to topple in. In fact, there are so many boulders around some of the wing dams that it’s difficult to get your foot to a level point. If you plan to cover a stretch of water here without the canoe to buoy you up, you’ll find yourself anywhere from calf deep, to waste deep and beyond.

We hop back into the canoe and drift down through the biggest of the wing dams as I regale RJ with many tales of fish from past years. It’s fun to point out the cedar trees, big white pines and various springs along the way. That brings us to McDougal’s. I consider this a solid test of my ability to handle the canoe like a guide. The idea here is to canter the canoe sideways in the current and let it drift down past the spring so that the person in the bow can shoot their fly well into the inlet here. One cast is never enough to get it right, so a naturally better paddler (like my brother Joe) holds the canoe in place with a series of artful strokes. I am apparently no such artist so RJ and I swing about and work up and down the river here until he connects with one of the little jewels that haunt this spot:

The magic fly here is simply a #12 bead head prince nymph.

After sampling the square tails here, we head to the landing below to stop for a snack and to show RJ the first hidden shelter. We examine the more notable names and initials enshrined here and I explain how useful these shelters have been over the years, serving as places to eat, dry out, or just escape from the torrents of nature. We have cooked here, played cards here and even tied flies here. Outside the shelter, there is a tiny brook pouring spring water into the river: ice cold and gin clear. The number of springs like this in the upper river is countless. They poor in from above

We float further downstream as RJ refines his casting and we extract a couple of more trout before turning back upstream.

A light rain sets in just as the day begins to wane. We slowly paddle back toward Stones Bridge maneuvering the canoe against the mild current and up through the wing dams. At one point we can hear a grinding noise just upstream. We quiet our paddles and concentrate on the noise – it is a porcupine well out on a stream-side timber that has fallen into the river.

The falling light, misting rain and constant rocker of the canoe make for a tough photo. This point-and-shoot is one of the best; however it just does not provide the same level of control as my Canon 50D. I’ll have to set up the penguin dry box tomorrow with my better camera gear and long lens!

Sunday, June 19th, 2011– Walking Through Woods to Water

RJ’s First Fly

Today’s routine begins much like yesterday: first we have breakfast in Brule and then we head back to the cabin to tie some flies. This time we set up a vice for RJ as well. Oh no! He’s a lefty. This presents only a minor complication as I switch the vice around. It’s back to basics as I wrap my head around which direction I typically wind thread over the hook. RJ does a very nice job – his “first fly” ranking much better than the first bug that I tied back in 1991. Most importantly, this fly is very fish worthy!

We set aside the canoe for today and hike through some woods to get to the river. There are a few spots where a walk-in to the Bois Brule is possible. Some are more direct while others almost require a machete to get the job done. Either way, make sure to don your waders before you start out – the vegetation is high and wet this time of year, ticks are plentiful, and all paths lead through some boggy areas where you best watch your step.

We arrive at the edge of the river around 2 p.m. and take in the scene. The sky is overcast. It’s about 60oF. The river is calm with faster water well above and just below us. We step over a downed cedar tree on the bank and wade out over a sand and rock bottom. The rocks are anywhere from a foot to two feet in diameter, diminishing somewhat by the time we reach mid-River. I head across the river while RJ wades upstream a bit. We are not quite in position when I spot the first brown drake on the water. A mid-day hatch is just beginning! I shout to RJ and we meet half way so that I can load him up with a few more flies for the afternoon: an extended body deer hair parachute pattern; a sparse brown drake pattern (hackle only / no wing); gold-ribbed hare’s ear nymphs; bead head prince nymphs; and a few Professors.

We wade back to our respective positions. The fish have not keyed in on the bugs adrift yet and there are truly only a few to be found at this point. I tie on a Professor and start to work the edge of the river. There is plenty of downed timber here and this emerger pattern is just what’s needed.  Cast it into some wood, let it sink of a second or two and twitch it back in what can only be described as an erratic retrieve. I don’t just want to strip the fly back – that’s not how the natural would behave. I let it sink and then tug it in very short strips to make is rise in the water column like a nymph ascending to hatch. This is a patient retrieve. The fly is very light and lends itself to working like this over a nice, long retrieve. On my second cast and barely into my retrieve, I get my first take. RJ sees the commotion and wades down to see the fish and take picture. Good man! It’s a solid 14-inch brown trout with a rich, golden flank that’s replete with red specks haloed in lavender.

I show RJ how to release a larger fish like this. Holding it in the water and sliding water over its gills until is it is fully revived and able to scurry away under full power. The goal here is to minimally handle the fish: never squeeze a fish; keep your fingers away from the gill plates; and be careful not to drop a fish on the ground or in a boat. When resuscitating a fish before releasing, be sure to cradle the fish in your hands while immersing it in the water. Move it back and forth to work the water over its gills – this lets the gills do their job (produce oxygen) and fully revives the trout before releasing it. You’ll know when a fish is ready to release – it will swim away under its own power.

We each return to our introspection as we pursue additional fish. I hear a splashy rise well across river and just above me. I wander over and work my fly in the general vicinity. A solid take just below the surface! This is a heavier fish and he dives deep and makes a run for the wood. Damnation – I flash back to every brute that’s muscled his way off the end of my line. I keep my rod tip high and pull the fish back into the deep slot just beyond me. It takes a few minutes before he tires enough to land him. RJ has already reeled in and come back down to check it out. This one is measured at just over 17-inches: one fish like this makes the week-long trip so I’m delighted.

Just to be clear, this brute also took that Professor pattern. This is how my fly box gets chuck full of certain patterns. This fly will no doubt become legendary by the end of this trip. Why? Quite simply, it has earned the right to spend more time in the water. Even if only fortuitous, this fly now has my confidence. That additional swim time will, no doubt, provide more chances at fish until the self-fulfilling prophecy of its greatness reaches epic proportions. Heh. So be it!

The next few casts surrender my fly to the stream-side brush. As I stand here quietly rebuilding my leader, a small sulphur mayfly lands on my sleeve. I look up to see a few more adrift on the river. One disappears in a swirl of foam in a very tight spot next to the bank – right where a downed cedar enters the water. I memorize the location as I select a similar fly from my Wheatley box. I pin the fly in the catch above my cork handle and begin to move closer to my target fish. It rises again. Good. The next sulphur that drifts within my reach is surrendered to the microscope for closer identification. I open my vest pocket and pull out a vile of bug balm. The mayfly drifts downward, buoyed up by the fluid, until it meets the brown drake already interred there. I examine it more closely – looks to be about a size #16.

I finally make it to within casting distance of that riser. The cast is up and across with my fly landing well above the mark. The take is a violent one and the fish goes wild – tearing all over the place. It’s not a heavy fish, but I want to see him. I start backing up toward mid-river to manage him away from the wood when the unthinkable happens – I hit the drink! I back up on top of a submerged boulder and topple backwards. I quickly switch rod hands and my right hand finds the bottom of the river first as I struggle to keep the rod high. Water pours over the top of my waders. It’s ice cold. I drop to my knees to find my center and push upward. Water quickly bleeds past my wader belt as I play out the fish. It’s an eleven-inch, female brook trout and well worth the soaking.

I dump the river out of my waders and ring it back out of my shirt. Whew! That’s freezing cold. The dry bag is all the way back at the FJ and I’m just not cold enough to make the trek back out. Instead, I reel in and decide to take a closer look at how RJ is doing.  He’s taken several nice photos of my fish, so now it’s time to focus on his technique and see if we can’t put him on a few fish of his own.

Wading in this open water has really helped RJ to advance his casting skills. There is a trout rising on the far bank and RJ works out extra line to close the distance – something he was not able to do just a few weeks ago. One of his casts connects with a brown trout and I wade in to capture the moment:

I’m no casting instructor, but I do know a couple of important tips for the beginner:

  • Imagine the tip of your rod traveling in a plane parallel to the river during your casting stroke. Maintain that uniform position as you push your rod forward and back. This will tighten up your loops and help eliminate mid-air hang ups.
  • Keep your rod over your shoulder and avoid casting at odd angles until your casting is more proficient. This will improve accuracy in terms of where you are trying to drop your fly. You can get fancy once you’ve got the basics nailed.
  • When you connect with a big fish, keep your rod tip high and use the flexibility of that rod to act as a spring. This will help to prevent break-offs.

It’s this last bit of advice that I’m pretty sure RJ will remember for the rest of his life. Here’s the story. There’s a very nice fish rising among some boulders downstream. In fact this trout is literally snorting as it smacks flies of the surface every five minutes or so. RJ wades downstream until he is within reach. The fish is still further downstream and there is enough current there to allow RJ to feed some line downstream until his fly is within striking distance. There is a forceful rise followed by a powerful surge of water as RJ sets the hook. The wake made by this leviathan is shocking. It’s a trophy fish for sure! RJ’s line is taut quickly since most of the slack was eliminated on the take. I shout to RJ to raise his rod tip as his fly rod is still almost parallel to the river and only a foot or so off the water. He raises it a bit, but I’m not even sure he heard me – he’s very focused and things are happening quickly. I shout several more times, but to no avail. The breakoff is inevitable. So instead of reaping his first trophy brown trout on the Bois Brule River, RJ lands his first story of a life time – about “the big one that got away”.

We only evaluate the situation for a short time. There’s no need for a pro-longed analysis: RJ stalked and hooked that monster entirely on his own. That’s all that matters. Everything else is about spending more time on the water learning how to play a big fish like that. I have to confess that I’m a bit jealous. That was a remarkable trout – probably bigger than anything we’ve ever landed here.

Drakes are coming off steadily now and another nice fish rises on the opposite bank. We return to our fishing and the day ends well. RJ lands a couple of brook trout and I manage another nice brown trout – this one going 15 inches. The extended body Brown Drake pattern got the job done this time. This tie has deer hair running the full length of the shank, bent over to form a bullet-head just behind the eye and then wrapped with separated turns of thread to extend the body well past the bend. An Elk hair wing is tied in post style with the hackle tied in parachute style.

Monday, June 20th, 2011 – Stones Bridge to Big Lake

Today’s forecast calls for partly sunny skies. Seems like a good day for a more extended float down the upper river. So we head over to Brule River Canoe Rentals and secure a shuttle with a drop a Stones Bridge. The FJ is dropped off down river and then we are shuttled back up to Stones Bridge along with our canoe and gear for a nice long float. The shuttle service is great – the only drawback being that it’s not possible to get onto the river in the predawn. In past years, my brother and I have rented cars from a Ford dealership in Minong on the way up here.

By the time Brule River Canoe drops us at Stones Bridge, there are already a few other fly-rodders readying to launch their boats. We meet Wes and his fly fishing bride – sorry, I forgot your name! Wes asks if I am “WiFly”.  Yes, I am! He knows about the PPB fly from reading my blog. Cool. I share one with him. They show us their hex “wiggle nymph” tied with ostrich on a short thorax with a rabbit fur strip for the abdomen to create motion. This fly is tied in olive.

We run the gamut here – picking up a few nice fish at McDougal’s and other spring holes until we reach the 2nd hidden shelter where we break for some lunch.  I take a few creative photos here before continuing on. I show RJ the “circle hole”. We pull over there to let kayakers in training work their way below us. There is a small group of deer in the forest here and we watch them before sliding down through the up-and-downs.

We spot an Eagle’s nest on the right bank before making the turn to reveal the boathouse.

The next step is the big spring near Cedar Island. We slide the canoe along the bank near a large cedar tree and tie it off. This is long leader fishing and I know several rigs that have extracted fish here in the past. We take turns throwing some flies into its cold waters. I’m able to score a triple here: a brook trout, a brown trout, and a rainbow that goes 15-inches and puts up a nice fight.

The rigging that I use here is specific to this spot. From the leader butt to the dropper the total length is 18 feet. The top fly is a #10 BH prince modified so that the ‘wing’ (called ‘horns’ by some) is two slips of flashabou. The fly is finished with dark red thread. It’s a flashy fly that has worked here before – a bold design to entice a strike from these wary rainbows. There is a single large bb split shot 8-inches above this fly. Then the dropper is added off the bend of this first fly with about 15 inches of 6x tippet. The dropper is a #16 pass lake wet fly. This micro version of the large streamer version has proven invaluable over the years. The bright calf-tail wing flashes bright and I believe it makes for an excellent caddis emerger in this size – trapping air bubbles among the calf tail fibers. I need more of those!

We hop back in the canoe and sashay through the Dining Room Pool and beyond – negotiating the many twists, turns and glides that lead us to the head of Big Twin Rapids.  RJ and I sync up pretty nicely on the rowing. As we pull up to the head of the rapids, RJ says “what’s this?”.  I explain that this is the fastest piece of water that we’ll encounter in the upper river. I pull over to the bank and begin to batten down the hatches: securing fly rods, stowing camera gear, and making sure that nothing is left loose in the boat. RJ follows suit asking if we can portage. I explain that it’s not necessary. Big Twin Rapids isn’t a particularly difficult stretch of river – it just can catch you off guard sometimes. We see novices swamp their canoes here every year – sending cameras, beer and other debris adrift on the water. For a more advanced paddler, it’s just a fun little ride. We push off from the bank and I explain to RJ that I will be using steering strokes only here and that his oar should not enter the water unless I ask for a specific stroke. We fly quickly through the first section and line up for the second. Nicely handled! When we get to the bottom of the second run, I notice that the dry box is not latched shut! Woah – that would have been expensive if we toppled the canoe.

We stop of in the section below the rapids and extract a few fish. There are brook trout hiding along the cedar lined bank here. They are small, beautiful little jewels.

RJ’s casting continues to advance. Take a look at this – really nice RJ!

The next section of river starts with Little Joe Rapids and ends with a shoot that dumps into the head of Big Lake. There are a couple of larger granite boulders right at the end of the rapids – make sure to stay to the right of them. We are no sooner past said obstruction when we see a female merganser with a brood of 22 chicks. That’s 22! We counted. We can only guess that she picked up additional clutches of chicks from other merganser mothers that met an ill fate this spring.

The water is high this year, so we glide easily over the sandy shallows of upper Big Lake. There are a few deeper spots here and we glide over them watching for trout. The lake narrows down through a snaky piece of water that leads to Wild Cat Rapids – not much of a rapids at all unless you are forging your way upstream through this section. Then you’ll notice is power and depth of water. Wild Cat Rapids dumps into Lucius Lake which is divided at its head by a small island. Break right here and hug that tree line on the right bank to avoid getting hung up – it can be very shallow here as well.  Once we get below the island there is a steep drop off as the lake becomes more like a lake. We spot a few Hexagenias on the water – enough to slow the rowing and watch intently for rises. We see none. As the lake begins to narrow, we spot a bald eagle resting on a dead tree along the right bank. We bring the canoe about and my decision to bring my better camera along really pays off:

Getting photographs like this is every bit as rewarding as catching a nice trout. I am exhilarated by the experience and I can tell that RJ is too. Wow. This animal was just removed from the endangered species list back in early 2007.

We finish the evening in a narrow section of river just south of the “Summer Home Section”. There are numerous bugs hatching including brown drakes (duns and spinners), baetisca spinners, sulphurs, and a variety of caddis. I stalked a particular fish with success – turned out to be a 12-inch brown trout. There were not many big risers in my section. I also had a variety of brook trout between 7 and 10 inches – all with striking colors. RJ slogged away over a couple really large fish, but to no avail – hey, that’s part of the excitement as well. You’ve got to earn your stripes out here!

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011 – Transition Day

Ouch! I stayed up until 2:30a last night sorting and editing our awesome photos from the past couple of days. RJ heads back today – flying from Duluth to Chicago. My plan for the day is to 1) get some rest; 2) tie some more flies including a special March Brown tie; 3) clean out the FJ and get things ready for Joe; 4) fish below Big Lake if the weather permits. I’m pretty excited that Joe is getting here this evening.

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

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

Friday, May 13, 2011 – Timber Coulee Cottage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 16, 2011 – Birding & Brown Trout

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

Spring Cardinal

Red-breasted Gross Beak

Purple Finch

Red Bellied Woodpecker

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 – Kickapoo Valley Reserve

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

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 – Timber Coulee Creek

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 19, 2011 – West Fork Kickapoo River

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Father and Daughter – The Early Years

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

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

Trouty Stillmanks

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 24, 2010

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

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

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

This fly produces fish all the way down the river.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 25, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 26, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tight Lines!  ~WiFly~

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

All Images  can be ‘clicked’ on to view them in a larger format

Stenonema Vicarium (Family Heptagenidae)

I see a pattern here. I discover a new piece of water and I get fixated on it. Those magnificent brown trout! Despite my disease, I am in no rush to get moving today. I want to relax, spend some time blogging, breakfast in Fennimore and crop some photos from last week’s outing with Joe. It’s inevitable though that I will make the trek over to Iowa (again!) and see how that water held up from the rains of this past week.

The horses are all the way up to the Stile – so I walk the length of the barbed-wire down to the river and then follow its edge to the first good riffle. I stop here to photograph some bugs. There are numerous Stenonema Vicarium nymphs here. Two bends down there lies a large boulder where trout stack up in large numbers. The water was gin clear last week, but now it’s a bit murky: I can no longer see to the bottom. I’m actually encouraged by this. It provides some cover as I work to extract a couple of big browns from the nice pools further down stream.

I move down to the piece of water where my brother Joe got that monster brown last week. He dubbed that fish “Goliowa” (Goliath + Iowa) and now I’m here to have a crack at him for myself. I start down by that deep water above the wood debris and work the ledge rock on the far bank. The water is murky here as well and I wonder how well the fish can see my fly. I’ll make several passes and cover the water very thoroughly.

Eventually,  I start to work my way up to the head of pool. I switch my fly from the #12 bead-head prince nymph to a tandem rig with #8 hydropsyche larva followed by a weightless #16 Pheasant Tail (PT) Nymph. I try something new here with the rigging for the dropper. I tie a perfection loop (see below)  and place a PT on the first coil of tippet – the one that is pulled through to create the final loop it self. As I coil the second wrap around, I slip the PT through and tug the knot down tight as is usual with the perfection loop. Now I have a nice loop with a fly on it.

Perfection Loop Used for Dropper Fly in a Tandem Rig

This fine loop allows the PT to swing freely for a more natural effect. I consider changing it out as I’m not sure if it will hold for a bigger fish, but what the heck – I’ll never know if I don’t try it. I toss the rig up into the tail of the run that leads into the pool few times and finally connect with a nice trout. Unbelievably, it is the same brown trout that I caught over a week ago: with the very distinguishing marks by its right eye. I am pleased to say that this fish took the dropper fly on that loop which held up nicely as I battled this brute to the net.

I continue to work upstream into faster water, adding a single micro-split-shot above the first fly along the way. I pick up two smaller brown trout as I approach the faster, shallower water. I then sit down to enjoy the moment. this is a beautiful spot. There is a natural spring here that joins the river right at this prime piece of water – creating a cooling effect and giving trout just one more reason to congregate here.

The weather is sublime. The wind has picked up a bit providing some surface disturbance. The wind is bitter-sweet to the fly-rodder. Although it makes casting more challenging and tends to blow hatching insects asunder, the surface chop definitely aids in concealing the angler. The sky is overcast. It’s gray as far as the eye can see.  The sun has created an obvious bright spot where it is working to burn through those clouds. All things considered, I think there should be a hatch on this river! Three weeks ago, I took all of my fish here on dry flies – caddis to be precise. Then Joe and I saw a few nice march browns hatch out on a single bend in the river last week (hardly enough to call it a hatch though). You’d think these conditions and this time of year would be producing an abundance of bugs up and down this river. However, it’s 2:20 p.m. and I haven’t seen a single bug on the water nor any rising fish.

A blue heron takes flight just downstream prompting me to head down river, camera in hand, to find another spot to enjoy. I carefully approach the next large bend in the river and see several nice trout finning in the depths. I move down below them and re-assemble my nymph rig. I have a field day landing over a dozen nice browns and rainbows in this stretch. Further down, a  massive snapping turtle rests on a submerged branch, possibly waiting for some unsuspecting prey to pass by – it certainly blends in well with its algae-covered shell.

It’s amazing what an overcast sky and a little murky water can do. I catch trout in every hole on this river for rest of the day. I have to say that I love this creek when it runs so “bloody”. Replete with a tremendous day on the water, I head back to that first spot to have a final try for “Goliowa”. I start at the very bottom of the hole. I am no more than a half dozen drifts into it when I feel a light take. I set the hook. The fish makes a tremendous run, pounding its way to the head of the pool, and then driving into the riffle and run above – against the current!!  Line rips off my reel which suddenly goes limp as the entire rig breaks off in the rocks. Argh!!  I am simply amazed at the power of this fish. Was it Goliowa? I’ll never know. I never saw the monster – it just took line faster and harder than anything I’ve ever had on before. Ever!

~ WiFly ~