This October my friends and I have changed up our game plan to avoid the crowded salmon circus on the southern Wisconsin tributaries in favor of more peaceful places with aggressive predators that start feeding more frequently in the fall. October does bring the fly fisherman very large trout into small rivers along the coast but, between the lack of river miles and proximity to large cities you do have to get used to fishing closer than normal to people. At the same time the trout start migrating, pike and muskie start to put on some extra weight for the winter months making it the best time of the year to land a real trophy. We’ve been out on marginal muskie water a couple times in the past few weeks but only managed one follow from a 35-38 inch muskie and a few pike that made it to the boat. There’s a chance I might try this weekend again, but the spey temptation is getting harder to resist.
I can’t count the hours Anthony, Andrew, and myself have sat around tables, fly vises, fire pits or other gatherings to discuss us all making a trip to the Menominee. We finally made that a reality on 7-31 when the stars aligned and allowed us a shared Sunday void of any true responsibility. We took full advantage, I don’t think you could pack in much more driving, obsessing, and fishing in a day and still make it home safe and sane.
Been too long since the last post, but a lot has happened so I’ll do my best to catch up. Last update was in April when the caddis started hatching and they did so for several weeks. Surface and sub-surface caddis patterns provided some of the best hatch fishing of the year. Fish come out of hiding and wait near riffles for the emerging caddis making them more vulnerable to anglers. The caddis fishing in the driftless winds down just as the terrestrials start coming into play. First, the ants and beetles get some attention, followed by smaller hoppers. From my experience the large hopper patterns don’t get a lot of action until later in the summer. Last fall my beautiful lady of ten years and I got engaged, and it really was her idea to get married in the driftless area at an amazing place called Justin Trails. This farm resort speaks to our personalities with a beautifully updated barn for events, 36 holes of professional disc golf, hiking, camping, and it also happens to be only a short drive from some amazing fishing. To the south are countless miles of public trout water. To the north and west, there’s larger lakes and rivers such as the Mississippi and Black rivers that also provide some great angling opportunities. As lucky as I am she did say “I do” and, I even got to go fishing! Jaws and I had some fun making really tight casts under overhanging trees where we could hear the occasional “gulp” of a trout feeding on the bugs falling from the trees. It was some of the most technical trout fishing I have done, but when your fly landed tight to the bank under the trees you would likely be rewarded.
All trout aside, the bass fishing started out pretty hot in early May. I had a couple days of good streamer and top-water fishing before the spawn funk began. Every lake and river has its own conditions to factor in during spawn time. Temperature and light penetration seem to be the biggest factors. Depending on the depth and type of lake or river this could happen anywhere from mid May until mid to late June. The important thing to remember is that the fish do shut down during this spawn period. You can still find smaller fish that aren’t breeding yet, or you could harass the fish protecting their beds, but I think the best idea is to find another lake with different conditions with more active fish. The good news is that on most lakes and rivers where I fish the spawn has come and gone. I noticed most bass in my local waters spawned around the first couple weeks of June and they seem to be back to feeding.
Sometimes you head to your favorite trout stream looking for a particular hatch and all the conditions seem right, and for some random reason of cruel fate, it never materializes. This was not that day. Everywhere you found rocks and riffles, you found Caddis popping and trout rising. The heads of pools was where the action was. Tossing your presentation into shallow riffles leading into any pool would bring a beautiful Driftless Specimen to hand more often than not. Bubble lines hugging the bank were also productive. It’s great days of dry fly fishing like this that make all the other tough days fade away.
Last weekend a bunch of guys and I headed up north along Michigan’s west coast with a few small boats, way too many fly rods, a smoker, and a cooler full of meat. Exactly the way I expected to celebrate the end of my non-married life. Along the way we checked the weather forecast and stream flows to devise a plan and it was looking grim. After a good rain some cold air moved in and changed conditions from almost perfect to borderline dangerous. Michigan rivers are deceivingly swift. At first glance the water looks fairly flat and slow but once you step in up to your thighs you can feel the current start to move you down river. So, with some added rain and cold weather our first concern was safety. When we arrived we had heard that the area hadn’t gotten as much rain as they expected, and despite the cold forecast the temperature stayed above freezing and we got a good mix of sun to keep us warm, and enough clouds to keep fish active. Day one we floated our fleet of small boats from pool to pool drifting eggs and swinging streamers through likely lies waiting for THE TUG. Brown trout where caught here and there, but that’s not exactly why we traveled 6 hours. Catching a steelhead anywhere is a major feat in fly fishing. Catching a wild steelhead in a river with no dams, and littered with log jams is something that definitely requires your A-game and a bit of luck. With so many river miles and so many places to hide getting one to eat your fly is the first challenge. Then, it becomes a struggle to keep the fish out of the wood and trying not to let it get too far down river. When all this happens and the fish comes to the net you quickly forget about the cold, wet, fishless hours, and the victory resonates throughout your group. Everyone loves a chance to see these amazing fish up close, and this time I was the lucky one to get my hands around a fresh hen. Day two we waded in damp weather and my brother had one steelhead take an egg and then break off due to a drag malfunction when it decided to make a run. Other than that just a few questionable bumps and a couple brown trout provided some fun filler between long walks and cold beers.