With all the holiday activity finally settling down I found some time to head west and fish some spring creeks in the Driftless Area. Most of the spring creeks in Southwest Wisconsin stay free of ice through the winter months, and now that the early season begins the first Saturday in January we have 2 more months to chase trout in the dead of winter. Sunday, I returned to a creek I fished last winter and had a very similar experience. It started slow with maybe only 2 bites in the first hour or so, but when I got to a certain pool I had success with last year I was confident that something would happen. I let my friend take the first few casts. He stripped a white woolly bugger through the pool a few times with no trout showing interest. I stepped in and dead drifted an olive bugger with a ray charles dropper. I think it was my first drift and a small brown took the bugger. Only a drift or two later and the indicator dropped again. This time I set the hook and saw a large white belly roll in the bottom of the pool. After a minute I scooped a 16-17 inch brown into the net (which also ate the olive bugger). I believe it was a female that had spawned only a month or so ago based on the length and lack of girth. The rest of the day brought a few more browns and one brook trout. Enough to reset my winter fishing blues and keep me focused until my next day on the water.
Winter Trout – Driftless Area
Boats & Beasts
I’ve been quiet on the blog front for awhile and a lot has happened since my last post. I got married back in August and wedding planning took over my life for the better part of 3 months. Truth be told, I probably spent more time planning my Bachelor’s Party. I spent a lot of weekend labor hours landscaping some land with the help of friends but it turned out to be completely fruitless since we got over 5 inches of rain on my special day!!! It was a shit show beyond belief but we definitely made the best of it. At one point we were blasting shotgun rounds at watermelons from under a collapsing canopy with a wall of water flowing in front of our faces. My computer situation has also deteriorated to say the least and I need an upgrade. I can’t even do blog posts on my laptop anymore. I purchased a GoPro Silver back in June to help move the blog in the direction we want…more good quality fishing videos…but without a decent computer, or a fucking spacebar for that matter, I can’t really do anything.
A few months ago I hit my breaking point with my inflatable pontoon and purchased a factory new 2016 Nucanoe Frontier 12. I sprung for the stand-up casting bar, fiberglass extendable paddle, and transport cart which ran me about $1,900. No longer will I have to assemble and inflate/deflate my watercraft. No longer will I have to re-patch or purchase bladders. No longer will I be slowly sinking down a river in a constant state of peril because I lost the damn applicator which enables me to put air in my pontoon. But that isn’t the only boat development. After years of dreaming of being able to afford a nice boat my dreams have finally come true thanks to a career opportunity I was able to seal the deal on back in June. I put a down payment on a 14′ Drift Boat made by Stealthcraft Boats in Baldwin, MI. For me and my fishing friends, this is a game changer and the possibilities are endless next year. Between the 14′ Ransom by Stealthcraft and Nucanoe Frontier 12, I can effectively fish lots of different rivers and streams we frequent in the small to medium size range. The Ransom should cut it in some medium/large rivers and small lakes too but probably not ideal. I’ve recently experienced what a luxury it is to have someone at the oars keeping you in the zone to get solid presentations to work the nooks and crannies. I miss A LOT of good water in the Nucanoe in rivers with more gradient and I don’t have time to be anchoring up at every holding lie. I will still need the Nuke for hard to access skinny water, but the era of solo one man boats is about to end if I can get my drift boat in the water. It will also be a vessel for family fun for years to come. My wife and I could pack the boat up and float a river for a week no problem.
This is the first year I made Musky a real priority. Usually I start fishing the Lake Michigan tribs too soon in hopes of early lake run trout but the salmon army is still shamelessly pouring into the gravel runs to try their luck at impaling fish instead of taking them by sport. In late October, I was lucky enough to have one of my Mom’s friends lend me their cabin in Vilas County, WI to do some serious Musky fishing. I even had time to explore a UP Stream for Steelhead. It was a great opportunity to get acquainted with my Nucanoe as well. I had high hopes considering I was in the heart of rural Musky country where quality Musky lakes are a dime a dozen. But boy did I get beat up bad!!! I fished 3 different lakes and only had 2 follows to show for it. One was 30″ and the other 36″. I had a real chance at the 30″ but I blew it. By the time I realized a Musky was charging my fly in the dark iron stained waters, I was already pulling my fly out of the water for the next cast. It was a rookie maneuver not retrieving back to the boat and then some. It was a real nightmare seeing the Musky try it’s damnedest to eat my fly but just barley unable to close the gap before I pulled it out of the water. Despite my lack of success, I loved the water I saw on 2 of the 3 lakes and loved the people I met at the local bars. Things are just simple and beautiful in that area and everyone is happy. I’ll never forget the hauntingly beautiful foggy morning I was skunked on.
UP Steel is another mission of mine I haven’t gotten around to. Anthony and I have been obsessing about exploring the UP in search of Wild Steelhead populations with little fishing pressure that don’t require us to drive through major urban centers like Chicago. Vilas County sits on the border of the UP so I took a half day to check out a Steelhead Stream. The UP streams are shrouded in mystery which is their major allure to me. They really keep a tight lid on things and I’m not looking to spoil anything for anyone. The stream I visited was tough, fast, technical, rugged, beautiful, and required grit just to get down to the stream.
I don’t need to tell you this trip was equal parts frustrating and blissful. I had 3 1/2 days to fish quality Musky lakes and a UP Steelhead stream, and I couldn’t bring a fish to hand. I just love to target fish that are expected to disappoint the angler until the last vestige of their dignity and confidence is stripped away. Then, and only then, do they seem ready to eat. My brain was wrapped into a figure eight by the time I left.
The local tribs came to my rescue just in time this week. I took a day off to swing some flies on the Milwaukee with my Switch Rod and managed to pick up a Brown & Steelhead Buck. The Brown was a little spent but the Steelhead was chrome fresh!!! It freight trained my Bad Hair Day in faster riffley water, just shy of balls deep a few seconds before the hang down. I’ll spare the clichés but it was a blast and a much needed boost in moral and confidence.
Protecting Salmon Strongholds
Along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts we have decimated most of our salmon populations with dams, pollution, disease, and mines. The evidence is there showing the negative effects of all of these practices yet we continue to gamble with a keystone species habitat for gas and oil. Tell me how risking an entire ecosystem and Native American way of life that’s been around for thousands of years makes any sense. All for the rich to get richer while leaving the Natives and locals with less resources.
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.
Menominee Day Trip
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.
Summer is Here
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.