Saturday, August 27, 2011

BNT Length vs Weight 2011
From various SE MN watersheds

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Center of the Earth: the Old Water, August Morning

Like most nights prior to early morning fishing departure: not restful sleep. Laying on the couch to avoid waking anyone while slipping out. August so no covers; windows open to fullest; night sounds filtering in. Pretty good really. Used to fret about not getting enough sleep but now don’t really care that much. Used to put on that the only time I slept on the couch was before fishing. But we all know that's not the case. 4:05 AM was the target. Ultraviolet dreams leading up to that – the kind you have as you pass in and out of sleep. One that struck me as completely tangible was an episode in which the neighborhood kids were all hovering right there outside the window, only it was bright light out there. One boy kept looking in at me and saying something. I may have risen from the couch and looked out the window. Some other bright light stuff and various things that I know I know and remember but I can’t quite bring them to the forefront. All this leading up to 4:05 AM which came soon enough. All I did was roll off the couch, turn a burner on underneath my oney coffee pot, pull on some pants. Picked up my bag, rod and coffee and walked outside and stood in the middle of the street. Getting cool now as the hottest summer days are gone. You feel a little cool in the mornings now but you know you can roll with the light shirts still. No waders. Pretty light gear really. And WFF rolled up with his gal (bless her for her cooperation, coordination and understanding). So we were two guys left in the middle of the road at 4:30 AM.

The fishing was well-paced, highly pleasurable. We were walking on what is widely considered a blue ribbon trout stream, nested as a gem in the crown of SE MN Driftless Area. Bedrock controls, cold water, good pasture, good fish. We tried to force trico spinners on fish for a while. Then switched to nymphs. Then switched back. Did you come here to fish nymphs? Was a question at one point. But then later: I don’t think we can justify fishing these dries over the top of all this good water. Etc. etc. Classic case of indecision but there’s nothing wrong with that. We went back and forth. The #20-22 dry flies did produce some fish. Interestingly, they worked the best in water that did not show the thick trico clouds above, hovering and suddenly zipping horizontally… they worked in the best where we saw sparse or no tricos. The thought there is that in the thick of it the fish were keyed to a specific stage of the trico cycle, and we weren’t on it just right. Maybe in the water that wasn’t boiling with takes, the fish were aware of the ambient condition and looking up, but more willing to take what came their way. Some mystery involved and it should always be that way. We don’t need to figure it all out to enjoy it. In the end we got some great takes on tiny dry flies. Maybe 6-8 fish to hand using that method.

Late morning brought me back to the old crutch of nymphing. Only this was such a good day and cool and vibrant morning shed of cares that even a dog cynic grouch like me didn’t look at nymphing as a crutch this time: rather, I looked at it as a return to my old fishing method. I used to nymph like a madman, everywhere and all the time. So I rigged up the classic SE MN flies – nothing fancy – with split shot and indicator. And was subsequently reminded why I used to do it so often: it’s flat out deadly. And we didn’t even fish nymphs that hard, or for that long. Where we placed them in the water, we caught fish. For ~45 minutes I stood in a 5 foot circle, in the shade, at the base of a limestone cliff face. Across the stream was a beautiful gray belly-hole, with a rock ledge on the far side. We could see fish flashing in there. All along the bottom. Most drifts through that hole produced a strike. Most of those produced a hooked fish. And most of those got a fish to hand. I could see in my mind those fish down there. Not sure how many were caught from that hole but it was well into double digits. Other fish came from other good water. Done by noon and back home.

There were some notable firsts and lasts on this outing:
(1) New line for the 2 wt. DT. Nice.
(2) Old Blue Car became a member of WFF family. I love the car and it is pretty well woven through with good fishing memories. Thus, good to know it will stay active in Driftless Area undertakings.
(3) In exchange, new guitar. Need some time on it this winter as I’d hate to see it stand in the corner with a negative vibe.

Finally: I have no camera for a while, so these pics credited to WFF. And thanks for another good August outing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Garden 2011

Suffered a bit during shutdown. But yield is still decent. And plants, fruits beautiful as always. One of my good friends was adamant in this design concept: one does not need a big space to produce big yield. Our long-term goal is to be working example of this. Years provide iterative lessons and some things drop away and some things are further tuned. I am such that I like to go with what my surroundings can support and sustain; I won't bust my ass to grow something that doesn't want to grow around me. No going to store to buy all kinds of nutrient or special this or that. Grow brother grow and I won't get on your case or give you an unwanted neighbor. The garden is made of cast off buckthorn and scrap lumber. Enrichment (which was very necessary and is ongoing) is achieved by amending with compost from our home operation and from some neighbors' kitchens. Most water is caught via downspouts. Many perennial flowers and herbs, of which some are edible and some can be dried for tea. Hummingbirds, big fat moths, butterflys like these plants. And they can please the human eye. What I need to work on most is drinking beer in the presence of all this, seated and relaxed, enjoying it all. I mean to redouble my efforts on that.

What works around here:
Perennial crops that need be just left alone:
Raspberries (patch coming along okay)
Bluberries (just a novelty patch)
Grapes (favorite plants in the world)
Black Walnuts

Tomatoes (all started from seed in garage)
Peppers (all started from seed in garage)
Beets (second favorite in world)
Lettuce (speckled trout lettuce is best variety for our plot)

What doesn't work around here:
Squash (too sprawling)
Pumpkins (too sprawling)
Potatoes (too sprawling)
Carrots (continual failure so gave up)
Monopa Spinach (won't germinate well)

We did cheat a bit and grow some zuke, squash, potatoes out at a friend's place.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Looking for the perfect perch...

Gearing up for BWCA 2011. Tying list is set before me. Heavy with clousers, poppers, leeches. This year though I want to focus some of the clousers on perch imitation. All the clousers will work and be crushed and eaten and spat upon, but I'm curious as to whether or not a perch copy would do any better than standard half and half stuff. The perch are significant forage up there, if not f*cking very signficant forage. I see them everywhere: scattering in the wake of charging predators. And in the guts of recently dispensed fish. Recall image below from BWCA 2010.

I'll get into some Enrico's-type stuff with taller silhouettes. For now though just trying standard clouser forms.

The task: give me your ideas regarding perfecting perch coloration and shape. Share any patterns that you like.

Would appreciate it.

One final note: always carry 15-20 clousers in BWCA. Don't roll in there with half a dozen because that just ain't right.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Local Variety

In an attempt to shed the scourge of normalcy and contempt bred by familiarity with the local fishery, my boys and I decided to look after some new angles and different places yesterday. Good sun; not much wind; not too hot. A transition day welding a vacation to the end of this work week is what it was. The notable details are as follows:

(1) My offer of $100 for a 20 lb carp opportunity was picked up and cast back to me, with a good tip. I followed up. I know there are carp there and probably big carp, but it’s a deep and dirty rotten hole. Teeming with fish of all species and ages. But I can’t get to them. Can’t see them and can’t get to them. I tried a sink tip line and got some fish but not what I was looking for. I appreciate the note though.
(2) Upstream of this hole, I walked around a bit. All new to me, because of recent catastrophic flooding and damage to control structure. There were a few carp to be seen. Thus, I addressed and subsequently hooked one of the more unremarkable carp I’ve come across. It numbly ate a DB soft hackle in black. Put up no fight, and swam into the net. Probably 7-8 lbs. Not a bad fish and who catches 8 lbers with regularity? But once you’ve eaten a whole box of candy heart carp you might turn away from the liver and onions variety. Just by reflex. I guess if you really think about it, they are all lovable in the end. Still big buglemouths. Anyway: left that carp to wallow in its mediocrity and walked upstream. Nothing but hundreds of quillbacks. All little quillbacks skirting about and mostly looking up, feeding now and then. I avoided as long as possible but finally in frustration I started fishing to them. I’ve caught a handful of quillbacks: maybe ten by fair hooking. And I’d never successfully sight-fished to one. I think they have some solid ESP and/or special vision that allows them to see you in any stance in which you can see them. But on this day, I drifted that black softie by a quill and it moved to it. I picked up the rod and said “No way – I can’t believe you just ate that.” Little tiny, tiny littlest mouth out there. But the hook was curving through the top lip, situated correctly. Cool pyramid body fish. Big dark quill that is namesake.
(3) Shot that water to hell and drove home, making one quick stop that would prove to be a banner. Here is the sequence:
a. First see a guy with a fishing rod, accompanied by two girls, one in Daisy Duke shorts following him around. Only one way to show that guy up and it must be to catch a giant fish. Because I know I don’t look too cool in my Simms and my carp buff. And I didn’t have my new green fishing shirt on. So I looked to the water and immediately saw fish and immediately knew I was in. Fish caught. Just not sure which one.
b. Take #1: I dropped that black softie in front of a pair of cruising fish. I got the outstandingly good “oooh, exciting!” response and one sauntered forward and ate it. I set the hook and I watched the fly come shooting straight out of the carp’s mouth. No contact made. Not sure if I literally pulled while it was being sucked in, or if the carp spit it. Either way: negative.
c. Take #2: I was fishing a tandem rig, with a DC squirrel fly on the front. I dropped it in front of a decent carp that was half-feeding, and it just crushed the squirrel before it had even settled half way to the bottom. Set the hook. Tippet knot shattered. Good thing it was not a haunting fish. I still like that take though. Aggressive. Something that can shake off doldrums.
d. That fish blew out some of the water, so I sat for a second and retied things. Leader sucked. Tippet sucked. Figured I had a good chance. I peeked in then and scanned. Half hidden by the turbidity: nice fish laying in the cut. I recall saying aloud “look at that big son of a bitch down there.” Tail was not up, but the fish was feeding off and on, moving toward me. Only one fly this time: the DC squirrel. Dropped it ahead and to the fish’s right. Annihilation. The carp ate they fly and I exhaled and said something. This fish showed a big head, big mouth. Wasn’t sure about the depth though. So I was toying with the idea of a Miss River Basin 20 lber. It didn’t look the part necessarily but it looked like a fish that could be that fish. Only one good run, but it did burn my fingers a bit. Which I appreciate and will remember every time I walk by that position. Digital scale said 16 lbs. Not the biggest MN fish, but in the top 10 for sure.
(4) Fished to an orange koi of maybe 3-4 lbs. Actually got the fly to the fish, but it was presented mid-column as the koi was crusing… not ideal. No takes at all. Pretty cool though.
(5) James logged his first ever 20+ fish day. Honest estimate is that he caught 2 crappies, 2 SMB, 8-10 LMB and 8-10 sunfish. Some of the LMB were in the 12-13” range. Maybe touched 14”. At one point, he hooked something that he couldn’t land. I was some distance away, and thus did not see the fish. He sure had his rod doubled over though. The kid just wades out as far as his chicken legs can carry him, and zings a twister tail out there. Cranks it back. Fish jump on. Nothing forced by me. In fact, at 6:08 PM I really wanted to get home, but struggled to pry him away. He’s already a practitioner of the “one last cast” mode of operation. Far and away the premiere moment of the day was when Danny helped James net a bass. Beaming through a genuine smile he said to his big brother: “Well done James. Well DONE!”

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lake Michigan Report: August 2011

The carp weren't in the easy-access, shallow bays. That's all the information I have. The rod was never rigged up. The boys never looked on a fish. It was a different kind of trip: fishing was not at the forefront. All the same, Lake Michigan is an enchantress. Her steel gray is immense and binding and hard to turn away from. June 2012.

Free Range Dubbing

Please take off your coat, put a song in your throat for some badass dubbing put forward by Singlebarbed. Was fortunate enough to acquire a variety of dirty colors just reeking of buggy. Tonight in my basement messing with some. Got so excited I had to take a leak in the utility sink. But was able to wash it down by emptying the dehumidifier.

Order some here.

See more examples and photos here .

Thanks again to S-Barbed.

This is a mix of orange that will be seductive when applied in appropriate situations.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Pondering Semi-Retirement from MN Carp Scene

Made a stop a couple days ago and some carp were caught. The first fish was looking upstream, feeding. I looked straight at it and noted to the fish that it was caught. Walked back to the car and lined my rod. Whistling. Ambled into position. Flipped a cast beyond and to the left and dragged a LOD into the carp's feeding cone. Immediate eat. Later on I caught a couple fish on the SJW. I could barely bring myself to take a picture of them. In fact at one point before casting to a 5 lb fish I squeezed my brain trying to think of any dimension of what I was about to do that would be memorable in some way. The only thing I could think of was the take, so I set my camera in the grass for one fish and tried to Blair Witch video the hookset. It worked but the camera wasn't situated quite right so the footage is marginal.

It's not that the MN carping bit isn't cool. It's that given (1) the reference information I have for comparative analysis, and (2) the sum of the parts here in MN isn't all that epic, it becomes more of a pastime than a memory-making expedition. Clearly, it is enjoyable to look for fish, see them and watch them eat. There is no argument on that one. But at some point the repeated lackluster and the repeated sub-par nature prompts one to question whether or not there are better things to be doing. Like fishing trout. Or trying to hook a muskie for the first time. Or taking your son out to catch LMB (he reguarly refers to them by this acronym now).

A carp revival will require any combination of new discovery: (1) some flats on Ole Miss; (2) some shots at truly large fish. Otherwise I figure a guy might focus time and energy on other things.

I'm always tinkering with strategies and plans. At this point, I'm close to solidifying Columbia River and Lake Michigan as my carp time. Leaving it at that.

In closing though: I still have a $100 reward offer to anyone who can point me in the direction of legitimate sight-fishing opportunities for 20+ lb carp here in MN. And believe me, if it were to come through, I'd send the check.

Root River Trout with Capers
[following up on limit of BNT mentioned in previous post]

Get some butter and/or olive oil ripping in the cast iron
Chop the heads off the trout so they can fit in the pan
Give heads to chickens
Pan fry trout as one normally does: pretty hot and fast; flipping once
Remove trout from skillet
Add to the crustiness left in the pan: lemon juice, sour cream, capers
Other spices to taste
Use spatula to scrape around, pulling residue from pan into sauce

Just a few words in favor of creels, keeping of fish, simple cooking and memorable meals...

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

A Three Day Weekend in the Fishing Doldrums
Day 1: kids fishing only. LMB and sunnies. I broke down and outfitted these boys with spinning rods. Given the “automatic” nature of these rigs, James is able to stand alone, cast, retrieve, catch fish. He’s becoming deeply intrigued with the various fish, how big they get, what they eat, etc. I stand about 20 feet away and watch him, occasionally casting a little jig out for Danny and then handing him the rod. It is highly enjoyable to watch the rod tip dip and see a face light up. One of my multiple gripes regarding spinning gear though is the size of the hooks that are typically available: too big. And the barbs are huge. For a kid, you want a hook that can easily fit in a sunfish mouth. That was why these guys enjoyed flipping little BH nymphs over the past few years: any fish can eat them. With these jigs though, the fish pound away at the #6 hook but can’t ingest it. Anyway: thinking I’ll make some droppers using little BHs. That should be deadly. James caught a 10” LMB on the first cast he made with his new rod. Proceeded to catch three more from this pond. Ended the day taking a night tour of Whitewater State Park.

Day 2: fishing solo. Every July and August I’m reminded that these months can be worse than winter. Hotter than hell. Thick vegetation everywhere. No good bugs coming off. Sure you can make it work. But it’s still the doldrums around here, when compared to every other month of the year. I can honestly say that January 2011 was better trout fishing than what I got on Sunday. It was fine. Fish were where you’d expect to find them. Figure I landed maybe 14-15 nice BNT. I take it back it was slightly better than fine. It was indeed a Sunday and I never saw another person. Blue ribbon water and not a person in sight. I take it back I did run into a family right as I pulled up: the young son was lining his fly rod. They said their goal was to get him into fish on flies. They had hopper patterns but no nymphs so I gave them a selection. Twenty inches of tippet I said, but they had no tippet. I told them to cut a piece of mono from one of their spinning rigs. Such mono could only hope for such a valiant application I thought to myself but did not share out loud. But after that: no one. Walked downstream and quickly realized that was garbage. In July you need to be in the water. For three reasons: stay cool, make it possible to actually move your feet forward without wrapping yourself up in vegetation, and keep yourself from finding the next day myriad welts and itches from what I refer to generally as “chiggers.” A common school of thought is “stay out of the stream” so you don’t spook the fish. That’s well and good but abandoned by me in hot summer months. In the water is good. Turned around and headed upstream. I was hoping for hopper action. Tried it. Kept nervously switching between terrestrials and nymphs. Tried some standard dry flies. Nothing going until maybe 9 AM. Two nice browns erupted on a black hopper pattern tied by WFF. Assassination attempts. Completely out of the water. The rest of the day was standard stuff: nymphs and streamers in good water produced fish. I took a creel of perfect-for-frying-pan BNT: limit of five. The only other notable fish was one that came from the highly desirable slot marked by the red dot below. I walked past this water and noted it: not deep, but a great grass overhang. You figure a fish wants to feel safe; it can do so by going deep in a pool, or by getting under something. This water was maybe 8-9 inches deep. But on my way out I stopped and put one cast of a tandem rig at the top of that little riffle and before I could even track anything a BNT of maybe 12-13 inches cleared the water straight up 4 feet airborne in agitated fashion. Geez. Nice. So maybe not the worst day afterall.

Day 3: James fishing only while Danny and I swam in the pond. He was wet-wading up to his waist, and tirelessly casting a little jig and twister tail. Caught a LMB and sunfish. I offered to help him remove the hook from the LMB, and he said calmly: I don’t need any help. I already know everything about fishing. Hehe. Well that’s that. He’s clearly into it and I think the spinning gear was a good move. Promotes independence and allows a kid to go at his own rate. He wants to go fishing tonight.

Some carp were looked in on over the weekend, by me solo and one morning with James. He forgot his shoes, so he did a little carping in socks for 2.5 hours. It was the typical MN carping garbage: sweat our asses off hoping and praying that we’ll find some fish. Plowing through weeds and tripping on rocks. Finding just enough activity to keep us plowing. Getting one shot a feeding fish from 30 feet away and not hooking up. The carp bar is near the ceiling now, and MN carping is on the floor. I can barely bring myself to do it at this point. I think a guy in SE MN should just trout fish. Then head out a couple times a year for banner carping. The only thing that keeps me moderately interested is the possibility of a 20 lb Mississippi River carp. That would further elevate the Great Lakes / Columbia / Miss triad. I saw one too and put flies on it but I knew in advance it would not eat. Logged one redhorse.

July. August. Doldrums. We need something dynamic here, like James getting a big LMB or maybe a trout. Or a 20 lb carp. Etc. The need is there. Probably no more trout fishing until an early morning trico session comes along.