Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Columbia River 2017

Calendar is pretty well booked through first week of August: sports, folks visiting, visiting folks, travel, fishing trips with kids, Lake MI.  BWCA end of August.  Wedge in some trout fishing where possible; if possible.  Busy time and not a bad thing at all.  Majority of our time is spent guiding our kids in their various pursuits: athletics, fishing, relationships, eating (that's a big one), getting hair cuts that look cool, acquiring clothes that aren't jeans or nice shirts but rather shorts or tights or quick dry T-shirts.  We probably thrive in such settings for the most part; it's what we're here to do.

One consequence of attempting to merge calendars for various persons who are each generally becoming exponentially busier as years pass is that the task becomes increasingly difficult.  I had opted out of CarpCon 2017, sending my regrets and best wishes to JM and company.  No dates in May worked; last weekend of April is my kid's birthday.  Etc.

My wife is pretty good about supporting these adventure chapters and I think she realized that I hadn't spent more than a day away since deer hunting in November (which was two days).  It's probably healthy for adults to on occasion engage others of similar age/sex/interest, particularly if the engagement involves a shared pursuit.  She recommended I work with JM in an attempt to craft a short-notice trip to the Columbia River Gorge.  I credit her; credit JM and his family for making it happen.

The river was high and cold; dates were April 20-23 with the redeye back that night.  Never been there that early in the year, as far as I can remember.  Pretty risky.  But in this case JM had locked down a good situation that would remain as a fallback if our examination of the river confirmed what was suspected: too early.

We poked around the river and the picture was painted pretty well.  Comes down to temperature which in this case was a function of residence time.  From the interweb: The hydraulic retention time (HRT), also known as hydraulic residence time or t (tau), is a measure of the average length of time that a compound (ex. water) remains in a storage unit (ex. lake, pond, ocean).  Waters with higher HRT had accessible carp in them.  Flowing water with lower HRT showed no accessible carp. We imperiled ourselves to walk to one inside corner on the river that JM figured would be off-current enough to allow for warming; indeed it was so, and this little triangle seemed to hold every carp in the river.  We caught one in about four seconds (catching a 12-13 carp in four seconds is considered a failure because I didn't catch one of the 20 lbers; I kind of agree but also pause at the suggestion) and left.  The real deal was in some water with very long residence time: water that had pushed through culverts and flooded what is typically upland.  The carp found this development to be very desirable in that it provided warmth, foraging and fellow fishes; no real predators at hand save the occasional fly anglers.

We ended up pounding on this inundated land days one and four.  On day one, we wore ourselves out catching around 60 fish by early afternoon.  We left to scout some other water; found nothing good.  Decided to head back as the sun was setting; with little effort caught around 40 more to bring daily total to 100 carp to hand no joke.  And that was passing on dozens of "small" fish.  Day two we fished a cul de sac (I think translates to bottom of the bag) that we knew would have high HRT.  Fish around.  It was a greater challenge and they weren't as thick in there, but it was just enough to keep us interested; keep us in fish all day.  Think we touched 50 that day.  Day three JM stayed home and for the first time ever I drove away from his place without him for a day of fishing.  Odd feeling for sure.  I was to meet up with Mountainscaler; the Cuban cigar grinding bonefisherman.  We had some intel that turned out to be sour; basically killed our morning.  We walked around in balls-deep water kicking fish that we couldn't see.  Mostly talking politics and mumbling about our current condition.  I had a bed of laurels so I wasn't sweating it too bad.  And he was practically en route to Cuba so I don't think he was too worried either.  We drove a lot; fished a little; he caught one fish; I caught zero and it was a good day if you can believe it.  At one point a big white pickup stopped us at a scrub corner; we were standing in our waders drinking can beer; do you have a lighter they said.  Yes, he did.  We listened to them talk about fish they'd caught; studied the Negro Modelos in their cup holders; they on their way without much salutation.  I hate cigarettes so I had refused but I did hint that I wanted one of those beers; they never did give me one; I've always been told I should be more direct.  Day four we went back for more rodeo in the tight quarters.  One more time to the well of giving.  We were very deliberate in standing with the landowners, listening to their stories and offering our appreciation for the access.  As JM said: it's remarkable what happens when you show people an ounce of decency. I've heard stories of anglers lipping off to landowners, leaving litter in the yard, parking out of place, etc.  In fact we lost one of our best trout stream accesses in SE MN thanks to said behavior.  In this case, after listening intently to these guys talk about the work they do, the operation they run, some chapters of their life histories...   listening and nodding and validating and appreciating.  They were literally giving US gifts and telling us to come back any and all the time.  I'll remember them confirming verbally that we were careful and respectful; that was our aim all along.  Whilst catching a ridiculous load of fish.

Some good mirrors.  We could see them plain as day. Some of the biggest I saw wouldn't eat.  Did hook one that may have been close to 20; broke me off.  Fish pictured here very pleasing to eye.
We released most fish unscaled, and without picture.  This tub was resting after unhooking and I liked the dimension of the gut so I snapped this photo as it appeared to be inviting as much.  Didn't weigh it; pretty nice fish though.  An internet 35 lber.

Lot of fish this size.  

Went back and forth between two fly rig and single hybrid.  That's my version of the hybrid, to be clear.  

JM discerns the dimensions of the fish really well and he basically hunts 20 lbers.  This was such a treat for me, I couldn't bring myself to limit in that manner.  I wanted good eats; wanted to bang my way through this target rich environment.  So I ended up catching a lot of small fish in that 12-16 lb range (funny and true all at once).

Like the scales on this one.

Big fish of the trip; in fact I think it must be one of the top 10-12 fish we've seen in person.  28 lbs.  JM can verify. I know he has a few over 30 and a some high 20s on Lake MI.  I've got a 31 and a 27 on down.  Carp on the fly 28 lbs or better are not common; nice fish buddy.  But not a handsome fish; rather some distended, plate scaled bug-eyed beast sow.  Pretty in the end but not the "clean" pretty.  

Dimensions pretty remarkable.  

Minutes before this fish I hooked a strong 20+ lber on a great take.  She bolted for a set of pillar trees wreathed in scrub.  I put the heat on her and she simply broke me off.  Too much.  But I think it was a calculated risk in that she was probably going to murder me in the woody debris.  So this fish was spotted by JM and gifted over to me.  It was in a really odd setting, all alone, very still.  The eat was not sweet at all; sort of obligatory, but it happened.  20 lbs even.

Only photo I have from day two, when we were faced with a more traditional Columbia River setting in terms of fish numbers, positioning, habits, etc.  We were fishing the two fly rig and I struggled some with it.  Not always easy to manage it.  Here the carp has eaten the lead trouser worm.  JM has it down; ridiculously so.  For an indecisive, rule-driven, focused person like me, a singular point is probably better.  I like to know exactly where I am sinking the fly on the fish; it somehow freaks me out to have two flies sinking and some question as to which I'm fishing.  The answer is I am fishing both.  But easier said than done.  I can do it, but it's a good challenge.  And of course noting that the carping two fly rig is no way related to the trouting two fly rig (which I use in almost every case).

Barbwire gash in waders just above knee; end day one.  The UV repair from Aquaseal is just that, as we verified.  I tried the repair in the hotel room.  Did not work.  Did not set.  I took it outside around 6 AM; sun just showing in the east; standing in hotel parking lot drinking amber coffee; here the UV came and indeed it set in "seconds" as advertised.  Important repair; made the next few days a lot better than they'd otherwise been in terms of comfort.  

Guides and good fisherman offer both micro and macro scale skills/knowledge/advice.  The micro stuff for JM is the two fly rig and the ability to get they fly where it needs to be, even in very deep water.  We don't talk about that stuff much; I know he can do it and I can do it a lot of the time but not all of the time.  But we don't talk about it much because one just has to keep working on it.  On day three when we fished without JM, the macro level stuff was really apparent: (1) knowing based on general context/weather/flows how to sequence the waters to fish, (2) knowing the pace at which to fish them, (3) knowing when to say screw this, abort and move on.  You wouldn't call those fishing "skills" but you would underscore them as invaluable in crafting a good fishing day.

Thanks JM and family for hosting on short notice.  Thanks to my family for sending me on my way.  Thanks Mountainscaler for driving so damn far to walk around in turbid water with no light. Thanks to the good dudes who let us on their property to wade around looking through the various carp on hand.

Friday, May 05, 2017

  Weekend in the Southern Corner

Goal #1: get kid to firearms safety field day.  We studied the options re classroom vs online.  A consultant suggested that the online course provides the following benefits: (1) go at own pace, (2) kid knows he has to pay attention because 10 question quiz after each chapter, (3) no driving anywhere for the coursework.  We went with it.  $25 fee and he could study the course as time allows, right in the living room.  Generally I like in-person but in this case I was swayed to deviate.  Each quiz must score 80% or better; that was no problem.  The final course exam was 50 questions.  The only trouble he had was laughing hard at the multiple choice selections, e.g. "What is an example of ethical behavior?  A. Shooting several deer and then asking the landowner for permission.  B. Strapping a dead deer to the hood of your car for transport.  Etc. etc.  No joke; those are almost verbatim.  Should note that overall the course was good, and the tests effective in educating.  He aced the final; he's a pretty good test taker because he knows he can eliminate 1 and probably 2 possibilities in any multiple choice setting.  The field days fill up quickly.  The closest we could get was Eitzen MN.  I don't like driving that far to fish, so even though there is good water down there, I rarely make the drive.  Goal #2: sell the old canoe to a coffee roaster from Viroqua WI.  We met at Eitzen to save him some miles and time.  $140 cash.  Farewell to the fiberglass canoe; quite a few good adventures.
Another reason I don't drive that far south is the unwelcome feeling that is generated toward fly anglers.  I understand the local angle: they don't want elitists from "up north" (which I suppose in this case includes Rochester) coming down to their water.  There are at least three signs that say in bold print: "NO FLY FISHING."  In fact I parked right near a sign with a big X through a dry fly under which was printed "night crawlers only."  So I spent a lot of time reciting in my head how I would engage any local should an encounter be realized.  I was basically set to say I understand your take on it; I can only do my best to show you that not all fly anglers are jerks that disrespect locals and push for special regulations.  I'm here to bonk fish too.  But I managed (without deliberately trying) to not encounter anyone, despite the fact that it was harvest opener and there were a lot of people about.  I started out dry fly fishing some busy water that was tromped down in boot tracks.  But with dry fly one can overcome: got three out of there; stomach contents of one pictured above.

Moved to another location looking for two more.  I wedged in between big swimming pool water that was being pounded by spinning gear; soon as I saw this water I felt that the creel would be filled shortly.  That water in the background seems tougher to fish with bait; perfect for banging with a streamer quartering up and across.

Indeed it took about ten minutes to get two more.  First limit of 2017.  I often don't fish the opener, but the kid was in the field all day shooting 22 rifle and parents weren't hanging around; it kind of seemed as though I had to fish for trout.

At the gas station on the way out of town we put this in plain sight; maybe to indicate some sort of (albeit technically false) membership.

Goal #3: get "new" watercraft.  Fiberglass canoe gone because we have need for only one.  This is the one now.  Picked it up the day after parting with the white tank.  This one's lighter.  Not superlight by today's standards, but lighter than the tank.

Previous owner was a native gal who used the canoe for ricing.  The middle thwart was removed, presumably to facilitate easier knocking and accumulation of rice.  In doing so, the gunwhale on one side had been bent upward/outward.  Coincidentally I had on hand an ash portage yoke received from my father some years ago.
This was the attempt at flattening.  Heat and pressure.  It worked to some degree.  The picture would indicate that it worked fully; but on removing the apparatus I found that the aluminum had cut into the wood approximately as much as the wood had done its part to flatten the aluminum.  Maybe 50% done, which was sufficient to allow attachment of the yoke.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Spring Break Chapter II: Weekend with Kid II

Kid I gets BWCA now, so in effort to be equitable, we've installed a hardcore trout weekend during which the younger guy can get all the attention and all the shots.  Big brother stays at home.  We did the same trip last April; same water and nearly identical dates.  In this case the weather was a shade warmer and we encountered more people.  The basic strategy is to do this on the weekend before harvest opener (which is also before any turkey season): that affords the latest possible non-zoo weekend.

Started out nymphing.  At this hole last year, he caught his first ever rainbow trout.  This go-around he hooked and lost a nice fish.

In this case he made a nice flip cast into a little holding water between two current seams; saw the indicator indicate, and put the hook in the fish.

In an interesting twist that was maybe a direct communication to me, he was struggling a bit getting the nymphs where they needed to be.  He's a good flipper and roller but sometimes can't reach quite far enough across the current.  He started out catching six fish nymphing, over quite a span of hours.  Missed a few; lost a few.  We were fishing right behind somebody pretty much all day.  I tried to call the guy over to talk about strategy (e.g. was going to suggest we walk ahead of him for maybe half hour and then start fishing) but he wanted nothing to do with us; kept his head down and moved to the immediate next hole every time we saw him.  I think it's impolite to jump ahead of someone without talking to him; so we didn't do that; we just accepted the deal.  On day two we had the water to ourselves and the dry fly action was good.  Nice lesson for me: don't make the kids do things just as you do them.  I always figure nymphing is the easiest most consistent means of catching trout.  But the kid welcomed the dry fly and with about 6-10 feet of fly line out he proceeded to flip that thing (a generic parachute adams with a pink post) all over current seams and in broken water catching trout consistently.  Thus relieved of the numerous points of weight and the occasional tangles; welcoming quite a few fish to hand.

He doesn't have the burning focus of his older brother; he hung it up a little early on some water and in those cases I would clean up the residual fish often in the tougher lays.  He always got first shot at everything and I only fished after; and those cases were few; mostly we just walked and fished; I barked at him while he fished.

A point of emphasis was learning to use both hands at once.

He got a few on this generic too.  One of my favorite flies.  No name as far as I know.  It never sinks due to foam head; trailing shuck is money in any hatch situation.  It kind of doubles as wing too.  Fish eat the hell out of it, upstream or swung down.  Really easy to tie. Continuous rebellion against the hatch-specific flies (!).

He got sixteen trout to hand (we were both counting) before noon of the second day.  Of which fourteen were on the para adams.  A top few hours for both of us; I sat the bank and watched.  Netted the first few but then had him concentrate on bringing them to hand without net.  The mechanics of how much line to keep out, how to swing fish in to near-body, etc.


He remembered this gnarly trunk from last year; wanted to stop for portrait.

Study in scale; observation.

14 incher; a top fish for him; caught using the streamer his older brother tied during Spring Break Chapter I.

And then again on the same streamer, at our very exit point, I put two casts upstream of DNR's penned formula for big trout: 3+ feet depth, adjacent to thalweg, presence of woody debris.  This 18+ came out and followed maybe six feet and then ate the streamer.  A sort of guide's reward (among many others).  Photo by kid.

Up out of the valley.  Back next year.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Spring Break 2017 Chapter I

Some explanation as to why we stayed in a camper cabin instead of a tent: last year for spring break recall we had sustained 20 mph winds with gusts up to 40 mph for a few days straight.  Cold weather; high flows; all around tough go of it.  As such, during my planning process I deliberated the plus/minus of various approaches including but not limited to (1) setting up a tent and (2) renting a cabin at the same park.  My end figuring was that if the fishing were bad, the cabin would provide some novelty that could salvage the trip.  That turned out to be the case.  And now the one-way clicker has moved forward and the boys really wanted another round at the cabin.  Something like $60 per night as compared to $20 (maybe $15 for winter) for a campsite.  Thinking back on 2015 we would have been pretty miserable in the tent.  Proved to be the case for only one day in 2016 but we've warmed up to this deal as following captions will indicate.

Local spring break is not a bad deal.  If it were earlier in the year maybe we'd head out somewhere: abroad or warm or whatever.  But April in SE MN is a pretty special time.  Keys being (1) snow is typically gone or going, (2) temperatures are often moderate, (3) you can get a lot of sun, (4) fish are active and bugs are around.  The late March and early April weekends that are before harvest opener are ideal fishing times.  Overall goal is making and storing positive memories for kids.

Five days four nights and we wanted to maximize hours of all five days.  They let us check in early; 1 PM on Friday March 31.  We used that first day to set up, tie some flies and get ready for a guest DF who would arrive late that night.  This fly here is meant to be a generic soft hackle; twist on JM's Wilted Spinach.  Thinking about BWOs that were around.

Built by the boys.

Saturday - we paired up and DF and Kid II fished.  They are pals; a good match.  DF was generous in bringing good beer and taking us out to eat Saturday night; we watched some of the UNC game.

I fished with Kid I; mainly giving him instruction and being frustrated that he was in a foul mood and somewhat distracted.  It was pretty hot.  I didn't bring enough water.  And when there are multiple adults around sometimes kids get a little shifty.  In the end he didn't fish very much at all; only managed this solid BNT nymphing  a deep hole.  Redemption later for both kids; this day was mainly about making sure the SODAK visitor got good opps and many fish to hand, which he did.  Nymphs, streamers, dries it was all working.

Marginal activity that may have been against the rules but I was so happy to see the boys having fun together I decided I would happily provide explanation to any concerned party should the need arise.  It never did.  These are the wagons that campers use to carry gear from the parking lot to the cabins.  The terminal velocity going downhill is not great, and we made them steer away from the cars toward the dumpster.  Worked well.

After burning out on Saturday kids didn't want to fish on Sunday.  They wanted to hang around cabin; work the cart, build, carve, etc.  I walked out with DF just to get him going; we parted after just a few minutes and I fished my way back downstream.  Decided to throw a streamer and drink a beer in the morning hours.

Got half a dozen fish out of good water here and there and then went back to cabin.  Kids had been alone maybe 1.5 hours.  All good.  DF's report was positive: I think he said one of the better trout fishing days he's logged.

Gear review on the Biolite stove: nice to have around.  It burns organic matter e.g. wood, cardboard etc. as would any camp fire.  Only the rechargeable fan creates a whirlwind that gets the heat ripping in that can.  We popped corn on it, boiled water a few times.  I would say it's too big for backpack and too small for a big camp breakfast.  But good for intermediate jobs.  The main thing I like about it is that given it doesn't require compressed fuel canister, you can fire it up and walk away, leaving the coals smoldering, knowing you can get it going again pretty easily.  Don't have to shut it "off" via valve closure.  $125 but this is the second-newest model so it was 50% off.  In theory you could bring this into the woods and never run out of fuel. The thermocouple takes heat energy and recharges the battery for the fan.

Kids got into blackjack.  Kid II noted on most hands that he was "under so much pressure."  Pretty fun.  Good learning too, re strategy and counting.

I dig pics like this one that indicate the various components of a good camp.  All just laying about awaiting use or resting from recent workout.  Mostly metal and wood items.

Noticed that the state parks have really started deleting the bigger slabs from the wood bundles.  Or maybe it's just this one; or maybe just this load.  Mostly 1-3 inch pieces.  Does this suggest that folks are now more enamored with flaming out than enduring fire.

Tied a streamer that would later be a key addition to box.

Years ago we did scratch pancakes; did those for many camps.  More recently been making oatmeal for a couple mornings and then something like this for the big breakfast.
My preference is salted meat and black coffee.  An ideal pairing.  This is from a pig that lived in Kellogg MN.  Friend killed it and cut up in his garage; sold us quite a weight of meat.

Deal I made with the kids was that we could take Sunday off if we fished Monday.  Woke up and found rain; continued into the morning.  I didn't know forecast as we had no connection to outside world and almost no people around. I reworked the deal.  Sat down and hand wrote a letter to whom it might concern should a situation arise: the older boy is babysitter age; we have paid kids younger than him to watch both boys.  My name is XYZ; my wife is XYZ if you find this letter just know I thought this through and we talked about it; etc.  It  may have been more for the kids than any probable situation.  I wanted to pound out some fish and they wanted to be cozy in a warm cabin talking and playing cards, etc.  We could make it all happen for everyone.  So I jumped out and they were alone from about 10 AM to 1 PM.  

Hard rain blows out streams but moderate rain on the day of fishing is a death sentence for trout.  Angler is afforded visual and audio camoflauge.  Just death all around for everyone.

Everything that touched the water was destroyed by a trout.  Even a couple nice brookies that were not photographed.

Many fish in the 11-14" range, which was outstanding.

This is a silly good tailout of a plunge that flows over rocks as depicted in image.  Gray water on head sized and larger rocks.  Some depth; good flow.  Nice formula.  Brown trout were laying up all over in there.  I stood for quite a while drifting all lanes.  

This is a dumpier more obtuse version of the big hares ears I was fishing.  They wanted the big nymphs.  More than just a tool fly.

And all the while, fishing in rain, pounding away at the trout...   I had a mix of moderate worry about the boys, and nice comfort in knowing that I would come "home" to a warm cabin and solid fare as pictured.  The more it rained, the safer I figured the kids would be: they wouldn't venture out much to the yard of knives, fire, carts, etc.  More likely stay buttoned up and listen to the rain on roof.  That was about right.

I did rally them for a a pretty long walk later in the afternoon.

Last day: Tuesday.  AM hours were packing and cleaning.  Campers are asked to do their part as they check out: wipe everything down, sweep, empty trash, etc.  Last thing we did was wader up in prep for the afternoon on stream.

I never made a drift this day; finally had both kids out in good weather, ideal stream conditions.  Older boy was first and he  had to work maybe 40 minutes to get that first fish to hand but from there it was fairly steady action.  Younger guy pictured above hooked up shortly after his brother.

Trying to figure out if maybe I've caught enough trout.  Could be the case.  Still like it, but it's not close to watching the kids catch them.  Main thing is knowing the trout are there and being able to see them without seeing them.  That is enjoyable.  I know I like looking at water, knowing a fish is there, and then catching or even just moving the fish.  I probably say this a dozen times per outing "I knew you were in there you little b*tch."  But I'm not sure I need to go out and catch a big load of trout just to do it.  I like the places and the rivers; I like eating trout; seeing brook trout; seeing some big fish.  But if we are just talking catching 20-30 browns and releasing them all, I'd rather put the kids in the fishing school and have them do it.  So this picture means a lot.  That same fish photographed with me grinning: kind of cool sometimes but not close to this, in my opinion.  

A favorite pic.  He is learning to read water and is making pretty good drifts.  I have watched this video many times and have concluded that he discerned something at the drift's end and deliberately set the hook; it wasn't a cheap "swing" hookup.  At one hole I wanted to move on because I thought the drift was too tough for him.  A difficult angle for the roll cast.  He insisted on staying.  Eventually hooked the fish.  It came off after a couple seconds but the value of the incident stood.  

This is the fish landed in the video.  Nice mouth.

They got on well.  I never helped either of them do anything other than net fish.  And holler constant advice some of which was accepted.

Sweet fish for Kid II.

Five days just about right.  Ready to head home.