May 26, 2017

One More Cast



One More Cast

 Photo by:  Roger Abraham

If any of you out there are regular readers of my tales, you have followed my recent struggles with back and knees.  I can’t put a name to this drive I have to be on the stream as of late.  It borders on obsession. I guess in my mind if I am healthy enough to fish the world is right with me and I am not getting old and feeble. 


Today I was a witness to that I am not the only one.  Lots of anglers and hunters live to go out into the outdoors. .  It is what drives them.  It makes them feel alive.  It is their passion.  I told my fishing buddy Abe today my thoughts.  I told him how I was feeling a little old.  I guess my 60th birthday coming up next month makes me feel mortal.  Abe laughed and said I was a young buck compared to him.  Abe turns 76 this year.


Abe told me tales about catching big trout in tiny streams in Wisconsin and out west.  The twinkle in his eye when he reminisced I had seen before in many trout anglers. 


We fished a stretch for 2 hours.  I sat down and rested often.  Abe kept on fishing. He got hung up in a box elder branch and lost a lure.  Abe told me box elders trees were his nemesis when he fished.   He asked me which tree was my kryptonite.  I told him, "ones with branches."  We both had a chuckle and continued fishing.   I thought to myself this guy is really driven.  I hope I am like him at 76.


We got to the vehicle and Abe wanted to continue fishing.  Abe’s waders sprang a leak earlier and he fell in the water a couple times.  He was quite wet.  He wanted to change in to dry clothes before we continue.  Abe peeled off his wet shirt and there were two things stuck to his chest.  He could tell by my questioning look he needed to tell me what was up.


Abe told me he had been having heart problems lately and he was supposed to be wearing a heart monitor.  He left it in the car because he was afraid of getting the electronics wet.  Here I have been whining about being old and the guy I was fishing with left his heart monitor in his vehicle. 


Abe reassured me that he was in no danger and he could continue fishing.  I started brainstorming on a place to fish where it was not so hard walking.  Now that I knew he was not as healthy as he looked I wanted an easy place to fish.  I knew the place and it was upstream 5 miles.


We arrived at the well manicured field.  It looked like a golf green.  I picked the area because the farmer kept sheep and goats on the land and the weeds and brush were gone because of the goats.  We walked and fished. 

 Abe told tales of the old days and of fish lost and landed.  I walked a little forward to fish and looked back to check up on Abe.  What I saw when I looked back scared me and I immediately asked Abe if he was ok.  Abe was laying flat on the ground face down.  I thought the worst and he could tell by my face.  He told me to calm down.  His back was acting up and he needed to straight it out and that was the best way to do it.

We fished a little bit more and he took a photo of me.  He liked the lighting. He told me it captured the essence of trout fishing.  He did not have a camera.  I let him use mine.  He was not camera savvy and needed an impromptu lesson on how to use it.
 
We drove to his car and we talked about our love of the outdoors. We shook hands and headed our separate ways and promised to fish again soon.  As I drove home I smiled and thought about how I am going to be when I am 76.  I hope I am like Abe and my eyes still twinkle when I talk of chasing trout and I am still driven to make one more cast.

May 25, 2017

The Big 60 Coming Next Month

    5                                                26                            59

May 23, 2017

Go Big Or Go Home



With all the new trends these days like Tenkara and zero weight rods the art of catching large trout has become a little muddied.  The lightest leader and tippet folks are all you read about these days.  The dry fanatics scoff at the nymph crowd and they all look down their noses at the streamer anglers. And I won't bring up the fly versus spin thang.

There are no hatches involved so some disregard this pursuit.  I know some anglers these days think head hunting is below them but the feel of a big trout pulsing on the end of your line never gets old.  The unforgettable thrill of having to palm your reel to slow do a trout running like its tail is on fire is second to none.


 These nightmare creators live a solitary life in the deepest darkest shaggiest messes known to the Midwest.  When you think of Wisconsin’s Driftless Area you think of tiny spring creeks.  Lots of those spring creeks merge and there you will find what you are in search of.  Some of that big water you drive by and dismiss has trout as long as your arm in them.

Big trout are carnivores and will lay in wait for their main course to come by.  They often ignore the appetizers.  Salad just won’t cut it.  They want steak!  If you are satisfied catch little ones all the time I recommend you stop reading now.


 The brown trout in particular can live in what most anglers consider frog water. All that is needed is a couple cold water sources in their domain to persuade them into calling a stretch of water home. 

 Springs and swamps fit that bill.   Some early season scouting in these areas reveal the cold water sources when the vegetation is down.  A hand held thermometer for taking water temps will also help.

Now comes fooling those loner curmudgeons.  The size twenty-two and twenty dries need to be left at home.  Everyone fishes a bugger from time to time.  I am thinking out of the box. You need some stout fluorocarbon leaders.  Your four weight rod will serve you well in this crusade.


The leech pattern is a stalwart in the quest for that alligator brown.  It can be a bunny or a turkey leech.  Don’t be afraid to throw a weighted bunny leech that is a little heavier than you are use to.  That turkey leech needs to be tied fully and a cone head is a must. 

  
 You have to be able to get down to where these monsters live.  Distance is not a requirement in these types of casts.  You may have to fish out of your comfort zones.  Dredging under and along log jams can be very fruitful.  Down and upstream presentations need to be varied in the same hole.  Sculpin helmets can also be used in this way.  You partner them with a black or olive bunny body.

This big bow loved a sculpin helmet and seriously hammered it.

You need to swim those big flies up and down stream.  No dead drifting.  Make it look alive.  No indicators are required. There are leeches in most trout water and these are just what mister big likes. 

 
 Most times the bunny leeches are black in color.  There are special times here in the driftless when an olive bunny is all you need.  It is typically in later April and they are imitating brook lamprey. There is a small about 5 week window when these brook lamprey come out.  These times can be unforgettable because of the ferocious hits on an olive size 2 bunny leech.

This method requires a stout rod and some possible muscling the trout out of its labyrinth it calls home.  It is very important to gain control immediately and get that fish’s head up before it dives into the root wad if just came out of.




Many folks look at a Hornberg and think it looks like a good fly and purchase a couple.  The hornberg was invented by a Wisconsin angler.  It was initially fished as a dry but didn’t function well as a dry. The typical angler doesn’t know how to fish it and it is left in the fly box to never be used again.  This is a serious mistake!  

 Hornbergs work best as a bottom hugging streamer.  A new nine foot tapered leader is needed to fish this fly.  A hornberg mimics a baitfish. This method is even fruitful during very cold conditions.

 Take that new 9 foot leader and tie on a size 4 or 6 Hornberg. Make sure that Hornberg has a jungle cock eye.  If the water you are fishing is 6 feet deep place a gob of biostrike at 7 feet and another bigger ball at 8 feet.  You need your smallest sinker at about a foot behind your hornberg.   This sinker causes the fly to dart and change directions when striped just like a bait fish.

 This fly needs to be fished upstream.  Let your fly get down before you start. You need to keep control of your line.  The retrieve must be varied.  You should even pause a couple times when you are retrieving.  Vary the length of your strips. Don't give up on retrieves early.  Make sure you shake and undulate that fly to the surface as you lift out.  Pick out a good landing spot before you cast. Take a big net with you.
 

May 22, 2017

Driftless Surprise Guest Post Chris Young



Driftless Surprise

I was “ this“ close to canceling the whole trip. The counties I fished in the Wisconsin Driftless were saturated. There was no place for more rain to go except into the streams. Len already reported that his scouting showed our targeted big fish creeks were unfishable and likely to remain that way for several days. 

A fishing buddy in the Viroqua area suggested canceling our Thursday outing, things didn’t look great. A guide friend in Fennimore was less pessimistic, but hadn’t really had a chance to survey things up close. More & more & more rain was forecast for the entire weekend, along with high winds and cold. Still, stay at home or drive and fish? I choose fish!! Several times I’ve chosen fishing in the face of bad forecasts, and often I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how things turned out.

On a whim I decided to drive up via Fennimore, the “southern route”, in hopes of finding clearer water. Rumor had it that the really bad stuff had hit north, and possibly Grant or southern Crawford counties had been spared the brunt. A little out of my way, but who knows?

After checking out several potential spots, catching a few fish, I hit a bridge on a creek I like, and dismounted for a look-see. Surprisingly, pool below the bridge was relatively clear, and I noticed a pod of little guys finning in the current. Out with the 4 weight already rigged with a #10 little tungsten beadhead olive streamer. What’s the harm with a couple quick casts before checking into the motel? 

I was standing just off the bridge surface on a nice flat grassy area near the brush pole and sign for cleaning one’s self before venturing off to another stream.  Just before my first cast there’s this huge wake coming across the pool. Muskrat? Beaver? Nope, it’s a fish, and a big one! 

First I thought it must be a rainbow, lots of red showing, but it’s got a gorgeous red tail and buttery belly. It must be a big brown! Forgetting everything Len taught me about looking for a landing site when targeting big fish, I launched a first cast well above and away from the big guy. Slowly I stripped in and several little fish pecked away in mock strikes, but the big one is not scared and glided nearer. 

Second cast I duplicated the first and this time the big brown came closer as the little guys scattered for safety. I’m barely breathing now and I send the little steamer out again, but this time I change things up. How many times have ya heard “let that sucka sink!!!”

 When it hit the pool bottom about five feet down, I waited a count of three, gave it an upwards pop and stripped. Nothing! Second time I let it sink, gave it the pop, watched it flutter back down and BANG, the brown nailed it.
 
My vintage Sage reel has no real drag so I managed line as best I could. The hardest part was sliding down the bank to get into a position to actually fight this beast. Fortunately the pool was big enough to let him run around making sure he didn’t try for an exit above or below the pool proper. 

Clad only in “ crocs & socks “, no waders, no net, no nothing, I searched wildly for a landing area. The only small beach seemed my best choice and after several alarming runs I directed the fish towards me. My mind went blank at this point, but I managed to grab the leader and slowly guide the fish up onto the beach where he began to flop around wildly. 

Thankfully I noticed my hookset in the corner of his massive jaw seemed secure. Quickly out with the camera for shot and WTF!!!! Camera gives me an error message “disc is write-protected“ blah, blah, blah..

 Seems the last time I downloaded shots I hit that little lever on the simm card that “locks“ it ! Now I’m freaking out. This is the fish of a lifetime and I’m covered with fish slime, green pool slime and sand, not what you want if you’re planning on opening up the back of a very nice camera. What to do? 

No time to lose, I made a quick decision, jammed the rod into the sand, wedged a couple rocks up against it, stripped off a bunch of line, and put the fish back into the pool. Now I sprinted for the car and Iphone. 

Up the bank, fumble for the key fob all the while casting quick backwards glances hoping not to see my favorite Sage rod swimming off into the distance. Back down the bank, slowly retrieve the now much more energized trout, beach him again and try for a handheld shot.

 He’s massive and I can’t really get any grip to speak of. Place him back down, take a shot or two, one with my foot for reference, and gently place him back into the pool. He wants to swim away immediately, but I hold him a full minute or two just to be sure. Upon release he swims calmly to the deep part of the pool, faces the current and sulks. 

 
Several friends with much more experience than I agree this was a 24” fish, perhaps better. All I know is it’s the biggest, wild, spring creek brown I’ve ever caught. 


Stages Of A Trout Angler

Many lists out there.  They vary all over the place.  One thing is in all of them. 


It is a progressive list. 

The first is always the beginning angler learning how to trout fish.


Then the steps get a little murky.

There is a number step and a large trout step.


Many can achieve the numbers step.

Not many have a mastery of the large trout step.


When and if you ever get good at catching big trout,,,,,,

The steps come to a screeching halt!


You are bitten by the big tug at the end of the line.

You are a little bit of an adrenaline junky.


Little trout and numbers of trout become immaterial.

Many scoff at the anglers caught in the "Large" trout step.


These scoffers talk about evolving past big trout.

If they had been good at catching big trout they would not scoff.


Another angler ruined. "Chris Young"

Another angler ruined. He will never be happy with little trout ever again.

Guest Post Trent Bohacz

Len,


We had another great trip to the driftless last week. While the weather was less than ideal, and clear water a little tougher to find, we still managed to catch an inordinate amount of fish. Bad weather, yet lots of fish has been a regular theme for us on these trips. One day I’d like to see just how good the fishing can be with “perfect conditions”!



As you can imagine, sub-surface was the name of the game. Top flies were Pink Squirrels, Bead Head PT’s, and Woolly Buggers. We hit a few fish on the surface on caddis and BWO’s, but not many. We did more exploring than usual on this trip, searching for clear unoccupied waters…which was tougher to find than the fish! We fished Grant, Iowa, Vernon and Richland Counties…finding willing fish in each of them. We caught dozens like this one:
And a lot of mid-teeners as well…


I also caught my first two driftless Rainbows on this trip. Unfortunately, this little guy was the only one I was able to get a photo of. 

The other one was most likely the largest trout I have ever caught. We stopped by <><>> Creek on Friday afternoon on our way back down from Vernon County. The stream was empty, and a little “murkier” than the other water we’d been fishing. Given this, I grabbed the spinning rod for the one and only time on the trip and followed behind my dad upstream who was fishing a dry/dropper rig.

We were 100-150 yards north of P%^&%$  %^&*  Rd when the Brown Trout Rooster Tail I was working through a run was attacked by a cinder block. I could see the bright pink side almost immediately and hollered for my dad to come down by me and get his phone out for pictures. The fish didn’t fight aggressively, he more “leaned on” the line as I worked him downstream.

 As he got close to me, I realized just how big he was. My dad was getting ready for the photo shoot when I raised the rod to bring him up over the net. That’s when the spinner popped out. I took one swipe at him as he laid there dazed for a brief moment…and missed. I was already calculating the replica costs in my head, and just like that, he was gone. I believe he was all of two feet long. If you’re able to get in there and put your hands on him sometime this summer, I’d love to see the photo.
Good fishing!
-Trent