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.

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