Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Driftless Booty

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Poultry Planning

Slow Food event at a local chicken farm. Boys wanted to take chickens home that very day. More of a discussion and planning opportunity though.

Current state of the chicken run in the backyard. Everything but the chicken wire is salvage material. Figured I'd better take a pic because KLW might come down this week and knock out a good chunk and I wanted to capture progress to date.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

BWCA 2009

Day One: the paddle-in, set up camp, evening fishing day:

On this day we were fortunate to find easy weather: no rain, a gentle SW wind pushing us toward camp, and moderate air temps. Can’t say for sure, but we pulled ashore sometime in the early afternoon. Notable was the absence of folks at camp sites and on the water: almost eerie to find the lake so empty. We liked it though. Almost hit a 24 hour period of seeing not a soul. This was somewhat of a surprise to us, as we figured, being around a holiday weekend, we’d see significant traffic. So we got the “best” site on the lake and proceeded to frame up our existence for the coming days. This first outing always provides the prelude to the hard core fishing: a short evening bit in pursuit of dinner. We paddled out to the same water that we’ve been fishing for years (some (one) of us for 25 years) and proceeded to bump quite a few fish. The bait guys caught numerous walleyes. I caught one fish (which is the approximate expectation), in a fashion to be appreciated: saw some fleeing little whiney baitfish skitting around on the water surface… positioned canoe and plopped this black and yellow bit on the exact spot… pictured smallie came out and folded on it just as it hit the water. Audience applause. Taped at ~16.5”. Great start, and enough for me. Moon came up and pushed the sun down on the other side. Home to our first shore lunch.

Day Two: a numbers deal:

Up early in the mornin’, dressed in black. Someone said that once and it was roughly what we were up to: early birds after some worms or fish, etc. Number one rule: no breakfast. You don’t stand around sipping while the fishing is good. I suggested this be our camp rule and the guys complied. Fish 615-900 and eat your breakfast later. Rule. Take your time on the consumption part later on when other folks are getting sunburn and no fish.

First pics are view from bed: cool night allowed a person to skip the tent. Nice viewscape on rising from a decent slumber.

So, first to the big bay, bigger fish water – hoping to get into just a few. On this morning the bait guys did very well: one got a limit of walleyes, and all in all they busted quite a few fish. Made a meal (speaking of meal fish, I forgot to mention in Day One write up that the first fish I caught was a walleye that we kept and ate – that was to be 50% of my meager contribution to the food supply). I waded the shore in pursuit of the athletic denizens. Got two great takes on poppers right away – the teenager fish – the 14-15 inchers… jumping and leaping and grabbing and folding on the popper. Outstanding. Once the sun came over the trees, switched to clouser and got one beauty fish. Stalked the shore further (quite a bit of time between fish in some cases) and later got another on a black leech. These smallies hit the streamers as they are sinking – right away – they don’t eat them in mid-retrieve. Stopped there: four smallies. In to eat. Then, after significant lounging and enjoyment of some peace, hiked back to the “numbers bay” – where a guy can find great action with the 12-15” crowd. And that was the case: three LMB and 12-15 SMB I think, nearly all on poppers. Most were ~12-13” but a handful were around 15”. Brought a bamboo rod back there to mix things up a bit. Interesting to note that the smaller poppers were clearly more productive than the bigger models. Back to the big bay – can’t recall for sure as I’m typing here, but I am 99% sure I got skunked in the evening – safe to say, because evening fishing sukked all around, and particularly for me. No big deal though, the day was what it was: good.

Day Three: relaxed mode starts at 8:04 CST

No, no the big one, big one! – Meriadoc Brandybuck

This day started out like the previous – guys busting fish with worms, and me taking a smallie or two on poppers, wading the shore. Fine morning. Then, as the sun crept a little higher it entered my mind that a person should gravitate toward those areas of water that are still in shadow. I left the oft-fished location then, and threw some casts in another part of the bay. After a short time I was lulled into carelessness… and I missed a nice take in the shallows. Few more minutes went by and I got bored… thinking the morning had petered out, so I figured I’d try some different popper patterns – big, small, deer, foam, etc. Out of my shallow-bay box I pulled a little red and white popper with a black buck tail. It’s an old fly – been given to me by a coworker, who had inherited a tackle/fly box from her father. Try it out was the thought. Sticking with the subtle approach. Beautiful casts – absolute joy to cast those little things because they don’t foul you up at all – casting the line only and the grace is apparent. I could shoot that thing to the point of using nearly all the line (didn’t do that too often though because at that distance it can be hard to put a good hookset on a fish). Anyway, right around 8:04 AM I put that little popper out in front of me – casted out into deeper water – right where I figured the depth ranged from 8-10 feet. Used the much-written-about approach of plopping, sitting, sitting, twitching, waiting, sitting. After a long spell of sitting, a mouth appeared at the water’s surface and sipped that popper. Much like a trout would sip a fly. Gently sipped it. I set the hook. Right now I distinctly remember wondering what size of fish had taken the popper. Kind of cool because on the crashing takes you get a glimpse at the outset. In this case though, no glance. Mystery and I liked that. Didn’t last long though because after a few seconds the fish catapulted through the atmosphere and I saw a big head and big gills flared. About then I got excited and started shouting a lot: Jes** this and Mary Joseph that, etc. Got pretty excited, but played that fish to hand with my mates laughing at me and looking on. I think the fish jumped 2-3 times and staged a good battle over all. Near the end, she ran into my tangle of fly line and actually went between my legs. For a second I feared it was over – I imagined the popper rubbed off on my waders and the fish disappeared. Horsed her out of there though, and reached my thumb into that big ol’ mouth. Believe it or not this fish was actually difficult to hold onto – even after grasping in the “paralyzed bass” vertical grip she gave some solid shakes and I almost dropped her a time or two. Took a few photos and measured on my canoe paddle. On that paddle I have exact demarcation for 12”, 18” and 20”. Here is the description of the measurement: I laid the fish on the paddle, holding by the bottom lip. The tail, without pinching together, clearly flopped past the 20” mark. A rough extrapolation suggested 20.5”. My boat mate figured maybe that, given the tail wasn’t pinched and I was holding the lip a bit in front of the paddle, it was 21”. Not sure, but my three-part conclusion is this: (1) longer than 20”, (2) rounded to the nearest inch 21”, (3) could have been 21”. A lot of text about one fish is what we have here, but it approximates the level of fascination achieved by catching and holding a fish of such note. You see the scar in the pic – there was a symmetric mark on the other side: figuring an eagle tried to pick up this fish, only to find the mass a little too much maybe. Not sure. Don’t see many herons up there though.

So, after that – it was relaxation mode. By 8:04 AM on the second day of fishing I’d already caught more fish on poppers than I did over the entire 2008 trip, and I’d caught the biggest smallie I’ve ever held… also the largest smallie KLW has seen come out of that lake in 25 years of fishing it. Icing from that point on is what I figured. So for the middle of the day we walked back to a small lake and caught a few smallies… lounged at a campsite and putzed a bit. Eagle hung out in camp and took a walleye corpse. Night came when it was supposed to and closed the curtain on a memorable day.

It's sometimes hard to capture the essence of a fish in a picture. Here is the visual reference: look above at the 14-15" taken early in the morning, and note human hand as comparison - thumb in mouth, fish mouth size, etc. Now look down at the big fish and note the same visuals. Here is my response on making this comparison: pffffft, holy shi*t man!

Day Four: Solid Numbers

The delay in finishing this post has clouded my memory a bit on the precise details of each day. This I recall though was a normal morning: catch 1-3 fish on poppers on the big lake. Very good. Leisurely late morning - probably whittling a bit. Maybe took a swim this day. Then back to my favorite shallow bay for some solid numbers fishing: run a little circuit and catch a bunch of 12-15" fish on poppers; sit on shore for a while while the circuit resets; run it again. Got a visit from a couple of campmates - that was cool. They saw some solid topwater action and I think they had good conversation between the two of them. Bait guys did fine on walleyes, as normal. Safe to say we ate a lot of fish.

Note background in the one pic below - catching fish in a shallow, vegetated bay. Best action is where the mouth of the bay opens up into deeper water.

Day Five: Loafing

The mornings were pretty much clockwork - never got blanked on topwater (as opposed to the evenings, which were generally poor). So this final full day of fishing began with that: nice fish on standard poppers. Early morning light didn't make for a good photo I see now. I walked around for the body of the day - feeling like I ought to fish, but not really wanting to... I figure most things regarding fishing had been done and the drive was a little lacking. I think on this day we made a lot of tinder by way of whittling and we may have staged some good discussion there in camp. When night got on, we paddled up into a place I'd not really explored much and saw some interesting sights: pike holding, turtles sunning and Mr. Murray catching a good number of fish, including several LMB and a chub (odd). We targeted northern pike, and I got a good take on a popper that I know was a pike, but she came unbuttoned after just a few seconds. I couldn't get really excited about esox for some reason. Obligated to fish for them though it seems. At least for a bit.

Day Six: The Exit

Being that we have families and folks that we miss, we decided we ought to leave and make our way home. As ceremony has taken place in past years - we caught some fish in the early AM, made a final breakfast of pancakes, and proceeded to break camp. For the clouser minnow the trip ended well: one each of smallie, wallie (accidents happen) and northern pike (baby). As we had for the entire trip, we found favorable paddling conditions on this day, and we powered our way out with no incident.

The walleye pictured below had the misfortune of being caught on this day - meaning his fillets would keep for the paddle out, until ice could be applied. The fish, along with another generously offered by Mr. Murray, was later eaten by my family. Young James replied, when asked how's the fish?: It's splendid.

Summary: Misc Pics and Notes

Loved the case. It was good to have all flies in one enclosure, as opposed to smallie box, pike box, topwater box. It fits well in a day pack too, which is cool.

Ultralight: flies in hat, lanyard, rod in hand. Stalking mode - very cool.

Four tents we had, for six guys.

This cup, through the course of the trip, contained water, milk, beer, coffee, hot chocolate. Solid contribution for a good piece of gear.

[this last photo courtesy of A. Murray]

A few notes, in no order:

(1) Don't be bound to a boat when fishing the BWCA. Stalking the shore, IMO, is much better. Cover more water, maintain better control over casting radius, and flat out cast better with your feet on the ground.
(2) Overline all fly rods you bring up there. Much better casting and shooting those big flies.
(3) Don't underestimate the value of small poppers.
(4) Don't eat breakfast or have coffe before fishing. Get up and go out. Come back around 8 or 9 AM with a good start to the day under your belt.
(5) You need three flies: poppers, clousers and leeches. A guy should bring more than that (all boxes that make the trip should be full), but you can do really well with those three patterns alone.
(6) Fly reels are not necessary in the BWCA beyond the duty of holding line. There are no fish that make runs. The main reel I used was an old Okuma given to me by John Montana - the drag leaves something to be desired. Didn't matter. If you have a nice reel, bring it. Don't go out of your way though.
(7) In low-light conditions, you can raise smallies to poppers even in 8-10 feet of water.
(8) When in the BWCA, fish, but take time to let things be for a while too.

Thanks to the good gentlemen who made this another memorable trip; thanks especially to The Director. And I love you Micropterus dolomieu.