Monday, January 12, 2015

Calendar Year 2015 Report 1 

All designated trout streams in SE MN now open for anglers with a need to get out and look for the deep slow water.  I was not in a position to fish January 1st; rather, I looked in on a favorite stream on the 2nd; even then, had only 13:15 to dark as my allotment.  Just recently I sat with a guy who was lamenting the fact that he is two hours from the nearest trout stream.  Can't take for granted the fact that we live close enough to great water; we can drive a few minutes for a few hours of stream time.  In fact we live in a unique and special place on Planet Earth.  Various forces scraped away and carved deep and freed the aquifers to run in stream channels; dissecting bluffs.  We can't make trout streams; we can surely delete them but we can't make them.  So when I look at one I don't shrug my shoulders or pass it by without a good nod.  And further there is no better way to learn about the streams than to walk them; fish them.  See what magnets attract bug life; see where the fish lay up.  Know where the fish are holding; read water.
First hole fished in 2015.  Cast one: hook, play, LDR.  Cast three: hook, play, LDR.  Cast six or seven brought first fish.  A few minutes later, this fish was third to hand.  Rare picture of self here, main reason being to highlight the two pieces of gear pictured: Stormy Kromer cap (good cross of ball cap and stocking hat) and hand muffler (previously noted).  The SK hat has flaps that a guy can pull down over ears as needed.  Lifetime warranty.  Made in Michigan.  The muffler allows one to warm hands at will, without fumbling with any gloves.

Number of fish from the first big slow flat water found downstream of plunge pools.  This water isn't romantic: depth charge it with streamers; strip back; fish jump on. 

Another gear review item of note.  After many years my Simms waders have been retired.  Much good use.  At this point, many leaks.  I moved on to these Orvis Silver Sonics, which show a number of good features that really spoil a guy like me.  Gravel guards.  Straps that allow for easy lowering of waders at streamside (to water bushes).  Conversion to wading pants.  Tell you one thing it was nice to come in from fishing and not be wet.  Been a long time.  Thanks Orvis.

Few of these fish just decimated the 2 wt such that I couldn't see them for a good 10-20 seconds.  I really dig that aspect of the light gear; there is some mystery and anticipation and the possibility of losing.  In each case it turned out the fish were 12-14 inchers; great fish but not huge.  One was a footballer RBT that was around 14" I bet.

Tied up six basic bead chain eye LOD variations.  Lost three of them on this outing; which was good because it meant I was getting down.  One was lost to a giant strike in the big pig hole; never know what that was about but it was some force applied very directly to my tippet that shattered it on impact.

Yet longing comes upon him to fare forth on the water.
- Anonymous, translated be E. Pound

Boots on the water is a phrase used often by JMontana.  Get out and see what's going on.  Quite a bit to take in here in SE MN: this day included a pheasant kicked up at six feet (good lesson in micro-habitat importance - it was in a narrow fence row), and then a big whitetail.  Deer highways everywhere; concentrated at pinch points. I was looking in the riparian veg for beds and across the stream at maybe 40-50 yards I saw a tail bouncing.  Stared for a few seconds and picked out really big antlers.  No telling how many points but they were certainly worn high like a crown.  He made it though all seasons.

Word on this streamer pattern.  It's easy and effective.  #6 long hook, bead chain eyes, marabou tail, chenille body and soft hackle (like grouse or pheasant) up front for collar.  What I like about this fly is that you skip the rib and palmered full body hackle, thereby eliminating a good piece of tying time/hassle, and yet you achieve the same basic shape and silhouette, even the leggy look with the soft hackle.  I tie a lot of these and beat up on both carp and trout with them. Make 'em the right size; make 'em drab. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

New Rules

Been out a couple times between deer season and Jan1 full winter opener.  This former trout fishing dead period was fully addressed by MN DNR and stakeholders such that one can now fish three of our SE MN state parks year-round (C&R only though).  I applaud the process and the decisions that came of it.  At the heart of the benefit is provision of another reason to walk streams in November and December.  I've heard reports of a lot of anglers out and about thus far on weekends.  In this case I was fortunate to have some time during the week, thus ran into no one with any manner of fishing gear; just a couple people out walking dogs and taking photos along the main trails.  Once the trails were behind me, no more persons.  One marked failure was that I did not pay special attention to likely locations for redds (except for where I put my feet, which is a habit for winter trout fishing: pay attention to where your boots meet the riffles).  I believe this is because I was pretty excited to be out, and most of the fish were stacked up in the slow/deep tails of pools (so didn't look at riffles much).  Will take some more focus regarding this matter in next outing.
Suppose I started around 10:30 AM and walked out around 3:30 PM.  It was cold and windy.  At one point my left hand was pretty numb; prompted me to walk up into the floodplain, set my gear down and warm up under some good cover.  Maybe 10 minutes and full bloodflow restored.  I'd note here that the past few years I've found a good compromise between gloves and not-gloves: those mufflers used by NFL QBs and hunters alike.  I wear one in winter.  Barely notice it (i.e. not that encumbering) except when I need it.  A person can often high-stick with one hand, keeping other warm.  Walking streamside both hands can be warm while rod tucked under arm.  Nice piece of gear; basic approach.  Probably $15 anywhere you look.
Streamers first (any streamer; I've made a point of not tying [what - are you out of flies I ask myself and the answer is always no you are not out flies you have so many hooks with materials tied just pick one and make it work like a bug or a minnow would work through the water]; rather trying to put what I have to use; clean out those boxes; becoming more and more apparent though that I need some drab typical sized streamers) - just casting up and across trying to move fish out of slower water.  Letting streamer sink to bottom and then retrieve.  This produced some good fish; no really big ones.  Had an urge to nymph, so did that for a while.  Then back and forth: nymph, streamer, etc.  Saw a couple great white-mouth takes on the streamer follows.  I think approx 12-15 fish, of which four were RBT.  No big fish but no dinks.  In a good show of irony every fish was perfect for the frying pan and yet every fish swam away without any sort of concavity in or around its skull.

Easy walking.

Stocker RBT.

BNT vortex.

Big blue/white clouser.

Thanks again for the new regs; good deal all around.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Old Bike Wheel

Last couple deer I had put on top of the Subaru and just thrown a rope over the rafter; hoisted as high as I could and nailed the rope; then drive car out from under.  Blood running down side window, etc.  Subaru is gone.  Prompted me to get fancy as depicted below.

Parts: old bike wheel taken after big kids wrecked little bike, hooks from a bungee, old chains from former canoe hanger system, rope, two lag bolts for cleat in work bench. 

Only assistance needed is son hooking knotted tag-end in the cleat.

Nothing is nailed or screwed into the woodwork; all put away after use.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Deer Hunting 2014

It's unlike fishing in that one generally can't "go get" the quarry.  Assemble all observations and information; knowledge of the landscape; data gained via various means.  Then set up to allow early and quiet entry and ascent of a tree.  Be quiet and watch carefully.  I appreciate this very much.  There is a good plus/minus discussion to it.  Deer may not come within your sphere of vision.  However, everything can change in the course of one second: from failure to memorable success and maybe even legend with the appearance of one creature.  So this has the potential to frustrate (e.g. 23 hours in a stand seeing no mammals that are not squirrels) but also provides the reason to keep on.  I listened to a guy tell a story once that was approximately this: The other day I was five seconds from the biggest deer of my life.  I was leaning against a fence post kind of hidden for maybe half an hour watching a trail.  I decided to call it quits and go home.  As I stepped forward my view increased such that I could see a little further beyond a rise and there I saw the buck that I'd been tracking and watching.  But he saw me too, because I moved.  If I'd waited another few seconds he would have walked right to me.  He proceeded to run away.  Never saw him again.
Overall I know very little about deer hunting.  A person can't study every facet of outdoor adventure with intensity; there is only so much energy and time afforded.  I met with failure for many years, trying to hunt public lands at ground level.  Quite a few years with no shots fired.  I believe that southeast MN is approximately 97% private ownership.  Lately I've been fortunate be part of a very small group that plans a private land hunt.  I've learned a lot and enjoyed the study.  Also, the act of leveling a firearm at a large mammal and firing it, while often reduced in discussion to a word or two (and sometimes spoken with incredulity at the barbarism [do try to avoid those crowds though]), is no small thing.  Lasting impacts; lessons; thoughts.  We did shoot a lot as kids - rabbits, armadillos, squirrels, grouse.  But the handful of times I've fired guns at large animals are imprinted.
The quick summary is that according to the deer I saw last year, I moved my stand about fifty yards to afford better view lines.  I was very pleased with the oak tree and what it offered up.  I could see the main ravine (up which last year's shot buck had walked) but I also gained firing range to the tributary ravine (several deer had turned off short of me last year, and walked up this way).  I could still see up to the ridge top too, which is a true highway and showed a number of emphatic rubs on pretty big trees.  So I sat this stand for twelve hours on day one and eleven hours on day two of the first firearms season in SE MN.  No deer observed at all.  Despite intense wanting of a deer and careful looking, be sure.  Our party broke up Sunday night, due to the storm that did cover all in ice.  I was able to return Tuesday night, and head out again Wednesday; world now covered in snow.  This alone was fascinating: all the deer sign further amplified and evident to even hacks like me.  It was cold too: 13 F when I climbed into the stand at 6:12 AM.  After 3.5 hours I got down because (1) I wanted to walk around, (2) I'd reached 26.5 hours in one stand without seeing a deer.  I struggled with the one more second clause but in the end figured I'd better change up.  The third man of our three-man party was not present on this day, so I started toward his stand.  He had seen two truly giant bucks on opening weekend (neither of which were shot).  En route on the ridge top I saw a number of trails in the snow coming from the other sidehill, over the top, and then down past his stand.  I disallowed overanalysis and just figured that'd be a good reason to get up in that tree.  After ~25-30 minutes I both saw and heard a deer coming down through the conifers (a plantation up near the top) toward me.  Same as last year, I immediately got the gun up.  Not the same as last year (when I thought for a long time that the buck I was watching was illegal), I started to shake a bit because my thoughts went to giant buck (given that a couple had been sighted here).  After maybe 30 seconds I could see it was not a giant and I got my normal breathing back, give or take a bit.  I strained to look closely due to the antler point restrictions and in the course of doing so I confirmed that one antler was missing.  But the other clearly had four points.  Interesting to note that even while one can look, count, repeat, etc. one still must draw a line at which you simply trust your senses.  Your senses can betray you; this is understood.  But I literally had to say just count the tines and then stop counting the tines and accept the count.  Then I decided I would shoot this deer.  It was not broadside but more or less facing me at maybe 25-30 yards.  If I'd required movement at this time, it would have made me and run.  But gun was already up.  Basically only my eyes were moving.  He wouldn't turn much so when he did at all, quartering away, I pulled up a mental diagram of the angles one must consider to get a projectile into the vitals cavity.  It required a shot through the front leg or maybe just behind it.  Pulled the trigger and the deer bucked up in shock, ran horribly awkwardly maybe 40 yards and piled up in the head of a ravine.  That was it; from zero to success in the course of a few seconds, but I suppose a few seconds buttressed on the hours leading up to them.  I'd say it was a challenging, fun, interesting, beautiful hunt; also further forged some bonds with people.  Filled our family stock with good meat.  I'm very thankful for the guidance that friends and family offer up; especially for the welcome I get to hunt this remarkable land.
View from second stand, looking downslope.  Many oaks.

Looking upslope toward the pines.  The deer was shot at the center of the photo.

It's impactful to see the black hole these slugs can punch.  After he crashed into the ravine head, I took out a clock and watched his one visible leg (sticking up at odd angle) for twelve minutes.  It did not twitch.  I got down at that point and walked over to this image.   

It was a long route to get the deer out of the woods, but it was downhill.  Plus I was very happy so no logistics or difficulty really mattered much at that point.

I came back on the last day of firearm season A and went out with the landowner, trying to fill third of three tags.  Walking out I took some alternate routes along the ridge top.  It is well known that many deer take refuge in the cedars along the steep slope (top of which seen here).  Too rugged for people to manage it.  The trails in and out are obvious, as is the "highway tunnel" through the sumac, which I am walking here.

Where one river meets the Big River.

Good country.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Whitewater State Park and paleozoic sea day, October 2014

Game Seven Carping

October run continues; into November.  I think a guy can get into some decent action in these months.  As noted previously the fish I'm seeing are grouped up either moving slowly or milling/stationary.  No fish tailing.  A few half-looking in rocks along bank.  On this day here maybe a week ago I found some moving groups, none of which would offer any individual shots.  I spotted one solo fish from above; I marked and ran down and he tried like a MF to eat the fly but he couldn't find it for a while and when he did I set the hook when I saw a mouth pulse and there was no resistance; no connection.  This is common and part of the overall calculation and consideration.  It was in this 0/1 mode that I found a solo fish who looked ready to go; found him from a high vantage point; one that does not offer a good fishing opportunity.  But I was overcome by the brash posturing of this fish and I could not let her be down there, looking in the rocks and feeling safe; hunting in spaces pivoting and looking in, picking up and setting down.  I stood about 30 feet above her and stripped off line, steeple casting.  Watching for people that I might hook on backcast.  Then high eleveation dap was in play; sure, the fly fell into the water about four feet from the carp.  Still unawares.  It had been a while since I had such a fantastic and dramatic view of a large fish doing a cat pounce.  This was a very deliberate spotting of a prey item followed by a fish pushing with a hard tail forward and then down.  To settle on a fly.  This all lead to an involuntary moan of the sort of ahhhhhh etc.  Mainlining at its finest you might figure.  I picked up the rod to an absolutely glorious bow; glorious and also hilarious because I had my arm threaded through various ironworkings.  I went hand over hand to get the rod above the guarding safety mechanisms and then did a poor job of gauging to which of the four compass points I ought to run.  For some reason I chose that with the greatest amount of wild rangy scrub brush and the steepest step down to the bank.  This meant an elaborate show of weaving a fly rod (now throwing backing, as indicated in the photo) and line through a bramble-ridden-death-maze meant to shatter graphite rods and beat them with sticks and stones.  All with various persons bipeding around looking on.  All with an 8 lb fish putting the screws to me.

After working through the Mirkwood Forest I got to the bank, and figured I had time to take off shoes and socks; fish wasn't going anywhere.  I'm usually willing to jump in with boots on; just fine.  But I had to walk home from the river, up hill 0.6 miles steep and I didn't want wet boots rubbing the various fringes of my feet.  This fish scaled at 8 lbs.  They all look bigger from above; fact. 
Got a couple more, stalking the banks.  Pried one away from a milling group.  Found one half-looking in a deep pocket behind a woody debris pile.  The last one showed this scale pattern.  I have heard people call this a full-scaled mirror.  But back in early 2000s I heard multiple guys call this a "muddler."  Unclear to me just what term rightfully applies.  Pretty though; pretty scale pattern.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

World Series Carp Fishing

Like Mothers' Day caddis.  We need a phenological reference for this time of year when the waters are low and clear; primary productivity in the stream, like that in the uplands, slows to a creep.  The river banks can be snlfed along without much trouble.  All of the details are accessible to the angler: the rock geometry, the sand grains, baitfish, turtles, mussels.  Woody debris.  The dorsals.  On the general outdoors calendar this period falls after trout season has (mostly) closed and before one is allowed to legally hunt deer.  October into early November.  

Good reminder here: not all carp that see you as angler and/or balk at your fly are spooked.  This first fish came in strutting; very deliberately seizing its head around and making fitful movements.  It was unlike the handful of fish I'd seen to that point, all of which were stationary and generally negative.  The fly was presented, dragged around and sunk here and there while the fish surged and retreated, unsure what to make of the whole deal.  Many days (especially in target rich waters), a person would walk away from this carp.  I stuck at it because I figured I wouldn't have many chances, and I liked the mood.  Spooking a bit but not hard spooking.  I let her settle for about 20 seconds and then dropped the fly again.  I couldn't see it all go down but the general "eat" signature was inked and I picked up the rod.  11 lbs scaled. 

11 lber.

Bass hold.

Weather on this day was gray.  100% cloud cover.  Tilting toward rain.  I've come to welcome this condition as long as a person can gain a good vertical perspective on the water.  Meaning walk a river bank and look down and in.  In fact it's better than full sun in this setting.  The sunlight is needed to see great distances; to see into water when the eyes of the human are at a low angle to the water surface.

Three more carp came to hand over the next couple hours, none of which were scaled.  All were 5-7 lbs by my estimate.  They were all holed up in the gray slots.  The low and clear water has driven them to these slots.  Same observation last fall.  Better to feel the weight of water on one's back; to feel heavy and dark and safe, than to linger in the light flowing thin and clear coverlet.  They were found to be milling.  A standard word; good word for carp.  Generally positive association.  Meaning they will respond to opportunities presented, even if they are not cruising or actively feeding.  Tricky thing here is trying to get more than one out of each group.  And thus while you may encounter a dozen fish, you can really only expect to hook approximately one.  I suppose that's why it took a couple hours.  First two fish were subtle takes; moves to the fly that I was watching intently.  The last fish of the day: I cast well beyond, dragged and dropped a good 2-3 feet away in very still water.  Normally like to get it closer.  But the image was so good I opted to let it play out.  Very slow drag, maybe making a small disturbance or plume.  As soon as the fly was discerned by the carp, said fish swam in direct fashion and set down on the fly.  This was dramatic and appreciated.

Could work going forward: World Series carping.  Beautiful fall weather.  Fish still around.  They are heavy gray fish that will eat flies and look straight at you when you hold them.

Monday, September 22, 2014

BWCA 2014 Fish Photos

Still can't decide if I'm pissed or not about the fact that people like fish photos more than they like interesting/meaning photos or text.  Roll a fish picture out there and everyone gasps and jabs the thumbs up.  Nice work!  Show somebody a cool image of a shadowy figure behind snapping firewood.  That really isn't much, it seems.  Even if the latter is substance/foundational and the former, considered individually, is a fleeting encounter.  The photos posted below are in the midst of on-going deliberation regarding the appropriateness of various communications; they are also invisibly captioned with words describing the fact that no matter how many fish or what size or shape or color I'm always bitter. 

9/1 18:15
Day we paddled in, set up camp.  We fished only the evening.  I waded out approx rib-cage-deep and put the halloween colored streamers out there.  Immediate thumps.  This was not first fish, but first notable fish.  I can't remember exact length but I think ~18 inches.  Standing in water, casting out into the interface between inflow and lake.  This would prove to be key.

9/1 18:44
SMB rarely look big in photos.  Maybe because they don't lend themselves well to good "holding" or good angles.  Mostly you just hold them out and take a picture.  There is no big head, no contour, no belly.  So looking at this fish (above, below, same bass), one might not think it exceptional.  But the truth is that a third party taped this fish for me, and the length was 20.0 - 20.25 inches.  Big fish of the trip came on day 1, first time touching water.  Black/orange half and half.  Throw it out, let it sink to bottom.  If line gives no indication of strike on descent, wait a few seconds; make sure it's on bottom; pick up.  Strikes came mostly on pickup.

9/2 7:08
Next morning, walked the shore to the exact same location, this time looking for topwater.  The weather obliged.  Calm; glass.  Blockhead popper.  I think this first fish maybe 17 inches.  A key here being the pause.  Strip hard; pause.  Watch.  This does make for good drama.  I would say the pinnacle of bass finishing in the world (speaking to the method).

Next cast, 18 inch fish to hand.  This was noted by a canoe full of dudes.  At the time I felt they began to crowd me.  Looking back, it may have been bitterness clouding my perception.  They did hear me yell and swear and float curse words on that glassy surface; this may have held their attention.

Afternoon of day 1.  Afternoons on our main lake are not prime fishing.  The sun comes over the tree tops and the rays strike the water.  Head back to camp for breakfast; then do as you please in the way of trolling for pike, walking back to satellite lakes, napping, eating, reading.  Here, we walked back to a favorite shallow bay on another lake.  I think this fish was all of 18" long.  We struggled to catch a few smaller bass 12-14" range to eat (not many walleyes to hand, so we ate one meal of bass).  This bay drops off nicely; deal here is to cast a streamer as far as you can...  let it sink; pick up and retrieve.
This fish notable because I told my buddy here to "go left" when we got to the bay.  Always full of fish; usually 1-2 in the 15-16" range and a bunch of smaller SMB.  I wanted him to get a lot of action while I probed deeper with a heavy streamer.  Here he poses with a 19" SMB; the biggest I've seen come out of the shallow water segment.  Nice work.

Many fish like this: what one might call a nice fish, depending on frame of reference.  I think this measured by hand withs ~15 inches.
9/3 6:56
Decided to go it canoe, with my brother.  This painted up fish came to hand via popper.  I think maybe 17 inches.  Beauty.  While I was connected, my brother found a way to one-up: 19 incher below.

9/3 6:56
Nice dimension top to bottom.

9/3 7:13
Around fifteen minutes later, this fish ate a popper.  Maybe an inch bigger than previous, although pictures do not say as much.

9/3 7:13
Yet another double, and another one-upping.  This fish, with tail pinched, hit the 20 inch mark.  Will say again, they don't photograph well, light is bad, and we are confined to canoe seats.
Memorable doubles; great fish all around.

9/3 18:46
Fish  miscellany from the evening of day three.  Nice dorsal.  He lit it up pretty good that night; I caught a lot of fish but they were all small.  I really like the bronze and the markings on this fish.  Nice background too.

Not too many pike to hand.  Maybe half a dozen for the group.  For me, exactly two.  One on a popper.  One trolling this big feather wad streamer.  Did have another roll on a popper and simply shear it off on contact.  And another sheared a streamer.  No big pike at all for anyone.  I did put in maybe 3-4 hours trolling too; ineffective.

That's about it and there are some important notes: (1) No fish pics of my dad, which isn't right; we were rarely fishing in close vicinity; he caught a lot of fish, (2) stopped taking pictures after a while, (3) the last evening I got 100% stoned; fished fairly hard for two hours and got zero strikes; I believe this had to do with an east wind that came through shutting mouths; (3) last morning (morning of departure) we didn't even fish; there was not a drive to do so; it was exceptionally windy and I suppose we figured we'd done what we came to do; so rather pack up and get to the paddle strokes; against the wind.