Monday, November 16, 2009

November 2009: Hawkeye State

One thing I confirmed recently is that we live closer to Iowa than the metro area of Minneapolis and St. Paul. In a literal sense, but also beyond that: Rochester is the gateway to The Driftless Area - including those parts of Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa. While SE MN is likely and probably the best place in the world, a person may feel a duty to look now and then at other driftless destinations - especially when the fishing season is closed in one and open in another.

The fact is that I hadn't been fishing since late September. Long dry spell of vanilla and everything tasting like sand and no tying and no fishing and most notably: no drive to really do any of those things. Can't explain it - it just disappeared for while. I've been enjoying myself in the mean time, but kind of wondering when I might be picked up by something and called out to somewhere.

A good call came in the form of an invite from a friend to join him for a day or so down in Ioway (French word for the Bah-kho-je Indian tribe that lived in the state before we killed or displaced them and then replaced them with corn). I sure appreciated that call - and I gained a little hope - thinking I could light a fire and find some fulfillment on the stream.

I didn't and still don't know much about Iowegian trout streams. I'd heard a pretty sage dude mention one as very productive. I'd heard that the DNR aggressively stocks the waters - put-n-take is a big component apparently. Even weekly stocking on some reaches. A different fisheries management strategy. My hope and feeling was that things would be about as they are here in MN. So into the trunk went a sleeping a bag, pad, a couple misc clothing items (obligatory) that I knew I wouldn't use, rod, chest pack, etc. I even packed a heater and some 12 gauge slugs in case I were to run into a deer on WMA land on my way.

The scene then, at 0600 hours on Friday morning: one-eyed, 15-year old car gliding south and east over blue pavement and under a nice gray sky. Pretty quiet. I've come to appreciate the drive to the stream. Further I got, better things looked, which told me I was going in the right direction. To really round out the journey, on the radio came Greg Brown, with Down in the Valley. An Iowa native narrating an Iowa trip. Some good feelings started welling up and I figured maybe I was all set to get the dust off. Little bit of coffee and even some donuts were in play. I was the only person in Harmony, MN buying a six pack of Busch Light before 0700. May have crossed paths with immortality too - who knows.

Got to camp and found it to be very welcoming and relaxed. A trout stream ran through the property. No blow by blow of the fishing is necessary - things played out pretty much as expected, with slight variation:

(1) The water was higher than normal for this time of year, but stone clear. I have seen this to be the case in most systems right now, due to late precip and moist conditions.
(2) I'd figured that standard nymphing would be solid, but it was only marginally good (for me). Some fish came out of the fishy holes (many dinks), but not all that many. Black PT was decent. I was blanked on a red copper john, but a friend had good success with that fly.
(3) There were a lot of fish in moderately deep (1-2 feet) runs - holding and apparently eating. I spooked a lot of them because I wasn't up for fishing that water - near impossible to nymph, given the conditions - no cam0 - aquarium situation. Some of the fish were rising sporadically, but not in any kind of get-able fashion (for me anyway). Nobody recorded a dry fly take that I know of. I saw plenty of small midges in the air (really small - 24-26 maybe) - tried some 20-22 patterns and presented them fairly well, but even those tiny flies looked like attractor patterns on the water.
(4) I did eventually get some of those fish by swinging wet flies downstream - Wilted Spinach got three in a span of ~15 minutes.
(5) Managed all three species of trout - but only a single brookie. Beautiful fish was that one. The browns seemed to be kind of pallid, and the rainbows were notably thin and some looked sickly and/or beat up.
(6) An afternoon of very sub-par nymphing was saved by swinging streamers. I gave up on the tough conditions, turned around and walked back toward camp - downstream. Immediately began hooking up in most every hole. As night fell, I caught maybe three fish standing in one place - all on a black bugger. The fourth fish I hooked was the take of the trip for me - a great double-thrub slam that really jolted the 2 wt... I saw the fish - mid-teens for sure - but after maybe 5-8 seconds my tippet snapped. Not as troubling to have a fish break you off as it is to have one come unpinned. A break is like a victory for the fighting fish, whereas the unpinning seems to indicate your failure somehow.
(7) We didn't fish too hard, and that was good. We enjoyed company. Remembered St. Olaf (three Oles were present). A somewhat-anti-social like me needs to practice things like that and I appreciated the time. Good fishermen too - they caught plenty - the brown of the trip is pictured below. [Thanks folks, for inviting me to your camp.]
(8) I kept four fish and tried out the new smoker, passed on by KLW. Worked well. I took a whole smoked rainbown trout to the MPCA caf today and ate it with my bare hands like a neanderthal.

A good first step back toward fishing. I'm starting to feel some yearning again and I like that. Might go down to the basement to tie some flies just now.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How I wish, to catch a fish - so juicy sweeeet!

Gollum's Song

The cold hard lands
they bites our hands
they gnaw our feet
The rocks and stones
are like old bones
all bare of meat
But stream and pool
is wet and cool
so nice for feet!
and now we wish....
alive without breath
as cold as death
never thirsting, ever drinking,
clad in mail, never clinking
drowns in dry land
thinks an island is a mountain
thinks a fountain is a puff of air
so sleek so fair!
what a joy to meet!
We only wish
to catch a fish so juicy sweet