Monday, May 27, 2013

The eyes have it

I spent the afternoon slipping the boat down my local river, pitching big uglies on wire to bankside structure, weed beds and open water.  The temps were in the 50's and the clouds were so thick and low that rain was perpetually a concern.  I pounded the water hard for a few hours hoping to drum up a musky or even a pike.  That didn't happen.  I ended up anchoring off some wood and caught a few gills and crappies but it seems like most of them have either moved on or are sulking in this depressing weather. 

I drove home, pulled the boat into the garage and had dinner as well as two slices of the delicious banana cream pie that my wife made. 

My kids went off to bed and my wife dug into her work.  
Soooo, I put my waders on, grabbed my 6 wt and hit the door (again).

The lake was calm on the side I was wading.  Nothing moved.  No fishy splashes, ducks swimming, turtles looking around.  No insects either.  The low clouds looked even lower in the failing light.  I opted for a little clouser type bonefish fly that was about the same size and color as the proven Deceivers I like to fish here.  I landed 1 small white bass in the dark before a boat pulled in a little too close and neighborhooded me...  I thought about double-hauling a lead-eye against the hull of his aluminum Lund just as a warning shot, but I chickened out on the last forward haul, dropped the fly short and then on the 3rd or 4th strip back, drilled another small white bass.

Eventually the Lund left the scene leaving me belt deep in the inky water which had very little contrast to the thick darkness of the night sky.  Alone with my thoughts and my imagination...the "creep factor" deserves a post of it's own.  Luckily the desire to fish, has led me to conquer many of my fears and so I stayed put...reasoning that the chance to hook another fish was well worth the risk of being attacked and eaten by this lake's first documented rogue (fill in the blank) beaver / musky / submerged serial killer with a goalie mask.

But nothing else happened, 

until I turned on my headlamp and waded to shore.

I spotted the walleye in 6 inches of water when the beam of my lamp made its eyes glow like a marble with an LED inside.  It moved about 8' to slightly deeper (15") water.  I quickly took the beam off the glowing eye, popped the fly free, stripped of 15' of line and with my lamp aimed high enough not to spotlight the fish, I pitched.  Cast 1 and 2 didn't interest the fish.  On the 3rd cast, the little glowing marble charged forward and then my rod bent.  It was really cool to see.  I was so wrapped up in watching it's eye chasing my fly that I had a little bit of a disconnect when the eye became a fish on my line.  The fish moved a good 4 feet to intercept the fly which gives me a lot more confidence in covering water at night.  These fish can sense/see a fly VERY well.  Despite it being a small 12" fish, it was certainly a highlight of my angling day.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Permission to Board

I had a guest in the boat today.  TP has been around the fly fishing scene in this part of the world for a long time, and yet, we've never spent any time on the water together until today.  We only had a few hours to fish so it was natural, given his like for carp, that we try our hand on the mud flats that have recently been on my radar.  The problem came in the way of wind and clouds.  Visibility sucked.  We posted out on a few spots and saw fish, but they were either too close and spooked before we could take a shot, or they were in spawning clusters and NOT thinking about food.  After a couple of hours of fruitless carp'n we opted for the sweet pluck and tug of gills.  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.

Post carp'n Gill

Grip and Grin

Fresh Fish


Friday, May 24, 2013

I've always wanted to try that... (fly fishing)

"You flyfish?  I've always wanted to try that..." 
I've heard it a hundred times.  I recently heard it again from the father of one of my daughter's friends.   The difference is this:

1. 1 week after I heard him say the words "I've always wanted to try that" (or at least some variation on the theme) he enrolled in a free intro to fly fishing class from the local Orvis store.

2. Prior to enrolling he ordered himself a rod, a reel and a line.

3. 4 days after the class he met me for some evening fishing...where we worked in some very basic intro casting stuff for 10 minutes and then he spent the next 3 hours giving it hell (2 of those hours were after dark)

4. Last night he sent me a text (this is now 5 days after the class) after taking his family up north to a place on a lake.  I think it's OK to print the text here because it isn't really private information and it's awesome.  The text said, "Got the monkey off my back.  Was fishing before we had even unloaded the car had landed 6 bass in 15 min". 
The best part of this text ISN'T that he caught his first fly rod's the enthusiasm.  My favorite line: "...before we had even unloaded the car."

5: Text from later that night: "Total for today: Scored on 7 lmb, 1 northern, 1 walley, 1 bgill. none of these were of any size.  [He names his wife here] now believes in flyfishing!"

6: I texted him back: "All on the fly?"

7: His response? - "All on the fly.  I didn't bring my other fishing gear."

I just love this.

And all the pieces come together.

High sun, no wind, clear water, pre-spawn carp.

Light on the flats

Trio of prespawners

Mud Ghosts

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Exactly five miles from my house there is a lake.  And a river runs through it.
(Seriously, a river runs through it.)   Somewhere along this lake/river is a place that I go this time of year.  I go after work, soccer practice and swimming lessons are all done.  The dinner dishes are packed into the dishwasher and the girls are bathed, with teeth brushed and their pajamas are on.  Tonight I left the house at 8:30 took the short drive to my spot, climbed out of my rig in my waders and slung my stripping basket over my shoulder with the 6 wt in tow.  All I need is 2 or 3 chartreuse and white deceivers (size 2 or 4) and a spool of 1 or 2x tippet.  The trail to my spot is exactly 5 yards and brush never whips me in the face on the hike in.  Casting is a snap because there is nothing to catch on the backcast.  The footing is firm and the wading easy.  There are no questions about what is hatching or concern about snagging rocks or wood in the dark.
Tonight, I was alone.  No boats, no other anglers.  The moon was coming up bright and the sun was going down brilliantly. 
Casting and stripping the deceiver back...and casting again.  The fly got plucked twice before a white bass of a pound or so fully wrapped it's chops around the hooke and I was able to land it.  A spirited tussle with a neat little fish that I would have considered a trash fish during my earlier highbrow "Trout as God" formative years.  Now, they are a like little freshwater schoolie stripes whose feeding schedule corresponds beautifully with my fishing schedule.
The fly gets slammed again and this time a walleye comes to hand after a head down battle.  If I was a meat hunter this fish was big enough to keep and eat.
Soon another fish plucks and misses.
And then another walleye, a little bigger than the first, inhales the fly.
I continue casting after the second walleye is released but nothing else stirs.
This is the front end of a 4 or 5 week period when this spot is hot so I am not disappointed in the evenings fishing.  It was really just an exploratory mission to see if things have started to heat up in this spot.
It seems that they have. 

I am home by 10:15.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Fishing with 6

6 and I went to the river tonight and she showed no mercy on the panfish.  We spent a few minutes digging for worms in the garden before departure.  She's got the Shakespeare "Tweety" rod pretty well dialed in.  She casted and hoisted in the fish while I rebaited her hook and giggled.

When I got home I caught the whiff of an old familiar smell that took me back...worm guts on my fingers.   I almost didn't wash my hands.

I asked her if she wanted to give the fish a kiss before we let it go...I guess not.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Carp Flats

Sunday afternoon with the boat in tow I got to the lake only to realize in my haste that I forgot my PFD. 

The wind was clipping along at a solid 17-20 and the lake didn't look like much fun.  After the short but painful trip back home for floatation, I opted to launch at the river and do some scouting.  I was originally planning to stake out on a sandy patch of bottom in a wide portion of the river upstream from the landing, but I took a left instead and headed down stream.

I flushed carp everywhere.  The visibility was good despite the wind and the river was showing bottom at 4 feet.  I drifted with the wind as I stood on the casting deck and watched hundred of carp leave mud puffs in their haste to depart.

Taking a look around I settled on a spot on the upwind side of a shallow weed bed.  The sonar read 2.1 feet deep but I'm sure my elbows would've gotten wet if I stepped in and sunk through the muck.

Originally I dropped the bow anchor into the wind and the stern anchor on the down wind side, but this posed two problems.  1. bow slap 2. light.  I turned the boat around and enjoyed a nice sunny view of the bottom with the wind at my back and the quiet of a well staked boat.

And then they came.

Singles and doubles.  I was happy to see a distinct lack of spawning clusters.  I had a few fish follow before peeling off and then I was promptly bit off by a juvie musky.  I figured I'd try to get my fly back and bag a small musky in the process so I unsheathed my spare rod, loaded it with wire and a big hairy.  I looked up after rigging to see a giant mother of a black cloud darkening the horizon and coming fast.

I got exactly 10 casts in before the visibility was zero and the prestorm wind made a mess of things.

Back to the landing.

I was home in 15 or 20 minutes, thoroughly drenched and griping to my wife about how I'd just discovered a delicious carp flat when my 9 year old handed me the Ipad with the local radar showing that the storm was just a small cell and would pass quickly.  20 minutes and a turkey sandwich later I was back in my rig ready for the second half.

The sun was too low for great visibility once I got back on the water so I anchored off some sunken timber and jacked crappies and gills until the gills started sipping on top and I could fish them with a size 12 elk hair caddis.  Which I did and they confirmed it was a good choice. 

I was bummed that the flat got blown by weather, but at least I learned something new and I figured panfish on a dry was still better than mowing the lawn.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

This Morning

I'm often curious about the other hours.  Having spent last Sunday evening on a log in a local waterway, I thought it would be interesting to visit it at the other end of the day.  I set my alarm for 4:30 this morning, dressed quickly and pocketed 1 pair of scissors, 3 spools of tippet, a small box of flies, my camera, 6 wt and a hemostat.  I also included 1 piping hot cup of coffee.  Three minutes on the road and 1 minute to walk to "my" log. 

Having the sun sneak up on you is an entirely underrated event.   It's a little secret that is not lost on the denizens of this little wood plot next to the river.  It appears that they do not bemoan the start of another workday.

Completely in character I found myself thinking that the sun needed to be just a little higher...just a little higher so that I could see clearly into the water wrapping itself around and through the submerged branches of this old tree.  Wishing it higher as I also wished it would stop and allow me the morning all day.  Never satisfied, always wishing for the other.  The only real cure for this nonsense, this dysfunction, this punch clock view of the day...was to cast.  And, I did.  And the sun rose higher and the fish dropped their telltale shadows on the river's bottom and I cast to them. 

And they too rose...higher and higher.

Bluegill parked on a wood duck box

Out for breakfast

Female Redwinged Blackbird with baggage

Palm of Gill
Planked Crappie

Black Crappie

Carp Parade

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Sunday afternoon.  Most of the chores were done and I still hadn't dropped the boat in the water.   I decided to make a quick run to the river to see what I could see.  What I saw were midges and mayflies, carp and crappies.  The largemouth were on their beds too skittish to be fished for and peeled off before I could see them.  I found a tree, completely denuded of bark and leaves, creating structure in the soft eddy of an outside bend.  I climbed out on its sturdy trunk and extracted fish.  The bigger bluegills required a deft hoist or they would wrap themselves in the sunken branches.  The crappies were rare but there.  Every once in a while the shadow that followed my fly would inhale instead of pluck and I knew then what it was.  The carp were uninterested.  Completely.  My 6 wt, a few spools of tippet and plastic baby food container loaded haphazardly with some throwaway flies.  Size 12 hare's ear nymphs (unweighted) in case you find yourself heading this way.
The second Bittern of the evening heads out.

Fish food

Redear Sunfish falls for a Hare's Ear

Crappie extracted

Another Crappie about to go back


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Good Enough for Today

I grew up in Northern Minnesota among the (then) pristine lakes and rivers of the arrowhead region.  I was fortunate to have endless public land and public water at my doorstep.  Moving south and east changed a lot of that for me.  While we have some very nice spring creeks here, most of the larger rivers and most of the lakes are pretty dinged up from agriculture and urbanization. 

Back home, on the days that I tromped through the woods and fished brook trout from the many spate streams in the area, it never occured to me to bring water.  When I got thirsty, I cupped my hands and drank. 

Today, here, I'd never consider it. 
I'm not even sure I'd be all that comfortable drinking it through a water filter. 

The closest river to my house is a prime example.  By early summer it runs green, completely charged with "nutrients".  It smells a little funny at times and the weed growth is incredible.  I know that many "enriched" streams that are healthy can run thick with biomass and their clarity is not that of the Lake Superior streams of my youth.  I read in a book about sunfish that the ideal clarity is when you dip your arm in the water and your fingertips are tough to see when the water reaches your elbow.   The author says that this is indicative of a "rich" body of water.  Still, I can't come to terms with it.  I know that my childhood waters are almost all oligotrophic and that the waters near my present home support exponentially more biomass...including gamefish.  The problem is, I can't see them.  Fly fishing is a very visual activity for me.  Just ask any of the local purveyors of high quality polarized sunglasses...they can testify.

But it's not all bad news.  Take today for example.  I spent my lunch break at a river that runs 2 miles from my house.  It's early May and I wanted to sight fish for some carp as they cruised the river banks during their prespawn feeding.  The weather has been decent the last few days but spring took it's own sweet time this year.  The visibility was good (probably 2'-3') and the fish were easy to spot with the high sun.  I saw at least 100 carp today, but only had one track my fly before turning tail.  Carp fishing is a hip pursuit for some but it bewilders most.  The truth is, they are the toughest fresh water fish to catch on a least around here.  They spook faster than any other fish I can think of...except maybe permit.  The bottom line is that they are a challenge.  And, they were challenging today. 

Despite not hooking up with the target species,  I was thrown a sweet consolation gift bag in the form of Largemouth Bass and Bluegills.  Both very visible in the shallows and both obviously looking to pack on the calories.  And so, armed with my 6 wt,  I fed them.  Again, and again, and again.  I watched each take and each short strike.  I cast to specific fish and even aimed for, and hooked, the largest fish in the schools. 
A beautiful May day.
Sight fishing for hungry fish.
2 miles from home.
On a river that I now realize,
despite all of my prior disdain,
was good enough for today

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Birding with 6

My grand intention was to get the boat on the water and look for some carp feeding on the mudflats of a local river.
My grand intention was dashed due to a number of domestic distractions that I will not take the time to list here. 
When my 9 year old daughter left for soccer my 6 year old daughter turned to me for entertainment and I suggested we grab our cameras and go for a walk.  She was hell bent on shooting some bird pictures as she's seen me do over the past few days.
I have to admire her.   She stuck with it for 90 minutes and even took it upon herself to do some brush busting to get "the shots".
Here is a sample of her work as we strolled a path near a local waterway:

Dead Bluegill - hand held / full zoom

Turtle on a log - hand held / full zoom

Mourning Dove - hand held / full zoom

Here are a few images from my day:

6 - getting in position for the shot

6- scouting

6 - getting the turtle shot

White Bass fining


A small Large Mouth Bass &  Bluegill

Polarizing Filter On

Polarizing Filter Off