Sunday, July 28, 2013

Swinging for smallies

Dropped the jon into the The Big River today.  Waders and a fleece jacket in July...yeah, it's called climate change NOT global warming.  The river was down but I felt like comfortable so I fired up the Yamaha and made tracks to the bucket.  I was in sight of the run and happy to see nobody else on it when, "THUNK", I drilled something big and hard with the motor.  It didn't help that the transducer was canted up and reading goofy on my finder.

This river is a bitch.

I settled in for a long afternoon of working on my double spey and, when they rolled,  long sweet swings interrupted by crushing grabs.  River smallmouth are as tough as they come.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer Days and Smallmouth Bass

If you could pick a summer day to float a big river for smallmouth, today would have been a great choice.  Through some electronic chatter, RS confirmed that he was able to steal away from his mounting responsibilities at home (wife, young daughter, new house, etc...) for a morning fish.  The original plan was a 5:30 start time at the launch, but I was able eat into 15 minutes of that remembering what I forgot and then speeding to try and make up for my failing memory.

The cool morning and impending hot day, shrouded this stretch of river in a haze that is somewhere between eerie and stunning.  In my haste to get my act together and organize the boat, I missed what would have been a good photo opp.  Without complaint for waiting dockside for my arrival, RS settled in on the casting deck and we started in.  The big river was running a little higher than I would have hoped.  RS said it was at 9000 cfs up 5000 from the reports of great fishing the previous week.  I seldom check the flows for the same reason I seldom check the weather...if you are gonna go, you just go.  I once showed up and launched only to realize that the river was at 17,000 cfs which I thought about while I fished anyway....the movie is still being shown even if the theater is out of popcorn.

The sun was starting to heat the morning air as I feathered the oars and backed us down river left.   RS worked the bank thoroughly.  I came to appreciate what true guides must feel like when they have a competent caster on board.  Basically their job description gets shortened.
We didn't get too far from the vehicle before baitfish erupted followed by a bankside boil.
Dropping the rock to hold us withing casting range we probed the area around the last known location and pulled up a couple of smallmouth.  Though not giants, the connection with the target species early on seemed like a good sign. 

As we continued down, RS's fly got creamed again and I was thinking bass right up until a nice slab crappie made its way over the gunwale.  Check one under "non-target species".  A little further down, RS connected again, this time with a smallmouth that reminded us both why an 8 weight isn't exactly overgunning it with these river fish.

Passing below a few eagle's nests on the way, we had a particular piece of water in mind as we slid downstream and we weren't exactly thrilled when we found another boat in the area.  I made an attempt to gain a footing on the top end of this section but when the other boat moved up it became obvious that I could either crowd him and be an ass (all in the name of catching fish) or find an alternative.

Our alternative was to motor back upstream to cover some water on river right.  We overshot the stretch and RS pitched as I rowed, scanning for feeding bass.  I watched RS come tight to a fish that hit hard and then everything went slack.  Though we'd slid 40' past the spot, we dropped anchor as RS reeled in a flyless tippet and retied.  I was thinking Musky as RS punched a nice loop upstream and redelivered the goods.  This time the hook stuck and the line held and he boated a decent smallmouth.  Thinking that these fish will oftentimes feed in packs, we repositioned the boat and worked the stretch thoroughly until it was time for RS to hit the road.

I dropped him off at the dock and turned the Jon downstream under full horsepower to see if the "other guy" was still courting my water.  I ran the river a little hot given the wood and shifting depths, but when I came around the last bend and could see that the stretch was open I kept on the throttle until I could start to count rocks on the which point I hastily cut the motor, tilted it and grabbed the oars.

Sliding into the topside of the run I dropped the anchor and stepped into the river.  With the water at 9000, it was a little difficult to locate the sweet spot in the run.  Casts long and short were returned unmolested for about 10 minutes until a series of vicious slashes 200' downstream indicated that I was a little too far upstream.  Back on the casting deck I pulled the anchor and rowed within range.

High up on the deck, no wind, bright sun and smallmouth blitzing bait.

I didn't move for 3 hours.

My flies got crushed.    

morning happening

Non-target Species

RS working the deck

It takes a while to get them to this point...

Perch above the river

Heron - Fly By.  (see the eagle in the tree?)

Eagle zoomed


Getting to "Plan B"

SMB fins

Bronze Back

Baitfish - fair warning.


Friday, July 12, 2013

The Fault of Foreigners

I peeled out of the driveway with a 6 wt and deet.  The day was hot and that's always a good sign for the hex hatch.  The sun started to dip low at the end of my 35 minute drive and I considered stomping on the gas and getting worked up about who may be on my beat...but I didn't.   I'm not sure if that means lazy or mellow.

As luck would have it I had the hole stretch to myself.  I took my time rigging and wadering up and then strolled down to my bankside perch to watch and wait.  The bug dope that I found on a back shelf in our kitchen wouldn't spray the advertised fine mist of poison so I beat on the canister until a few drops fell on the back of my hand and then I spread it thinly in the critical areas.

A ruckus upstream made me curious so I parted the eye-high grass and took a walk to see what was happening.
I family/flock of what appeared to be 2 adult geese, 5 juveniles and 4 goslings hugged the far bank and eyed me, but held their ground.  I considered chasing them out so that they wouldn't screw up my water but then figured I'd roll with "the greatest good for the greatest number".  Again, not sure if I am getting lazy or mellow.

Back downstream at my blind of matted grass, I tied on a yellow soft hackle and started to swing through the water in front of me.  On the 4th or 5th swing my rod tip twitched and I successfully landed a 6" creek chub.  I don't ever remember catching a chub here in the past.

I gave the run a dozen more swings until the Hexes started to fly.  They the water in increasing numbers and I marveled at the bird's and bat's ability to pick them out of the sky.   My appreciation started to wane when I realized that though the flying critters were having a feast, the fish were least on the surface.  I switched to a bonefish fly that I have come to use as a passable hex nymph/emerger and worked the water in hopes that a score of 20" browns were munching away below the surface.


It was after plan "B" was in full force that I heard a decided "GULP" amidst the hum of mosquitoes and the fish fed again just as I was leaning into the darkness trying to get a bead on him (or her).  Twenty feet right in front me the concentric rings cleared the bank shadowed surface and betrayed the fish's position in the moonlit creek. locked.

I quickly retied the hex spinner on the end of my 2x and worked out what seemed to be the right length of line.
"Plop"....drift, drift, drift, drift, drift
I pulled up on nothing but night air.

I pitched again and again and again.  I worked in some mends that I hoped would make the fake look real.  I twitched slightly as the fly crossed the imaginary "X" my mind placed on the water.
But that was it.  The fish, a sizeable one by the sound of it's audible, decided three surface feeding moves was enough for one night. 

I finished out the evening fishing a big sub-surface fly with a heavy split shot through all the deep haunts and never even felt a tap.

I'm gonna blame it on the Canadians.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Last night at this time I was in Baltimore, waiting for my delayed flight to leave. 

Tonight I stand in nettles, getting devoured by mosquitoes and watching hundreds of hexagenia mayflies, float, struggle, emerge, flit, fly...spinners and duns. 

I watched the water too but saw nothing to indicate that the trout were seeing what I was seeing.  

I have countless red welts that itch. 

The nettles sting on my hand burns. 

I got skunked.

Still better than an airport in Baltimore.

Never a bad sign...

birds taking full advantage

While I took this serene shot the nettles attacked!

formerly my blood
what a beautiful...bzzzzzzzzz

Returned safe and sound.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Explosions on the Fourth of July

The schedule of events said that the fireworks for this little town were going to be on July 5th this year.  Thus, on the 4th, I found myself sitting in a canoe on a small lake in Northern Minnesota, with my brother-in-law, waiting for explosions of different kind.

The Hex hatch happens on many lakes in this part of the world at this time of the year.  It makes the hardcore walleye guys curse and stay home.  "They are on the $#^&* flies..." they'll say, and they are right.  The protein unload of this hatch is enough to make any walleye, of any size, fore-go their standard forage of minnows and leeches for the delightful "POP" of  a fat mayfly between their teeth.

The explosions vary.  The little fish will splash, medium size fish gulp and the largest fish just inhale.

So, I sat in the boat waiting for the drum beat of the marauding mosquitoes that usually signifies the start of the hex hatch.  We chose the lesser of the two evils and applied Deet to our jackets and hats and the back of our hands.  (Deet doesn't stop the little bastards from biting you, it just keeps you from going insane.)

Before there were any bugs on the water, I decided to fish a no-named bonefish fly that had a size and color similar to a hex nymph.  It didn't take long for a smallish fish to buy into my program.  I took one look at the fish, did some mental calculations and came up with: "would be delicious".  I slid it on the stringer.

Next, a small northern pike hammered the fly and I came up with the same conclusion regarding its flanks as table fare.  Not what I was targeting, but what the heck.

The hatch is dependent on a number of things, some of which I understand and some of which I don't.
Heat and light are important.  Rain and wind are typically not good.  It was with a little disappointment that I watched the calm surface of the water get kicked up from a squall passing to the north.  When it calmed down again a few bugs started to show on the surface and a few fish (some "inhalers") followed them up. 

I hooked and landed another smallish fish and then stuck a fish that was probably in the 2 pound range before the hook popped.  My brother-in-law heard a gulp in the darkness near where his fly should have been, waited longer than he should have and then set the hook on a decent pound and a halfer that we added to the pile.

The mosquitoes were biting through the cane seat, my pants and boxers and it made me think I should have brought a boat cushion.

A second squall came and kicked up some wind and dropped some rain effectively closing the door on the hatch for the night. 

I tied on a deceiver and cast for awhile thinking that I would offer them a plan "B" to a failed hatch.
I got one taker, about the size as the first fish, and threaded the rope through it's gills.

The Hex hatch for walleyes, sometimes you hit it and sometimes you don't...but it's always worth heading out to see if you can find the explosions.

The best lakes have unimproved boat ramps.


Walleye falls for a Bonefish Fly

Squall that missed us.

Hardly a bragging stringer but at least 1 dinner.

The best lakes have unimproved parking lots.

Starting Early

I drove back up North to MN on the evening of July 3rd. 

The late arrival made for a late night of drinks and chatter.  When the last of the revelers finally hit the sack, I slid on my waders and headed to the shore of Lake Superior.

Another all-niter.

Independence Day:
The moon slid out of sight and the morning turned into a classic calm summer morning on the North Shore.
A fishless couple of hours soon became an agate picking/birdwatching event.

I crept up the beach to photograph a pair of bald eagles waiting for a local fisherman to toss them breakfast.  When they decided they didn't like me so close, they departed and left me walking the beach with my neck craned looking for Superior's native gem.  By 8:00 I was bleary eyed and drove back to my bed for a quick 2 hour nap before the day started again.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Eventful non-events

I parked away from the water I planned to stake out for the hex fishing, though it wasn't a tactic to hide my location.

The closest parking was through a farmer's yard and would have given me front row seats to the river.  I had driven in and used his access many years ago and the farmer had never cared.  He always waved when he saw me.  That was then and I haven't talked to him in quite a while.  I think there is an easement that includes access through his property but I still feel that I should have a discussion with him before rolling past his mailbox and scattering his cats.

As it was, I parked a half mile away and followed the train tracks back to his farm and noticed that another angler was parked in my old spot.  He was closing the tailgate on his vehicle so I shouted out a "hello" in hopes of stopping him to discuss turf.  It appeared that we might be heading to the same water and I thought that I should clarify his intentions before crowding him out.  Nothing ruins a quiet night on the water like a jackass lowholer...and I didn't want to be on the giving or receiving end of that relationship.

The guy was probably in his mid-thirties and said he'd fished this water for the past 13 years.  I mentioned that it was funny that we hadn't crossed paths.  Through the back and forth banter that comes with streamside conversation between strangers, we figured out that we had met many years ago.  It seems that at a Trout Unlimited function, almost 10 years ago, we had discussed his (then upcoming) plans to do some trout fishing in the "West".  He reminded me of a few of the suggestions I had given him and then told me that he had followed some of my advice and stayed at a neat little lodge/resort in the Paradise Valley of Montana.  In fact, he said he'd been back a number of times in the past years.

I turned to the river and asked what section he wanted and he told me.  I pointed out the water I was hoping for and he was fine with it.  He then suggested we have a beer after the fishing and we went to our designated beats and waited for the hatch.

I saw four hex flies.

That's all.

A few small fish rose for spinners of a lesser mayfly and I floated my hex pattern over one of them...just because.

The guy who had questioned me about fishing Montana and had written my answers down fast and furiously 10 years ago, came through the brush and paused 100 feet away and asked if I had seen any bugs.  I told him about the non-event.  He said his water was the same....nothing.

I tied on a muddler minnow and spent another 15-20 minutes working a few deep undercuts while chatting with the guy in the dark.  I could've worked fast and moved down through the brush and fished another half mile of excellent night streamer water.  But I didn't.  I thought about the potential big brown trout and weighed it against the fact that this guy had suggested a beer.

I feel like I screw up some decent human interaction when I am keyed into fishing.  My wife always asks me, especially after I've been out fishing with someone I don't know very well, "What did you guys talk about?".   My answer is always the same..." guess?"

I was actually thinking about this when I reeled up and suggested it was time for "that beer".
The other thought was that I had parked a half mile from here because I hadn't taken the time to talk to the farmer in the past few years.

Too keyed into the fishing to stop and talk.

Back at his rig, the guy offered me a nice chilled micro-brew which went a long way towards making me forget about the potential monster brown trout just waiting for my muddler.   We'd been talking trout and the hex hatch for awhile when the farmer walked down from his barn and joined us for a drink.  The guy reached into the back of the truck and handed the farmer a sixpack and said, "Thanks for letting me park here."

I thought that was a nice move.

We stood in the dark, drinking beer and talking about rain and drought and crops and hatches and wives and mosquitoes and bats.   I told the farmer that he had a nice piece of water here in his backyard and thanked him for being so easygoing about the access.  It was heartfelt statement but fell short of the impact a cold six-pack has.

The farmer asked how the fishing was and wondered if we'd be able to send him any pictures of some fish from his property.  He said that a lot of people ask him how the fishing is and he'd like to show them.
The guy was in the middle of telling the farmer that he'd be happy to send him some big fish pics, when I interrupted him and told the farmer that I'd give him a cold 12 pack if he'd just tell all of the interested folks that the fishing on his land sucked.

The farmer said we had a deal.

It was close to midnight when I walked the tracks back to my car and slid out of my waders.
It had been a good evening. 
The air was a cool 56 degrees and there hadn't been a mosquito on me all night.
The barnyard discussion was interesting and even damn funny at times.   
The beer was cold.
The fish could wait.

And, when I come back for them, I'll park in my old spot.

Monday, July 1, 2013


EB made a suggestion for a lake we should fish.  We texted back and forth and vacillated between the lake and gambling on some high water hex fishing for brown trout.  In the end, we trailered up my boat and hit the lake.


That's how we found it. 

It's spring fed, has decent depth and is clear.  After bemoaning the green mid-summer water around here, I have found clarity.  It didn't really matter that we only hooked small gills and was clear. 

We pulled poppers and landed a few small fish.  The sun dropped and then the temps cooled off.  No mosquitoes and only sporadic rising gills.  At 9:45 or so, I dropped my rod and picked up the oars to slowly push EB around, trying to find edges and rising fish. 

EB cast and kept casting.  Nothing like a guy who is as eager to catch small gills as anything else.  I squinted my ears to listen for rising fish knowing that when we found them if EB presented the fly near them they would take a whack at late dinner.  

At 10:30 I rowed us back to the shore and kept my headlamp on the whole way... taking no small pleasure in looking into clear water.