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~

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Tuesday, May 12th and Wednesday, May 13th, 2009
 

Planes are steadily coming and going from the General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The FJ is parked outside of baggage claim for only a short time when Ingemar emerges, bags in hand. Ing and I have known each other for about 8 years. We worked for the same company in different cities back in the late 90’s. However, it wasn’t until the aftermath of the dot-com bust in 2001 that we were thrust in front of each other as we fought to get a fledgling company off the ground. We immediately hit it off. We both approach work and play with the same intensity, passion, and resolve. Life eventually took our careers in different directions; but we stayed connected through our fishing – making occasional treks in late March for Michigan steelhead on famous rivers like the Rogue, the Manistee and the Pere Marquette. In all that time, we never fished my home waters, so I feel pretty damn good about heading out with Ing for a couple days to a favorite spot or two.

We are headed for Vernon County: a county that sits right in the middle of the “driftless area” and is host to hundreds of miles of trout streams. “Driftless” refers to the lack of glacial drift meaning the material that gets left behind by retreating glaciers. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, this area was spared one last pounding by the driving nature of glacial drift.  The Wisconsin Glacial Episode was the last major advance of ice in the region, and its retreat started far to the north of this area. Being spared helped to preserve deep valleys, high limestone bluffs and the perfect chemical make-up for some of the best trout streams in the world.

Driftless Region

Driftless Region

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Driftless_Area

Ingemar always introduces me to local fly-shops during our forays in Michigan, so our first stop is a fly fishing shop in Viroqua called The Driftless Angler. Mat Wagner is the owner. Mat left his Rocky Mountain paradise in the winter of 2006/07 to pursue a new paradise right here in Wisconsin: The Driftless Area. He opened his shop in February of 2007 and has never looked back. Mat maintains a fishing report for the area. .  The person tending the shop is very helpful, but tells us that the river we came to fish has been pretty off this past week. Caddis seem to be the fare though, so we grab a few extra bugs from the shop and head for the river.

It is pushing almost 5 p.m. when we finally get to the river – those of you that have fished with me know that spot. We step into a bend and face up stream. Above us is a deep, right-angle corner in the river that pours water through a riffle into a fast, short run that terminates in a pool at our feet. We have our caddis flies in tow, but having fished here for years, I rig up with a black stone fly #10 and trail it with a #14 prince nymph. The length of leader between the bugs and my poly strike indicator is about 8 feet to start.

Ing watches intently as I complete the setup and then offers me first cast so that he can see how I fish this rig. I am two casts into the lower part of the run when a fish takes. I play him out in the softer water below – a fat, 13-inch brown! Not bad for kicking things off.

Bead-Head Stonefly With Zug Bug Dropper

Bead-Head Stonefly With Zug Bug Dropper

This first fish makes me realize that I left my net back in the truck. Yes, I am a net man. I can land fish without a net, but after years of this habit I prefer to net my fish. This stretch has produced some bruisers in the past so I head back to the truck to grab us a couple of nets. When I return, Ing informs me that he has had couple of nice fish here and one that got off. He is a true gentleman and offers me another shot at the run before we move up. I decide to move down a little, cross the river and approach from a different angle. This affords me the ability to drop my rig close to the top of the run and get a pretty good drift down the long seam that heads into the pool. On my third, consecutive drift a fish strikes hard and heads for a spot deep in the bottom of the pool. It is a heavier fish than the first one and it takes me a bit to coax it down stream. I finally land him and he is a solid 15-inches. It is another nice brown trout. Ing grabs a camera and snaps of a nice photo before we release him back to the depths.

Vernon County Brown Trout

Vernon County Brown Trout

We are both enthused by this bigger trout and continue to work our way toward the head of the pool for “the big dog”. We never raise a fish at the head of the pool, but you should always work that spot hard. It is a prime spot for big fish.

Next we approach the deep water above this spot. There is a fish rising at the head this next pool, so we immediately switch to a #14 elk hair caddis and go after him. Several drifts do not raise the fish. After a few more casts, he rises again. We mark the location. The next cast is spot-on, but the hook set is too quick and the fish is only stung. He is gone.

A couple of bends up, there is a reputed hole where water rushes down a literal drop-off and into a partially submerged tree. Below the tree the river forms a nice pool. Further down is a large, sub-surface timber that lies across the river. We draw nearer, using this log to mark our approach and never moving closer than within a few feet of it. I am already rigged up for this spot, so I hand my rod to Ing. After a few casts, he is into a respectable, fat brown trout and he lands it.

Satisfied Angler!

Satisfied Angler!

I ask him “do you want the good news or the bad news.”

He replies “give me the good.”

“You just caught a nice little brown trout.”

“Then there is no bad news!” he quips.

“The bad news is that it’s my turn at this hole now!”  Ing hands the rod back to me and I check the fly. I notice an abrasion about 6 inches up the line. I don’t want to risk losing a big fish so I decide to retie the rig. It is a good idea to check your line often, especially after playing a fish. Since I had to re-tie anyway, I moved to a more heavily weighted fly. The water here is very fast and I want to make sure the fly is getting down quickly. I am rewarded with another nice brown –

There is some friendly banter over whether the fly change was a known recipe for success here. I toss the rod back to Ingemar and remind him that I am not his gillie today! We both laugh as he works another fish. We continue to take turns extracting fish from the pool by working the seams on either side. Wonderful. The river is “on” like I have seldom seen it before. Ing is getting spoiled by one of my favorite Wisconsin streams.

Deep Run, Big Brown

Deep Run, Big Brown

Evening is sneaking up on us so we hustle up to a spot where a spring comes in and the colder water holds some nice brook trout. We switch to bead-head prince nymphs and start swinging the flies down and across. Just like below, I am demonstrating the technique to Ingemar when a fish strikes right away. It is a female brook trout. We rig both rods the same way and I move up river a bit to give Ing some room. He strikes a nice fish a few casts later and I come back down to photograph a beautiful male brook trout – his first.

Ingemar's Square Tail in Full Colors

Ingemar’s Square Tail in Full Colors

I head back up river again and this time I notice a large, flat boulder with a nice pocket right below it. I stay well across river from the spot, but position myself about 15 yards upstream as well. I work out some line and start my down and across swing. I continue to lengthen my line until there is enough to swing my fly right through the pocket, exposing only the leader to the slower water in the pocket. Thump! I feel the fish and set the hook. He leaps into the air and runs down toward Ing. It is another nice brown trout. The light is falling so the picture is a little fuzzy, but I had to include it – the biggest trout of the day.

Twilight Trout

Twilight Trout