Sunday, August 25, 2013

Summer Diversions

It's been awhile since my last post.  I've been digging in trying to squeeze the last drop out of summer.  Here is the update (just to justify a distinct lack of fish stories).

Title: South Dakota.

My wife and I decided to take the kids on a "Great American Road Trip".   South Dakota's great prairies, the Badlands, Black Hills, Wall Drug, Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse... we hit it all.  This was the first time since we've been married that I did not pack a fly rod.  I didn't even stash one in the secret compartment in the back of my Honda Pilot.  No rod, No fishing.  I survived and actually had a swell time.

Me, shooting pics.  No fly rod, but I had a camera...

The Badlands of SD - 1

The Badlands of SD - 2

The Badlands of SD - 3

The Badlands of SD - 4

The Badlands of SD - 5

The Badlands of SD - 6

Crazy Horse as seen from the parking lot.

Crazy Horse as seen from Crazy Horse's girls admiring close up.

Crazy Horse as seen from the bottom of the mountain.

Four Presidents worth admiring

Needles Hwy

Custer State Park Buffalo herd

Buffalo - After 60 million buffalo were reduced to 600 the reintroduction of these critters required specimens from the Bronx Zoo...  Another hatchery program - BONK!                                                                                                

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Paradigm Shift

I drove to Iowa today to pick up my new Alweld 1542, custom built for me along with the new trailer.

I towed her back to the WI without an issue.  I kept admiring her in the rearview mirror on the drive home.  No surprise really, isn't that the way all the new relationships feel? 
Exciting and fresh...this MUST be love!

I cut the anchor ropes and pulled my Cobra oar locks off of Jon.  As I did, I couldn't help but think about our shared history and the joy.  Kick-ass small mouth outings on the big river, dragging her across the brutal rocks to fish hex's in MN, the Nipigon...she was there for my first 20+" brookie.

I felt like a middle aged guy leaving his longtime wife for a 26 year old hottie. 
Oh, she was hot alright, but the memories nagged me. 
Luckily, Jon Johnson is heading to a new home up North to fish with the a fine new owner.
Godspeed Jon....godspeed.

The new boat is trick.  Batttleship gray and ready for combat.  Everything I always wanted.

And a new chapter begins.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Door

I spent the weekend on the hallowed grounds of fly fishing for carp ...and by hallowed I mean "Dave Whitlock" hallowed.
I've been meaning to go up and fish this water for so may years I've lost count...over 10.  I finally decided it was time.  I shot out some invitations and despite a few "sorry, I can't make its" I got a "yep" from McSteel.

I had the 8's and 9's packed along with a 2 man tent and entirely too many flies.  The plan was for McSteel to meet me on Saturday afternoon after I had already bolted north and spent a few hours scouting the area from the deck of Jon Johnson.   (It will perhaps be our last mission together, Mr. Johnson and I,  but more on that later.)

I spent four hours on the road towing the boat and at hour 3, I started feeling like I was from Illinois.
The spot I'd marked to launch was a few lefts and rights off the beaten path, but when I got to the boat ramp (?) I was happy to find it completely void of any cars or trailers.  A quick inspection of the facility and I understood why.  The steep, buckled ramp emptied into a shin deep expanse of clear water over light sand.  A terrible place to be if you are trailering anything more than a 17' canoe, or a 16' jon boat.

The sun was high and the wind was light as I pushed off and climbed up on my cooler to pole around the bay.  About 30 minutes in, as I was drifting with an increasing south wind, I saw a fish moving toward me and I rattled off 3 shots before it headed east and out of sight and range.   I spent the next 90 minutes alternating between rowing, poling and drifting.  I was still amped about the color and clarity of the water and the bright sandy bottom that I almost didn't care that I wasn't spotting fish.
I figured when I found them, I'd see them.

McSteel jumped aboard at about 2:30 in the afternoon and we shoved off to put double the eyes on the flats.  He spotted one fish as we were rowing upwind in 4' of water but we never got a cast off.  We spent the afternoon, cursing clouds, peering through polarized glasses and scratching our heads.
We couldn't find fish.

At the bar for dinner that night we sat with fingers clutching cold local brews trying to decide the game plan for the next day.   We figured if the wind was going to blow from the south, we'd fish a bay with a north facing mouth.  Luckily there was one located very close to where we were camped.  After a quick nightcap on the camp chairs back at the campground, McSteel climbed into his solo and I decided I'd try sleeping in the back of my Honda Pilot (which, if you have one, I'd now happily recommend).

The alarm was set for 6:30 but I didn't need it.  I was refreshed and ready for day two of our carping adventures.  The good news was that the morning wind wasn't too bad, and the cloud cover was probably less than the "mostly cloudy" report we'd expected.  The bay provide decent visibility but the flats were far less expansive than the bay from the day before.  In a way, we were hoping that this might work in our favor i.e. shallow water with access to deep water nearby.  After a short amount of prospecting McSteel found a decent smallie in 6' of water around some boulders.  It was acting territorial and after fighting the breeze to stay put, we dropped the anchor and McSteel succeeded in tempting this one to eat.  It should surprise no one that knows him that the boy can spot Smallmouth.
It was my turn next, and I too spotted a fish.  The trouble was, I couldn't get it to stay put long enough to taunt it.  I ended up firing a few casts at the quickly departing ass-end of the fish and then it was game over.

Between the increasing wind and cloud cover we were forced to depart from the smallie-zone and headed across the bay to a calmer section.  We never found any carp, but we did find some very big drum.  I'd guess the weight at 6-8 pounds.  Again the wind and light made it tough, but we did get a few shots at fish, including a couple of times when we were pretty sure the drum moved closer to the fly and with mouths wired shut...simply took a closer look.   This critter, the drum, has me intrigued.

The Big Carp Trip ended without much in the way of fishing for carp...a thought that I find depressing as a guy who'd like to hang a few more on my fly rod, but quite nice as a proponent of native fisheries.

It was probably the first of at least a few more trips to this beautiful water to fish, but it was the final mission for me with my trusty boat Jon Johnson.  My new boat is waiting for its new trailer to be built and Jon is heading north to spend some time with TP, a guy who I think will appreciate the understated elegance of her khaki hull, non slip casting deck and dirt-bag mojo.

Sunday, August 4, 2013


At 4:00 am my alarm screamed.  When I set it 3 hours earlier I considered what 3 hours of sleep feels like and gave myself the option to disregard the buzzer and go back to sleep.  With the switch set back to "more sleep",  I put my head on my pillow and thought about it for 2 minutes and then hit the shower.   By 5:00 I was parked by the stream and sliding on my waders, 16 ounces of gas-station coffee coursing through my veins and having the desired effect.

The low areas of the valley were shrouded in layers of fog that made for a surreal landscape to go trout fishing in.  The plan was to nymph up some brown trout in the morning and then paste some hoppers once the sun came up, burned off the haze and got the world buzzing.  That was the plan.

I botched the first fish after dredging with a zebra midge for 30 minutes.  The line paused and I pulled with the kind of effort that is required to pull a fly off of a rock or weed on the bottom.  I felt the tell-tale tug-tug of a fish and realized only after the line went slack that I had broken a cardinal nymphing rule.  The next fish came 20 minutes later, a smallish 8" fish that got the hook caught under it's belly.  I am not a fish counter, but even so, this fish didn't count. 

By 7:30 I was back on the road trying to decide what was next.  I was thinking about smallmouth and how they crash baitfish and bonefish chasing down and inhaling shrimp flies.  I was thinking about how little trout fishing I do these days and how, at the moment, I was tired and feeling pretty uninspired.  Considering that I had a day to fish, a beautiful stream in front of me a car-load of rods and flies and a perfectly beautiful August day...I started to feel like a spoiled ass.

I pulled off on a side road that leads to a not so secret spot on this not secret trout stream.  Leaving my rod in the car I carried the last few sips of my cold gas station coffee to the bridge and stood staring into the current.  There I made up my mind to not be such an ass.

I fished the bridge pool with a nymph, deep and slow.  Paying attention and mending my line often.  I once hooked and landed an 18" brown here among the discarded worm containers and recall feeling pretty smug about it.  The same outcome would be welcome today, but despite my renewed enthusiasm, nothing happened.  I noticed a half dozen Blue Winged Olive mayflies circling in the eddy by my feet and when I waded back to shore I stopped to photograph a spider's web containing a few that had become ensnared.

The lush aquatic vegetation made the nymphing upstream tricky.  Short lanes of clear deep water ran between the mats of green and tried my best to drift my fly down these lanes in hopes that the trout would shoot out from under their summer cover and take a bite.  Even the deep corners, where the deep water ran easy against the bank and the drifts were long, left me blank. 

There was a moment when I thought, "I have become a perfectly shitty trout fisherman".

A rise form against the bank made me look up from tying on the foam terrestrial.  I finished the knot, aired out some line and dropped it 3 feet upstream from the commotion.  A trout smacked it but the hook failed to stick.  Finally...something.   I stayed with the terrestrial for the next few bends and hooked but failed to land a nice fish that had risen mid-stream.   In the run above that fish's lie, another fish rose and then another...

Either the hatch had just started or I had just started to pay attention.  In the run above me, the little Blue Winged Olives that I had seen downstream in the eddy and in the spider web were popping up , floating down and taking flight.  The foam fly found it's way back in it's box and 36" of 6x tippet was married, via bloodknot, to my leader.   To the business end I attached a size 18 parachute style BWO with a light gray turkey flat post and dun hackle.  This was to be the last fly I tied on today.

What happened next can be described as trout fishing nirvana.  A fish rose and after three drifts ate my dry fly.  The next fish ate as well but the hook popped as I set.  With the sun high, I could see the fish had gone back to finning in it's holding spot in front of a midstrem rock.  For thirty minutes I worked it, getting flat out refusals and inspection rises until finally everything fell into place and it tipped up and ate again.  This time the hook stuck. 

As one fish was landed and released, another fish, a few feet upstream from the last started rising.   It was 3 hours and 200 yards of the after fish.  At 2:00 in the afternoon and I was nearing the end of things.  I had caught and released every rising fish that I saw.  From thoughts of being a shitty fisherman to this...all in the same day. 

The last fish rose under the branches of a bush and having batted 1000 I confidently made the 40' with all of the others, the trout tipped up and ate.   I set the hook and could see the trout's head turn toward me, the white of it's open mouth visible as the fly popped out. 

For what seemed like 5 minutes I stood there thinking about the success of the morning and the lesson this last fish taught me on the importance of humility and the concept of having enough.

And then the same fish rose I cast my size 18 parachute BWO back in and I caught him too.