Saturday & Sunday, May 8th – 9th, 2010
It seems unnatural to open the regular trout season anywhere else but Wisconsin; however we are about to do just that. Wisconsin is well known as the premier blue ribbon trout fishery in the Midwest. Bar none. The driftless area, however, is not bounded by state lines. It is an area defined by geology. Southwest Wisconsin, Northeast Iowa and Southeast Minnesota all share this common geological history. The result includes limestone acquifors that are essential to create, replenish and sustain the spring creeks throughout this area. The Driftless Initiative is an effort to unite organizations and individuals within the Driftless Area to support the region’s ecology, economy, and cultural resources. Check out this link as the site is pretty well done in terms of resources, information and data.

Ross Mueller wrote an outstanding book “Fly Fishing Midwestern Spring Creeks – Angler’s Guide to Trouting the Driftless Area.”  It serves as a reference and guide for this area.  We also like his book “Upper Midwest Flies That Catch Trout and How to Fish Them” since we are into tying our own bugs. His dark-ribbed yellow nymph is a staple fly in my arsenal.

This spring has been warmer than usual. Looking back a the last month, we note that hatches are advanced by two weeks or more. This is Mother’s Day weekend, but we saw the Mother’s Day caddis hatch over two weeks ago. Today we will see some of the first hatches of some of the larger mayflies. My mind turns to a northern river, replete with fat brook trout and over-sized orange-bellied browns. If that substantial hatch of Hendricksons comes off two weeks early, I’ll have to be on that water the week of May 24th. I wonder if the larger, migrating browns key off this advanced weather pattern as well, or if they will begin their pilgrimage in early June as usual. There’s only one way to find out! But that’s for later this month…

Today is spent on the piece of water that I fished last week – right after Wisconsin’s early season closed. We climb over the ‘A’-frame stile and head through a pack of horses  to some prime water.

Joe immediatey spots a nice run leading into a deep, dark pool – the end of which is jammed with wood and debris right where the river thins out again. There is limestone rock flanking the far side of the river and I call out to Joe to lengthen his leader as the spot looks VERY deep. We’re brothers though, so no piece of trouting advice can be taken in either direction! Joe slinks over the bank with his rig set just the way he likes it. He is fishing a 4W Sage rod with a 9-foot leader. His terminal fly is a #12 beadhead prince and he has a small, yellow pinch-on foam strike indicator about four feet or less above his fly. He tucks his casts up along the ledge rock on the far bank and well upstream. On his third attempt he hooks up with a nice fish – and as soon as it turns, we both know it is a trophy.

I forgot to mention that Joe is fishing a custom Bradley reel that showed up under his Christmas tree a couple of years back. Richard Bradley of Bradley Reels is reputed for making custom, high-quality reels and we each have one inscribed with “Brothers of the Fly”- the insignia for our exclusive club with only two members. These reels are throw-backs to the days of old (Edward Vom Hofe circa 1875 to 1878) and so they have the classic pillar design and absolutely no drag. That’s right: Joe is playing the fish of a life time on a 4W rod with a reel that has absolutely no drag. And this brute makes some strong runs into the submerged wood down below. I stand on the bank looking down upon the surreal as Joe’s rod is bent full over to battle that big dog back from the wood. A combination of forced retrieves and deep, powerful runs makes for an intense mêlée.  More than once I wrote this fish off – “it will never see the net” I thought. Then I noticed that Joe does not have his net on his back. He left it back in the FJ. What to do? There are a few unwritten rules between us when it comes to the pursuit of trout. The first and most important rule is that “no advice or help is needed or wanted”. It diminishes the satisfaction of self accomplishment that comes with the reward of a rare trout like this. I break this rule far too often; however Joe is a tolerant brother. The battle is underway now, so no words can be exchanged. This is a personal encounter where the wisdom of years is dished out in the flash of minutes. It demands concentration.  I toss my net into the slack water behind Joe and walk away. It’s up to him to decide if my net fell there by accident or whether I tossed it there. In the end, the fish is a monster: neither of us is likely to see another like it for some time.

Now it’s my turn. It takes a bit longer, but I eventually connect with a brute of my own. No where near the size of Joe’s monster; however this respectible 16-inch fish is more than satisfying. This brown trout has a distinguising mark near its right eye:  a dark shadow and an arc of consecutive spots descending in size as they curve aroud the edge of its eye. I mention this since it will not be the only time I catch this fish this year.

We drop down stream to fish the deep clear pool where I caught the 17-incher last week. I hook up with another nice brown on a dark-ribbed yellow nymph; however, he is smarter than I and we part ways before I can bring him to the net.

We decide to hike downstream and explore the area for future reference. The river cambers through woods and greets a number of  railroad trestles as it works its way east. We scramble over or under these and realize how special this place is. We can see where ancient limestone rock has been blasted away to to make way for the railroad:

Satisfied that this river will eventually go down in the chronicles of our flyfishing adventures yet to come, we decide to explore a second stream. This next piece of water lies south and west. It’s a tributary to the mighty Yellow River. Getting there demands a slow, curving drive through beautiful surroundings – taking sharp turns and driving along the edge of cliffs with only a few stops to examine the elk (yes elk) and a band of sheep that we see along the way.

I work the water several bends below the bridge  where it crosses the creek. I am using a #14 Elk Hair Caddis trailed by a #16 bead-head gold-ribbed Hairs-ear nymph. This rig ties me into about a half-dozen brown trown all of which come to hand.

Upstream of the bridge is also a wonderful experience. This time Rainbows are the fare. I take about four 12-inchers that truly fight and jump. These are very rewarding as the casting here requires  an upstream approach, but with deeply overhanging brush on the left – and that’s where the fish were. The right bank offers no mercy with a high, weedy bank that risks tangles if not carefully considered with each cast.The backcast here requires a high overhead loop that can not be allowed to approach anything close to the normal horizontal trajectory. The forward stroke has to direct the unfurling line forward in a curved motion so as to slide the entire rig up under the overhanging brush on the opposite bank – allowing a long drift to run parallel to that bank. Each time that the cast is delivered properly, I am rewarded with a nice fight. The last trout jumped so high that it got tangled in the overhanging brush and was swinging there slapping the water with its tail before breaking off!

We finish up on a third river that must have been of Spanish descent. X50 and the Key Stone mark our route and we only have time to range up and down and hit a few deep pockets. My rig here is a black GRHE nymph with a micro-splotshot about 10-inches above the fly which is four feet below a small strike indicator. The indicator helps to both manage the depth of the rig and detect strikes. Several more nice Rainbows here!

Iowa Trout – the quarry and captive of The Brothers of the Fly.

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

Father and Daughter – The Early Years

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ WiFly ~

Saturday, April 24th, 2010 – Favored Water

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

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

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

~ WiFly ~

Sunday, April 25th, 2010 – Chocolate Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ WiFly ~

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 ~ WiFly ~