I’d just missed two strikes on my black deer-hair diver when Jack spun his drift boat around to head downstream. We’d launched the boat only minutes before and Jack rowed us upstream towards the dam to get Scott and me into one of his musky holes. Then we spotted another boat up there we were about to turn around, but not before I shot a few casts to the rocky shoreline. I never saw the fish that struck but they were most surely a couple of the many smallmouth bass that call this river home.
I hadn’t been fishing for a couple of weeks due to a home project, but when that was completed I let Scotty know I was ready and able. Scott got hold of Jack and arraigned to float the river near Jack’s beautiful cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin. Jack phoned me the day before and announced that I’d won an “all-expense paid” float trip down a river full of big muskies and bass. There’s only one answer to that kind of invitation.
Neither Scott nor I had fished this river before so anticipation was high like it is when looking at new water. Not surprisingly Jack took the oars first and was soon pointing out likely looking spots we should cast to, but this river is so full of rocks and shoreline trees that it’s impossible to hit every good spot. It’s easy to believe there’s fish behind every boulder and under every downed tree.
Jack knows his fishing. It wasn’t that long ago he’d returned from a New Zealand trout fishing adventure to fish Stripers off the east coast and tarpon in Florida. He’s familiar with all the Montana waters I’ve fished and gave some valued tips the first time I went west, and by now he should be in Alaska casting for salmon. He’s smart and personable with a good sense of humor, of which I was reminded of when he stated the expense paid part didn’t include his tip and that I should bring a sandwich. Hoo boy.
River fishing bass, pike, and musky is all about fun. The flies we tie and cast are big and sometime outlandish. Colorful spun deer hair, rubber legs and google eyes, long bucktail and strung hackle tails. No need for magnifiers to tie the hook on to nearly invisible tippets. No worries about the perfect drift. Just enjoy the scenery – there’s always an eagle or osprey, deer or bear, beaver, mink, or otter somewhere along the route – and feel your rod load and the line shooting through your hand knowing the cast is a good one. And a good one lands your fly inches from the bank or cover and you strip it back in plops and jerks and dives on and under the surface. “Nice cast” “Gotta be one there” and “Fish on!” are the phrases of the day. Of course I usually put at least one fly high enough in the overhanging branches to wish there was a pole-saw handy.
Often the strikes are explosive, but when Scott dropped his flowing bucktail diver at the base of a low dock the big musky slid out and grabbed his fly without much commotion. I saw the tight line and bent rod and heard Scott say “heavy fish” before all went slack and the fish was gone! The fly was offered again but that fish had tasted enough feathers for one afternoon. It was the heartbreak of the day, just ask Scott.
All told we landed a good number of smallmouth bass, a couple big enough to brag about, and a couple of northern pike. Zip on the muskies. I’m still amazed at how strong these river fish are and what a fight they put up!
Jack had invited me to stay the night, but I had an early commitment at home in the morning so I elected to sleep in my own bed that night. I drove through Duluth and was settling in for the last hour of driving and I was getting pretty sleepy, always a downfall after a full day outdoors. I had a bottle of 5-Hour Energy somewhere close and I groped around in the dark for it while keeping an eye on the road. I felt the familiar feeling bottle in my hand, opened it and took a big gulp of silicone fly floatant. Yeah, that sort of woke me up.
Back home it’s been cooling off some and there’s the hint of autumn in the air. A few of the maples are taking on that red tint. It’s not far from bird hunting season, now. I’ve been seeing some broods of grouse on the roads and woodcock flying at dawn on my way to work. The dogs can feel it, too, and are whining and dancing around just begging to get out there. The other morning we woke to a cool and rainy day but a good day to give the dogs some work. Molly is always happy to be doing anything and the deadfowl dummies are almost as good to her as real birds. Jack jumped off the tailgate and ran a few yards down the trail to point a brood of grouse before I could get a bell on him. Seemed like a good sign!
Bird hunting and fall fishing – good times ahead!