We took a family hike today at Spring Lake Park Reserve to take in the colors of fall. No rods made the trip, but I did spend some time scouting the shoreline!
It seems like only a short time ago I wrote about taking my daughter out for trout opener in Wisconsin. Now with only a handful of days left in the season I made in all likelihood my last trip. Fortunately the finality culminated into an experience I hope carries me through the winter.
The forecast looked promising mostly sunny skies with a chill reminding me fall is brief and fleeting. With no restrictions on time I had several locations available and fittingly opted for my favorite stretch. For only a moment I debated what setup to take, but if this was my final supper I wanted to eat well. I loaded up my Sage ESN along with every nymph I had and a box of terrestrials for good measure. Like Clint Eastwood said “I don’t want to get killed on account of not shooting back.” By 6:30 I was on the road and after a quick coffee stop I arrived streamside. Not only did I have the day, it appeared I had the stream with only one other car in the lot. I lined up and with time on my side decided to fish my way in. It took only a short time to calibrate my fly selection and I found fish quickly. Trout were holding in bunches and the competition inspired aggressive takes. Once hooked, they fought beyond their weight class highlighted by spectacular acrobatics. Fish landed were dressed in the vibrant colors of fall and with winter quickly approaching already plenty fat. The consistency of day lasted until the very end landing a couple fish haphazardly casting while making my way out.
It’s tough to determine the most notable fish. While I caught a several above average the smallest one stands out. As I went to make a cast I felt the slightest of weight at the end of my line, but assumed I hooked another fallen leaf. To my surprise it was a fish. On one of my most productive stretches I noticed rises too prolific to ignore so I clipped my nymph and scurried to tie on a dry. With a limited selection I settled on a brown ant which was as close as I could get to matching the hatch. In my review of the Sage ESN I didn’t give it much credit for casting a dry, but I may need to reconsider. My first cast landed in the feeding lane and was immediately inhaled. It was just one of those days. Despite their best efforts kayakers couldn't even slow me down landing fish moments after their paddles dredged bottom. By 3:30 I made my way out passing a handful of anglers along the way I hoped were finding the same success.
Now I’m left with a minimum of three troutless months in MN and WI. Eventually, I’ll concede to winterizing my gear admitting to the finality of the season. Fall is bittersweet. It may be my favorite time of year, but it goes by too quickly in the Midwest and inevitably leads to winter. So for now I’ll reflect on the season hoping days like today make it slightly more bearable.
As mentioned in an earlier post I’m grateful to work for an employer who believes in summer hours. So when dismissed early I try to make the day count by wetting a line. This past Friday I intended to redeem myself for previous shortcomings on the Cannon River. I hedged my bets by heading to a stretch I had success on last season. In addition to bass last year I noticed a ton of carp so I was anxious to try my hand. At 2:00ish I was en-route to the Cannon. There is something therapeutic or maybe even nostalgic about wet wading in the heat of summer, either way I left the waders in the bag. Plan A – Carp, Plan B – Bass. What I learned, or knew, about myself is given options I’m likely to choose the one most familiar when faced with adversity. Without another fisherman in sight I had my pick of spots and while walking the bank white bellies rolled in the current like twinkle lights on a Christmas tree. Carp, and I had just the assortment of freshly tied flies for them. The only thing more frustrating than not catching fish is seeing the fish you’re not catching. Determined not to let the Cannon get the better of me a second time I switched to bass tactics after an hour or so. I was instantly rewarded with a small bass who hit a Clouser moments before I picked up to re-cast. After another hour and a handful of unremarkable fish I transitioned back to plan A, this time with a more heady approach.
I did a couple things today I don’t normally do. It started by packing gear I don’t typically take along. The forecast called for hot, muggy conditions so I grabbed towel and an extra shirt. For some reason I also brought my loksak bag to keep my phone dry. So a towel, spare shirt and waterproof bag; remember those items as they’ll be important later in the story. I headed to the stream about 7:30 and wet my line by 8:30. It amazed me to have such a nice day and only a couple cars in the lot which more than likely belonged to kayakers. Everything I read in the last week centered around hoppers so I started with a hopper dropper rig. This time of year the trail is choked thick with vegetation so I planned to stay in the water and out of the jungle most of the day. The water dropped significantly since I was last out and in several stretches reconfigured the stream. I found myself admiring new runs and holes as I worked my way upstream. At 10:00 I found a nice new cut which looked promising, longer and deeper than before. I caught one fish in the first couple casts. With the sun at my back I advanced through the run on my knees keeping a low profile. At 10:15 two kayakers blew through my hole, so much for stealth. Surely there would be more to follow. I understand sharing the resource I really do, but fishing doesn’t affect their float like their float affects my fishing. The equivalent would be if they had to stop, get out and walk around every fisherman they came to. But I digress. Fish came slow, but often enough to keep me engaged.
I planned to leave by 12:30, home by 1 and off to the Dakota County Fair late afternoon, so the meter was running. While I drudged upstream and at times struggling through the dense forest I noted to allow extra time to get back to my vehicle. By 12 I should’ve turned around, but discovering the subtle changes of receding water and one more fish drove me deeper into the woods. I reached a section of the stream with a notoriously deep hole smack in the middle of the only sensible place to cross. I didn’t dare attempt during higher times, but given current conditions waded out. On tippy toes and slippery rocks I just managed across. Now at one of my favorite spots I begged for one last fish convincing myself that, if caught, I’d clip my fly and head running back to the lot. By now it was 12:30. Shortly into the tail of the pool I caught a fish. I quickly decided to go for another having cheated submerging myself to get here. If you ever wondered if there is punishment for staying too long on a stream when other obligations beckon read on. The very next cast I snagged bottom, breaking off not just the fly, but the middle of my leader. Even an obvious sign to pack it in didn’t deter me. Hastily I tied on a 5 foot section of 5x tippet with the fastest knot I could tie along with a cdc golden stone. Two casts later I heard the unmistaken sound of kayaks scraping bottom. Had they passed through I may have fished longer, but they pulled over just upstream of me like a road block. Yet another sign. Thick vegetation kept me out of sight so I made a couple more casts. I could only see one of the riders, but she was in communication with another. Then a man drenched head to toe drug a half-submerged kayak behind him. His wife, girlfriend or soon to be ex took great pleasure recording the aftermath. He looked unappreciative. Then we locked eyes. I kept a straight face as I read his mind “great an audience.” Inside I snickered, but roles reversed I’m not sure my demeanor would be any different. I looked at my watch, 12:45. I cut my fly and leader ensuring I’d hit no more holes on the way back. Remembering the deep drop off I debated heading upstream by the boaters and around to avoid it, but I didn’t want to add any further insult. So I ventured down deciding to stay on the high side.
The last thing I said to myself was “fishing may have been slow, but at least I’m having a better day than that guy.” The next step my feet didn’t touch bottom and cold water began rushing into my waders. The next two steps the same until I finally came to land. Now this stream may only have 3 places where overflowing your waders is a possibility. I managed a sense of humor about it secretly hoping the kayaker saw me getting comfort out of my misfortune. After getting up on the bank I de-pants. Just as I finished draining my waders the two kayakers paddled by. I don’t think either realized what happened to me. He still seemed shaken and she giddy over their own saga. Thankfully my phone was kept dry by the loksak and there was a towel and dry shirt waiting for me in the car. I hacked my way back and made it home by 1:30. No one seemed to care I was a half hour behind schedule especially since they were all napping, a sign I could have stayed out for one more fish...
So I tied on an Autumn Splendor then eventually changed to a Clouser, then a Murdich minnow then a bunny leech. After a couple unsuccessful hours sub-surface I switched to a diver to finish out the morning.
Jargon Fisherman Say When They Get Skunked (read in a sarcastic tone):
When I had my fill I hiked back to the vehicle through the deposits of mud left by the receding water. I almost fell several times, but was saved by my trusty new wading boots and cat like reflexes. The rest of the afternoon was spent at the water park with the fam where I had more fun and caught just as many fish.
This past Saturday I had a window from 11:00 to about 5:00 to wet a line. Again, I hoped to get out on the Cannon, but high waters left me searching for plan B. I still had warm water fever so I decided to make it a dual trip; smallies on the St. Croix and trout on the Kinni. Here's a photo blog for something different...
This past weekend brought beautiful weather to the upper Midwest timed perfectly with a free Saturday to wet a line. Normally bass fever doesn’t kick in until later in the year, but after a productive winter scouting locations my condition was already worsening. Unfortunately, rain from previous days blew out the river I wanted to explore and lake fishing didn’t hold the same appeal. So I headed to Western Wisconsin for trout. I had the day to fish so I decided to progress further upstream and work sections normally neglected with time constraints. I assumed anglers would be out in numbers and a good hike would give me a chance to outpace the herd. By 7:30 I was suited up and on the trail. With only three cars in the lot I had a good head start. I hiked 45 minutes or so starting where I typically end the day anticipating the newness of the water. There were a handful of patterns I wanted to test out so I started with those. By 9:00 I caught my cigar fish, but I’m not in “cigar shape” to light up that early so I decided to wait a bit. I made it until 9:30. While I thought my trek would provide solitude I quickly realized others shared my ambition. Two hours into the trip I was leap frogging anglers. Luckily the stream is ripe with holes and fish. Eventually I created separation and found myself on some really nice stretches of water. I caught enough fish to validate the flies so I switched to a hotwire hare trailed by a disco midge. The combination proved the best of the day.
When I arrived at a bluff with a deep channel running beside it I switched to a flashy hare’s ear, one of my favorite. Shortly after, I land a fish and then another. I worked further upstream and made a cast, my sighter paused and I set the hook into a heavy fish. Initially it didn’t react much just bore its full weight towards the depths in a deliberate manner. I hoped for a big brown, until it showed its form and colors as I drug it to the surface. Definitely not a trout. When we locked eyes it took off like a bullet and the sound of a drag singing did my ears good. It made a couple of runs, but gave up quickly. Apparently I need to add the flashy hare’s ear to my rough fish arsenal.
I went another half mile upstream when I arrived at gorgeous run I either forgotten about or formed since I’d been there last. There was a shear wall lined with a deep pool and just enough structure to make it interesting. Its knee deep braid at the head moved water which seemed clearer than the rest. I’m not a good enough photographer to capture how pretty is was or a good enough writer to properly describe it in a thousand words, but it was one of those spots which solidifies a great day on the water. I treated it with the respect it deserved approaching it slow, planning where I’d set up and place my first cast. In my mind I was thinking about one of my favorite movies “For the Love of the Game” where Kevin Costner tells himself on the mound “think, don’t just throw.” With a more thoughtful approach I was able to land a couple photo shy trout but not nearly what I knew it could yield. Reluctantly I moved past the water and unlike “For the Love of the Game” I didn’t tear up at the end (sports movies get to me, that one more than most). By now I traveled a good distance and it seemed a fitting place to make the turn.
So I tied on a Puterbaugh Foam Caddis having observed a decent hatch and worked back to the spots I passed over on the way in. I pulled a couple fish from likely spots ending the day with a nice brown. The next couple weeks will be exciting.
I’m fortunate to work for a company who believes in summer hours so with a 2:00 dismissal on Fridays and a plenty of fishing options close by I’m optimistic. In two weeks I’ll be in Colorado to visit family and hope to get some fishing in while I’m there.
Growing up Pennsylvania, trout opener was one of the most highly anticipated days of the year and provided some of my earliest memories. It started the night or week before, depending on the weather, and after a good rainstorm we’d tread lightly across the yard at night, armed with flashlights to capture fat night crawlers. I remember the green plastic container where we kept them and how I often forget it in my tackle box after a trip.
Regardless of the excitement from the night before morning still came too early and we’d load my dad’s truck with our gear and head out to pick up my grandfather. We were destined for the Hammer Creek where, if we got there early enough, we could stake claim to a piece of bank. Courtesy eventually gave way to supply and demand leaving us elbow to elbow with other anglers by the time opener officially started. Shortly after a snack truck would arrive and while too young to drink coffee I’d get a cup of hot chocolate to imitate my grandfather (I vaguely remember sucking on a pretzel rod pretending it was a stogie as well).
Eventually I took over “hosting” the opener; coordinating a time, location and of course subs from one of my favorite eateries Nino’s. Since moving to Minnesota “opener” has lost its luster. Partially because it’s no longer a family affair and by the time it opens I’ve already fished a month (or more) of the winter trout season. Last weekend concluded the early season and while I hoped to make it out thunderstorms thwarted the attempt. So I rescheduled the trip for this weekend coinciding with the start of the regular trout opener in Wisconsin. I packed the night before and staged my gear in the foyer. I was up early and ready to head out the door when my 4 year old daughter, Olive, asked me to trade in opening day for a trip to Target. I’m not sure how the negotiations proceeded from there, but it resulted in a family fishing trip. She asked to take the “red” rod which is a 7’ 3wt St. Croix Imperial which doubled as her witch wand last Halloween. Pride in my daughter's fly fishing selection was short lived as the red rod ultimately lost out to the closed bail Barbie fishing pole. She was so excited, and so was I. She even dubbed her pink wellies her fishing boots. So my wife, daughter and I loaded up the tackle and headed to the Kinni to fish. We arrived at the parking lot to find the amount of cars you’d expect on opening day. I suited up and Olive stepped into her fishing boots. I grabbed our poles and we were off.
We headed to the stream and set up shop under the bridge. I tied on a PSV under her red and white bobber and after knocking the rust off my casting was able to get it in lanes I knew held fish. When the bobber reached the end of the drift she’d reel it in and we’d do it again. While we didn’t catch a fish we had a blast. Eventually the fishing turned into a nature hike and we marched through the woods until the stream forced us to turn back. By this time the novelty wore off but the hiking was a grand adventure. When we got back to the parking lot we decided to extend the trip to a picnic and my wife and daughter left to grab lunch giving me an hour or so to fish until they got back.
I stayed close to the lot working the less popular downstream section. I caught a handful of fish in the hour and missed a couple more. 200 yards from the lot was a large sandy bank made for picnicking. Olive would eat a couple bites of PB&J, then walk down the bank to dip her toe in the water before scurrying back. My wife and daughter who are students of the woods identified every mark in the sand as “fresh bear tracks.” Even goose and raccoon ballooned into mother bear and cubs resulting in a smidge of panic.
Before packing up I made a couple casts to a likely holding spot hoping to give Olive the chance to reel one in, but it wasn’t meant to be. To be honest I think the thrill would have been more mine than hers. Today trout opener meant something again for a lot of the reasons it did before.
When my grandfather and I fished he’d say “at least when I’m gone you can say I went fishing with you.” I moved away and ultimately fulfilled the prophecy. I don’t know how many times Olive will want to go fishing with me and I don’t have any expectations. I’ll be happy for each chance I get and if there are no more at least I had this day.
After a long winter, Wisconsin’s early trout season finally opened. If you follow the blog and read “Winter in June” you know this is my favorite time of year to chase fish. To me the snow looks like a blank sheet of paper waiting for me to write the story of the season. The newness of the year provides opportunity to tweak unfished patterns, test new gear and knock the rust of techniques. I typically take a handful of days off, but as often happens things pop up and it didn’t work out this year. Fortunately, I did manage to get out consecutive Sundays to scratch the itch.
Winter fishing is slow and deliberate. I get to start the morning with a couple mugs of coffee and lumber around getting my gear together. This beats waking up early, frantically packing rods, waders, flies etc (or doing it the night before) and racing out the door with a travel mug. While I know fishing won’t pick up until later in the day about 9:00 my lumber turns into a pace as the caffeine and anticipation get the better of me. Both days I arrived with at least one other car in the lot, but I fished in relative solitude. Since starting the website I tend to think through content while I’m on the water keying in on themes of the day or taking pictures to round out the blog. These two trips I was selfish. I kept my mind on the fish and my camera in the pack (some photos from last year will need to do).
The first day took a bit to get going and it wasn’t until 12 or so when I caught my first fish. From there the action picked up and in typical winter fashion when I found them, I found them in bunches. The second day the bite was on at 10:30 and didn’t quit all day. Good thing it didn’t take long to catch my “cigar fish”, nothing warms you up on a cold day like a good stogie. I fished each day from around 10-4. The stream changed a bit over the last 6 months and most of it for the good. I nymphed the entire time using a Sage ESN 4wt coupled with a Galvan Brookie. I highlighted the top producing patterns in the previous “What’s in the Box” post, but to be honest I think most anything would’ve work. It was as if the trout hadn’t eaten all winter and they were happy to take anything floating by. Regardless, catching fish on a new pattern builds fly confidence and was a good way to start the season.
I also had the chance to get familiar with two new pieces gear. The first is the Simms Headwater Gear Bag and the second a William Joseph Confluence chest pack. While I’m not ready to write a gear review, both performed well.
All in all I had two really good days on the water. I’m hopeful my schedule and weather allow me to sneak out a couple more times during the winter season.