Tag Archives: fly fishing

Friday Dreaming

  1. The road trip to end all road trips

    Minnesota — Black Hills, South Dakota (Deadwood, fly fishing, etc.) — Cody, Wyoming (Buffalo Bill museum) — Yellowstone (O, Yellowstone) — Bozeman, Montana (friends and memories and mountains and rivers) — Missoula (never been, wonderful mountains and fishing history and opportunities) — Nez Perce National Historic Park, Idaho (that people’s story one that really moved me when I was a kid; also just for the  general mountains, rivers and wilderness of northern Idaho) — Couer D’AleneNorth Cascades National Park, Washington (Kerouac and breathtaking mountains) — Seattle Mount RainierPortland, Oregon (been hearing so many good things about Portland) — Then straight back to Minnesota… maybe.

    In a chat with a friend this morning, we decided it wasn’t actually the ultimate trip… The ultimate trip would have to include Glacier National Park — British Columbia (Vancouver), — and hell, while we’re at it, come back via Rocky Mountain National Park and Denver. –And San Francisco?

    Say three weeks minimum, two months ideally. Camp and stay with friends and family. Maybe $2,000? Ideally $3K.

  2. NOLS/Orvis Wilderness Fly Fishing Course

    An intensive two-day Orvis™ fly fishing seminar will help you get your cast down while learning to “match the hatch” and read the water. Then, you’ll shoulder your pack and head into the Wind River Mountains for a 20-day wilderness fishing expedition where cutthroat, brook, brown, golden and rainbow trout abound.

    … The course will end on a world-renowned trout-fishing river with an Orvis™ certified guide for six days of personal instruction in drift boat handling, rowing techniques and big water fishing.

    So, anyone have $6,000 laying around? I have a really good way to spend it. No? How about $2,875? For that I can get 14 days in the same mountains with a good deal of fishing as well…

  3. A warm spring day …

    … on a particular stretch of a particular stream not 45 miles from where I sit inside this very moment, the temperature outside this morning -10° Farenheit. An orange and some bread and cheese in my vest, birds singing, bugs hatching…

[tags]travel, road trip, dreaming, fly fishing, mountains, the west[/tags]

Blue

I wish I could feel that way again right now. I wish it bad to feel so focused and independent. So calm and so awake. So still.

There was a fish rising right next to a rock sticking out of the water at the top of the pool. I noticed it as soon as I got within sight of the pool. I was walking slowly upstream on the bank. The sky above was flat gray and it was quieter in the valley than I could ever remember. It was a quiet that called for measured breathing and the careful placement of every step. My eyes glanced back and forth from the uneven ground at my feet, concealed by weeds and made perilous by the workings of water, to the flat water of the river, looking for signs of the trout which were leisurely and sporadically feeding on the late morning Blue Wing Olives.

I couldn’t tell if it was a big fish, but it was rising pretty regularly. I stopped and watched. While I was watching, I noticed that there were five or six other fish rising in between where I stood and where the fish was rising by the rock. Not as regularly as that one, but I couldn’t just ignore them. Even if I wanted to, beelining right for the one at the top of the pool was senseless as I’d only spook the ones closer to me and they’d probably in turn spook that one. And what was the sense of hurrying, anyway?

RushI had already fished up about a quarter-mile. It was a good stretch of water to be fishing on a day like this. The classic pattern of riffle and flats. Not necessarily big fish water, but good water with lots of fish. And it held sentimental value, it was the first stretch of river I ever fished a few years ago when Fisherman first introduced me to trout, to the fly rod, to this river. He never seems to want to fish it anymore and I usually do just in the spring when the weeds aren’t bad and I can hike quite a ways to some favorite holes way downstream.

But, here I was. I’d come alone and it would be the last time I’d get out for the season, something which causes a distinct feeling of melancholy. There were no other cars at the popular bridge when I got there and I wore a heavy shirt and my jacket against the cool day threatening drizzle. After hiking down quite a ways, I started fishing my way back up. I tried nymphing in a couple of the fast riffles but I found that my heart just wasn’t in it.

When I saw rises in the first flat, I tied on a Blue Wing Olive and I started a game I sometimes play: “you will get one of those fish.” And I did and it had been a little brook trout and it made me very happy. Beautiful and feisty and, better than anything, wild in this river.

The Tricos didn’t come off; it would have been crazy to expect them to on a day like this when the temperature never got above 60 degrees or so. But there were a couple different sizes of Blue Wing Olives and the fish seemed to like the smaller ones and they had the trout looking up enough that I could reasonably hope to convince one or two more to rise to my fly.

The water was very flat and had the appearance of mercury. Between that, the irregularity of the rising fish, their spooky natures this late in the season, and the overall quiet of the day, I had to be focused and I had to be patient. Somedays I can’t do that. Somedays I just want to catch a fish goddammit or I don’t even care if I catch a fish goddammit or sometimes I’m just happy enough looking around at the beautiful valley that it doesn’t really matter. This day, being quiet and focused and getting a couple was all I wanted in the whole world. All I felt I could reasonably ask.

First and LastThe hours had slipped by and then I found myself at the bottom of this flat, studying the riseforms of the fish scattered between me and that one at the rock. The fish was rising precisely the same distance from the rock every time, maybe six inches. It was such a predictable place for a trout to rise and maybe that was what intrigued me. Or it might have been the little bubbles that floated on the surface for a moment after each rise.

But within casting distance from where I stood there was another fish rising along a weed line and I tried for him first. And I got him, a 10 inch brown, also to the size 18 Blue Wing Olive. He leapt and pulled and even tried to walk on his tail across the surface of the water. After releasing the fish, I took a few more careful steps upriver, careful not to stumble and splash and put down every fish in the flat. On my next cast, I caught an overhanging branch on my backcast and had to snap off the fly.

My tippet snapped off with it and I retied tippet on and then had to find another suitable offering. Blue Wing Olives are kind of the staple on this river for much of the year so I am usually well-prepared. Of course, no fly instills as much hope in you as the fly that just got you a fish but I chose something similar and took my time tying it on.

A few casts later, I was picking up the slack in my line before picking up to cast again when another fish struck. I wasn’t prepared but still managed to hook him. This one was a little better and made some muscular runs and I worried a little about a log underwater in the middle of the river that he kept trying to go under but eventually I brought him to my hand and quickly let him back into the river with the hook out of his mouth.

I fished some more without success, taking another couple careful steps upriver occasionally. Finally I was within a cast of the rock where the fish I had first noticed had been rising and I stood and watched. I saw no rises. I don’t know how long it had been since I had seen the fish rise because I had been preoccupied by that which presented itself between us but I had expected it to keep rising. But it was not. It was gone.

All the fish seemed to have settled down after that. Not that they had been very active before, but I saw very few rises for the rest of the day and I caught nothing more. I stayed out there nonetheless. If anything, I felt more centered than before; the quiet surge of adrenaline brought on by rising fish now having passed, I could absorb more of what else was going on. Birds were squawking and squirrels crept around in the tree tops, occasionally knocking twigs and the such to the ground. Once or twice I mistook the sound of gusts of winds in the trees at the very top of the bluffs for the sound of rushing water and I looked upstream to look for the rapids.

Ready to fish but not fishing, I crept upstream, sometimes in the water and sometimes on the bank. The day was possibly the most fall-like that I had ever fished. With the season ending at the end of September, most of my memories of late season fishing are golden sunny days. This day could have been November if not for the mostly green leaves (though I was treated to the sight of crisp yellow leaves floating high in the water several times).

It was a good day to fish because it gave me a rare opportunity to think about whatever crossed my mind, rather than just the events barreling at me that have consumed most of my thoughts recently. I could think about where I was going on a larger scale and I could think about the winter ahead and the spring which would follow. It was also a chance to look back. Fall is good for reflection and I had a lot to think about from the blur that had been the summer.

When I got back to the bridge I sat on the bank and stared at the hole where I had done quite a bit of fishing during the Trico hatches. I knew it was about time to leave and I knew I couldn’t take it with me, but I just sat and I just stared and I just was.

DSCN3900

Rise

Okay, this posting every day thing might be a greater challenge than I thought. Yesterday I could have written something but couldn’t get online… Alas, hate to make excuses because it’s only my own goal I’m falling short of, but just know I’m not giving up so easy. I’ll post more than one thing a day to compensate for any slacking.

I saw a hedgehog yesterday, he was very fat and just ambled along the bank eating the vegetation he preferred. I also fooled a couple fish. And I moved very, very slowly. Toward the end, I chatted up a couple anglers who seemed to know their stuff and, atypically, they seemed genuinely nice and friendly and for once I also felt like I knew what I was talking about.

Oh, and I have an unpleasant leak in my waders.

A Numbers Game

It had been a while since I was out fishing last. Summer, in all its glory, has found one obligation after another for me, and a day on a weekend that I could justify spending the entirety of out mucking around on a stream has been rare.

With the Fourth come and gone, it’s hard not to feel like summer is already on the wane. So, with a Sunday my own and despite the fact that I didn’t get to sleep until about 2:00 last night, I set the alarm for 6 a.m. and heeded its call (and Rosie’s nudge) as gray light seeped into the bedroom this morning.

I have developed something of a strategy for early morning departures with trout stream destinations. It starts the night before: Get stuff in car and in front of my nose for the morning. Clothes, whatever. Then, get to bad ASAP. In the morning, no “snooze” button. Just get up and point myself toward the door. Get into clothes en route. Maybe some water. Just get on the road so as not to waste the benefit of such an early, and painful, awakening.

When I got to the river it was 7:30 and I was feeling pretty good after a big cup of coffee and some breakfast on the way. I went to a favorite old access point on the Stinging Nettle River, a bridge with a name that always makes me wonder about its history. It was a bright day by the time I got there, but when the road dipped down toward the river and into the trees, it suddenly became cool, damp and shady.

It’s a good time of the year to fish, even though the water is low and clear, the fish smart and spooky, and the bugs hatch at godawful early hours of the day. The reason it is a good time to fish is that not many people do. When I got to this bridge, there were two other cars there; I have seen the same parking area full at earlier times of the season, 12, maybe 14 cars jammed in. I have even fished it at those times of the year, but I have walked miles along the bank to get a stretch of my own.

Today, after rigging up, I walked down to the river, saw fish rising, and fished there for three or four hours, only seeing one other person the entire time.

I didn’t just see fish rising in that pool below the bridge, I saw the surface of the water boiling with their rises. I had really never seen anything quite like it. A certain hope had been fulfilled a thousand times over: Tricos (Tricorythodes). Little tiny mayflies that do their business in the early hours of late summer mornings and then collapse to the water in great blanketing numbers. When I saw the fish going crazy in the tailout of the riffle, I looked immediatley to the sky downstream and saw a cloud of bugs like I had never seen before.

When I say the fish were going crazy, it is no understatement. The only word for it was “frenzy.” They were swimming around frantically, literally with their open mouths protruding from the water as they inhaled the bugs on the water.

I tied a Trico spinner onto some 6x tippet and crept down in the water. I was prepared to be stealthy, but it ended up seeming completely unnecessary. The trout were so obsessed with their breakfast that they never seemed to notice my presence, or even the occasional member of their pod being violently pulled from their midst.

As you may have picked up by now, participating in a hatch of this magnitude was a pretty new thing to me. I’ve fished tricos before and it had been a good time but had also lived up to its reputation for challenge. Today, my biggest challenge was one of numbers, specifically the sheer number of natural insects on the water. My fly just couldn’t stand out in the crowd and it was only by a little luck and persistence that I managed to convince a few fish to eat mine instead of the millions of others that were on the water.

Luckily, the advantage I enjoyed also came from a matter of numbers: the number of fish feeding. Standing where I stood for the whole morning, I counted dozens and dozens of fish in front of me, moving up and down the pool as a pod, feeding incessantly. If my fly passed by five snouts that chose one of the naturals on the water, the sixth fish would take mine.

Though the taking of fish wasn’t as intense as the activity in the stream, mostly due to the “Where’s Waldo?” effect I described above, I did all right. What was as surprising as anything this morning was the size of the average fish I was hooking. I got a couple that went to about 15-16″ and a few in the 13-14″ bracket. For a river that produces so many fish in the 10-12″ size, it was a lot of fun to have that kind of bend in my rod.

With its sheer intensity, it was hard to imagine the hatch ever ending, the water ever calming. I noticed it slacken a little when I paused to sit on the bank finally and have a smoke. I could still see several fish, but they were beginning to drop back, hanging under the surface a few inches, darting up to grab the occasional morsel. When I resumed fishing, I got a couple more, but they were smaller than before and I realized that the fun was over for this morning.

I stayed there for another hour or so. I tried some subsurface tactics to no avail, and, without the compelling site of active fish, my interest waned. As did my energy levels, the reality of the four hours of sleep hitting home. I didn’t mind at all when I headed back up to the car and it wasn’t yet 11 a.m. I ate a snack and had some water on the bridge, watching a few little trout clean up the leftovers on the surface.

I didn’t bring the camera along and I was okay with that. I released all my fish quickly and efficiently, without the hassle or guilt of snapping their picture. It was a beautiful day, with blue skies and the lush greens of summer, a day to simply enjoy and remember as best I can, and to hope I’m fortunate enough to repeat again sometime.

“Never Gonna Breathe This Air Again”

Steeple

Fisherman and I are at a birthday party at a bar in St. Paul Saturday night. We have made plans earlier in the week to fish Sunday, but we haven’t decided much in regards to details. Normally, we’d at least know what river we were going to fish: the Rattlesnake River (yes, that’s a psuedonym), but that wasn’t such a good idea. The early catch-and-release only, artificials only trout season that was put in place in Wisconsin about 10 years ago caused a lot of tension between bait fishers and fly fishers, and for some reason the Rattlesnake has been a focal point of that contention. Fisherman and I decide we’ll fish some other water for once, and perhaps do our small part for peace in the Rattlesnake watershed.

After narrowing it down a little and picking a time and place to meet (9 a.m. at the park-and-ride by the Hudson bridge), we part ways at about 1:00.

I give myself too much time in the morning, and end up not sleeping as long as I could, but rather puttering around the apartment in a coffee-less stupor for 45 minutes in the morning. I finally get myself and my gear in the car, and then to the grocery store down the block where I get a sandwich, then to the coffeeshop for a big cup of dark roast, an apple fritter and a newspaper.

Then, 70 mph down I-94, past the strip malls built on the ruins of strip malls, past the bleeding edges of development where the modern homes abut the fields and stands of forest that roll toward the river. It has been an ugly, ugly time of year. There is no snow on the ground and a winter’s worth of trash blankets the ditches and everything else in sight. With the brown of the grass, the leafless trees and the flat gray skies, my eyes have been desperate to find some color in the world, color I can’t hope for for at least a few more weeks.

When I get to the park-and-ride I drink the wonderful coffee and read the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The paper is having its final words on the subject of baseball great and childhood hero Kirby Puckett and I read the account of Game Six of the 1991 World Series, an epic game in which he insured his place in history. Fisherman calls 15 minutes after he was supposed to be there and tells me he’ll be there soon.

When he gets there, I throw my gear in his car and we motor off. This is the first time that him driving has been an option since at least the season-before-last. It feels nice to be able to sit in the passenger seat on the way to the river and be in charge of picking out a CD.

When we get to the road down the river valley, the old rhythm returns. It feels like we were just fishing together a few weeks before, even though it’s been almost a six month spell where not only have we not fished together, but we’ve probably talked half as much as during the season. Go figure.

But now, we’re in the car, The Boss is on the stereo, and miles of trout stream are ahead of us. We turn off at the first road that crosses the river and drive up the other side and across a wide piece of farmland (all if parceled up and pegged with red for-sale signs) and back around to another bridge where we sit in the car in the middle of the road and stare at the water and at a mangy, ornery-looking black cat sitting in the ditch staring at us and we decide to head further downstream. Though we have decided to hit the last access point on the river, there’s no reason not to slow down to a crawl on every bridge and look at the water and wonder about the fish in there.

Growth

When we finally park, it takes us a long time to get ready. You can only carry flies with barbless hooks this time of year because of the catch-and-release regulations, so we both have to go through a couple boxes of flies and find the barbless flies and crimp down the barbs on the ones that we really want to have with us. And we have to see what shape our gear is in. Later, when we’re wading across deeper parts of the river, we both discover that we have small holes in our waders. The water is cold.

And so we fish. We catch some, he more than me. Bigger than I expected. First fish honors go to me, but with much direction from Fisherman. It’s not a bad sized brown, with lots of orange on his flanks. Reaching into that water to grab him, to hold him there for a moment while Fisherman readies the camera, I find that the water is seriously cold. It hurts. Soon, I send him back to his world and withdraw to mine.

First

Upstream we go. We discuss our theories. We each have a box of theories we carry in our vests like a box of flies, and there’s always one appropriate for the conditions.

Today, one of our theories is that the fish feel bigger when you hook them this time of year because the water is cold (so goddamn cold) and they are very sluggish, just waking up from near-hibernation during the winter months. When you hook a smallish one they don’t spaz out like they do later in the year, but instead, they just wave their entire body a few times slow and strong against your pull, just like a big fish will. It’s a theory.

Honey Hole

I also have a theory based on something I’d recently read. I read that it’s a good idea to fish near feeder streams this time of year. The water coming out of the feeders is warmer, because the streams are smaller and shallower and thus warm up quicker in the sun. Normally, you look for the coldest part of the stream to find the greatest numbers of trout but this time of year, the warmer the water, the more active the fish will be. We come to where a small creek enters the river and test the theory. We are not presented with any evidence in the piscine form to support this theory. But hey, it’s just a theory.

I find that there is color in this landscape. Dandelion plants mashed down by the snow are somehow still vibrant green. North-facing banks stabilized long ago by field stones are blanketed in soft, green moss. A little ways upstream, the river bottom goes from sand and muck to gravel, and there are many red rocks on the bottom.

Place

Late in the day, clouds began to roll over the ridges to our northeast. When big clouds rush over, with the wind hitting us from the other direction, we figure that might mean a big low pressure system is coming in and sucking the air back underneath itself. We stand on a gravel bar and stare at the weather for a while. We decide to fish our way back down rather than fish further upstream and then hike straight back to the car. It is as quiet and gray as it has been all day.

We’ve covered a fair bit of the ways back when we get to a nice corner, with a fast, deep trench going in, a nice pool, a good tailout. We’re both fishing streamers, the big, hairy flies that might entice a leviathan from its hideout. I go down around the corner to fish the tailout, Fisherman works the upstream trench. A few minutes go by and then he’s fishing the pool.

“This is the way to fish streamers,” he explains.

“Going downstream like this?” (Usually, fishing upstream is preferred.)

“Yep. You just get to a nice pool like this and cast down into it and give the bugger some action against the current.”

“Right on,” I say.

“You just give it a nice little roll cast like this…” He hooks an overhanging branch. Normally this would elicit a curse. He just looks at it and shakes his head.

“And you catch a tree,” I say.

He starts walking toward the branch. “And you ask yourself why you even participate in the sport,” he says.

“Then, you begin to wonder about your entire direction in life,” I say.

He chuckles as he reaches up into the branches.

A little further and we’re back at the car where it’s parked at the last bridge over the river before it spills into the Mississippi. We pack up, split a Leinie’s and then drive up the highway along the Big Muddy. When we get to Prescott, it is raining. Or snowing. Or some nasty hybrid. We get gas and air up the tires and cross into Minnesota. The further north we drive, the worse the weather gets. It is the weather that they had been predicting for earlier in the day, just a few hours late. A few hours which had let us enjoy the fishing. The dark road is invisible, all we can really see is the precipitation blowing across the road.

When I wake up the next morning, there is four to five inches of fresh snow on the ground. This seems like more snow than we’ve seen all winter. Rosie and I both go into work two hours late. It’s a mess, with some areas getting much more snow than St. Paul. I hear that one of the highways we’d taken in Wisconsin the day before was declared impassable. All the color I had found amongst the dead brown and gray is now buried under the clean white of the snow.

ps – As is often the case, I chose the title to this post because I listened to a song on the way to the stream and it got stuck in my head for the rest of the day. The title of this post comes from a song titled “Wake” by the excellent JoAnna James. An mp3 of the song can be downloaded here.