Monday, July 29, 2013

Minnesota Carping Capsule

This is how it goes, generally, for Midwesterners without target-rich, clear-water environments.  Relegated to fishing ponds.

Fish #1: stationary, bigger fish.  There is a smaller fish, probably high single digits, levitating in the background, slowly pivoting toward the bigger fish.  Flip a cast, both carp fade to gray and are gone.

Fish #2: single stationary fish in very shallow water, resting in moderately thick vegetation.  Positioned parallel to shore; difficult to present from the side.  There is only one way: sneak up directly or nearly directly behind the fish.  This requires removal of shoes and socks (this is not fishing gear; not a fishing outing, rather minutes wedged in).  Wet to knees, bottom is pretty good, heron is in effect and working well.  Presentation made at one rod length; the fish has not spooked because no water has been pushed at it; moves about 20 degrees in a pivot toward fly; hook set; nothing; fish leaves.  Son of a bitch that one should have happened; but thinking more while walking, the odds were pretty low (not feeding or cruising); indeed, a remarkable attempt at a low-odds fish may preserve the small chance made available but in the end cannot increase the overall odds. 

Fish #3: a walk-out fish, meaning I was resigned to the skunk and was walking out the way I'd come in, paying only divided attention to the water.  But the shapes can grab attention, even in this mode.  A small fish materializes, pushing a silt plume at a diagonal toward shore.  This is an active carp, unawares.  Pretty standard from there.  Interesting twist is a surge that puts the fish completely out of the water, running along the shore in the cattails before breaking out into the pond for another run.  First MN carp since returning from Lake Michigan.

Fish #4: I think it was fish #1 again, stationary in same location.  Wind just howling now, blowing in dark clouds and rain.  I put a tracer flip out there to gauge the needed adjustment and find it to be about 10 feet.  Second flip is good, the fly sets down in the right circle.  Sinks in the veg though as the carp moves toward it to investigate; I pop a hook set just in case and move a bunch of plant matter; fish goes his own way as the sky darkens and I hop on a vintage 1950s yellow bike and pedal the hell out of there.

That's about what one can expect around here.  I dig it for sure but man, I'm kind of ruined now.  Need some new carp ideas; that or a guy might just fish more trout water.

Driftless Area Tour Guide, 7/20/13

All in all there aren't that many people in this city or neighboring municipalities that regularly fish the trout streams of southeast Minnesota.  I don't cite any statistics, rather the simple fact that a person can head out in the summer on a weekend and run a good chance of not encountering a human.  There is a consideration regarding the number of miles of water available; also the varying qualities of the streams out there and where you place yourself on that spectrum on a given day.  But speaking from experience: it floors me how often I find complete solitude.  City of 110,000 right at hand.

In that city there is at least one stranded surfer from the west coast.  It was communicated to me that he wanted to go fishing.  That being a very general phrase/appointment, my response was this: what are your goals with respect to fishing southeast Minnesota?  We talked through it a bit.  In the end, he came by at 7:00 AM a Saturday or two ago to initiate one of the very few, very few instances in which I've ever "taken someone fishing."  This is rare mainly because (1) I like to be by myself, (2) I would never claim any sort of guide status, (3) there aren't many friends around, and only a few that fish; of those, intersecting schedules is a challenge.  Here are the notes from this outing:

(1) If I wait to have coffee until the afternoon I can get going pretty good and really lay the words out there (especially in meetings). Other than that though, I generally err on the side of saying less and listening more.  This deal set up as an outlier, in that I sensed an audience both captive and highly interested in the stream, the fish, the landscape, reading water and in general listening and watching carefully.  This got me rolling; probably talked too much. On all topics.  It was a tour guide role: lauding the Driftless Area, speaking on the water sources, the aged rocks, the various trout, the streamside veg, riffles, runs, pools, depositional features.  Complete dumping of all the things I say to myself as I walk around; just poured it all out on this guy.  My hope is that he dug some of it; I think he did; sensed as much but who knows.  It became apparent that his reasons for fishing were good ones though; this was reaffirmed in the conversations.  And in exponential fashion that pushed even more information into the air.

(2) I did tell him that I have never used a spinning rod to ply trout water. Maybe when I was a kid, but that was stillwater bait scenario.  I told him of my marked failures with respect to securing trout for my kids.  No guarantees.  Nymphing is a guarantee but you can't really start a guy out nymphing; not someone who has not caught a single fish since childhood; not someone who has never held a fly rod.  These expectations were generally aligned with his reasons for heading out; I discerned that he wanted to catch some fish but would hold nothing against me or anyone else if he came up empty.

(3) In the end, this guy caught some fish: a nice trout and a giant creek chub to hand; a couple trout that he LDR'd and a couple more that flashed at his spinner.  It was educational for me to watch an adult person throw a spinner in a trout stream.  I saw the distance and accuracy as compared to those put forth by kids; this difference is critical I think.  In this case, I'd say (for example): cast up past that hydro cushion and retrieve it through that and then the current seam...  and he'd do just that.  He fished well.

(4) Closing the morning we talked a bit about how he could continue to pursue fishing trout in southeast Minnesota.  That was one item for which I felt pretty confident in the answer: no one will teach you how to catch these fish; you will not read a book or watch YouTube and then walk out, ready to assassinate.  You can get background and prep that way.  But the fish come via firsthand study, preferably by yourself, so you can stand on one corner and go at it for as long as it takes, working every seam, trying every iteration of flies, waiting and watching and working.  Simply no substitute for time on the water.  Say it before and say it again.  Reading water; there are books written on that topic.  I'll never claim to have it all down but I've got some of it down by now.  I keyed this guy into reading water and I could tell he was stoked at the prospect. Study it, read it, fish it.  I remember John Montana saying this to me, after answering questions and giving direction...  [there is no more to say], now just go whip that shit out there.

Surfer makes good on Salmo trutta.  Note wet wading in jeans, which I thought was pretty solid; no complaints registered.
A bigger fish that we released; a nice creel of five was collected; this guy wanted to eat some trout.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Why a person might fish for trout:

(1)    They are in the backyard.
(2)    There are very many trout around.
(3)    Relatively easy to catch.
(4)    Good exercise and fresh air.
(5)    Trout streams of SE MN typically provide some sense of wildness and adventure.
(6)    Nymphing is soothing methodology, somewhat difficult to do well, and very pleasing in nature.
(7)    If you go to the right places and do the right things, you will catch trout (compare/contrast with carping).
(8)    While trout rarely require a reel of any sort, they can, if approached with the right gear, demand some technical skill at some points in the duration of a duel.
(9)    They are good to eat and can be prepared in various fashions.
(10) Relative to other food options, stream trout by all accounts provide a roughly-as-good-as-it-gets-purity.
(11) While there are no set rules for it, sensible harvest can provide multiple benefits.  Some anglers mistakenly assume that if a slot limit is good for the fishery, catch-and-release must be even better. The reality, says DNR's Vaughn Snook, is that anglers would be helping to improve the size structure of trout populations if they harvested fish under 12 inches.  – DNR Conservation Volunteer
(12) One could conceivably characterize harvest of RBT and BNT as invasive species control.
Report: July 14, 2013, fished 0730 – 1030
My home is very near the headwaters for three different major watersheds: Zumbro, Whitewater and Root systems.  Within about 20-25 minutes I can be on the headwaters of any of them.  In a rare last minute switch, I opted out of the two that I usually hit and went to the third…      backyard water.  No day trip needed.  Generally speaking the only difficulty in trout fishing SE MN right now is in the ambient condition one faces…  i.e. the streamside veg and the heat.  If you set up to endure these, you will be fine.  Wet wading is advised.  And accept the fact that you will be in many cases constrained to stay in the water, including during your walk-out route (unless you like bunching up parsnip and nettles in your crotch [kind of like a combine action]). 
(1)    Gear used: 2 wt Sage SPL, a legacy rod meaning it’s passed through some great hands to mine.  Tandem nymphing with an indicator.  The lead nymph was a LOD that was tied with a hook that is not sufficient for applications in carping. 
(2)    Significant rain in area, but it was focused west of here.  Water was slightly turbid, advantage angler, really. 
(3)    This stream is a great example, in my opinion, of lower fish IBI paired with larger size class trout.  Meaning depending on what you are looking for in your trout fishing…   you cannot simply go to the “best” and most classic fisheries.  A perfect IBI score would be given to a stream full of small BNT and sculpin. 
(4)    Fish came right away, many in the 11-13 inch range.  This felt good to me.  Can’t say how many fish I caught but this is my estimate: creek chubs (10-12), brown trout (20-25), rainbow trout (1), smallmouth bass (1).  I used a hybrid approach meaning stripping and dead drifting, and twitching on the latter.  For this I like to put a big nymph or small streamer in the lead and then maybe a smaller #16 trailer.  Can then quickly put the indicator on if depth regulation is required for dead drift…    or take it off for casting in slower water and stripping back.  On this day the fish were not responding to stripped flies in the dead water.  I didn’t spook any out of those reaches which leads me to believe they were simply not in that water.  The holes produced the fish.  Getting down was required.  Iterative approach with split shot and moving indicator.
(5)    Remarkable number of fish in low to mid teens.  Enough that I kept a couple.  These are the exact lengths and weights (after evisceration) of the fish I kept: 11inch BNT (7.0 ounces), 13 inch BNT (11.0 ounces), 15 inch RBT (17.0 ounces), 11 inch BNT (7.0 ounces), 14 inch BNT (14.0 ounces).  That is 56 ounces total, or 3.5 lbs.  I do not need an economic angle but we and many are trained to examine it; so, for reference, the local grocery store charges $12/lb for living RBT from a farm in Stockton MN.  That weight is whole-fish, no eviscerated.  So to compare I need to add the guts back into this creel…   guessing 20% addition.  Meaning 4.2 lbs would be the grocery store purchase, which would cost $50.40.  Call it a $50 harvest; this may have application in discussion regarding time spent, gear purchased, etc.  Also of note is the mass of the bigger fish more than doubling those of the 11 inchers.
(6)    The RBT was hooked at the red dot in the photo.  This was accomplished after pulling a number of fish out of that nice neck of water.  I don’t see too many RBT because I don’t fish their water much.  This fish leapt clear of the water twice, and on the third instance of note it tail-walked for 4-6 feet and then shot straight ahead as missile.  There was woody debris in play; some care was required.  In the end the fish succumbed. 
(7)    Tandem nymphing will produce “doubles” – meaning “solo doubles” – meaning a guy will hook two fish at once.  This has happened maybe ~6 times over the years for me; the most notable was a BNT and RBT some years ago; two species.  On this day, three doubles came to hand, none of which I’d logged before: BNT and SMB, chub and chub, BNT and chub.  Three drifts, six fish, none of which were kept.  Add that to the five in the creel and the countless fish released…  and estimate of fish total is reasonable.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Northern Counties of MN

Notes on hook size

Often thought about various hooks, fly sizes, etc.  Number one deadly killer of hope is a small hook gap, IMO.  Hook gap of four inches is too big; eighth of inch is too small, etc.  Spectrum analysis.  Really have to watch it with poppers I think.  Many old store-bought poppers are garbage in my opinion because the gap is too small.  BWCA 100% you will die trying with the poorly configured fly no matter how pretty it is; you will lose to a salvaged leather strap lashed to the right hook.  I’ve always figured that putting kids on panfish required optimization of hook size.  At the local pond we’d outfish the crowd by tossing little BH nymphs.  Study was furthered up north over July holiday…    started out with a small hook maybe size 12 or so, for bait fishing.  Catching fish left and right but if the kids weren’t on them like birddogs the sunnies were quickly swallowing the whole offering.  We cut off quite a few.  Bumped the hook size up…   still caught fish but they couldn’t get that whole deal ingested and the lipping was in effect going forward.  Seemed like an optimization effort.  Examination continues.
Crappies being more forgiving, according to size of paper-mouth, were readily harvested by any hook.  A group of 5-12 year old kids supplied a dinner of solid protein by way of these fish.
Thoughts on bass

There is some small chance that I might loathe bass, especially largemouth; haven’t worked it out yet.  Really not the fish themselves but I think I have a hard time getting up the effort/time/gear to go after them.  On this trip I kept wondering while drinking and/or watching kids play and/or sitting out by myself early AM…    should I throw a popper?  Maybe clouser.  What would come of it?  One thing I do like is the relative ease of casting poppers – how a guy can boom them way out and set them down along a line of pads.  There is grace to it.  Hell I still like it but now at the point of 100% would rather watch people catch them than do it myself.  LMB and panfish are perfect kid targets: heads like rocks and plentiful; they eat pretty readily.  Hell I still like catching LMB maybe just for the take – the toilet flush.  But will be forever mystified by the dollars that the fishery generates.  Not hard to catch; not a good fight and no one eats them.  It comes down to the toilet flush and falls off a cliff after that point I suppose.  Perspective of my son would be different…     after catching probably his biggest fish…      I will tell you it was a high point to see a Montague Lake Nicholas glass rod doubled over.  Kid stepping frantically about the dock shouting his versions of four letter words.  Highly memorable.  As opposed to what would have come of me catching a handful of 14-16” bass that I maybe would have photographed and forgotten the second they tailed away.  It’s possible that I’ve reached some level of boredom; everything-tastes-like-woolen-chew type setting.  Probably related to coming down from Lake MI trip but would need better and more careful diagnosis to be sure.  A point on bass in BWCA: I’m addicted to catching SMB in the middle of the old landscape.  If you took those fish and put them in a pond by my house, I would not actively pursue them.  Also, sight-fishing for SMB is a worthy deal.  If the water is clear and you feel like you are on a tropical flat and the fish come like black razor-darts.

One case in point is that while up north, I did two warmwater lake circuits with my dad and my son.  Talking 2.5 hours each instance.  I did not bring a rod on either occasion.  Rather, I rowed around endlessly.  Antique oars groaning, struggling locks…    good imagery, good sounds.  And appreciated vibes from the maneuverability of that craft: touch the oar and feel the pivot.  Pull back hard and move the boat backward, from your perspective.  Switch to a forward bench press movement to sneak into corners to unhook spoons.  Would have done it all day.  Watching my dad boom out giant casts into the pads.  Encouraging my son to keep casting those lures…   a pike will come.  Upshot is that I preferred the row boat to the wielding of the rod in this case. 

Screw it; can barely bring myself to pursue anything in the way of fishing right now.  Some sort of energizer may be on the way but it is TBD.  I may be bummed out that there are a number of really likable trout waters at the bottom of deep valleys that I haven’t seen in a long time.