Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Float Your Boat

A few first-evers on this little jaunt:

(1) First time I've used any sort of watercraft to fish a SE MN river.
(2) First gaze at any of this landscape - there are no road crossings for maybe the first 10 miles.
(3) Never caught a mooneye on a fly before this trip.
(4) Never caught brown trout and walleye from the same water, using the same technique (that is really odd man).
(5) Hadn't sat at the top of a riffle and watched a guy roll his kayak and lose his fly rod (and reel/line of course), hat and polarized glasses to a deep corner hole.

We hit a perfect weather window: Thursday storm drifted south, and the next storm waited until Friday night. The water was up, and slightly turbid. That may have slowed fishing a bit. Further slowing it was the fact that we were never really clear on just what priority fishing had on this trip. We were floating down the river and that was the main deal. Seeing a lot and learning a lot. We got out to fish at what we perceived to be the best looking riffles/pools. But mostly we were just drifting down the river. A better-experienced float fisherman would have caught more fish, no question. We surely glided over thousands of fish. We caught just enough to keep it interesting - a fish here and a fish there. No big smallmouth. But four different species to make an odd quartet: brown trout, smallie, walleye, mooneye. All swinging streamers down and across, through riffles and into the pools below. My partner got one on a popper too, which was great.

We need to read some T. Holschlag, gather ourselves and our wits and our boats and do it again... and do it better. And paddling partner can bring his new fly rod: see - not all bad to roll over and lose all your stuff to the river.

All things considered it was a privilege to float through this country and see it from surface water elevation. For the first ~6 miles we saw little if any sign of mankind.

And check the dishpan on that mooneye: one of my favorite fish for sure. Ate a yellow clouser swung downstream into the slackwater behind an island.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Valiant Grape [Vitis 'Valiant'] is known for its vigorous growth and its round blue grapes.

After only two full growing seasons in the ground, this vine will provide quite a few pints of jelly. Good to -40 F, little to no care necessary (but I give it anyway because I'm in love with the plant).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

And the weekend played out as follows:

Part I: damn fortunate that this was logged to start the day

I had a somewhat grand plan to fish by myself on Saturday and salve some fairly sore parts of my spirit by catching and touching some fishes. Trout and carp. The thought was to do this fairly quickly and concisely and then take the boys out for an overnight adventure. Good plan. Then a whole bunch of funny sh*t and sad sh*t and sadder and sorrier sh*t started happening. Interspersed were some moments of relative solitude and enjoyment. If I were tuned up on Hamms right now I could really lay the story out there in full color but I'm not so I won't. Instead I'll just share a few points and pics relevant to fishing, conditions, etc.

One thing this day did was confirm for me that the morning is the time right now. Morning is the way to go. Get up at 430, fish from maybe 530-930 and then get the hell out of there. Don't get hot and bothered and pissed casting to fish holding tight with mouths shut. Anyway - this morning start was pretty good. Can't really complain catching 20-25 trout, some of them being brook trout. Can't complain but I'm working on a way. I skipped the marginal water and walked a field edge to a good stretch. Immediately ~630 began nymphing up fish left and right. Pretty straight forward deal. Slow water though - slower than usually encountered. Streamer probably would have worked but I kept drifting that tandem rig and moving fish. Remarkably though not one trout >12". Only a couple in the 10-11" range. Caught two from a nice rocky flat stretch on a parachute ant pattern. On two occasions I had what felt like a big fish on... first one just popped off after maybe 20 seconds (never saw), second one ran me down into a log pile and whatever nymph he didn't have in his mouth caught on a log and he slipped away unseen. Nice mystery and I don't mind having that to ponder.

This type of water fished really well - slow and deep dredging with nymphs:

Even though I've never sent or received a text message I got a text message when I hooked this fish: you a sucka MF and that will play out for the rest of the day BYE and that white sucker proceeded to hook itself on the trailing nymph when it slipped from my hands thus breaking off both nymphs and keeping them stored away in that deep dark pool. Portend.

Part II: if one could be physically murdered actually killed by a stream and demolished to the very smallest components of existence this would be that episode

As I drove away from that mildly successful chapter I looked at the clock and saw it was only ~10:xx. Plenty of time I figured. Fish all day and kick ass man. That was on the brain. Well hell that was not in the cards. Not at all. Instead a whole storm of negativity was about to descend and blow my little blue overheating car off the road and leave me in the ditch dead like a little biyatch. Little did I know.

Thinking on it in hindsight, here is why I think I got crushed by this second stop:

(1) Never fished the reach before.
(2) It got hotter than piss and the fish were not that active.
(3) TIGHT quarters - no casting room.
(4) Four beaver dams.
(5) Deadfall everywhere - I had a hard time staying in the water.
(6) No bug activity. Not a bug in the air.

Have to admit that I caught maybe 4-5 fish right away (before it got too late/hot). Then it played out like this: throw some feeble attempt at fishing out there, lucky if my flies made it through the 2 foot opening in front of me and hit the water without snagging some f*cking box elder and then watch them drift without any incident and then wade through the water (couldn't get out) and spook a big pod of fish including a bunch of big fish. That was it. Nymphs couldn't get a good drift in the slow flat water, fish wouldn't react to dry flies, and they wouldn't react to streamers. They were holding in the bottom of long bellies, dead still it seemed. They straight up whipped me. I should have cut and run but I committed to walking to a certain point (mistake). So after a while the fishing was only token and I was sweating to beat hell and I basically just wanted to get my ass out of there so I waded best I could spooking fish everywhere and cackling madly all the while and every now and then I'd look up the bank and see nothing but a sea of corn and I'd yell NOOOO and duck back into the stream and forge on. Then to top it off I had to walk back on black top for about 20 minutes to my car. Just not happening man. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't. Like anything else I suppose. The lesson, again: to hell with fishing during the day. Go out in the morning. In fact I might not fish again until I can get trico action early morning somewhere. Nice cool morning air with bugs instead of this sweatball marathon sh*t.

To hell with you man:

Part III: sweating balls off looking for any vestige of decent carp fishing

And the answer to the question is YES, that is a big carp. Very big fish. It doesn't look right in that photo. Here are some comical carp notes:

That fish in the pic below provided these challenges:
(1) It was at the base of a 25 foot vertical cliff.
(2) It was caged in that woody debris and not moving.
(3) It was negative (not feeding).
(4) There were four teenagers thrashing about in the water not 20 feet away. Talking about cigarettes and making cool talk, etc.

With all that I figured (a) no way could I get a fly to that fish, (b) no way would it eat. Then I asked myself what the hell else do I have to do but try so I did that. I went to the base of the cliff and held on to vegetation and edged past the teenagers with my Shinobi mask on and they stared and stared. I grinned at that part. I got to that woody bit and found the fish still there. Unreal. I was right on top of his ass and he did not detect me. I was planning to hook it, then try to submerge my rod and let him pull it under the log and then fight it. Good plan and who knows if it would have worked. I don't. Doesn't matter though because despite whipping all those odds and getting in position... the curse of that sucker got me: as soon as I began to dap the fly a swarm of little pisant sunnies came and absolutely refused to let me get that fly down to that carp. Par for the course man the curse was on and I started yelling profanities at those sunnies and I think those teenagers saw a guy with a ninja mask on walking like a blue heron and holding onto weeds and leaning out over a log and yelling swear words at nothing. And so the commotion put the carp off and he lumbered his big ass out into the depths. I watched that big fan tail flip away. And it's worth noting here that THIS is the problem with MN carping as compared to Columbia River: bust your ass for ONE FISH and get snubbed and then you are screwed. There is no flat to continue down to find the next fish. You are just screwed and you go home or search for 30 minutes driving around to find one more carp to get snubbed again. Bitter.

And with that I cut my day short and drove home. Plent of fishing time left but I said to hell with it. I was hot and whipped and I wanted to sit in my cold basement and drink rum and coke. One thing did get my attention on the way home though: I jumped out of the car on a busy street and looked into the water and saw two friendly carp nosing along. All my gear was put away but I had images of salvaging it all: a carp can salvage it all. So I took it all out... rigged it all up... carp still there... dapped on them... and then a blur of motion... and some sudden movement... thinking did one of those carp just... confusion and then tension... and then I see the dasterdly summofabich: largemouth bass ate the fly as soon as it hit the water and spooked the two carp. At that point, at the now-oddly-beautiful absolute pinnacle of absurdity and failure I wanted to crucify that bastard but sense got to me and I realeased it unharmed. End of chapter.

Part IV: car camping

So to hell with the fishing alone and in fact to hell with the fishing was what I figured when we left for a little outing. I brought my 4 wt because I knew we'd be close to the river and a person can't be that close to the water without at least having the possibility there just in case someone asks or something exceptional presents itself. In fact, we got a camp site right on the river. Could hear the riffles all the while. Anyway this outing should have been great but due mainly to my shortcomings it was good to very good. The boys were excited and I truly believe they enjoyed about every second of it. They are easy to please: they basically just like to hang around the campsite, burn wood, wrestle in the tent, run on trails, wade the river and eat camp food. And they asked to fish so we did. We also waded across the river to a little hidden beach of colluvium at the base of a sandstone cliff. Kicked back there for a while.

In the reach behind the campsites there are always fish rising. On this day I absolutely could not figure what they were eating. No bugs in the air that I could see. Couldn't make out anything on the water either. So we tried a variety approach: small, hair wing dry flies (took 1-2), simple nymphs (took 1-2), soft hackles (surprisingly took none) and micro streamers (took 2). Fished for <30 minutes, split over three different segments. Each fish was hooked by me and played by one of the boys.

And check out these stomach contents: NINE crane fly larvae. Never seen that before. Can't figure it: I always think of a trout jumping on a crane fly larva every now and then when it happens on by like a big candy bar... how could this little brown come across so many in such short order? Very cool and interesting.

New tent is cadillac relative to our 8x8 footer. $10 via neighbor's garage sale.

DNR made a circuit at night, to alert every camper that a severe weather advisory had been issued. Rain came suddenly and hard. After buttoning everything down I entered the tent and found the boys huddled in the middle, giggling and burying themselves in sleeping bags. One big roll of thunder jolted us all... good feeling to be there in that tempest in a little bubble of safety with your two guys.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Study in Appreciation #2:

I just paddled. Round and round the lake with eyes locked on this young guy pictured below. He took to the reel well - understanding and handling the various functions it offers. Took to bait well too - impaled worms on his hook. He's caught his share of sunnies flipping little nymphs from docks but I wanted to get him a fish that would rap on his line so he could feel the take. He got a few. At one point of hookup I was looking right at him. Great image burned into my mind of eyes widening and a mouth forming an "O" shape and a boy saying I got one I got one. And again the take is the premiere moment.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Study in Appreciation #1:

I was fortunate enough to come across ~45 minutes recently to nymph a bit. Very challenging conditions right now, with small streams showing dead clear and low. With limited time I focused on one hole, and resolved that I would fish all parts of it: front, middle, top and all seams everywhere, etc. From above I could see the streambed over most of the pool. I took this to mean that the fish could easily see me. Could not waltz up like a goon and start flailing around. Camoflauged my outline and crouched a lot. Slow fishing. Repeating casts over and over while changing weights and indicator location. This was effective. The fish are there to be had. Some in the freezer now but most still swim. The only pictures worth sharing are below. This was a remarkable brook trout. Ate a BH prince nymph. When I looked at it in the field, I figured it was 11-12". However, a brown that I kept had been estimated at 10.5". When I got home, I measured it with a ruler and found it to be 12.0". Felt like a major failure there - poor estimating skills. Applying that ratio to a guess of 11.5" puts the brookie at 13.14". Down to the hundredths place... right on. Point is that it was a large brook trout and a damn pretty fish. I got to thinking that I sure appreciate the opportunity to cradle a fish like that and then let it go.