Saturday, March 18, 2017

waitin' for spring, thinkin' of summer

Yep, it's cold again. Everything is frozen, more snow came and general conditions have added another verse to everyone's version of the late winter blues. This steady teetering between spring fever and cabin fever is making us all nuts. Reading about and seeing photos of anglers in other parts of the country standing in picturesque streams catching trout compounds the ailing.

Gabby and I took a hike into John's creek the other day for a change of scenery, and, mainly, because I've had a hankering to lay my eyes on some flowing water. There was some flowing water, all right, but not a lot, it's just starting to open up. John's creek is a tough little stream to get to and the brook trout that live there don't attract much attention. There is no trail along it's banks and I've never seen the tell-tales signs of anyone ever being there – no broken styrofoam worm cups, no tangled monofilament in overhanging branches, no candy wrappers or beer cans. There's an old deer stand perched on the pine knob about halfway there but when the terrain starts dropping toward the creek you have to push through a maze of balsams, willows, and alders before you finally hear the trickling of water. It's probable other anglers get there (I can't be the only one, can I?) but not the type to leave any trace of their travels, thank you. Over the years I've made several half hearted attempts at chopping out a trail but yearly blowdowns and new growth frustrated my efforts to the point that now I just bushwack in by the path of least resistance. Don't have a net hanging on your back (you won't need one, anyway) and keep your rod in the tube until you're sitting on a rock looking at the creek. You won't need waders but sturdy hiking boots are a good idea.

When you get there you'll wonder how to cast. Well, you don't. This is a brush lined backwoods little creek with no room for a backcast and not much for a forward cast. I mean, if you position yourself in the right place a very short roll cast is possible but mostly you'll fish this by flipping a weighted nymph into pockets nearly under your feet, though sometimes a quick drift with a dry fly will bring a wild brookie darting up to grab it whether there are bugs on the water or not. The season opens mid April but the creek will likely be high over its banks then, high and muddy, and the best times to catch steam trout around here seem to start when the blackflies and mosquitoes come out in force.

John's creek may be known, but it's seldom visited – it's hard to get to, tough to fish, and the reward might be just getting back to the car. Besides, no one should soak themselves in Deet that often. I'll fish John's maybe twice a summer when I can't stand not being trout fishing and feel like doing something a little bit rugged while I still can. More than once I wonder why I bother, knowing there's easier fishing elsewhere, but one of those times I'll carry a tight little pack with a campstove and pan and fry up a couple of trout in butter right on the spot 'cause sometimes ya just gotta eat 'em, and it will be fine. No, I won't build a fire and if anyone comes in behind me they'll never know I was there.

Monday, March 6, 2017


Often this time of year the days warm to above freezing and drop at night to create a crust on the snow that can hold the weight of a hiker or skier and I've had a lot of fun mornings skijouring with the dogs. It usually has to be early morning, because the couple inches of crust weakens during the day and you'll be out there slogging knee deep if you're late. I broke a ski once when I didn't get off the snow in time, but it's been a little different this late winter.

After several days of thawing temps that softened the snow and gave us all spring fever, it turned cold, real cold, twenty below zero. Two days of that and a light dusting of new snow created a condition the outdoor industry should have promoted. A week ago you could hike all day through the woods on two feet of snow frozen almost rock hard. Open meadows and fields on XC skis were effortless – better than the groomed trails – and four miles of uninterrupted power line right-of-way made for eight miles of easy recreation. It's a rare opportunity to enjoy the outdoors that many miss out on, and it doesn't last long.

I couldn't resist a hike north towards the lake so I turned the dogs loose and we were off. Easy walking on the hard snow between trees and around thickets, climbing the hills and crossing the swamp while the dogs raced ahead. The fresh snow revealed movement of wildlife only hours, or perhaps minutes, old. Even the deer could run on the hard surface. Two grouse flushed when we approached but were gone before Gabby had a chance to point. Here and there a fox had hunted the mice and snowshoe hares that left their prints everywhere. A weasel had searched edges of the ash swamp. On the hill overlooking the lake I found a stand of young Norway pines that had suffered the work of porcupines. A dozen or more six inch pines stripped of bark.

Those of us who run bird dogs have no love of porcupines but more concerning to me were the wolf tracks we came upon. Wolves are not uncommon and it's not a surprise to hear or see them occasionally, but I felt a little uneasy with the two setters running among wolf tracks that were not very old and I instantly thought of the pistol I'd left at home. We're in the woods a lot and I don't generally worry much about the wolves nor have I ever had trouble with them, but I'm not looking for the first time, either. I turned the dogs around and we headed back.

That was last week. This morning it is near 40 degrees and raining. The snow is turning to mush, the driveway is turning to slush. It's a messy time of year. The good news is there are steelhead starting in to the Brule River, and they're catching a few kamloops and cohos off the north shore of Lake Superior. It's not that far away, I think I'll rig up a rod.