Sunday, February 26, 2017


Rocks and fly fishing, especially warm water fly fishing, go together like... well, you know the analogies. If there's something more fun than casting poppers and divers to a rocky shoreline populated with healthy bass, I don't know what it is. Sometimes, however, we gotta work the weeds. Particularly in late summer when the milfoil and coontail and the rest of that underwater vegetation reaches up to the surface. The same bay that was such springtime fun now clogs the trolling motor and the only way to really get to it is by paddle power. The fish are there but when each cast brings in a wad of weeds it starts to lose a lot of the fun. Then there's that pond full of lily pads. Plenty of bass and bluegills for excitement, but you only cast to the bigger openings of which are too few. A lot of water gets missed. And how about those log jams and wood filled shallows that grab even the most buoyant top-water fly?

I don't tie many weedless flies. Nobody seems to like them and there's probably a reason. Weed-guards get in the way of the hook, and thus, the hook-up. And a guard over the hook doesn't mean it will never grab some cabbage. That thing has to be stiff enough to cause the fly to ride up over some green stuff and logs but flex enough to collapse when struck by a fish and it won't be right every time. Until now I think I've had two weedless deer hair bass bugs in my box. I may have cut the guard off one I'd have to look but I know there are times when I miss the target and wish I was casting a weedless fly.

It's good to have a few so I'm tying a few. Nothing fancy and I'll likely be satisfied with a couple of foam blockheads with added mono weed-guards. Start with a green flip-flop and utility scissors and go from there. They're easy to tie and as much as I enjoy tying and fishing deer hair, those blockheads are as productive as anything. So this summer I'll be testing a weedless frog in the thick stuff. For the guard I used two strands of 20# mono lashed to each side of the hook and curved around and pulled right through the head with a needle. When the length seemed about right I pulled them up a little more, snipped 'em off and added a drop of glue before easing them back down so the ends disappear into the head. Easy to do and should work, right? It's so easy someone else is probably doing it already. I hope they're doing well.




Sunday, February 12, 2017

winter fish rambling...

Trout get all the attention, all the consideration and favorable regard, at least when you're in the midst of a group of fly fishers. I suppose it's understandable as I assume the act of sport angling was initiated by a fellow who thought it would be more fun to fool the trout in a stream with a rod, a length of silk line and an imitation of what those trout were eating rather than dragging them out in a net.
That angler was probably something of the white-collar class of the day and just as probably pretty well fed without relying on eating what he caught, though returning home with a mess of trout was certainly something to boast about and enjoy for dinner. If he really needed the food he may have used different methods. I wonder what would have happened if the spinning reel had came first.
Wild colorful trout are as pretty as can be and I'm not particular about the species. I've caught hefty brown trout that I believed, at the time, were the most beautiful things I'd ever seen. Then there were stout and strong rainbows that took me into the backing and when (and if) they were finally landed it felt like being accepted into some sort of fly fisherman's nirvana. I've also stooped in a tiny stream wondering why my photos never do justice to the gorgeous little brook trout that innocently and bravely grab a fly.

Once, after a half-days drive to a driftless area trout stream, I was stringing up my rod when a Dept. of Natural Resources truck pulled up. A fisheries tech with a clipboard hopped out and of the few questions asked one was to rank, on a scale of one to five, the importance of brook, brown, and rainbow trout. I gave 'em all a five – was there any other acceptable answer?
Yeah, I do like trout fishing and even though growing up near some fine trout water and using a fly rod, I saved for the day I could buy an ultra-light spinning outfit like everyone else was using. Opening day was mostly like a colossal tailgate party. There were old Willys jeeps and broncos fording the river; dirt bikes racing up and down and on and off the two-track near the water; camps set up with volleyball nets, gas grills, stereos, and beer kegs; families sitting in webbed lawn chairs along the banks dangling nightcrawlers under everything from canepoles to ugly sticks and trying to keep the dog away from the bucket of chicken. The sportiest of all were wearing Red Ball waders and skillfully flipping #0 Mepps spinners from little Shakespeare reels. Now and then someone would hook a trout and whoops could be heard up and down the river.

Going back on opening day years later – shortly after “the movie” came out – and it was all fly fishing then. Looking each way from the bridge all I could see were yellow and orange fly lines flinging through the air. I'm not sure if it was better, but at least there were less motorized vehicles running around and participants seemed to be more focused on the fishing and less on the other crap. Of course, it was a cold, rainy day so that might have had something to do with it. Now and then someone would hook a trout and whoops could be heard up and down the river.

The trouble is, where I live there's a lot of neat water to pass to get to most trout streams – water that is home to bass, northern pike, muskies, walleyes and tasty panfish – so it's not really trouble and it's pretty easy to rig up for some of the warm-water fly fishing only minutes from home. Even at that, mentioning to one of the locals that I'm going fly fishing they're likely to assume I'm going after trout. Sure, the trout are hard to beat in the beauty department but those bass and pike are a lot of fun and look pretty darn good to me.

There's a lake 20 minutes from here that's big, full of structure, known for its walleye fishing but has also developed a reputation as a bass and musky destination. I know folks fly fish it for both, at least I've heard they do, though I've never actually seen any other fly anglers when I've been out there. Last spring while in my boat tossing deer hair bass bugs along a rocky shoreline a boatload of walleye anglers cut their engine just outside the bay I was in and sat watching me cast for ten minutes. Another day on another part of that same lake I cast my way around a point and came into view of a group of people outside their summer home to hear one of them exclaim, “look, that guy is fly fishing!” – so, apparently fly angling is not all that commonly seen.

Around here, when the uninitiated hear about landing a musky on a fly rod they think it's really something. Fly rods still carry the stigma of whippy little wands used for little trout on little streams. Landing a musky on the fly IS something, but it's a combination of good things that come together at the right time. Still, rather than trying to explain the difference between a 4 weight and a 10 weight to someone who insists the heavier the lure the farther you can toss it, enjoy a bit of bragging rights and let 'em think what they want.
An acquaintance seemed interested so I showed him some flies. He held up one of my largest 6/0 musky creations and liked the looks but informed me it was way too lightweight to cast. I didn't show him the trout flies.
It will be a while before there's any fly fishing around here. We're still driving pickup trucks on frozen lakes, skiing on several feet of snow, and trying to get some firewood put up. The days are getting longer, though, and there are some open trout streams a couple hundred miles south, so, you never know.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Some do escape.

If there is ever a time when there's not something to do that's needs doing, I don't know when that is. However, sometimes on these winter days – mornings in particular, when I'm sipping coffee and watching light snow fall while redpolls and grosbeaks try to clean the sunflower seeds from the feeder – I get to sort of daydreaming and recollecting some of the times I've had; the game I've taken, dogs I've followed, fish I've hooked, things I've seen. Whether we mean to or not I think we all head for the woods and water more for the memories than anything else, though we may not admit it. Recalling those memories is good for the soul and gets our minds off the other stuff, which in my case is the firewood I should be cutting and the bookshelves I said I'd build.

Lately I've been thinking about a rainbow trout. A certain rainbow trout that I came across over a year ago. Chris, Scott, and I were working our way down a little wilderness river that required us to wade and pull our raft part of the time and relax and drift with the current the rest of the time. Even in the shallowest riffles there was always a narrow deeper run next to the cut bank that held rainbows, dolly varden, grayling, and spawned out red sockeye salmon. I believe it was the second day of the trip and we weren't making a lot of progress because there were just too many good places to stop and fish. I suppose fishing from the raft was possible, but it just wasn't for us so we'd beach it on a gravel bar and proceed in our waders. We'd often get pretty spread out and sooner or later one of us would go back up and get the raft.

Scott and Chris had wandered downstream out of sight so I hiked back up and brought the raft down. I found the two of them casting into a nice stretch of water so I floated by them and landed the boat just above a narrows. With rod in hand I walked the shoreline through the narrows and came upon the prettiest little plunge pool I've ever seen. The pool may have been thirty feet long or it could have been less. I don't believe it was any longer. No telling how deep it was but the first five or six feet were crystal clear before turning a opaque aqua blue with it's depth. The river fell into this pool, settled, and rose up again to form a rapids at the tail end. Tangled willows lined the banks. I could have sat and peered into the water on another day, but we were all caught up in a deep-in-our-bellies kind of latent frenzy to catch more fish.

 Fishing a very ordinary egg-sucking leech pattern and enjoying extraordinary results, a short cast was dropped into the current feeding the pool. I watched the black bodied fly with pink yarn head slowly sink as it drifted through the pool. I don't know if I've ever seen a fly so clearly in the water and it was interesting to see if nothing else. It reached the end of the pool and I lifted and cast again. Again the fly drifted slowly, it's rabbit strip tail pulsing with the easy current. Then it happened.

Out of the aqua depth rose the trout. An outrageous trout that made my breath stop. Never had I seen a trout so large, so colorful, and I was to find out, so wild. The fish rose under the fly to within inches. Apparently unimpressed and relaxed, it lazily turned away and eased down out of sight. I stood there slack-jawed wondering if I'd seen what I'd just seen. 

I may have been shaking or not, I don't know the angling equivalent of buck fever, but I was half laughing when I called upstream to announce what I'd come across. Can't say my companions heard my words but Scott could tell something was up and he grabbed the net and started my way.

My mind was racing, wondering if I should add weight, change flies, or try a different approach. The trout wasn't spooked, though, and I was too excited to do anything other than cast again. I can't remember if Scott was close enough to see the fish appear again but this time it opened it's mouth took the fly in no hurry, like, I suppose, it had taken hundreds of meals drifting through the pool. It's a miracle I didn't jerk the fly from it's mouth. As a matter of fact, I think everything went right and I lifted the rod to see the fly grab the corner of the rainbow's mouth before feeling the tug. “Got 'im.”

Scott was next to me now and the fish bore deep before racing up to the surface to jump and head downstream. We watched it all and because of a hefty leader I was able to bring the fish back to the pool where we saw it dart back and forth before peeling line and aiming downstream again. I pulled as much as I thought I could. The trout pulled back. Scott readied the net.

A couple of attempts with the net proved futile – too soon, the outsized trout was just beginning it's fight. Back and forth with the fish of a lifetime! Oh, I wanted to land this trout, get my hands under it's sagging weight and peer at the brilliance a truly wild rainbow wears; to measure it, with Scott's help, and verify this fish was indeed 30 inches or better. Keep calm, keep pressure but not too much, tire this monster of a trout and bring it to hand. Would the leader hold? The knots slip? The rod snap?

The fish was downstream in the current but coming back and would soon be ours. Scott had the net low and ready but at the last moment the powerful rainbow shook it's head and suddenly turned to accelerate away, with no return. The popping sound of monofilament a harbinger to a moment of silence. Scott held the empty net and I looked at the limp line dangling from the end of my rod. What went wrong and what could have went right? It didn't matter. I hooked and played the fish until it escaped. It wasn't the outcome hoped for but was the outcome handed to me that day. And another memory was made.

I don't know if I'll ever get back to that pool – it's not an easy place to get to and takes some time and effort to pull off – but sometimes I dream about returning and camping on the bar just above that very hole where I'd stay and try for that big trout until satisfied bringing it to hand or convinced I never would.

Well, there were a lot of rainbows caught on that trip, but none that compared with the one lost, though as the days passed we floated into bigger water downstream and came into absolutely huge dollies and soon after found the reel-screaming silver salmon. There were bears and caribou and wolves to watch and I hardly gave another thought to the one that got away. If I try I can recall other big fish in other places that I might have landed but didn't, and there will probably be more in the future. But that one rainbow trout stands out as a great fish in a great place, and that's the one I'm thinking about now.