For John Montana's main report, go here and for additional pics on his blog go here. I tried to choose pics other than those that he posted. His write up is great - make sure you check it out.
Day Zero: Getting ramped up…
Get the bleep out of the office. It’s a good office but it’s not a stream. Talk JMontana through the navigation… We briefly checked out the pond right by my building but didn’t get an audience with the resident carp. Too bad because I wanted to see him nick one in the lip. They are wiley SOBs. We spent the night hanging out with Em and the kids and eating some pizza. Late evening we shot down to my tying shop and organized all our gear… a really cool dimension of fishing is all the equipment. Stayed up late chatting and forecasting… slept very lightly and got up very early.
Day One: Fuggin blown out…
The call was made for us – that being roughfish in big rivers vs trout in coldwater. The big rivers were up and some were still rising. We were sent to coldwater, so we went. We found pretty dogmeat conditions. We decided to take a shot at the first stream we encountered... and we had some limited success - each caught a few little brown trout. JMontana nymphed up a big ol' sucker. When it rolled we both thought it was a huge brown... cool fish regardless. We decided to leave the turbid water in search of still-clear tribs - I was confident we could find at least a couple. Turns out we found only one, and it was really small. It produced one fish. From there we took off looking for fishable water... looked and looked and drove and looked and freaking drove. One thing we did find was this sweet little field that was going from perennial veg to cultivated... presumably to row crop - likely corn. This field was ~40 feet from what is considered the premiere trout water of SE MN. Anyway we said hellwithit and went north one basin. Exciting to find some fishable water. We actually caught a few browns and cool little rainbow as night fell. We were high-sticking machines. We had to work for each hook up. The day was somewhat salvaged by some semi-clear water a few trout.
Day Two: The saving grace of The Wife of Mr. Ippi…
We called out for help to the roughfish.com guys and they really came through. They directed us to The Father of Waters - that river known to the Ojibwe as misi-ziibi or gichi-ziibi. Names are good and I love them and I wish I were around that Big River more so I could I love it more. We hung out at an iron rail with some bait dudes. They told us all about everything. We ribbed the living shite out of them re their ridiculous pursuit of walleyes. In fact we got pretty brave and just straight up ripped the walleye and his brother the sauger. The best line came from an older gent who was pretty talkative: "Are you much into sheepshead?" If you hang around in joints in which questions like that are asked... well, you know. Our day was saved by three carp in the 10-11 lb range that were all fair hooked and landed. JMontana got two of the three buy mine was the 11 lber. I think I'd have traded him the big one for the two fish... I was snagging so many fish I was just dying for fair hook ups. We were jigging flies you see... many snags. We also both had a carp take us out into the glorious power of the flow that is the Mississippi. Neither came back... we both knew they were gone but we ate up every second of the reels winding out line. JMOntana got well into his backing. As night came on I hooked (in the mouth if you can believe it (bottom of the mouth I guess)) a dead freaking redhorse and played the rigomortis laden corpse to a standstill. Neither of us had done that before. We walked back ~5 miles in the dark, toting fly rods and peeping out the stars... happy guys.
Day Three: Putzin’ around Roch…
This day was abbreviated and chopped up a bit. We hooked a bunch of fish at a dam, but it was tough to get a fair hookup. Landed quite a few redhorse and a few carp... tough going though. We ended the day at a trout stream that was stone clear (fast recovery) but we had only 60 minutes to fish (before night fell). We had ~3 chances at fish and we failed on all counts. I have not walked away from that stream fishless before... it happened though. It didn't seem like a big deal. It wasn't. Nice stream and nice night. We had our chances. We capped it off with some nasty-good food at a true rural joint in a true rural town... watched NBA playoffs on big screen and tied flies right at the dining table. It freaking snowed this night. Found snow on car.
Day Four: Wrap up with some carp… just enough to stay warm (barely).
The dam circuit was being saved as a last hope. We went one by one though, and found each one extrememly difficult. I was surprised. I figured they'd be moderately acceptable to somewhat pleasing range... wrong though. At the first we actually nymphed up some connections and landed a fair hooked carp. The second was borderline impossible. The third looked like a flop and the words "...about done..." "...call it quits..." etc. started to surface. JMontana though made a stabbing attempt at a finale by asking a bait fisherman for advice. That worked out as he confirmed that he'd caught a bunch of carp in a certain slot in this tailwater. We re-upped our efforts and were immediately rewarded with a fair number of hook ups. Most popped off (all mine popped off - ha!) - I think many were snagged. JM got a few to the bank though, and at least a couple were fair hooked. Nice job on his part, as the fights were challenging - he even had to cross the river on a cat walk to battle one to hand. Impressive.
In summary, we got our asses handed to us by the conditions - no other way to say it. High flow, turbid water, snow, rain, wind and lack of sun all conspired against us.
Despite the whipping, we managed to catch some great fish. Some really great fish even. The company was top of the line, and we stayed in some cool Driftless Area towns... ate all kinds of bad food and watched the NBA playoffs at night.
We actually caught fish from Root, Zumbro, Cannon, Whitewater and even greater Miss systems - that feat is pretty cool in itself. You need great 200 fish days, you need rough and tumble 2 fish days and you need everything in between. They all reflect on one another and make you value the good days even more... It's a good thing to notice that you don't mind getting your ass kicked now and then. It's fine. No worries on that. We've had our fair share of ass kickings as seen from the other end. There will be many more bouts that will be won by the fish and we wouldn't have it any other way.
Until next year then, Cyprinus carpio. Rest well Aplodinotus grunniens. Stay on your game though because soon there'll be a hare's ear bouncing your way me boy!!!
Thanks John Montana for making the trip, for paying for hotels and for the stayed committment to fish with me for these years... the trips get better and better even as the numbers of caught fish wax and wane. See you next year... but before then - see you in six weeks for the Pacific NW version of this bit!