February 21, 2014

Seasons

Looking upstream in about 2 months.
Looking downstream from above.

February 20, 2014

Driftless Streams

Opening Day Tiger From 2007

Remember this fish well.  Hooked it from above the water on a bank. Went to step down the bank to net it and the edge of the bank was a snow drift.  I did a face plant and almost ended up in the water.  I got my bearings again found my rod under the snow drift and landed the tiger.

Opener Weather Conditions Look Harsh

Don't hit water until 9:30 at earliest.

Have a change of clothing with you.
Target deep slow moving wintering holes.
Target below springs in cold weather.
This beauty was caught directly below where a spring feeds in.

February 19, 2014

First Day Since Knee Surgery With No Swelling!

My left has been swollen in two places a lot since surgery 10 days ago.  I was a little down because of trout opener coming so soon.  I thought there was no way I would get out.
I am still clinging to hope that my knee will be ok for opener and back fusion will be calm.

It would be my first ever missed opener except for those years in the military.

February 18, 2014

King Cuthbert



At first glance you suspect this waterway could hold big browns and you get the chills thinking about them and you are dreaming of your drag screaming and line snapping.  The only real problem with this dream is it is reality.  This short stretch of water has reduced many a sage angler in to shaken blathers of witnessing unbelievable trout of sea monster proportions.  I can still remember Stewart Riley telling me about his less than stellar encounter with a monster trout that he described as bigger than most steelhead he caught.


We got out of the vehicle downstream a ways.  Stew is from England and has fished the chalk streams over there and he was less than complimentary about this stretch.  He called it frog water.  I enlightened him that this was quality water and not quantity water.  He was dying to break in his new Schroeder 3 weight bamboo rod his wife had purchased for him for his birthday.  I told him to leave it in the truck and 5/6 weight rod was more appropriate for the monsters we could encounter.  He did not heed my warning.  


It was early season on this non-typical trout water.  The banks were quite steep and this made for poor casting from them.  A long handled net was required or some up close and personal wading through the mess.  Stew opted for the up close and personal route.


We both had landed a couple decent browns on the stretch.  I watched Stew battle a medium sized brown on his soft bamboo rod.  The rod was almost bent in half and I was still of the opinion he was under gunned for the potential trout on this water.  I suggested he go back to the vehicle and get his 5/6 weight.   He declined my suggestion.


When I fish with people, I typically like showing them a good time so I decided to let Stew fish a hole that I knew a big fish lived in.  Stew was trying out the hole from the east bank and wasn’t really working it right.  He went downstream a ways and crossed in shallow water and got down on the 90 degree bend from the other side.  Stew was one of these guys that was tenacious and a good looking hole required anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half to properly cut apart.  I left Stew at this hole because I was not up for waiting that long to see him fish it properly.

I looped around the hole Stew was fishing so I wouldn’t spook his potential prey.  I made it back to the water about 30 yards upstream.  I started casting in to the log jams and snarls I was used to fishing on this stretch and heard a thunderous “LEN!!!” being shouted by Stew.   This only meant one thing in my book.  He had hooked a monster and needed my help landing it.  I ran as fast as a big fat white man can to where I left him.


It took a little while to get through the fallen weeds and underbrush to get to Stew.  He was seated on the 90 degree bend on the other side on a soft mud delta that the spring floods had made.  There was no bend in his rod or drags screaming.  There he sat with his head in his hands and heard him mumbling.  The only thing that I understood from his whimpering was:  “I should have listened to Len.”  It was obvious he had broken off on a large fish.

 I sat down in the tall weeds and watched him fish that hole for another 45 minutes with no takers.  He finally gave up and went back downstream and crossed.  I met him where he crossed.  He was mumbling and he wanted to take me back to the 90 degree corner and talk.  He was visually shaken still 45 minutes after his encounter.


First thing he blurted out was:  “You were right about me choosing the wrong rod.”  He gave me the complete skinny from how he began to how he ended.  Stew typically fishes holes the same every time he fishes them.  He goes bottom right and bottom middle and bottom left.  He repeats the same fishing action again but with longer casts covers more water.  He had on a size 8 wooly bugger with weight in the body and he was fishing without an indicator.  He was dredging the bottom like I suggested when he first saw it.  The first flash of the fish was “unbelievable,” he muttered.  He didn’t get a good look at it but he was in disbelief at the size.  He thought it was magnified when the fish turned up on its side in the water.  


Stew has a standing operating procedure.  Whenever he sees a large fish, he checks his line for wind knots and checks to see if the knot looks good.  He fired right back in there after his knot check.  He was a little left and off target of his prior cast so he stripped in his bugger quite quickly this time.  He was cursing his poor casting as he lifted the fly out of the water when he saw it.  It was two inches from his fly when Stew took it out of the water.  It sat there for a micro-second and slowly swam back out in to the hole.  He got a really good look at it this time.  Stew told me he was shaking like a school girl.  He wasn’t sure what to do.  This trout was bigger than most steelhead he had encountered in the Great Lakes and he felt incredibly under gunned with his tiny 3 weight.

The car was way too far to go back to now so he adjusted his leader.  He took off his 4x leader and put on a new 2X leader.  He tied the same bugger on and attacked the hole again.  There it was again following his bugger not 10 feet in front of him. He slowed his retrieve on the next cast and it followed again.  This was three times he saw this monstrous male brown. It turned off at the last minute and didn’t hit.  He fired right back in there and slowly retrieved the bi-colored bugger and the trout hit right near shore.  This when he shouted out “LEN!!” to call for me to come assist.  

He told me that me before the shout was finished his line came back limp.  He inspected the line and it was a clear cut.  The steelhead sized male brown trout must have had teeth like an alligator because he barely felt any bend on his rod before the line went limp. 

  On the way back to the vehicle I told him that such a monstrous fish should have a name.  The angler that lost the fish must give it a name.  Stew told me about some King from England that was a crazy trout angler.  The king’s name was Cuthbert and that was what he was naming his lost giant.


  Stew was truly concern about depositing the size 8 bugger in Cuthbert’s jaw.  He worried that it might die because of the bugger in its jaw.  My next comment probably soothed him and also made him weak in the knees.  I said:  “I didn’t see that fish but the way you described the large headed monstrous male and how the line came back so fast, I seriously doubt if you got any penetration and a trout of that size has a jaw almost made of iron.  I seriously don’t think you have enough backbone in that rod to drive in the point of the hook.  That trout probably spit it out as quickly as you deposited it.   We went back a couple times after Cuthbert with no takers.  Cuthbert lives on in Stew’s nightmares.

I asked Stew if he minded if I used his name and photo in a story.  The nightmare must have been still fresh in his mind.  He declined.  The name has been changed in this story and "Stew" had his identity altered.  I guess losing the biggest trout of your lifetime scars you.

Paradise Creek




 I can't remember the first time I fished Paradise Creek.  It had to have been nearly 50 years ago with my father.  I remember the stream well because it was where I caught my very first brook trout. 

I remember my dad saying brook trout were the most beautiful trout in the Midwest and that they were the native species.  He prepared me for the outing on Paradise Creek before we went.  He emphasized the beauty of the brook trout and described their neon colors to me.  The look in my dad's eyes as he talked about them showed me they had a magical quality and he held them in high regard.

This brook trout is ablaze with fall spawning colors.  Male brookies are the colorful ones to attract females.

 He described the brook trout as we were on the way to the stream.  The first thing he painted a picture with words about was their blood red fins tipped in black and white.  He said they were typically smaller trout but made up for their smaller size with ferocity.  Every brookie had a unique color pattern.  The worm like swirled markings on their backs was the first thing you saw upon hook up.  Then the blood red fins caught your attention as you were fighting them.

Each brook trout has its own coloring.  They are unique almost like snow flakes.  They are nature's tapestries.

He always described wildflowers to me and the brook trout was like a beautiful wildflower to him.  The male ones had blaze orange bellies in the fall.  He loved the red spots on their sides with light blue halos.  His descriptions of the brook trout made them special even before I had ever fished for them.
  We got out at "Paradise Creek" and I was amazed when I saw how small the stream was.  I questioned my dad and asked him if the stream got bigger.  He told me "no" and this was the typical size of a brook trout stream.  Brook trout needed colder water to live in and colder water meant head water and smaller streams.  He then pulled two small rods from the trunk of the car.  They both looked a foot shorter than what we typically fished with and the reels were smaller.

He explained that tight quarters required shorter rods and pin point casting.  He explained all of this to a wide eyed seven years old and I nodded my head when he asked me if I understood but I didn't until later in life.  I do remember the tiny rod and reels and the kaleidoscope of colors I saw in my very first brook trout to hand.

One thing that stood out about the outing was all the beaver dams on this small stream.  I could see the excitement in my dad's eyes when we rounded a bend and saw a beaver dam. Dad always pointed out the Snake Weed or Horse Tail Rush on streams.  He told me they were a good indicator of stream quality.  Stream quality meant brook trout.  I soon learned why as I was the first to fish that first beaver dam we encountered.
 Snake Weed lined the left bank of this new huge beaver dam.  This dam did not disappoint.


My dad always taught me stealth was a very important thing to learn to be a good trout angler. The beaver dam hole was no different.  He had me crouch down as I came up to the beaver dam a good 15 yards before we got there.  We got right down in the stream to lower our profiles.  We used the beaver dam as cover.  The water was gin clear and the trout had to be spooky.

My first cast over this beaver dam felt quite awkward.  The spinner landed true about 25 yards up stream.  I started my retrieve and the beaver dam came to life.  There were at least 10 wakes charging my spinner all at once.  Twenty turns of the reel later I landed my first brook trout.  I looked at the oddly marked fish and was in awe of its colors.  My dad's description did not do the trout justice.  This trout was about 11 inches long and my dad wowed at it as being a really big brook trout for my first ever.  We put it on our stringer.

The outing screamed by and we had 20 brook trout on our stringer in no time flat.  I questioned my dad about the intelligence of this kind of trout.  He held a high reverence for brook trout and I questioned it as a seven year old but later in life I discovered why he held them in such high regard.  It was that ferocity he loved and their amazing colors.  He loved the tiny streams and tight quarters they lived in.  They lived in the most pristine and reverent places in the outdoors.

 This outing later on taught me that fishing was not all about the fish.  The fish were a bonus.  Trout don't live in ugly places and those places needed to be enjoyed and cherished.  Those places had a cleansing effect and made you appreciate the outdoors and all its wonders.

Just a few short years after this outing my dad went to heaven to fish and I was left alone to find my own trout streams.  Brook trout became scarce in the coming years.  Other trout anglers blamed it on the over fishing of the species.  I was still young and really didn't know the reasoning.  I was certain my dad was catching brook trout in heaven.

 About 20 years ago there was a rebirth or renaissance of the brook trout population in my home waters.  They were as plentiful as they once were when my dad and I fished.  It was nothing to have a 100 brook trout day a dozen years ago.

 About a dozen years ago it started to happen again.  My brook trout were on the decline.  Then some of my streams had none at all.  I stopped harvesting brook trout because of it.  I examined many of the brook trout I did still catch and their gills looked different.  They had some type of parasite attached to them.  I contacted the WDNR right away about 13 years ago.  They dismissed my worries.
 
Today it is 2014 and my brook trout have all but disappeared from "Paradise Creek.".  The culprit has a name now and it is Gill Lice.  The decline of the brook trout 50 years ago was not fishing pressure and over harvest.  It was Gill Lice back then and it is gill lice now.  The WDNR has no solution or magic pill to treat my brook trout.
 
Gill lice are a copepod that attaches to the gills of brook trout and they interfere with the trout breathing properly.  A trout with lots of gill lice will die after an extended battle with an angler.
 
 The WDNR is recommending reporting beaver dams on trout streams.  These are the breeding grounds of gill lice.  The trout school up here and infect one another.  The WDNR wants those locations so they can tear down those dams.  The WDNR is also encouraging harvest of brook trout to cut down on their numbers.  This parasite does not hurt humans and only attaches to brook trout.


The old adage of you don't appreciate something until it is gone is once again true in Crawford County.  Paradise Creek today is devoid of brook trout.  It has a thriving population of brown trout.  Gill lice are spreading all over the state.

 All of you anglers that chase the elusive brook trout know of what I speak.  Appreciate the streams and their residents.  Enjoy yourself when on stream and drink in what nature has to offer because it could disappear twice in your lifetime.

Update:

Many of my streams of my youth are devoid of brookies now.  The ones that still have them are restricted and no harvest of brook trout are allowed.

Deep Contemplation


Guess away at these two?

I have found it to be one of the hardest things to do.  There are many tricks to making trout look bigger.  The old hold the trout away from your body at arms length.  This one usually fails due to your face being out of focus and your fingers look huge.  There are many sizes of hands.  My buddies have big hands that measure 3.5 inches across the knuckles and I have monkey hands that go 4.25 across the across the knuckles.
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Al has big hands.
There are also ways to make your trout look smaller.  Holding it centered to your body and close to it makes the trout look small.

If you want a good photo that makes the trout look large, have the photographer kneel when taking the photo.  Tuck in as many fingers as you can to hide comparison. Hold that trout away from your body to the side.

The bigger the trout the bigger the range of guesses.  I am fair at guessing but typically I am off by 2-3 inches on big trout.  My net is a good measuring device.  Most folks don't tape their fish these days because of the catch release thing.
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Derek has monkey sized hands.
Guess away at these two?

Guess Length Again

Andy with a colorful Richland County brown???

Andy with a nice small stream female from Crawford County?

It is truly amazing on the range of sizes guessed.  This guessing sizes must be harder than I think.

February 16, 2014

Guess Length?



Most anglers that catch trout are poor judges of length.  Most that do the actual catching guess too long and the ones that guess the length are typically a tad bit jealous and competitive and under guess.

The ones who have caught many big trout and are sure in their fishing prowess are typically close to right.

We measured it against the rod and got a measurement later.