Friday, September 20, 2013

BWCA 2013

Note #1: fish the day’s bookends.  If you are not doing this, then you are not serious about the fishing; maybe there for other reasons, which is fine.  But you won’t make the most of SMB fishing if you sleep in, eat breakfast, piddle away over the course of the day fishing, and then come in for dinner at 6 PM.  The hours 0630 – 0900 and 1900-2000 deserve your undivided attention.  And you can see it with your own eyes – watching the sun’s rays hit the water at various angles; disappear behind tree lines.  Related item here is that one can fish pike all day.  And you can of course catch SMB all day, just at varying rates/qualities.

Note #2: orange and red flies to really well in BWCA.  Meaning flies with either color in the pattern.  Meaning clouser half and half in orange or red.  This has been in my notes off and on over the years; I went back to confirm.  But this year my brother said something to the effect of he’s never caught fish on lure x in any color other than orange.  That snapped my attention and I started watching the various clouser colors.  While I didn’t keep track, I can say that the orange/brown was obviously the best producer.  This is not pure experiment though, because there are myriad variables to consider and none were held constant while color was changed.  But the over-the-years part is a big convincer for me.  I shouldn’t be bringing equal parts blue, green, red, orange.  Should be weighted to the back end of that list.  Last year, the top fly was a simple red/white clouser.

Note #3: listen to other people now and then if not more frequently.  I had it in my head that we should stay close to camp because (1) we didn’t have too many days to fish and thus didn’t want to burn time paddling, and (2) the bays around our site had produced a lot of fish last year.  So with that default I never put much thought into exploring the rest of the lake.  My brother took the lake map one day and came back to announce that I was “wasting my time” with the fishery we had experienced for the first day and half.  He was right.  He had looked at a series of points and islands, with rocky saddles in between, opening up into bigger water.  Structure that we all knew was better than what we had, but was approx. 20-25 minutes away.  Just bad execution, laziness and lack of commitment by me.  So the next day we paddled a bit and the fishing turned up a few notches.  Take some food and water, head out, and spend some time away from camp.  This had been habit in past years but lately had gotten away from it. 

Note #4: 175 rod portage, 0.53 miles.

There isn’t a good blow-by-blow method to describe the fishing.  Suffice to say that the we started out with a bit of mediocrity, meaning ratio of work to fish was bumped up a bit.  We were coming in on a somewhat significant drop in air temps; I think this maybe closed mouths a bit but hard to say with certainty.  Also dealing with much higher water (around 12" higher than last year by my estimate).  The first evening of fishing showed three great blockhead takes, of which one was landed – a nice solid 17” fish.  One was a miss, and one came unpinned on a headshake, which I accept as the fish beating me, which is fine.  There were some decent bouts of catching fish here and there, both wading and from canoe.  The back end of the trip duration was the best with respect to fishing and thus it provides the material for a few notes:

Regarding popper fishing: this method could almost be described as a half-step to sight fishing in that you are staring straight at everything, including fly, except the fish (in most cases).  One could probably argue that the more of your method, setting, quarry you see while fishing, the more enjoyable and probably suspenseful you will find the undertaking.  Safe to say I generally agree.  Popper fishing at its pinnacle means easy casting in low wind, low light situations.  Graceful casting.   Some line twist will be in play especially with flies that are not generally symmetric across all axes (e.g. blockheads).  Graceful casts set down on calm water.  Initial splat; then decide to which philosophy you prescribe: the sit-and-wait-for-30-seconds or the rapid fire deal where you start retrieving immediately, aiming to cover a lot of angles and water.  I will note here that the waiting for a while after initial set down of popper is a good idea.  I have read at least one author who suggests that the popper hitting the water can scare bass away, an event that is often followed by a return to investigate (and presumably eat your popper if all is in line).  On the other hand, I’ve seen SMB destroy poppers before they hit the water or at the time of impact.  So a logical approach could encompass both possibilities by allowing for the former (the immediate strike which is simply inherent in every presentation) and then, if not that, the pause.  This makes sense.  But sometimes, will admit that the drama is pretty high and one may be overtaken by a need to retrieve the popper; this likely driven by the pleasing sound and sight of a fly making a big disruption on the water surface.  It is a really good thing to observe and better yet a good thing to feel by way of your connection through the fly line and leader.  CHUG is a good word.  BLOOOMPH is another.  When the water is flat and the air feels gray and you know there are marauding fish around, it feels good to make those sounds and it feels good to have them start in motion at the point where your hand meets the fly line.  With that as the setup, the context, one can only imagine the high drama that plays out when these fish come to strike; come to eat.  Make a point of pausing, looking away, fiddling with your boot laces sometimes.  They will strike then.  But also watch closely on some retrieves and let the tension build.  It really gets you; only takes a few to make a night.  And if you find a situation in which you go crazy and the water is ripping, you will be quite taken.  This was the situation in which my brother and I were cast on our last night there…    we putzed around from 1430 to 1900, catching fish; some good fish even, including a couple large smallies and some big LMB taken by Joe.  But underlying all this pregame was the known fact that at 1900 we would be sitting over a rocky saddle between two islands that opened up into bigger water.  “This isn’t bad but we know where we want to be at primetime.”  That was said once or twice.  And we executed on it.  We did not paddle back to camp to relax; we did not eat or drink.  Our time was limited; window is narrow; so you damn well better make it work and that starts with simply being there.  Fact is, I don’t think we could have done it any better.  We perched on that saddle and raised fish in water ranging from 4 feet to probably 10-12+ feet.  The clip was not quite every cast, but it was close.  We logged some doubles.  We pretty much vibed each take in advance.  It would be hard to label it as epic, simply because the duration was only approx. one hour.  But if you scale it down and compare it to other one-hour bouts, I’d say the word applies.  And we were struggling to find small fish (wanted some to keep, to eat).  The vast, strong majority of these fish were 16-17” easy.  With some nosing up to 18” or better.  I don’t know that we hit 19” and I know we did not hit 20”.  The strength of these fish was remarkable; probably typical of SMB but for some reason these, even if illusory, felt like bulls.  They did not run; no bass run.  But they pulled and bulled like no other.  Multiple occasions turned up 16” fish that felt like cement blocks for about thirty seconds, just pulling under the canoe.  I noted my rod tip in the water during several battles.  In the end, all told, I bet we each logged about a dozen solid fish, all on the top.  That after what some would call a “good day fishing" messing around in broad daylight asking fish for favors.  Screw it; I don’t need too many of those days; one is enough; burned in memory forever without question.  I will remember the light closing around us, seated in a canoe on flat water with zero persons within a 30 minute paddle, knowing what we were about to do and then doing it.

Regarding streamer (clouser) fishing: the day’s bookends can be extended somewhat, in my experience, by applying clouser minnows at depths ranging from 6 – 10 feet.  On many, many mornings I have observed a very obvious trigger when the sun comes over the treeline: the SMB don’t look up as much.  I imagine them simply being somewhat repelled by the brightness of the sun’s rays.  It is conceded that this does not always apply; biggest SMB I have ever caught was around 0900 after the sun was on the water.  But it has shaped as a general rule in my mind.  Certainly though the fish still feed.  This will become evident if one can find a rocky shoreline, maybe with a nice drop, to which clousers may be applied.  Casts to shore are good; radial fashion.  But what is better in my mind is sinking the fly parallel to shore, so the retrieve stays in the drop for longer periods of time.  In the end, just cast all over hell; but this stuff is worth some consideration.  Let those DB eyes carry the wispy deer hair to the bottom.  Watch end of line; it will often jolt indicating an immediate strike or a strike while fly is sinking.  If this is not detected, retrieve fly and pay little attention; fish will jump on.  The morning of the last day, I was fishing by myself.  Some solid popper action first thing in the AM, up to maybe 0830.  After the sun came over the line, I paddled to a shore that was still shaded by trees.  In fact the entire length was spared the sun’s relentless smashing light.  I used short one-handed paddle strokes to keep the angles right and I pounded the living hell out of that shoreline, working a rocky drop for about two hours, catching SMB and occasional pike for the duration.  All on orange and brown clouser half and half.  Also one big LMB.  This was the only blitz of streamer fishing I experienced on this short trip; found it to be a very good deal.

Only other notable is an on-going attempt to imitate dying fish to induce smashing takes by Esox.  On this occasion I used a giant chugging popper (which we called Chuggish Ruggish Bone).  We’ve logged a number of instances of northern pike grabbing and holding hooked bass or stringered walleye.  I’ve seen a couple gators.  In fact on this trip one pike grabbed a little LMB sideways, and held on all the way to arm’s distance; let go when I reached out to grab.  General approach at this time is to use a fly that can make a ruckus and look pretty big.  In retrospect I should have tied in some long flash on those yellow chuggers.  But, did get a few pike on poppers when fishing SMB; some bit off, others (lipped) were landed.  And employing the big chugger – got one nice pike there – minor victory.  Looking for larger and will keep at it.   Pike fishing (our party topped 100 total, I would bet) is a nice second option that can work all day.

Thanks BWCA Camp Director and fellow paddlers for another in a line of good outings.  While I cannot report in detail on the fishing had by others, I know that generally the word assload can be used to describe the number of fish caught by each person immersed in this deal.  Everyone caught a lot of fish; number of nice fish.  Carry on and keep at it; see you next year; same venue.

Many northerns in this size class.

The one and only popper SMB on first night.  Right at 17".

Brought 7 wt (SMB), 9 wt (pike), 8 wt (backup, never used).

Little LMB that was taken broadside by pike during fight.  Pretty much gutted and pointed toward certain death by the time the wolf let go.

Sunset from camp.  I liked the half blackout.

Top clouser pattern.

Good summary of solo fishing setup.  This was the rocky shoreline I worked over morning of the last day.

Pike on big chugger.


Number of LMB in the mix.

Noted that the fish sipped this deer hair as opposed to hammering the foam.  Small sample size but was noted nonetheless.

Note background.  I think you want to put a loop over that water.

Taking down camp.

View from camp looking west.

Lake droplets on canvas, both of which I appreciate.

12, 18 and 20 markers.

Starting on the 175 rods.  Walking out.