Saturday, November 29, 2008

Murderous Material Made by a Madman
- Wu-Tang Clan, 7th Chamber (they can really alliterate)

We drove through Viroqua, Wisconsin today. After a stop for lunch at The Driftless Cafe (goat cheese, olives and so on - talking about some very savory fare there), it was on to The Driftless Angler for a look. A couple significant purchases were made:

(1) I am done buying raincoats. Forever. I purchased the Patagonia Rainshadow for $100 (on sale from $150 due to discontinued color). Outstanding features, truly waterproof and breathable (unlike the Cabela's fake I purchased and plan to return) is what it is. Best part though - lifetime warranty. Easy to pack. Kind of a lot of money, but I figure it's worth it. It will be outstanding in the BWCA, paired with Simms waders. All waterproof, but light and breathable too. I've been examining raincoats for almost a year now... glad to have that taken care of. You can have all the fly rods and flies in the world along... but if you are wet and cold, your enjoyment level can take a serious hit (important note: catching fish has been known to allow one to push through about anything). Two other major pluses here: Patagonia ~ good company, and I was glad to buy the jacket from a true fly shop.

(2) I posed this to the shop's owner: I want to tie small soft hackles, but all the feathers I find in the partridge and mallard mixes are too big. Do you have any micro soft hackles? Before I finished the question, he was walking to a shelf with his index finger pointed in the air... I've got what you need man. Starlings. I remember back in biology 126, the professor ranting about the starling takeover... and more recently I remember a guy telling me that he solves his soft hackle problem by shooting one starling per year. And here were their feathers then, dyed, and tucked in nice little baggies. Addict bought three dimes from dealer and moved on. I want a new drug; one that does what it should; etc. Cranked out a few tonight. Like them.

#22 scud hook 1x short
8/0 thread to your liking (much better than 6/0 for this application)
krystal flash for trailing shuck
any dubbing you have laying around your bench for small thorax
one small starling feather for soft hackle

Try some with one turn, some with two turns.

It's an iteration of John Montana's Wilted Spinach. Deadly. This will catch trout.

Friday, November 28, 2008

My Son Trusts Me

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Stream Profile

We parked the truck this morning, stepped outside the cab and saw this (Save for the tire, it's a pretty good viewscape):

En route to the site of interest, found these icicles that showcase the concept of dissolved organic matter:

Many nice riffles and some beautiful corner holes. We were spooking trout left and right - they were pretty much where you'd expect to find them.

We observed a number of redds (at least in my estimation) - marked by "washed gravel" in richly-oxygenated waters. We were careful to avoid them. I believe that there are 1-2 redds in this photo:

After hiking in a bit, we found a good site for recording a cross-section and a longitudinal profile. The cross-section is a surveyed record of the channel shape at a given point along the stream. Over time, multiple cross-sections can indicate stream and channel behavior (see example here). We set a couple temporary monuments (one spike in oak of 2.4 feet, one spike in hard maple of 2.1 feet), and the plan is to return and set some more permanent markers so the cross-section can be repeated with confidence in years to come. The longitudinal profile covered 300 feet of stream. In that football field of length, there were four riffles (pretty good, I'd say). We shot the top and bottom of each riffle (profile should go like-structure to like-structure), as well as a few indicators of bankfull flow. The total fall of the stream from top to bottom of the profile was ~0.4 feet. The beautiful riffles and pools in this reach are maintained by gravity flow of water down a grade with a total fall of 0.4 feet over 300 feet horizontal. All the trout we saw in there are kept happy by that fall... pretty cool.

Finally, we extracted a sediment sample from a depositional feature in the streambed. This sample will be run through a series of sieves to determine the particle size distribution (PSD). The PSD can then be compared to an estimation (derived from the longitudinal profile) of the particles that would be transported by a stable stream of the dimensions observed today. Thus, this reach can be documented as degrading, aggrading or stable. Over time, the stream state can be better and further understood as more surveys are recorded and more sediment samples are collected and analyzed. Ultimately, this information, paired with fisheries data and water quality information, will track the health of this system.

The one bucket has no bottom. The protocol is to use the bankfull elevation to compute the point at which you should extract the sample, then place the bottomless bucket on a depositional feature... remove the two largest particles from the surface and save them... dig inside the bucket to a depth of twice the width of largest particle... saving the entire sample for sieve analysis.

We were left to ponder the hole.

Some notes:
(1) Saw a lot of trout. Some big trout too.
(2) What a place. This was not Whitewater or Root, but it was clearly at that level. A gem... I've fished it before, but never this reach. On my list now for an extended day's exploration next year.
(3) Pileated woodpecker circled. So did baldies.
(4) It's extremely valuable to deploy with a veteran who can teach you. That was the case today. We worked well together.
(5) I learned that "goat prairies" are the steeply-sloped patches of grass on the faces of our big bluffs. Good name for them.
(6) No where did we see signs of permanent human culture. No buildings, roads or fields (after we left the truck behind). We found some utter quiet out there. I think some folks understand what a comfort it is to know that those places are still around and pretty well intact.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

November Rain

This is the kind of day it was. The pic should communicate well that conditions were less-than-desirable. Warm rain is one thing... Sleet is another. The family was obligated to be away today though, and I had a short slot to get out: 10 AM to 12 PM on this day. I did hem and haw about where to go, what to fish for, etc... but eventually threw the canoe on top of the Satty and set out.

Second cast met a pulsing resistance and I was pretty excited: second cast fish could portend a very good couple hours. Turned out to be M. salmoides though. Came from pretty deep.

You'll probably figure I rigged up this photo... but I'm telling you - trout #1 was hooked on the stinger. 11.5" caught troll-paddling in fairly deep water (full sinking line).

I was hard-pressed to stay out there. After eviscerating that trout, my hands were pretty much frozen. Paddling helped, so I took to 100% trolling. In some respects, it felt great to be out there. Only a trio of anglers fishing from shore... wind and rain beating down, meaning to defy my efforts to harvest some fish... kind of a toothpick atop the water on a gray and metallic, hard day. Nobody in this age of men can really be called a warrior, but we like to feel like one now and then. Subjecting oneself to punishment, in pursuit of quarry can do that it seems. Felt good indeed. I was dressed pretty well, so other than my hands, I was warm. I trolled around a bit, and I believe I had two more hits, although I can't be sure. Paddling solo like that, you have to rest the rod between your legs, so there is a delay between detecting strikes and gripping the rod. I was too slow a couple times.

There came a point at which the trio of anglers left, the wind kicked up, and the rain came a little harder. I figured it was my signal. I started for the landing, still trolling... and to end things well, caught this 14" rainbow on the way in. Believe it or not, also hooked on the stinger. Biggest trout I've kept I think (not caught, but rather kept). (I consider this a food fishery, and these rainbows are stocked. I have never kept a wild brown >12.5".)

Probably the last time I'll target trout until January 1, 2009. Probably eat these fish tonight with some dirty rice and bread. Have it ready when the family returns.


JD and I took a bike ride downslope into an expansive polygon of woods just east of our home. We had with us a big bucket. We came back with ~4.5 lbs of crabapples. We extracted juice and made a little jelly. Fact is, JD hated the bike ride and the picking of apples, because he was frozen stiff. Not good planning by me. The kitchen exercise was much better. We're talking about some good jelly here.

The Ballistics

We used to shoot at rabbits and armadillos from the back of a pickup truck. Way back when we were kids spending summers in the Hill Country of Texas. Not sure what to think of that now, as an adult. I don’t shoot much anymore. Very little in fact. I do however, want to fill my freezer with venison. The 2006 deer from my brother’s property lasted nearly one year. We’ve missed it in 2008. To that end, my intention is to hunt in late November down here in The Driftless Area. In preparation, a friend and I attended a local shooting range. Here are some notes:

You can’t just walk up and shoot clay pigeons, having not done so for approximately two decades. I hit 5 of 16 targets. It was laughable. I don’t claim to be a good shot. I do recall that as kids, we were decent though. It felt pretty good, despite failure, and I believe that if a person put some time and practice in, you could become pretty proficient. My friend showed better.

In doing some reading on shooting slugs, I learned that it is important to marry the right ammo to the right barrel. Thus, I bought three different types of slugs: two sabots (I thought I was getting a rifled barrel - later found out that was not the case) and one rifled slug.

The shooting was so-so. A first note is that we both put rifle shots in a pretty tight circle at 100 yards. Shooting a bullet-shaped projectile from a rifled barrel with a scope should beget good accuracy.

Moving to the slug barrel shotgun... I fired three sets of three slugs at three different targets to track performance. At fifty yards I was consistently "southwest" of the target. The sights can adjust vertically, but not horizontally. I tried resting the barrel on a sandbag, to make sure I wasn't pulling with my left hand... no apparent effect. I shot three sets of two slugs at the same three targets at 35 yards and got pretty good results. At 35 yards I was aiming at the northeast corner of the target, in an effort to compensate.

The conclusion is that at 35 yards I'd feel pretty good shooting a deer. 50 yards would be so-so. Anything beyond that and I'd probably restrain. Not a good enough shot, but even more importantly - shooting a slug out of a smooth barrel with iron sights is not a distance bit. Hopefully I won't need a long shot. It was critical to get out and shoot that gun, to understand my constraints.

Interesting notes on the ammo - the sabots (meaning smaller than bore diameter slug in a plastic seat that fits to riflings) are meant for rifled barrels. The box says "smooth or rifled barrels" but some reading suggests that they don't shoot well out of smooth barrels. The limited experience I had supports that suggestion - the sabots (most expensive) performed the worst, and the basic rifle slugs (cheapest) shot the best (again, thought I was going to use a rifled barrel when I bought this ammo). Here are the three targets - red circles are 50 yard shots, and green circles are 35 yard shots.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Light-Biters Beware

And how we rue our haste, finding the gilded morsel to contain a hook. Maybe even two hooks - one of which you wouldn't expect to find hanging back there amongst those marabou fibers.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A Fall Day

We’re hitting 60s here in The Driftless, despite the fact that it’s November 1st today. When I woke up, I was literally nervous thinking that if we don’t put our minds to it, we’d waste the daylight hours. I get that way now and then, especially during the latter part of fall. Man, did it work out though.

(1) Went to the recycling center and dropped off 1+ month’s load. We filled all the empty containers with compost at the waste-to-energy facility on our way out. The total was 280 lbs of crumbly beauty. We don’t have enough food and yard "waste" to supply our entire garden area, so we’re concluding that we’ll have to amend with outside compost sources.
(2) With a wagon full of dirt, JD and I stopped at the coop. For $6 we got three plate-sized whole grain pancakes, a cup of coffee and a free smoothie sample. Really can’t get much better than that. I’ll tell you, sitting across from your four-year old soon, listening to him explain things and ask wonderful questions…. Sipping black-ass coffee and dipping pancakes in sweet maple… hehe. That’s the way to go.
(3) On to the paperback exchange. We swapped a bunch of books and rolled up an $18 credit, which we used to buy a couple good kids books (A Tree is Growing and Cock-A-Doodle Dudley), a manual on fruit and berry growing, a Sanford novel, and Wolf Willow by Wallace Stegner, who taught Wendell Berry in the late 1950s at Stanford University.
(4) Kids down to nap at 13:30. Out the door to a local water. I had food on my mind this time, so I went to a foodery instead of a catch and release beauty. I was really waffling on using the canoe… not sure if I had enough time to launch it, as I figured on being back at 15:30. I finally decided that I should try something new. Hell, I reminded myself that the paddling itself, on a day like today, was the point anyway. I don’t often fish for trout in lakes… in fact, I only vaguely remember ever catching a fish from a lake, although pictures prove that I have. I wasn’t excited about fishing a sinking line, but it actually worked out really well. That Avid I have redeemed itself somewhat, after noodling too much the other day when I was trying to cast big streamers with it. It handles that sinking line really well – I could get great distance with it, and shoot as much line as I could keep from sinking at boatside. I should have had three fish, but only ended up with one. Another popped off just out of reach, and a third I just flat out missed – maybe a short hit – not sure. One trout does not a meal make, but I am not ungrateful. Have to go out and look for more. All action came in deep water, on Holschlag’s Bushy Bugger – a compact streamer with an extra wide hook gap. Given that I only actually fished for ~1:15, I liked the action and the potential of this water for future exploration. I need to talk to some lake-fishing folks and study up. Easy paddling, just enough wind to slow drift across the water, and solid peace and quiet… fall colors still hanging on. Nice. It’s remarkable how the simple act of catching a fish can relax a guy.
(5) Bop around the house a bit, and then over the neighbors for dinner, kids play, and a little talk on big browns and Atlantic salmon. Walk home with Danny in my arms, checking on some stars.

An absolute necessity for this quick hitter fishing is rapid prep. I can have the canoe loaded in <5 minutes, and the drive to this water is literally between 3-4 minutes. The portage to the landing is ~1/5 of a mile, which isn't bad. The rack in the picture holds itself in by tension only, and was made entirely of scrap wood from the tearoff of the siding from our old home. The purpose is to create a wider base on top of the Subaru, as required by the width of the canoe.