Water –I managed to fish in three states; CO, MN and WI. I’d love to say IA and their year round season could still make the list, but the realist in me knows it’s not likely. While I deem interstate travel a success I’m a disappointed in the variety of local water I explored. Diverging opportunities to chase carp and bass drove me back to favorite stretches when it came time for trout. Those sections seemed to change more than in years past and advances further upstream at least made it feel like new water.
Rod - This will come as no surprise, “Rod of the Year” honors goes to the Sage ESN even though I fish it primarily in the winter and fall. It complements my style and paired with the Galvan Brookie makes it my favorite overall rig.
Reel – It would be easy to give the Euro setup a clean sweep or go with a nostalgic favorite in Lamson's Litespeed, but the Hardy DD edged out all of them. I’ll admit a slight "newness" bias, but its looks were only outdone by its performance, making it my favorite this season.
Line – While the Hardy was new, I still fished it an entire season. Sharkwave's Ultimate Trout line, with only a half dozen outings, didn’t have enough experience to unseat the incumbent. Given its body of work I gave the nod to Rio Gold. It’s a really well rounded line performing in a variety of situations.
Pack – I started the season with high hopes for the William Joseph Confluence pack (review coming soon). Unfortunately, I was disappointed. My go-to pack has been the Fish Pond Arroyo, but this year I ended up using my warm water bag for trout because it was easy switch out and holds a ton of flies. While not ideal, it got the job done. So the old version of the Simms Headwater Sling Pack gets the prize for consistency, versatility and pure laziness on my end to switch.
Simms – If I were giving out awards Simms would win favorite brand. Not just for the pack, but their gear bag, Vapor Boots and waders all performed beyond expectation.
Flies – Each year I try to narrow my fly selection and each year I fail. I am happy with the variety of patterns I threw and caught fish on. I fished everything from classics to new creations and stretched further outside my comfort zone with new techniques. I’ll leave my originals off the list but here are a couple standout patterns
Flashy Hare’s Ear – It’s funny to associate a season to a particular pattern, like recalling quarterbacks for a favorite college team (War Eagle). Thinking back over the last 3 or 4 years I vividly remember what worked from an Iron Lotus, Polish Woven Nymph, PSV or a CDC golden stone. This year one pattern caught fish consistently every time out; the flashy hares ear. If you don’t have any in your box I recommend tying a couple up. 12’s and 14’s with tungsten beads did the trick!
Puterbaugh Caddis – This fly just catches fish. It presents and floats extremely well making it my top dry fly pattern. It’s easy to tie in a variety of colors and sizes. I fished it primarily in tan size 14.
I consider myself a cold water angler, but this year warm water species gained considerable momentum. While I enjoyed the balance, it meant less time for trout. It seems the start of the year inspires a race against the inevitable. The season is now officially over and I quickly moved past denial, paused on anger before landing squarely on acceptance. I’m not sure how many times I made it out, but I think we’d all agree it never seems like enough. With acceptance comes reflection on what worked, what didn’t and highlight some of my favorite gear of the year.
I’ve got no complaints about my driftless trout season excepting wanting more of it. I started the official opener with my daughter, visited my brother in CO and fished with a couple new friends along the way. Now I’ll settle in for a quick fall and long winter tying flies and working on the site. Minnesota’s early season opens at the beginning of the year and I’m hopeful Wisconsin DNR changes regulations to do the same. I’ll keep my fingers crossed and hope for a mild winter!