Sunday, May 25, 2008

The bit with these fish:

I got a green light to fish for a short while on Sunday AM. Trout were destined to be a crowded situation I figured, and I knew some tough ruffian fish were hanging around near my house.

First thing - stop by and get some coffee - add shot of espresso for cannon ball effect. Done.

Second - walk on a wall, drinking coffee and dapping/jigging a RLHE. Watch an excited kid catch a smallie and a redhorse (tourists).

Third - accidentally catch a smallie on the RLHE. They fight hard, and I forget that until I get to BWCA each year. Even a little guy like this one pulled on the 7 wt a bit.

Fourth - get pissed off because I can't jig anything up, so change tactics and go to naked nymphing. Lots of good practice roll casting from a high point of vantage. Watch the end of fly line and if it slows or turns, pick up rod. Done. I knew I was probably missing fish left and right. Finally though, picked up and felt pull of a fish... but found only a lethargic quillback. Very cool fish - actually pretty big relative to the others I've seen/caught. Maybe my biggest ever. Right in the mouth. Released.

Fifth - walk downstream to flat pool. Fish jumping, rolling and contorting bodies everywhere. Regular pattern - every 30-40 seconds 1-3 fish would make noise. Couldn't catch those MFs. I tried ~12 flies. Swung flies, and even presented a dry fly. Get this - first cast with an EHC - let it sit thinking they might figure it was a seed of some sort (water was very flat and still) - went to pick it up and the fly dipped just under water... and found a fish on. Ha. I figured there was no way a guy could snag a fish on an EHC... so I thought I had my first ever dry fly carp on. Yeah man. Brought in a quillback though, and found it hooked in the pelvic fin.

Finally - got tired of snagging fish and retrieving flies with no fish on them so I waded out to an island that would give me a better casting angle. Wet waded. First cast - saw end of line slow - pick up the bit - this carp on. Immediately took off like a MF. He didn't take any backing out, but ~half of my spool was showing backing when he ran to the furthest point. Brought him back to me... and like a pendulum he ran right on by and bolted downstream this time... only problem was that I was standing at the head of a big riffle and the MF shot down that riffle 100000 mph. Pretty funny - I was just loving it... I dropped the net and disconnected my pack... took off downstream. There was no putting the brakes on either - I was fishing 3x and the water was very fast. Down to next pool - played and played for ~45 minutes (a bystander said it was more like 5-6 though)... had to keep him around because the next chute spelled certain death via woody debris. Anyway, landed fish and went home. Made for a nice couple hours. Spent the rest of the weekend working on my compost bin/system and gardening with my wife and kids. Good example of how a little fishing can seta good mood for remainder of weekend. Eliminates cranky-fisherman-syndrome.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The busy fisherman's haiku-lament on how time slips right on by:

April and May pass
Anticipated, now gone
Winter cave comes soon

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Went to school and worship over the weekend... one venue - a hybrid of sorts - only this place didn't have million dollar churches, parking lots, desks or chalkboards.

Given our new location, we can throw a bunch of stuff in the little Saturn and sprint over to a local state park with relative ease. We did that on Sunday. Despite being one of (if not the) most popular park in MN, it was pretty much dead, being an off night… so we got our choice of sites. We ended up in close earshot of the river, but also near the restroom (practical considerations are important when kids are along). Perfect really. Weather was perfect too.

We arrived just in time to capture our dinner. We walked ~3 minutes through flood-ravaged forest and found a changed stream channel… but water that still held plenty of fish. We took a page from the Brian Stewart book of “prospecting” with a dry fly and started winging an elk hair caddis around. Withing 15 minutes we had three fish to hand, all of which were played by JD. To date, he has caught a number of fish, and eaten a few… but he had not witnessed a stream-side “capture” and evisceration of a trout. Seeing a fish be “cut” hurt the kid to the point of pretty intense crying. Not because he was squeamish about it… but because he couldn’t bear to see a fish that he wanted to hold and study be injured I think. He cried and wailed and kept asking me “why did you cut him, Daddy?” That hit me like a brick and we proceeded to talk through the whole bit. We talk about food often – where it comes from, why we eat, etc., but there are still some gaps in his understanding (he’s not yet four years old). Hell, there are gaps in my understanding and I'd venture to say some BIG gaps in overall societal understanding. From that point on, I asked him about every fish – do you want to keep it, or let it swim home? What he wanted to do was hold each one and carry it around, but not cut it. We ended up keeping this rainbow anyway, because JD, having played and landed it, held it too long and dropped it on rocks a few times… it was in rough shape so we ate it. He dealt with the second killing… same shock and worry but toned down a little. We talked on this into the night – while we were eating, and when we were getting ready for bed. He gained some clarity I think… and I went away with a valuable reminder: it’s no small thing to take life. Kids are innocent and they are good indicators I think… they have a clean mental/emotional slate in many respects and their reactions are telling. It’s right and good to eat what the river can offer up, but it’s no small thing and the fish deserve respect and the act of killing should come with proper thought.

All said we caught ~10 trout – all on dries – all great takes. I missed maybe ~5 more. EHC fooled seven of them I think. Craneflies were coming off, and I was able to get two more on this hairwing imitation that was close but not right on. I read some correspondence from TD (local TU guy who has offered up advice regularly) and recalled his note that craneflies do not dead drift – they skitter across the water laying eggs. I was dead drifting that hairwing and now that I think of it, the two fish I got on it hit it right away as it was landing… Got one more on an emerger pattern. It was absolutely excellent to get these fish on dries. Great feeling. I didn’t want to “push” fishing on this little trip, but because we were five minutes from some easy water, it worked out fine – we walked down to the river a few times and on two occasions we fished until JD got bored or asked to leave (the second time I hung on just a while beyond his interest level because I was trying to figure out a dry fly puzzle – never did get it though).

The other highlight at the river was turning over rocks and photographing bugs. We managed to find plecopteran, ephemeropteran and tricopteran representatives.

He loved the tent, and loved the food. Great time. The weather was near-perfect. I went to bed when he went to bed… like nymphs, split shot and indicators – alcohol was not part of the bit and I didn’t stay up late drinking beer at the fire (sounds pretty good but wasn’t a good fit on this trip). I did get up at 3 AM though because I’m not used to going to bed that early… laid around until 5 AM when I got up and made a morning fire and some cowboy coffee.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Broke Out the Teaspoon and Dapped

I was back at my home river yesterday for work, and I was fortunate enough to acquire all necessary permits/certification/permissions to fish from end-of-work till nightfall. I had it in my mind to nymph the hell out of a tailwater, but I knew that wading would be borderline-safe. The window for the buffs is closing though, so I was planning to give it a go. I stopped and bought a walking stick to act as a wading staff. I also rigged up an old landing net I found at a BWCA portage some years ago with a piece of para cord so I could tie it to my waders (I lost my good carp net last month – didn’t realize what a good size it was – Gander Mountain has trout nets and HUGE nets with long handles – nothing in between).

Stopped on my way to meeting and looked at the staff gauge – it was exactly where I’d calculated it should be… right on the cusp of wadeable.

After meeting I decided to stop at one of my old quick hitters first, to look for some sight fishing before nymphing. Never got to the dam. Right away from a high vantage point I saw a nice carp… ran back to the car to rig up and returned to find him gone. I proceeded to the river and started to walk upstream… found some carp in a big tangle of logs. I blue-heroned it for a while, trying to see them and find positions to get them flies, but couldn’t do it. I continued upstream, because I saw that a new snag had taken hold since last year and created a great looking slackwater. It was definitely a jackpot.

There were dozens of carp around, all doing the mouth-pulsing-open-and-pulsing-closed bit. You see this a lot. None of these fish were eating anything from the river bottom. Just constant opening and closing, while holding or slowly cruising. I remember reading in Carp on the Fly that you should try a little midge or something on these fish… I didn’t do that, but maybe I will on Friday. I did try the Carp Wooly though.

The bank was up ~6 feet from the water surface elevation – perfect for viewing these fish. The veg was calf high, so the nettles and prickly ash were bad, but bearable. I stalked through those woods like a panther if you can believe that… to the wonder of the gear guys fishing across the river (what is he doing?). I basically started at the back end of the slackwater and worked my way up – encountering these “pods” of fish. As I spotted each pod I’d get on my hands and knees and sneak up on the bit... ignoring plants that would have the flesh of my knees and palms.

Fish #1:Dapping like a MF is all this really was. The interesting thing was that these fish would not move one centimeter to eat anything. They were so freaking keyed in and keyed up about their current situation, you couldn’t snap them out of it. Because of my position though, and the fact that I could literally SEE everything, I was able to break out the teaspoon and put flies right in mouths. I had a carp wooly on and I was drifting it down, watching it the whole time… the fish wouldn’t move to it… then all of a sudden, in came a slightly bigger fish with a slightly different mood: instead of hanging in the water and “filter feeding” it was kind of strutting its way through the pod – moving side to side and swimming kind of fast. There’s the target then… quick plopped the fly right in front of fish… and watched with mine own two eyes as it entered bugle mouth. Candy for an addict is what it was, and the hook was set and the fish was fought and landed (it took half an hour but observers said later that it was more like 3-4 minutes). It quickly became apparent that landing at this site was going to be a biatch. The bank was steep, and there were snags everywhere man. As it turns out, I was actually lucky to have that crappy long-handled net – really helped. I didn’t have it with this first fish, but immediately after landing I ran back to the car and tethered it on.

Fish #2: I got one of the filter feeders to eat – just by drifting the wooly right into mouth… they’d eat it if they didn’t have to move or stop concentrating.

Fish #3: Got a little choosy and took my time, thinking I had a lot of fish to catch here… so I picked out the biggest filter feeder and got the fly to her… worked out. Immediately after hooking, this fish ran under a giant branch in the river. I had to hold the rod under my body (down below bank level) and work her back up. I think this fish was in the high single digits, maybe just approaching 10 lbs but I doubt that it touched that number. However – it was the biggest fish I saw at this site all day (a lot of small 2-4 lbers).

The trouble was that every time I fought a fish, it spooked a big segment of the slackwater. I kept herding them upstream, but I really only had three chances. After landing this third fish I ran out of slack. I looped back to the beginning, thinking I’d start over, but they were not visible… went out deep. So I left, to visit a couple other quick hitters, thinking I’d give this water some reset time. Quick hitter #1 showed a great pod of sunning fish. I cast at them for ~10 minutes... they were "negative" to use a Carp on the Fly bit. I’ve gotten those fish to take before (after a lot of work), but I abandoned them thinking my next spot might show me my first true tail of 2008. No such luck though – saw nothing there. Back to the slackwater then.

When I returned I found that the pods had thinned out, and the fish had gotten their spook on for sure. It was more difficult to present a fly to them – they’d sense the fly or a shadow or a footfall and they wouldn’t spook, but they’d kind of “turn off” and fade into slightly deeper water. Tough. So fish #4 was hard earned – many drifts. I finally put a fly right in a mouth though and got what would be the final fish of the day. I kept at it, but for some reason they started hating that wooly – turning away from it even. They’re smart and they are freaking spooky. In the finale, I walked way upstream through a horde of prickly ash and found a great pod of filter feeders… One was a mirror ~6 lbs or so. I fished to her for ~20 minutes off and on as I saw her… Just couldn’t get her to take a fly. In fact, none of her compadres would take a fly either. Then after my knees had grown into the dirt of the forest floor and my rod had become an ash branch, something spooked that pod – still don’t know what – and every single fish did a 180 and bolted out of their like horses from the gate. I had to laugh at that one.

All in all, it was a very fascinating time. Being able to watch those fish so closely… having that vantage point… young forest vegetation…. And the sun offering up some visibility amidst this gray-ass spring and early summer. While it didn’t do anything to hone the casting skills I’ll need out west in June, it did fill the sight-fishing void that was growing in me. It was pretty intense sight fishig too: not just seeing cues from fish (wish is more difficult and also very cool) but actually watching point blank as the fly enters mouth… HA! I would not trade those four takes for 20 blind nymphed carp. Maybe for 10 giant buffs though – haven’t decided on that one yet… hehe.

As a follow up question – any thoughts on exactly what the carp are eating when then “filter feed” like that? It must be either algae or midges of some sort. I’ve only seen them do that in current – the water is bringing them food. I’m tempted to try a little midge, but it wouldn’t be visible, and that would make it extremely difficult.

One other note - the Carp Wooly was tied on a very short shanked, very wide gap, big ass hook. The weight of the hook itself makes wrap unnecessary. All it is: thread, chenile and a hackle on a hook.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Go with the Flow…

Literally and figuratively. The Cannon was in line to present very good flow conditions for pursuing the buffalo herd that is most definitely present. However, the rain Friday put the flow even beyond what John Montana and I observed last weekend. High, turbid and unwadeable. I could have driven 60 miles one way to cast from the bank, but I’m not interested in burning a day to take chances like that… Need to wade amongst those beasts to really get at them. Looks like that may be possible by the end of this week – we’ll see what happens.

As an alternative I took 3.5 hours yesterday and hit a local water for some trout. The recent buzz regarding the gray caddis hatch helped draw me out. I don’t fish dry flies too often. It was a decent outing. Here are the highlights and some pics:

I went to a water that I’d never fished before. I’ll be doing that a lot, as I learn our new Rochester-based landscape. Very, very fun and interesting to explore and to see all the map space that I haven’t yet met. First I came to a traditional corner hole that looked fishy as hell. There were caddis everywhere but I didn’t see fish rising to them. I flipped a nymph in and right away hooked a trout but it popped off. Then I saw a few sporadic rises… so I put on an EHC. I used a slightly larger and lighter fly than I should have. It managed to hook a fish anyway, but I lost that one too. To perfect the LDR-triad I proceeded to hook and lose another fish swinging a soft hackle (I’d be interested to hear any thoughts on why swinging a soft hackle didn’t seem to work during this caddis hatch). So all three methods got action but no fish to hand. To make it worse, a couple came in just downstream of me and they both hooked fish on dries. They both gave me looks as they played fish too. Ha! I packed up and went on to the next piece of water. Little did I know that despite having ~2.5 hours remaining in my day, I would not proceed any further upstream.

Found this muted reach – not too fast, but just enough velocity and depth to hold fish – some good boulders hidden in there and some woody debris along the opposite bank… Right away nymphed up a couple and then actually caught one by accident as nymphs swung up at end of drift… that tipped me off and I proceeded to hook and land a couple more swinging not a soft hackle but the entire nymph rig – they were taking the lead fly which was a #16 DLK HE. I imagined folks would be cursing me for using nymphs with all these caddis on the water… and the longer I hung around, the more rises I saw, so I eventually switched to another EHC and found some decent success.

IMO, it’s tough to present a dry fly really well. Especially when you’re used to nymph rigs. Probably 60% of the casts were worthless and I could tell each time when a dogmeat drift was coming – usually picked those up and tried again. I was dealing with faster water in the middle of the flow – trying to cast over to slower water on far bank… I was trying the “reach casts” and aerial mends, etc. that a person reads about regularly. Eventually I got it down and pretty much 50-75% of the good drifts that I got with that EHC produced strikes. I missed a few but landed a moderate number – not excessive but enough to keep me very excited and full of anticipation.

The coolest take was on a drift that maintained some decency even as the EHC came to a point straight out in front of me – I saw a silver arrow shoot up from the depth of the flow, inhale the fly and like lightning turn 180 degrees and head back the way it came… that turned out to be a nice little rainbow. I’ve caught some rainbow on dries out west, and a number of browns/brookies on dries here in the Driftless, but I believe that was my first MN rainbow on a dry fly.

Another cool take was a nearly imperceptible sip that occurred just as the drift turned sour… got lucky on that one. It was almost like the fish was tracking a good drift with confidence, and then as drag started the fish had some second thoughts but half-heartedly ate anyway.

Regarding stomach contents – some interesting notes: while most of what I saw was caddis of some sort, this one had hidden away a black beetle and a hellgrammite (Dobsonfly larvae I think). What a find that must have been for the little 9” Salmo trutta.

I ended the day with a 15 minute jaunt on my way out to another little piece of water… went through the thalweg and plunged well below my hip boot tops… loved it too. I saw a big jangle of caddis in the slack water behind this rock… and a brown rocketing up in regular fashion to take one now and again. A couple casts to the still water got him.

Sloshed my way back to the car. What a day it was – weather was perfect. Virginia waterleaf all around, and plenty of flowers in bloom…. Stinging nettles talking about how big they’ll be in a few weeks – threatening me but being gnashed underfoot for now. Birds singing and sun shining down.

It was a good reminder that a guy can feel like a complete idiot one minute, and then a genius the next. All those caddis on the water and it took me ~45 minutes to land a fish…. I heard voices mocking me and saw heads shaking at my failure. But then to find sweet connection…. It’s peaks and valleys. Maybe the sign of a mature angler is an even-keeled confidence and a true it is what it is attitude. Not sure. I know a lot of guys would have caught a lot more of those fish on dries. Okay. I’m grateful for those that I caught and for the five that came home with me.

Friday, May 02, 2008


A good friend's cabin up on a river north of here... Would like to spend a few nights in that joint.
Timing man... MF timing.
I won't say too much here. Only that the other day I nymphed up a carp and a quillback in 25 minutes of fishing over lunch... and I confirmed that the buffs are here, and they are reachable by gear... almost reachable by fly rodders. If water drops another foot or so.... oh man.