Here are a few highlights and photos:
1. For the first time in our BWCA history, we did not fish for the first 24 hours of the trip. We were wind-bound the first PM and the following day’s AM. We sat and watched the wind on the lake, the changing sky… waiting to get out.
2. The fishing was good/fair, but not outstanding. The guys caught their normal share of walleyes and smallies. There were a few instances in which Dad was absolutely deadly with his crawler rig – once he caught 9 great walleyes in 1-2 hours of a morning.
3. We were in the company of many good beings: loons and eagles were everywhere… we heard a pack of wolves howling across the lake one night… we got to watch 4 different coyotes walk along various parts of lakeshore one day… and I saw 2-4 grouse every time I walked a particular portage path.
4. As for big fish – as a group we landed 3 smallmouth in the pig range. This included my PB smallie: we measured it on a paddle - it was <19">18". No one landed any big pike, although John was fortunate enough to watch a pike that was “as big as the canoe” swim up and swallow whole a 1-2 lb walleye that was hanging on his stringer. John let out a good exclamation at the point of attack, and later said he’d never seen a fish that big. I am convinced that if we’d targeted pike we could have caught plenty… they were everywhere – biting off flies and jigs.
5. The fly rod fared well. I can’t quite keep up as far as numbers. Here are the notes
The 7 wt is a perfect BWCA fly rod. It turns over poppers really well, and allows for a slightly better battle than the 8 wts.
The mantra “first two and last two” with respect to hours of the day is ABSOLUTELY true. The smallie fishing was outstanding from 630-800 AM and from 630-800 PM. The best time was actually bunched right around 7 AM and 7 PM – I started thinking of it as “fishing the sevens.” During the slower, warmer middle part of the day – don’t even bother trying to fish the standard rocky bays for smallies… either cast for pike somewhere, find a fertile shallow bay where you may get some smallie action, take a hike or go to sleep. Whatever you do – you MUST be there at the beginning and end of each day. I was raising fish from 8-10 feet of water to sock poppers and divers during those times.
Don’t discount the possibilities of fishing from shore and wet wading shallow bays. Both are much easier than fishing from canoes – believe it or not. I walked rocky shorelines and found plenty of room to cast… and I spent hours wading shallow bays full of smallies. You are free to cover a lot of water – and you don’t need to get your fly way out into deeper zones – during the best hours, the fish are up in shallow/medium depths anyway.
Look for steep drops – shoreline that goes from shallow down to deep at close to a right angle… the smallmouth can be in or close to the deep water but have access to the shallow structure… that seemed to be better than lake bed that gently sloped out to the depths.
Topwater fishing for smallies is amazing… one of the best forms of fishing in the world, in my opinion. They absolutely crushed deer hair divers. The biggest smallie of the trip took a foam blockhead popper at 7:10 AM. I did miss a number of fish on topwater, and I’m convinced it was because I was paying too much attention. You have to give them a second to take the fly. If you are watching closely, you may pull it away too soon – especially if you can see the take. Speaking of seeing the take – I was able to do just that on 3-4 occasions. Once I walked up to one of my favorite bays at the prime time (afternoon actually – not the standard early/late – that makes this spot very outstanding during “down time”) and found it to be dead calm… absolutely perfect for topwater. I threw out a black deer hair diver and immediately saw two nice smallies marauding for food. They both saw the popper splat – swam over to it – circled it and criss-crossed one another… then one angled up toward it and just blasted it! One of my favorite sights… I also watched on chase down a muddler minnow as I stripped it in – very cool. They are amazing fish.
Regarding poppers – despite the fact that Tim Holschlag discounts deer hair in favor of the tougher, higher-floating foam, I honestly believe that these BWCA fish like the deer hair better than the foam. I think it looks more natural to them. Whatever the case may be, I caught a lot more fish on DH than on foam – and I gave them both fair shots.
Pike will absolutely take poppers – they bit me off constantly. I was always debating putting on steel leaders, but I couldn’t go away from the smallie fishing. When I did put on steel, I landed a few pike, but none that were big. I really believe a person could have caught many pike though, if we’d have targeted them.
I’ve caught numerous walleyes from the Cannon on the fly, but never one from BWCA. Finally this year I got one… 730 AM had rolled around and the topwater action wasn’t that good. So I put on a clouser minnow and threw it up by shore at a steep drop off point. Within 30 minutes I had landed four nice smallies, one pike and one walleye that had followed Dad’s worm rig to the boat and grabbed the clouser as I was releasing a smallie. Kind of a funny way to catch a fish – I don’t really count it as “angled” by me.
Each year I learn to be more efficient with the fly rod in the BWCA (this is my fourth year of brining only fly gear (heck, I don’t own any spinning gear)). Hit the front and back of the days… explore in the noon hours. Heavy on the topwater… fish from shore instead of canoe… look for the right water. It’s a very interesting process. As for the fish – can’t say enough about smallmouth bass. They are beautiful, graceful and powerful. If you put that fishery in a place like the BWCA, then staff your company with your father and your friends… what else could you look for in a fishing trip?