Tuesday, April 29, 2008

2008 Driftless Area Tour

For John Montana's main report, go here and for additional pics on his blog go here. I tried to choose pics other than those that he posted. His write up is great - make sure you check it out.

Day Zero: Getting ramped up…
Get the bleep out of the office. It’s a good office but it’s not a stream. Talk JMontana through the navigation… We briefly checked out the pond right by my building but didn’t get an audience with the resident carp. Too bad because I wanted to see him nick one in the lip. They are wiley SOBs. We spent the night hanging out with Em and the kids and eating some pizza. Late evening we shot down to my tying shop and organized all our gear… a really cool dimension of fishing is all the equipment. Stayed up late chatting and forecasting… slept very lightly and got up very early.

Day One: Fuggin blown out…
The call was made for us – that being roughfish in big rivers vs trout in coldwater. The big rivers were up and some were still rising. We were sent to coldwater, so we went. We found pretty dogmeat conditions. We decided to take a shot at the first stream we encountered... and we had some limited success - each caught a few little brown trout. JMontana nymphed up a big ol' sucker. When it rolled we both thought it was a huge brown... cool fish regardless. We decided to leave the turbid water in search of still-clear tribs - I was confident we could find at least a couple. Turns out we found only one, and it was really small. It produced one fish. From there we took off looking for fishable water... looked and looked and drove and looked and freaking drove. One thing we did find was this sweet little field that was going from perennial veg to cultivated... presumably to row crop - likely corn. This field was ~40 feet from what is considered the premiere trout water of SE MN. Anyway we said hellwithit and went north one basin. Exciting to find some fishable water. We actually caught a few browns and cool little rainbow as night fell. We were high-sticking machines. We had to work for each hook up. The day was somewhat salvaged by some semi-clear water a few trout.

Day Two: The saving grace of The Wife of Mr. Ippi…
We called out for help to the roughfish.com guys and they really came through. They directed us to The Father of Waters - that river known to the Ojibwe as misi-ziibi or gichi-ziibi. Names are good and I love them and I wish I were around that Big River more so I could I love it more. We hung out at an iron rail with some bait dudes. They told us all about everything. We ribbed the living shite out of them re their ridiculous pursuit of walleyes. In fact we got pretty brave and just straight up ripped the walleye and his brother the sauger. The best line came from an older gent who was pretty talkative: "Are you much into sheepshead?" If you hang around in joints in which questions like that are asked... well, you know. Our day was saved by three carp in the 10-11 lb range that were all fair hooked and landed. JMontana got two of the three buy mine was the 11 lber. I think I'd have traded him the big one for the two fish... I was snagging so many fish I was just dying for fair hook ups. We were jigging flies you see... many snags. We also both had a carp take us out into the glorious power of the flow that is the Mississippi. Neither came back... we both knew they were gone but we ate up every second of the reels winding out line. JMOntana got well into his backing. As night came on I hooked (in the mouth if you can believe it (bottom of the mouth I guess)) a dead freaking redhorse and played the rigomortis laden corpse to a standstill. Neither of us had done that before. We walked back ~5 miles in the dark, toting fly rods and peeping out the stars... happy guys.

Day Three: Putzin’ around Roch…
This day was abbreviated and chopped up a bit. We hooked a bunch of fish at a dam, but it was tough to get a fair hookup. Landed quite a few redhorse and a few carp... tough going though. We ended the day at a trout stream that was stone clear (fast recovery) but we had only 60 minutes to fish (before night fell). We had ~3 chances at fish and we failed on all counts. I have not walked away from that stream fishless before... it happened though. It didn't seem like a big deal. It wasn't. Nice stream and nice night. We had our chances. We capped it off with some nasty-good food at a true rural joint in a true rural town... watched NBA playoffs on big screen and tied flies right at the dining table. It freaking snowed this night. Found snow on car.

Day Four: Wrap up with some carp… just enough to stay warm (barely).
The dam circuit was being saved as a last hope. We went one by one though, and found each one extrememly difficult. I was surprised. I figured they'd be moderately acceptable to somewhat pleasing range... wrong though. At the first we actually nymphed up some connections and landed a fair hooked carp. The second was borderline impossible. The third looked like a flop and the words "...about done..." "...call it quits..." etc. started to surface. JMontana though made a stabbing attempt at a finale by asking a bait fisherman for advice. That worked out as he confirmed that he'd caught a bunch of carp in a certain slot in this tailwater. We re-upped our efforts and were immediately rewarded with a fair number of hook ups. Most popped off (all mine popped off - ha!) - I think many were snagged. JM got a few to the bank though, and at least a couple were fair hooked. Nice job on his part, as the fights were challenging - he even had to cross the river on a cat walk to battle one to hand. Impressive.

In summary, we got our asses handed to us by the conditions - no other way to say it. High flow, turbid water, snow, rain, wind and lack of sun all conspired against us.

Despite the whipping, we managed to catch some great fish. Some really great fish even. The company was top of the line, and we stayed in some cool Driftless Area towns... ate all kinds of bad food and watched the NBA playoffs at night.

We actually caught fish from Root, Zumbro, Cannon, Whitewater and even greater Miss systems - that feat is pretty cool in itself. You need great 200 fish days, you need rough and tumble 2 fish days and you need everything in between. They all reflect on one another and make you value the good days even more... It's a good thing to notice that you don't mind getting your ass kicked now and then. It's fine. No worries on that. We've had our fair share of ass kickings as seen from the other end. There will be many more bouts that will be won by the fish and we wouldn't have it any other way.

Until next year then, Cyprinus carpio. Rest well Aplodinotus grunniens. Stay on your game though because soon there'll be a hare's ear bouncing your way me boy!!!

Thanks John Montana for making the trip, for paying for hotels and for the stayed committment to fish with me for these years... the trips get better and better even as the numbers of caught fish wax and wane. See you next year... but before then - see you in six weeks for the Pacific NW version of this bit!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Zumbro River Sucker with White Sauce

I believe this is a white sucker - brethern to those that were netted from northern Minnesota streams by my brothers, cousins and me all through the 1980s and beyond (the most we ever got in one landing net at one time was 16). I can't be 100% sure on the ID though... roughfish.com folks will correct me if I'm wrong. I picked her up while scouting for carp yesterday.

Looking for cooking methods other than smoking... I like that technique, but I don't like firing it all up for just one fish. I tried this bit:

White Sauce:
1/2 tbsp unbleached flour
1/2 cup milk
fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tbsp butter
This is a basic recipe from our Better Homes & Gardens bit.

Sautee sucker fillets in oil (should have used butter) with fresh chopped parsley for a few minutes, then add white sauce, more parsley and reduce heat to simmer... for ~10 minutes.


If you want to maintain health and keep organophosphate out of your system: use cast iron pan only, and organic ingredients.

Review: not great, not bad. It really didn't have a lot of taste to it. The pepper and the parsley were what I noticed as I ate... which, in retrospect makes sense. The fish didn't taste fishy or mossy. My main complaint: the flesh was too soft. This may be due to poor preparation on my part. I soaked it in milk over night - not sure if that affected density. Overall, it was kind of blah. I wonder if the flesh would have "firmed up" had I used the technique that has been recommended to me on several occasions - that of keeping the fish alive in cool, clean water for a day or two.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


It looks like the amphipod population in this particular stream is doing okay. WSU has confirmed that these guys are ABSENT in some of the major systems down here - apparently washed away by the flood of August 2007. They don't cling as well as some of the other stream denizens, and they often inhabit vegetation... which was in large part scoured and washed away in the hard-hit basins. Anyway - I was happy to find these contents of a trout's stomach early this AM.

The past week or so has also offered up these items:
(1) Idiot choice to try to fish a popular and easily-accessed stream on opening weekend... never again. So many people... so many cars... I was a wreck, just stumbling along streamside - never really even wetting a line but just wanting to see a fish. Literally - never laid eyes on one pisces... the water was empty. The fish had more than caught on to the lead and blah being thrown overhead. Where were they then? Maybe under banks. Not sure.

(2) Scouted some carp water and found a pod of suckers. Snagged one - now soaking in milk downstairs.

(3) A coworker and I put together some programming for a new line of data logger that our agency is just putting to use. We got out and worked with a local government unit to set up a few stations... they are logging as I type. Time series data is of extreme value... and it's so damn cool. This station is on a popular Driftless Area stream.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Trout are Pretty
There is some water that is so close to our new home that I can literally zip over nap time - fish for ~2.5 hours - be away from the kids for maybe an hour total. Did that today. Would have been a great day for catch and keep, as the 10-13 inch fish were ridiculously plentiful. I started out nymphing and caught two pretty brookies. Then the wind started giving me heck and in a span of ~10 minutes I had a bad tangle, hooked the back of my jacket, and broke off both nymphs. Ha. Pretty funny. It was cold too. I took it as a sign to try something else, so I started swinging soft hackles in the size of 20. That should be illegal. It was devastatingly good. I had planned on trekking a bit upstream but I stuck close to the road because the fish kept coming. When I first tied the softie on the line, I got three hard hits right in a row... and missed them all! Then got a positive hook up, then another miss... then another fish - all in about 5 minutes. Same story at the next couple holes. It should be illegal. No huge fish, but one that was probably closer to 15" than 12" and a whole lot of them right around 12".

Weekend marked the first of the carp, and the last of the C&R trout. Nice segue way. Also caught a really little brookie - maybe 3" - would be good to verify year class - nice to see young fish in the stream after the flood... DNR data suggest most young fish are MIA (more on that later).

Sunday, April 06, 2008

And so it begins...

Buzzing north to watch Final Four (puke, guffaw, vomit games) I had ~20 minutes to stop for some scouting... need to do some serious planning before John Montana gets here later in the month. I stopped at one of my old Cannon River joints and saw no fish in the greater part of the water. I did find an interesting situation though - here it is:

Perched up high I was shielding my eyes and just studying the water in a little spillway ever so intensely. After a minute of staring I started to pick up on some grey ghost-like forms ~4-5 feet beneath the surface... good thing to see there. I watched for a while and noticed that they were hanging by a foam line and moving laterally now and then - like freaking TROUT feeding on nymphs. I ran back to the car with ~10 minutes left on the clock... sprinted to the spillway and found that my new 7 wt line wasn't with leader. HA! No big deal - quick tied a perfection loop in the end of the line and put on a straight 3x flourocarbon leader of ~10 feet - thinking that for "jigging" this would do just fine. Tried a few drifts, but got nothing... at the side of the water I couldn't see the fish. So I ran back up to my vantage point and marked where they were hanging by noting streamside veg... ran back down, and laid a little flip upstream and mended into the foam line... watching the perfection loop as a strike indicator - with very low hope of catching a fish... wouldn't you know it though - saw a little twitch of that loop - picked up the rod and felt that glorious resistance. The freaking carp was caught just like one would catch a feeding trout! Very cool.

After little fanfare (no big runs at all - I kept asking the fish to go, but it would only bull out ~6-8 feet of line at a time - still played for ~8 minutes), this beautiful carp was brought to hand gently in the shallows. On close examination I noticed it exhibited symptoms typically associated with a condition that is spreading across the warmwater of souteast MN: in fisheries circles it's known as SCITUL (Swimming Clouser In The Upper Lip).

A few notes then:
(1) Have gear ready to go... first carping of the spring though, so maybe excusable.
(2) You don't need a lot of time to catch a carp and be a happy person.
(3) 7 wt is too much for this water - to date I had used only 4 wt.
(4) The Swimming Clouser is an absolutely invaluable pattern.
(5) While it was cool to trout-nymph up a carp, it does not compare to sight fishing. Despite what some may say "catching a fish any way you can do it" is not the way to go, IMO. Dropping corn in the slack water of this spillway and waiting would have been dogmeat. Mr. P from CAG says "The take is the premiere moment," and he is right on.... can't wait to see the first take of 2008.