Saturday, July 30, 2016

When A Plan Comes Together

I was sitting next to Mr T, having a beer when he shot McSteel and me a text: "You guys open to fish Sat July 30?  [redacted] or [redacted] maybe?  Recon day."

A half a month of texts later and we all converged on Friday July 29th at a campground that had a little bar/restaurant and a spot for us to crash for the night.   I pulled in first with McSteel right behind me.  Stepping out of the truck, I commented on the sweet smell of the northern pine. 

We found our campsite and didn't even bother with the tents, instead, fishing out a beer and deposited ourselves on the (obligatorily) brown painted picnic table.

Mr T showed up next .  He pulled his rig, drift boat in tow, in front of the bar/restaurant and stepped out.  He made the same comment about the smell of the northern pine.  The same we had practiced a script in order to make a point and convince McSteel of something.  All it convinced me of was that Mr T and I needed to get north more often.

Through charm, good looks and pure charisma, the three of us talked the two ladies out smoking on the front step, the bar-keep and the cook, into keeping the grill open and making us some burgers.  We also got them to concede to Mr T keeping his rig parked right where it was, through the overnight hours.

The burgers were fat and juicy and the beer was cold.  The menu was almost like a throwback to the 80's.  "Northwoods Prices," is what McSteel called them.  The whole thing would've been perfect if some jokester hadn't dropped a quarter in the jukebox and selected Arlo Guthrie's, "Alice's Restaurant" which provide the background noise for nearly half our stay at the place.

Back at the dirt patch and picnic table, we set up camp and would have turned in right then if somebody hadn't passed me my Yeti cup overflowing with tonic but mostly gin.

The next sentence in this narrative should, after all of the goodness above, include me drifting off to sleep and waking refreshed to bluebirds singing.  That might have been the case if Mr T and McSteel didn't have a snore-off with the intensity and volume of the Steve Vai and Ralph Machio guitar duel in Crossroads.

The geese honk at 5:20 AM.

At least here they did.


Coffee, gas station breakfast, camp tear down, scout the takeout, run the shuttle, load the boat, shove off.

From here my recollection gets a little fuzzy....and I've had almost a week to think about it.

The sky was mostly sunny, the temp was hot but not melting, the wind wasn't a least with casting.  The bass started off a little pokey and we messed around with some topwater stuff and streamers.  (Between these two tactics we had two sizeable muskies follow.  Mr T, the muskiest guy of the three of us, picked up the 10 wt and tried to convert but the fish didn't reappear.)  Some decent fish were caught but we needed to work for them for the first couple of hours.  The scenery was seriously stunning.  No homes or other boats on the main float and the river rocks and healthy stands of trees make me rank this as one of my favorite smallmouth floats. 

As the we made our way down river the thing that makes fish eat, happened.  I don't know what that thing is....water temp, barometric pressure, time of day, all three, something else entirely?

But it happened.

Certainly there were a number of 12" bass caught but they came between 16" and 18" fish.  One fish grabbed the fly as we were braced for some white water and we had to find a back eddy to drop anchor so we could land it.  That fish was over 20".  Every pocket, softspot, rock and sweeper held an eating fish.  Casts, 99% of them were dead on.  It never rained and the beer stayed cold.  The mosquitoes must have all died and all that remained for pestilence were a few deer flies...and we killed most of them.

I'm pretty sure I'm not exaggerating.

With the river day behind us and the boat back on the trailer, we stopped for a celebratory beer.

To paraphrase, the conversation went something like this:

One of us: "That was $#&@ing unbelieveable..."
Another said: "It really was."
The last guy said: "Yep."

That is how you know when a plan comes together.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Evening on the Big River

There are three channels in the river here...formed by two islands.  The smallest channel is behind me.  My toes are actually in that channel.  I am lying on my stomach on the sand at the downstream end of the smaller island.  My elbows are resting on a boat cushion and if I wasn't holding my camera I could reach out and touch the second channel.

At the downsteam end of the second island, Ben and Kyle from Black Earth Angling Company are anchored up in Kyle's boat.  The bass, as Kyle says, "are Crashing."

They know I am here because I asked them to drop me off on this deserted island so I could get some photos of them working over this roving pack of ravenous smallmouth bass.

They are North of me and the sun setting in the west made for some really good light.

The fact that an hour ago, Kyle put me onto what I am sure is the biggest smallmouth of my life  (21 inches) also makes it a little easier to put the rod down and take up my camera.  It ate a topwater fly and a certain level of satiation occurred when I lifted it out of the net, admired it and slid it back into the river.

And so, with a front row seat, I watched and photographed two seasoned anglers and a large hungry school of smallmouth bass do their thing.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Summer Saturday

It was one of those fishing trips that gets planned over a late breakfast at a local cafe.
One of those good cafes too, with a sheen of bacon grease covering the light fixtures, and a full on breakfast and coffee running under six bucks.

"Why don't we go fish later?"
"I've got a few things to do but I'll call you later."

And then you do your "few things" and you make the call and you grab an 8 weight and throw a couple of beers in a cooler and your buddy shows up with his drift boat and you drive to the river.

To be fair, I love the big trips, the missions.  I love the outings where you spend time at your vice a week before you leave, the trips where you actually make a list of things to not forget.

And then there are the summer Saturday trips.  Special in their own way because you are just going fishing.

You arrive at the bottom end of the float and meet your buddy's buddy and then you decide how the shuttle is going to work.  You drive and play chess with cars, making sure that the keys you will need will be in the place you will need them when you get to where you are going.  (This part goes smoothly because chances are fair that earlier in your life you learned the hard way how bad it can suck when you get this part wrong.)

Before you know it, it's a summer Saturday evening and the oars are dripping water between pulls and fly line is exiting and entering the bottom of the boat.  You throw top water flies because you have nothing to prove and if you do get a fish you'd rather see it explode into the setting sun then just feel a tug.

You've been fishing hard since the ice left the lakes in the spring and the July evening feels like a sort of halftime in the season long game.

Fish are caught and celebratory beers are cracked.

It's your turn at the oars and you watch your buddy and his buddy throw to the bank as you move the oars just enough so that they might think you are working for them.

A smallmouth chasing bait explodes fifty yards back upstream and you do the quick calculations factoring in the time of day/available light, river miles left, interest in actually rowing against the current and then you see the hopeful looks from the two guys holding rods.  This cancels all calculations and you pull hard on the oars until you are upstream of the spot where the fish betrayed itself.  You drop the anchor, let out rope and if you are lucky, as you are this evening, the anchor grabs and the anchor line comes tight just as the boat settles in just off the bank from where a second fish now erupts on its dinner.

Flies get crushed, fish blow up and some are caught.  Earlier in the season and certainly earlier in your life you would have added a third fly to fray.  But, it's a summer Saturday in July and you have a camera and a cold beer and it's much easier to heckle when you are watching and not fishing.