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.