Thursday, May 28, 2009

Been a While

But things are indeed happening around here. Things are going on and there are goings-on. Fishing hasn't been too plentiful, but some bouts are planned and in place. Some with friends, some solo, some with kids.

Some misc notes on dirt and fishing:

(1) We got some matter brewing itself into salads - some fine tasting lettuce variety to be paired with breakfast radishes is just outside the door.
(2) Strong spring showings from some of the grapevines and the raspberries.
(3) Interesting showings from blueberry bushes and cherry tree - not sure what to expect yet.
(4) A total of 14 tomato and pepper plants solidly in place and eating photons.
(5) We can't grow carrots for shit.
(6) Brewing up the subtlest carp fly I can fathom with my simple mind, to present to some well-known and finicky carp. We'll see if the bugle mouth will toot a note or two in response.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Spring Trip, Days 3 & 4: Touring

After being home Friday night and most of Saturday, I took the boys out for a weekend tour of the great Southeast. We started in Whitewater, over-nighted with JM at a hotel (has become tradition for our spring trip to stay at an establishment run by a local guy there in the WW basin), and then wound down into the Root River drainage. Needless to say, with these guys as the focus, there was little to no fishing to be had. The focus was more on getting the boys wet and dirty, watching them learn a few things, breaking up their conflicts, getting them food, getting them to sleep, keeping them out of danger, etc. List could continue, as any parent would note.

I got completely lit up by a tough parenting situation there in the hotel. No control over the kids is what I had. They were pretty pumped up and excited about a hotel room, and they wouldn’t calm down. Ha! Looking back on it I can laugh… but at the time there was some gnashing of teeth. Parenting. Tough.

One goal was to allow James an opp to catch a trout. He’s legitimately hooked and landed many sunnies, and he’s played a few trout after the rod has been handed to him… But he’d not had the chance to all-out fish for a trout until this weekend. Post-outing assessment is that we should stick to sunnies for a while. He did very well flipping a little soft hackle out there. However, kids are mostly result-focused and they don’t seem to care much about the method, the passing of time spent on the water, the bugs in the air, the limestone under the flowing river… etc. Get me a fish, please. In fact, that was said more than once, and a couple times it was said through frustrated tears. Felt bad about it. I wasn’t pushing anything. In fact, he actually asked that we stop the car to go fishing. After a few minutes of catching nothing though, he got frustrated and started in about not liking fishing, get me a fish Dad, etc. I started to explain a bit, but stopped short and just sat with him for a while. Stick to the sunnies for a while then. It wasn’t a bad time at all – in fact it was good… but a solid lesson for me too. Don’t rush things.

There were some interesting highlights over these days:

(1) The three of us were watching a pale mayfly fly by… and as we looked on, a swallow swooped through and sent it to its end.
(2) We also saw a fluttering caddis on the water… looking closely – great clarity – here comes salmo trutta, up from dark depth… not charging the fly, but rather approaching with purpose… plain as day we watch it tread water, hanging at a 45 degree angle… assess the caddis… determine: genuine… rise up quickly but not urgently and take fly. Very cool. There was an examination that took place there.
(3) Out of the blue, James quoted a John Prine line to me: stuck like the tick of a clock, that’s come unwound. Good sign there.
(4) Hit some parks for solid play time. Ate some cold pizza. Explored/scouted some trout water.
(5) Bluebells were in play.
(6) The one time I did fish with James: in ~30 minutes managed to catch three species on EHC: brook, brown, creek chub. The brown: heard him methodically rising in a little lane in a side channel… creeped (with kid in pack – see pic below of the slot) on knees over a depositional bar and peeked at him. Sure enough – feeding steady. Flipped EHC upstream – floated right over his head… ate it on first drift. James said let him go, then he said keep him. So I socked the fish on the head and eviscerated. James became pretty upset. This led to another prolonged streamside talk. Came out fine on the far end of the discussion. This is the rule: when we catch a fish, we can either let him go, or keep him to eat. - James
Little photo journal follows.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Spring Trip, Day Two: Quality Over Quantity

That title may be a nicer way to say shitty guiding resulted in a number of busts but we made the best of it and caught some cool fish.

One of the day's highlights was walking right into some buffalo. I'd fished to this same situation in this same place before. JM played it perfectly. In relaxed fashion. Casting at some filter-feeding buffs while sipping some coffee. Hooking one too. Right in the mouth. Beautiful and cool creatures are the buffalo. The black eye is native to our Minnesota waters.

The second buff of the day came by way of a remarkable situation: putting a fly on a tailer. Carp >> tailing >> yes, often. Don't see too many buffalo tailing. This one was in amongst some carp brethern though and JM picked him and dapped on him... Fish moved to fly and fish was caught. The result is pictured below. Right in the mouth. Not sure what caused the light bleeding there but I'll tell you it wasn't a snag.

The remains of the day were filled with stopping, looking, driving, discussing, etc. We caught a few fish here and there but nothing really notable. At one location we came upon carp stacked up, leaping up ~5 feet in an attempt to gain access to a lake. Very interesting and somewhat comical situation. The drive was apparent. Some bio-mechanism at work there, sending them to greener pastures. We saw a few make it. I suppose over time, most made it.

Anyway, the coolest fish of the day for me (and one of only a few) is pictured below. While JM nymphed a slot in a tailwater, I investigated the pool above. I came upon a couple of carp filter feeding underneath a mat of duckweed. I grabbed a tree trunk, swung my body out, and waited with fly ready on a short leash. When one of them turned my way and came with dapping reach, I put the fly a foot or so in front... kind of expecting a spook... only to watch the carp flip tail somewhat eagerly toward the fly, stop just short and suck it in. Right from amongst the duckweed. Nice take. Perfect visual recorded from sweet vantage. Scale said ~11 lbs.

And that was it for our fishing together on this trip. For the next couple days, JM struck out on his own while I picked up the boys and engaged a family tour of the southeast.

After the last couple spring trips I've been left wondering: what constitutes a good fishing trip? Many fish, big fish, various fish... ? Some combination of those maybe? Certainly my point of reference here is skewed, as JM has some pretty amazing carp water out there on the Columbia. I think the answer is roughly this: a good fishing trip is had when you (1) deal well with what is presented to you, and (2) enjoy either solitude or company. Minnesota offers up multi-species opportunities, cool tailwaters, little trout streams, and as JM attests - a pastoral countryside. We took all that in on this trip. Dabbled in all of it. We didn't catch 100+ fish like we have in past years, and we didn't find monsters anywhere like we do in Oregon. We dealt well with what was present in early May in southeast Minnesota though, and we had a good time doing it. Each trip will be different: various fish of various sizes found in all kinds of situations. Thus far I've enjoyed them all thoroughly, and I suspect they'll get better as years pass.


Post Script: even in a stretch of relative calm with respect to rain and flow, we hit on some adverse conditions this year. We were fishing downstream of this gauge on May 7. See below - flow increased that day from ~280 to 420 cfs - approx a 50% bump. I've always heard and read that fish don't like rising water... And the closed mouths of the fish at the tailwater that day support that suggestion. Another (albeit minor this year) case of bad timing.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Spring Trip, Day One: A Poor Man’s Columbia River Flat

A poor, ragged man’s flat maybe (and here, the term flat is used loosely). Anything in comparison to what John Montana has out west comes out as a beggar’s flat. No question there. There is fun to be had though, and memorable fishing for a couple guys willing to explore a bit. In retrospect, the most worrisome part about this day was that it almost didn’t happen. We were cruising in the motor vehicle, sipping coffee and discussing this or that… When I said: Well, we could drive directly to our no-miss spot, or we could loop a little north and hit two dice-rolls. Fifteen seconds of discussion decided that we skip one of the dice rolls, but hit the other en route… just to check it out. Maybe see a carp or two. Part of this was because I wanted to see how JM would interpret the situation. Part of it was because I’d seen carp there, and looking at air photos and considering basic intuition, a guy had to figure there were a lot of carp in the general vicinity. The questions were regarding access to the fish, and visibility. Could it be waded, and could you put eyes on fish well enough to nick them? Turns out it’s a decent water. Here is a brief photo journal.

Rigging up. A little magic in the air. Been looking forward to this for a while, and to actually be out there was a great feeling. Anticipation on various scales is a big part of fishing: thinking about what you’re going to do the next day… all the way down to thinking about how that buglemouth is going to suck that shit up.

LOD variant that I tied up for this trip. Farily badass, IMO.

Roughfisher sent us some sweet caps. Fedex, in fact. Thanks dude – I love mine. Some sweet graffiti there too.

First fish JM saw was the first fish JM caught. We had been planning to blind nymph today, so a sight-fishing appetizer was about as fist-pumping as a guy could ask for… First of a number of cool takes. Minnesota carp is what it was. From the bank though, in plain-clothes fashion. Camo shirts and Gonzaga sweatshirts, etc. Nothing waterproof.

The next key decision then: to wade out in pursuit of fish unseen, or to move on – happy with a complete and solid appetizer? Credit to JM on this one: let’s wade this damn place and see if it can hold our boots up. We did that, and this was the result:

The beautiful thing here was that every fish caught was spotted, stalked, presented to, hooked, played and landed. Nearly as cool as catching some of these fish was the fact that they were pretty much everywhere – not thick like some of the Columbia situations, but we regularly and methodically saw fish to cast to… Many of the fish were not eating. This was not a numbers day, but rather a quality day. There were some sweet takes. JM can detail his; here are a few that I remember:

(1) Saw fish eating/rooting on the far side of a log pile… sneaked on it, flipped LOD to the side… went unnoticed by fish. Come on man. Flipped again without spooking, and watched fish pivot… didn’t see the fly enter mouth, but guessed and it was there. That was first fish of the day, so it swatted the skunk off my back.

(2) Put fly under a couple of fish and watched them move over it… slight pause and set hook. Fish there. Played her over to JM and took a photo. JM had a similar situation in which he casted to a couple of crusing fish… maybe a barely discernable pause, but he set the hook when the fish were over the fly… rod bends and we both figured he had snagged one in the belly… In comes fish, only to find fly lodged contently, well inside bugle mouth. Impressive.

(3) There were also opportunities to cast across/above fish and drift flies down to them. IMO, this is pretty difficult and I’m not too good at it. It’s cool to try though, especially if you have a fish or two willing to hold for a while and allow you some trial and error time. I got a few of those opps. In one instance I cast about a dozen times at a pair of fish – pulling the flies to the right drift – considering both horizontal position and sink time of the flies. Got no attention. Added a single split shot to get them down just a little faster… A few drifts in I saw one of the carp kind of roll on its lengthwise axis. Kind of an abstract memory, really – but I know that he did something. Set the hook. Fish on. Right in the mouth. Woo-freaking-hoo. That is fishing. That is hunting. That is not asking for a fish to come by and do you a favor – it’s you making something happen. And thus, I believe that is why it is pretty fulfilling.

All in all, we didn’t land dozens of fish. It wasn’t a numbers bout. No really biggies either. We scaled some. Most were in the 8-11 lb range. Coolness abounded though, and we had a solid time. We left when cloud cover become a bit of a bitch. On to the can’t-miss blind nymphing…

And on that blind nymphing – it was a miss. Almost a major whiff really. There were carp everywhere. Trouble was two-fold: they were all small, and they wouldn’t eat. Fail-safe flies were ignored. Various presentations were put forth. Effort was there. Fish were not. As a consolation of sorts, we each picked up a “gamefish” or two. Note that the pike was caught on a #10 rubber legged hares ear. Right in the lip. The smallmouth crushed the LOD lead fly. I think we each caught maybe 1-2 small carp in the mouth. Plenty of snags and a handful of those were landed.

So, in short, and again in large part thanks to JMs suggestion, we abandoned the blind nymphing after a couple hours and went back to the place from which we’d just come. You don’t leave fish to find fish (we violated that) but you can leave fish that won’t bite to return to fish you’ve already found. Makes sense. Plus, the clouds cleared off and we figured we’d be in business on that “flat” with a little light (we fished the morning with only marginal illumination). We got there, and the cloud bank moved in. Still caught a few fish. Then went to bed.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Greg Brown at Oak Center

You know a concert rocks when:
(1) The performer is hanging out with attendees prior to the show - kicking back and partaking in a potluck with folks.
(2) Afterward, he refuses money from the host and is only willing to accept a promise of delivery of some peppers to his hotel room.

Really couldn't have asked for anything more from a night out. Like-minded people, gathered in a general store listening to some music made from the mind of a true mid-western person. A guy who owns a farm and gardens. Not a primadonna or some over-blow diva. Just a dude from southern Iowa.

The ball cap he was sporting featured a picture of a trout taking a fly.

He played a couple of our favorite songs, including Spring Wind. I can't see any reason to not say this is my favorite song right now. It touches on everything that is important to me: fishing, work, family, kids, love. Enough to make a grown man cry every time. And to sit fifteen feet from the guy who wrote it and listen to him pour it out... very memorable. Loved it.

Next time he comes through, I figure a guy should offer to take him fishing.