It’s another happy ending, for every happy fool… - Greg Brown
Indeed it was a good one. Add it to the list. The fact that the list keeps going forward in time as my tired ass gets more tired is what makes me feel fortunate.
Looking back on the archive, I confirm now what I’ve been figuring on as of late: ZERO trout fishing days in May 2009, and TWO in April 2009, of which one was ~2 hours. How one passes what are arguably the two best trouting months in SE MN and logs only two outings I can’t explain… But I can tell you that a recent history of that sort urges one to be careful with fishing hours when they come around.
A good chunk came my way yesterday. You’d think I’d plan a bang-up day, but the trouble is I’m indecisive and not good at planning at that scale. Unsure of myself and my choices always… So the “plan” I had out there was loose at best. WFF – an understanding and agreeable fellow – and I realized said plan though, and the result was very good to outstanding. This was because we have a giant crutch to lean on: The Driftless Area. You could run naked through it while someone chased you with a glass-crusted bull whip and have a good time. So, the crutch came in and swept away all the baggage and grayness and soft edges associated with poor vision and poor understanding and made this a hell of a day. Here is how it played out.
We started at some small water. Skinny-Minnie Slim-Jim stream I’d call it. Drains a very limited area and flows north to a big river. The inside tip (after looking at some of the recent fish survey data) was that last year, in June it held some ridiculously large fishes. Big fish in small water sounds interesting. Big fish with little room to run. Going in though, we held our expectations in check. It’s ridiculous to plan/expect to catch a bunch of 20+ inch trout. So we didn’t. We walked almost the entire stream and fished our way back up. We are near drought right now and there is a lot of water that holds zero fish. So fishing was limited to some deep corners and a run or two. We caught our share of fish. WFF hooked a big one but didn’t get it to hand. After a couple hours we felt we’d discovered what we’d wanted to discover from this water, so we left for bigger water.
We fished a major stream system for the rest of the day: roughly 1030-1630. I won’t go into too much detail. In summary though, the nymphs were deadly on this day. With the low water, even the big river shows concentrated fish areas like nodes on lines of dead water. We focused on those and did well. Most well-presented flies were eaten. If we ran rigs through holes and got no hits, we moved indicators and/or added weight until we got hits. We were not hurried or hassled. This is the first time I’ve ever nymphed and NOT used a pink squirrel OR a BH HE. I used scuds and PTs exclusively. They destroyed the PTs all day. All freaking day. Sometimes nymphing with an indicator feels like cheating.
WFF can give you the low-down on the bug scenario – he’s the guy for that. I can say that there was no consistent/obvious hatch at all when we were out. We saw plenty of mayflies, but mostly singles here and there, and the size/color was variable. I tried a few dry fly patterns off and on but the draw of the nymphs was too much. At the close of the day I came to a water that showed three rising fish. They were coming up pretty regularly. That tipped the scale for me, so I put on a big scary mayfly imitation. Second cast got me that fish picture below. That was the fish to end the day. All’s well.
Here are a few notes:
(1) I hooked a cow on this day. She took a PT. I told you they are irresistible. Actually, it was on my back cast (WFF has pic up). Cow on 2 wt Sage – that is something. Ended up breaking off the rig – left in tough leather it was. All the cow wanted was a drink. I think I yelled something like F***, dude – I hooked a COW!
(2) All these fish were spotted beauties. None were exceptionally large, but nearly all were in that desirable 10-13” range. Healthy and painted perfectly… and hard-nosed fighters. That 2 wt was challenged by a number of fish. An absolute joy to connect to these brown trout and feel them pulsing.
(3) WFF is a bug nut. On a number of occasions I heard him exclaim things like YES, I GOT HIM. I’d look up thinking I’d see a guy fishing, only to see a hand cupped gently around a bug. He also has a keen eye for streambed anomalies: he spotted all kinds of nymphal shucks and bugs in size 18 as we walked the water. He makes me want to study more. And to that end, he left me with a copy of Gary LaFontaine’s Caddisflies (thanks man).
(4) You hear folks say that it’s good to be out, no matter if we catch fish. That can be true. Sometimes. We all know though, that deep down we want to feel those fish, and a good walk becomes a great walk when you make the acquaintance of some trout along the way. This Driftless Area is sick with beauty. Just ridiculous. There are places abroad with mountains and big, dry-fly eating rainbows… like those too… but I will take what we have here every day of the week. There are not enough days in my life to explore and fish all this water and see all these limestone rock faces and oak trees and goat prairies and cow pastures. We’re in it. It’s good and we’re in it and we’re fortunate to be in it. I tried to capture below in pictures what it’s like to walk some of these streams… What you see and hear when your fishing partner comes into view – a little human bobbing along through an ancient landscape. Ha! Every time I turned my face to those exposed cliffs a word would pop into my mind: venerable. Demanding of respect. An honor to walk at their feet in that flowing water. Fact is, it would have been a sin against God to wear waders today. Add to all that the opportunity to feel the life of that system embodied in a swimming fish… well, need say no more.
(5) Kept a handful of great frying pan fish today. Will cook them up for company tomorrow.
(6) Came home and found a big glob of blood on my wading boot collar. I looked at my leg and a found hole streaming red… wouldn’t stop. The mystery was solved by our guy Danny: he held something up to my face and said ishee, ishee [his word for fish] and eat that, eat that? It was a parasitic leech, fat with the juice of my body. His anti-clotting enzyme kept me bleeding for quite a while. As I type, the leg is swollen up somewhat and itches a bit. Small price to pay.
Thanks WFF for coming out - enjoyed the day [see his report and pics here].