The close of trout season in Minnesota is nearing, the leaves are changing colors and beginning to foul up your drift. It’s a good time of the year to hook into trout down here and as usual I’m trying to get near cold water as often as I can. Managed to sneak away between obligations just before the massive rain event that blew most streams out a few days ago. The air temp was in the low 70′s and rain the night before added a bit more stain to already off water. My plan was to swing streamers.
Net in hand, I began with a #8 Hairball. I love this thing. Had a few follows but after 15 minutes I hadn’t hooked in to anything. I gave it a few more passes through a very deep trouty looking run with and on the lift of my rod I managed a twelve inch brown looking rather rotund. I stuck with the Hairball for a bit longer but after a few more non-committing trout I stuck it back in the box. At this point I distinctly recall about a dozen violent rises just upstream, one within 7-8 feet of where I stood. I ignored them thinking I had no visual clue what they were taking and the water was so stained I didn’t think a smaller caddis or general dry fly would be spotted. I swapped to the SMB and kept swinging ignoring the rising upstream.
I managed a couple smaller trout on the SMB but not what I was expecting it was slow going with lighter takes. I landed another couple of browns and a brookie by the time I decided to listen to the trout. I added an 18 inch section of 5x tippet to my leader and tied on a #16 Tan EHC, old faithful. I’ve heard stories of guys who fish only this pattern all year round and do quite well on it. I sometimes have a hard time trusting that the presentation and presence of one fly will attract the response I want. I greased up my fly and my leader and cast upstream through a tight deep run. I could barley see a foot under the surface.
A few passes later and in the blink of an eye a trout snatched my fly, sweet. I managed a nicer rainbow and a few brown trout working the EHC pattern through the murky water. I greased it up a few times and landed a few with a down and across swing over a riffle, I am thinking this is the act of “skittering” a caddis dry fly. After landing four fish the water calmed and nothing rose for a good long while. I decided to swap back to the Hairball and tempt fate: an ugly looking log jam that was likely to result in a lost fly. I let the line slack and the fly sink deep into the cut then stripped it back out quickly which prompted a very nice looking brown to show up. We danced and I sent him on his way back to that deep dark looking hole. I split shortly there after managing about 3 hours on the water. I guess the moral of this story would be to trust and listen to the trout and yourself. Next time when the trout are telling me they want something on the surface I will be taking note.
Could be the end of the trout fishing season in S.E. Minnesota for most. A few phone calls this morning and with just the rainfall from last night and a bit this morning some places around here have flooded. Several streams were above bankfull earlier this morning. The prediction is that another wave could be coming and by the radar map looks like a possibility. Most if not all systems will be un-fishable through the weekend, honestly even the shorter, smaller, spring fed creeks will be a muddy mess especially if we get more rain. Check the link: tomorrow between 7:30-8am for an update on the 24hr rainfall totals for the area.
Saturday was the 8th Annual Pet Fly-Smackdown. This is a tournament between friends just looking for a good reason to spend an entire day fishing for trout. This year was held in S.E. Minnesota again, the group met in a rented house that the out-of-towners arranged for the weekend. Breakfast was made hastily as fly boxes were passed around. The entry fee: contribute a pair of flies to the MVP box, these flies must be exactly the same except the size. The entry fly must contain a material harvested from a pet you own. You are allowed to have a team fish a single entry in which you divide the total score by the number of people on the team. You fish the entry pattern, count each fish brought to hand and record the length. You are not limited to a number of flies for the day just the pattern. Total the length and subtract the number of fish caught and you have your daily total. This year I decided on a newer pattern I’ve been fooling around with, a mini leech type pattern called the Hairball made with fur from my cat Patrick. I tied it in sizes 8, 12, 16, and 18. I’ve been fishing the larger patterns as streamers for a while now, I tied the smaller ones hoping they would nymph well adding versatility.
A fairly significant rain event hit the area a few days prior and most water was recovering well but showed stain with some of the lower reaches on longer systems being down right dirty. I fished along side a friend of mine and the one who invited me to this tournament last year. For me this is a day to work on presentation, perhaps the most important aspect of your fly. Size, shape, color, all matter but without presentation mean nothing. I watched Heath work a #20 tan “larva” looking fly to trout feeding on Trico’s landing a large number of fish in a short amount of time because he took advantage of a situation and presented his flies to the fish in a way they were comfortable accepting in that moment.
We found some very stained, bordering on muddy, creek water early in the morning. I landed my first brown about 10 minutes in after working a #8 Hairball through a single run several times. The water was high and running fast, a large amount of weight was required to get the flies down and the rest was hoping I could get the fly right in front of a few trout. We fished the dirty water for a while but we moved on quickly not wanting to waste the time. We gambled on a plan I had to find a brook trout holding spot, came up empty handed and lost a bit of time but provided adventure for the morning. We decided to look around the same system for a while to see if a bit clearer water could be found which would avoid burning time to the road, downstream and a few springs later we were fishing in cleaner water but still stained making for decent nymphing and streamer conditions.
Around noon the wind picked up a bit and every so often for an hour a semi-thick wave of Trico’s came drifting past. White wings gave me the impression that these were not spinners, maybe a late batch avoided hatching during the last few warmer weeks and instead waited until cooler weather hit, either way they were causing trout to rise in shallower cleaner sections of the creek. As I mentioned earlier the guy I fished with new better and immediately began presenting his fly to the fish as if he had a #22 Trico on the end of his tippet. My #18 HB took a few trout this way but the bead was keeping my fly a bit deeper in the water resulting in fewer strikes.
We ate lunch and blew off the stained creek for a shot at sight fishing to larger browns, twenty minutes later we were hiking through a mess of 6-8 foot tall vegetation. From the banks a large number of trout could be seen, a bit more stain would have done us well here but we took the opportunity just the same. I made a few overly anxious mistakes tossing my #8 pattern to a few lengthy looking browns, got a few good looks and one attempt but nothing to show for it. I think I was trying too hard to pick up the larger fish, landing the fly about a foot in front of them in slower water wasn’t working. After dissecting the stretch we were on for a while with the larger pattern fished as a streamer resulting in minimal success I opted to swap to the #16 HB and fish it as a nymph under an indicator. Twenty-four inches down with a very slow dead drift and I began picking up trout after trout, the presentation. Meanwhile I can see out of the corner of my eye that my friend is continuing to target the few surface feeding fish, placing the fly right on them and it was working.
We migrated to a last stop to see if catching stocker rainbows in muddy water was possible. This was a gamble, late in the day we had no more time to pick up and move if this didn’t pay off, if it did it meant a larger number of fish to hand in a short amount of time. With the borderline muddy water we both began indicator nymphing but pass after pass came up with nothing, not a single strike. I knew the trout were there, in fact I knew the exact place they should be holding. I dropped the indicator rig with the #16 pattern and instead opted for the #8 Hairball with a splitshot and a down/across presentation. A few passes later I felt a sharp strike, a small brown trout. A few more passes and nothing. I decided to add a second splitshot. I got two more strikes out of maybe a dozen passes. With the down/across approach the current tightens your line allowing you to detect a strike but also pulls your flies up from the bottom. I added a third splitshot, on top of the#8 weighted pattern with a beadhead. A few minutes later I was roll casting this heavy rig to rainbows hunkered on the stream bed. After the first one I knew I had figured it out, it was just a matter of repeating the same roll cast down/across, tighten up the line and let it open all the way downstream, repeat and land rainbow after rainbow. Twelve trout later and the sun was setting. I was beginning to get cold for the first time all day, I was waist deep in cold trout water and had been there for over an hour. Splitting time came and we hit the house to wrap up the day, eat a bit of dinner and see how everyone else did.
Everyone found clean water, most did quite well. We ate delicious pork with pineapple slices and a side of potato casserole while counting and tallying the totals for the day. The last stop with the rainbows helped pad my score out a bit allowing me to basically tie with Heath for second place, not bad considering I had a short lull during the day landing nothing for close to two hours. Randy pulled out the big win landing over fifty trout and the longest trout at 17inches. It sounds like next year the PFSD will be held in Wisconsin, looking forward to a good reason to get over there and fish for a weekend. Thanks to those who worked hard to get everyone together, this was a damn good time.
17 Sep 2010 / Fly Tying
It’s been way too long since I had myself a day with the cold water. Conditions: 55-60 Degree Air Temp, Overcast, WNW Wind at ~20mph after 8am. The S.E. MN region has had it’s share of rain this summer season this last week was no different. Three out of five days saw rain in the gauge. I had some concerns about finding clear water but my fears were eased at 6am when I stepped up to the bank at dawn. I could see the rainbows stacked thick just waiting for me. My goal for the day was a two part mission. One, nab a stash of stocker rainbows while the wind was low during the morning hours. Two, migrate to a much smaller system in search of the Heritage strain, our native brook trout and avoid the wind that would get brutal as the day wore on.
The semi-stained water I saw at 6am gave me confidence that my plan was going to make for an excellent day despite the early morning wind and thick clouds. I rigged a new fly I’ve been mulling over in my head for a while now that is essentially a short, fat mini leech. A downstream and across approach with a decent amount of weight to keep the fly a good 3-6inches under the surface produced fish after fish. Hard to argue with 13-14inch rainbows readily taking just about everything presented to them. I fished the new pattern until a series of rises forced me to swap to a Devestator with a #16 WD-40 trailer. A few minutes later and I was working a few more rainbows and a tiny brown to the net, all in all I would say I got close to 2 dozen to hand and another 2 dozen hooked in the two hours I spent here.
I pulled off the water and split for the next phase of the plan but found a road closed sign staring me in the face. A choice, abandon the rest of the plan and make a snap choice on a second option or drive the round about way and loose a good thirty to forty-five minutes to the road. I chose the road and MPR as a result of the wind and my goal of finding my way to brook trout. I drove until a series of events signaled the continuation of the day, turning down a gravel road, passing a steep grade road-sign and hitting the brakes on the truck. The untouched stream is my favorite, no paths and the only sign of humanity is the occasional piece of trash or debris from rain events. The rainbow stop off was good for moral but lacked many elements of the journey that I need. The hike, the woods, wilderness, wildlife, the unknown.
Water conditions here were good, clean and clear running in the low fifties for a temp. I continued with the new mini leech pattern but left off the split shot, casting to smaller shallower water with spookier fish. The second cast I realized that I had left backcast land with the rainbows and turned into roll cast country when I hit the gravel road. On a shorter ~7-8ft leader and fishing no indicator just watching the water I lost the first two fish I came across. I’m watching my fly line connection for a strike or any signal from the trout, a roll, flash, anything. The second fish I lost was maybe a 12-13inch brookie that got off shortly after I hooked it, no big deal. I stayed out of the wind and was very comfortable the rest of my time here. Checked the rocks, minimal mayfly activity but plenty of caddis with the occasional riffle beetle. I fished upstream a ways using a variety of flies. A #16 Pink Squirrel, #16 WD-40, #18 Orange Scud’s all took trout along with the new mini pattern that I fished most of the day with. I got my brookies and got to see a new stretch of Driftless water but due to my detour I had to access this water at a different point than I had originally wanted causing me to run out of water to fish a bit too early, go home? No, a pit stop to see if I could find a few larger browns was in order.
This spot provided deeper water that in the last month had seen a rain event clearing a wide channel through swatches of thick vegetation making the conditions perfect for streamer fishing. I’m learning more and more that choosing wisely to take advantage of the current conditions will make for a better day on the water. My approach here is a cast straight across or slightly upstream with a mend if nessecary to encourage my weighted flies to sink deep then as my line begins to curve and tighten with the current I either: watch for a strike and just tight line it until my line straightens out behind me or add a retrive after I have allowed the flies to sink. The excellent thing here is that I often get to watch a fish come darting out of the depths to nail my flies making for a good show and the best strike detection possible. I managed to land a few nicer browns with one topping 16+. Not a bad way to end a day on the water, good to be in this place again.