Threw this thing together after being inspired by Sershen’s recent couple of excellent videos. Note: all the video here was shot on the Panasonic Lumix TS-1 that I take in the field with me, the same point and shoot camera that captures all the still images. Thanks Wendy for being an unknowing subject and Sershen for helping me get it all figured out and up on the web. With that, here is the video for January 17th, 2011. Enjoy another good day in the Driftless Area.
Take advantage of the 720p HD setting in the lower right corner, it takes a bit longer to load but well worth it.
Coffee, drive, pee, drive, park, rig the rod and then pee again. On-stream arrival was ~11am maybe a bit earlier. The air temp was cold (~0degrees) but a minimal wind and the sun made all the difference. We parked upstream and hiked just over a mile downstream to begin the afternoon. The scene hiking downstream was gorgeous, the sun reflecting off everything covered in a light crystal coating. The warm stream mixing with the cold air saw steam rising from the water for a couple of hours into the early afternoon. We hiked past, over and around quite a few springs which helps make this a difficult place to fish. I can imagine how even under turbid conditions elsewhere this creek may remain clear or recover very quickly. This also makes for very difficult presentations, especially when the trout are active and surfacing to midge as early as ~11:30am.
Just over a mile downstream we sat in the snow, warm. We watched the gin clear water for signs of life, we made it a point to avoid going near the creek unless necessary to preserve the fishing as we hiked back upstream. This meant hiking off the trail through the snow that only deer and other animals had traveled. With a few inches of fresh powder the trip downstream wore me out, sitting in the sun I watched my friend cast to the first spot we had planned to fish. We started with a variety of flies ranging from average Driftless sized nymphs (#14-18) to larger (#8) streamer patterns. I rigged my #8 Olive Sprinkle Me Baby and trailed it with a #16 Pink Hot Spot Scud.
The gin clear water and steep banks were making things difficult. Even the most delicate of presentations was sending shoals of trout scattering up and downstream, like watching a bomb go off overhead and everyone hits the decks. To counter this I took to casting further and to places that I could not see what was going on, my perhaps ignorant thought here is that if I can see the trout and they are scattering despite my best efforts, that if I can’t see them maybe they are less apt to run for the hills. With this thought I began swinging my streamer with a trailing scud rig through anything that looked fishy even if it was only 6inches deep. My first fish of the day came on the swing as I pulled my flies through a shallower riffle, it took the #16 Pink Hot Spot Scud. I remember thinking how the fish, despite it’s size, looked already very mature and that it would live to grow old. It already had the body and look of a big brown. I slipped it back into the riffle quickly.
Hiking further up stream I got over anxious and planted my rig in a nearby pine tree luckily I was able to retrieve it without having to tie anything new on. The next cast I let my flies sink a bit too much and snagged a small tree branch in the creek a foot down. I could see the branch wave in the water as I tried pulling my flies from it. No luck and with that the #8 Olive SMB that I have fished every outing this year became a stream sacrifice. Payment due if you want to play here. I’ll admit I sat there for a moment staring at that stick wondering if it would be there the next time I wore waders to this spot. If it is I will try to find my hook if not my fly.
So I re-rigged with the only pattern that had produced a fish so far, the #16 Pink Hot Spot Scud. I added a splitshot and an indicator then looked upstream to a long deeper (~4ft) run. Starting in the rear, fishing each side of the main seam and progressing forward I expected to get a few strikes at a minimum from this tasty looking piece of water but nothing. A few passes later and I had snagged my #16 PHS Scud and was forced to tie on more tippet and a different fly.
Looking upstream and noticing more rising coming from a long slow section of water. I thought about sticking on a #20 Midge pattern but opted for a #8 Brown SMB. I chose this pattern thinking to the scattering trout earlier, the slow moving water combined with the current conditions made me think that fishing a midge would be more effective if I could find a bit of broken faster water with rising fish. I did end up swapping out the #8 SMB for a #20 CDC Midge Pupa a bit upstream but again the only steady, consistent rising was coming from slower water and after a couple of casts most of the fish were spooked. I eventually got greedy attempting to put the #20 CDC Midge pupa about forty feet in front of me with a wild roll cast that was just a bit to far left resulting in another snag. The #8 Brown SMB was called back to action.
The day was wearing down and we had fished the majority of the downstream water we had hiked past. Approaching the put in we had little to show for the day except some excellent photos of this stream in the winter sun. It’s safe to say the clear stream and finicky trout were kicking our asses. I slowly walked and tossed my #8 Brown SMB across the stream to the far bank and stripped it back through everything be it 6inches or 6feet the only difference was how long I let it sink before retrieving it. A couple hundred yards from the car my line went tight. One flash and I called it immediately, a brookie. My largest brookie to date at ~14inches. This fish smacked my fly in a 6inch riffle.
Needless to say my day had been made by that one fish. I landed a few others earlier but nothing like this. Satisfied I could walk away from the water knowing I hadn’t let the creek get the best of me I moved upstream to maybe one last fishy looking run. A few deep dead drifted passes and nothing, one more and my line jumped close to a foot. This fish just nailed my fly so hard I don’t think I had to set the hook, it did it for me all on it’s own. Hot damn a 16+inch Brown, my largest winter trout to date.
So the exercise through the snow and forest was worth it although by this point in the day I was getting wore out, apparently snowshoeing can burn as much as 480 calories or more per hour. My hat had been snagged by close to twenty trees and I was covered in burdock. The wind was picking up as we entered a longer straight section far from the protection of the bluffs or trees. A bit further and we had gone as far as the winter regulations would allow and we were satisfied to head home. I pictured the white fins belonging to that bookie swimming away from me as we drove home, what an excellent fish. I love brookies.
I had the day off, the girl did not. Only one thing to do during trout season with time like this. Fish, hike, fish, hike, then fish some more and be thankful for the time in front of you. Plans were loosely organized and a friend of mine and I met to see a new stretch of winter water. I arrived a few hours earlier, with air temps predicted to be close to 20 degrees by 10am I saw no reason to sit at home waiting for it to get warm enough to fish, it was already plenty warm outside by the time I finished my second cup of coffee.
I arrived on-stream around 10:15am, rigged my rod and hiked just over a third of a mile through a few feet of snow to get streamside. After looking for and observing no signs of any rising trout or midge in the snow I opted for the same fly that has seen, touched and brought to hand a trout from every trip so far this year the #8 Olive Sprinkle Me Baby. I started by dead drifting it through a deep run hoping that something near the bottom would stir but nothing. I moved upstream and spied a riffle that was no more than 8inches deep. Ignoring all the winter trout fishing rules I blindly swung my streamer through the head of the riffle and right as I was about to pick my line up to continue on I saw a swell in the shallow water and sure enough a 14inch Brown was chasing my streamer through water so shallow I could see the tail sticking through the surface of the stream. He bit and we danced until he came to my feet. I took note of the location of this fish, the head of a shallow riffle. The air temp was approaching ~25degrees when I let this fish go. I could see midge crawling in the snow now but still no rising trout.
I moved upstream to a deeper run again, slapped a trailing #16 Orange Hot Spot Scud on and began dead drifting. A while later I had little to show for my efforts. I made a poor roll cast and planted my flies in a tree across the stream. I sat looking at my dangling #8 SMB thinking I was prepared to get wet to retrieve that fly, it has caught so many this year already I wasn’t ready to part with it. Accepting that getting wet would ruin the rest of my day I sucked it up and pulled my line tight enough to brake it. I expected a limp line, I got the # 8 SMB back. It turns out only the trailing fly was snagged in the tree, super sweet, it will live to see another trout. I slapped an indicator on my line and proceeded to land a few more smaller 10-12inch browns dead drifting the streamer pattern through a shallower (<3ft) run.
I hiked the third of a mile back and met my friend just after noon. We made a short drive to a second stretch of water and a new access. After greetings and a bit of gearing up we began another third of a mile hike through the deep Minnesota snow. We fished under grey cloudy skies with no wind for the next couple of hours. Midge were peppering the snow as we walked, I counted them as we hiked and observed them crawling over fifty feet from the waters edge. Still no rising trout, damn I want to see a steadily rising trout.
We each caught a few here and there but we don’t get to fish togather all that often so a fair amount of the afternoon was spent conversing, taking turns casting to fishy lies and enjoying the woods around us in a slow, the world will still be there when the sun goes down soft of way. We kicked up a couple of fat turkeys on our way and I remember feeling hungry as they took to the skies. We hiked upstream until we spied a notable landmark, fished just a bit more then decided to turn and head back to fish the first run we saw earlier in the day before splitting for home. After hiking just over a mile (according to Google Earth) in the snow we were plenty warm, so warm infact we both ended up complaining about it to some degree, probably not a bad thing during the winter season though, with that we parted ways. It’s been a good start to the trout fishing season but today made me think, this is just the beginning. Thanks again Wendy, good time as always. Think of the season to come…again, just the beginning.
Sershen has done it again, getting some good footage of me trying to cast in the winter. The snowshoes make an appearance in this video and I can’t stress how much time they save if used properly. I dig the tunes , good form Heath. My favorite shot is the midge walking the snow. Enjoy another winonaflyfactory.com and sershenbros.com winter trout outing, well two minutes of it at least.
On-stream at 11am, ~10-13degrees with a minimal South wind. I thought it was going to be colder, I should say “feel” colder. Geared up I was feeling good despite the cloudy skies hiding the sun. I hiked straight to a fishy lie, waited to see if any midge were about and assessed the position of the trout. No rising and only a few small trout were hanging in the shallower water, everyone else was hanging deep. I stuck with the same #8 Sprinkle Me Baby from my last outing, soon this fly will have caught more fish and lasted longer than most. I might be getting a bit better keeping my flies out of trees and away from snags.
The first hour was slow with minimal trout activity, nothing rising and if they were striking my fly it was so subtle I couldn’t tell. I kept at it and eventually added a bit of weight to my line. I did find a few midge speckling the snow but not in large quantities, they looked like a #20 Dark Olive/Black body. Despite the Midge in the snow (~12pm, ~13 Degrees) I only observed three rise forms all afternoon. After dead-drifting my fly for over an hour I had nothing to show for it and decided that something needed to change or potentially waste my afternoon. I tried a few down and across swings, adding a bit more weight I managed to bring a smaller 10inch Brown to hand.
I kept the weight on and once I found the fish and how they wanted the fly to be presented I managed to haul in a few including a nicer 14+inch thicker Brown. I kept getting into 10-12inch trout thinking the last time I was catching fish with the #8 SMB I was getting 12+inch fish almost every time. I’m curious if the weather conditions/water temp was keeping the larger fish hunkered down. The snow came down throughout the afternoon sometimes dropping feathery fat snow making the stream look like something out of a poem. The air temp rose probably close to 20degrees by 2pm and the wind increased slowly but only became a pain closer to 3pm. The skies remained dark all day long making for a unique feeling, not drab but maybe somber. I found it to be peaceful. I chose a stream and valley in which a South wind would aid my roll cast, I knew I would be spending quite a bit of time roll casting today. If your going to go play in the wind, make it work for you.
I eventually added a trailing nymph to my streamer primarily because I didn’t want to play with my rig for long, I felt that adding a trailing nymph (#14 Air Head Pink Patrick see Andy Roth) would provide a second option and by this point I was back to dead drifting the SMB. I picked up a few more 10-12inch Browns and one 4inch tiny trout. I like seeing the younger trout, it’s cool to pick up one this small every once and a while. At 3:15pm I made my last cast then hiked the 1/2 mile back to the truck watching the two Bald Eagles cruising the skies above. Good day, I dug fishing with the snow falling around me. Glad to get into quite a few, probably over a dozen smaller fish and a handful of larger trout. Looking, wanting, waiting for rising trout and midge. It will get here but the sooner the better.
13 Jan 2011 / Everything Else...
Looking for new, unexplored winter trout water I found myself streamside at the usual hour for this time of year ~11:30am. I rigged a #16 Orange Scud to start the day with the hopes that by the time I was getting ready to make my first cast I would have to re-rig with a #20 Midge but despite the excellent conditions for the day only a scant few midge were seen and very minimal rising fish, I counted only three all day. With a projected high of 20degrees with literally NO wind we picked a spot that would otherwise be a windy nightmare. Setting boot to snow pack I was confident the snowshoes could sit in the car but after a few minutes of hiking I did a 180, turned around and grabbed the shoes, this made the day more comfortable and helped us cover alot more ground without sweating to death. If you have them, use them.
I fished with a friend again today each bringing our own perspectives to each potential spot to fish. Winter fishing is difficult enough but then to combine it with unseen water can make for a fish free day. When I can I like to get a second perspective on the situation. Fishing with a friend, sticking close and discussing the options can really work well. The #16 Orange Scud got a #20 Miracle Nymph trailer after a few strike free passes but on the third cast got lodged on a snag and I was forced to break my line. Note: Pinch your barbs at the vise, better than in the cold. I re-rigged the same flies and continued but with minimal success. The first stretch we fished was an obstacle course requiring slow movements and roll casts. Unfortunately 90% of the fishy lies were clogged with sticks, logs, debris, habitat, nature’s defense against anglers like myself, you get the picture.
We continued hiking passing thousands of trout knowing that an attempt could be made but neither of us felt like spending our entire day losing flies every third cast. A few snaggy spots were fished, some so fishy looking I would have thrown an entire box of flies down there if I would have thought a fish was going to come up intime for me to get my flies out without something fouling up the works. Enjoyed the winter sun again, very few January days (especially weekends) will produce 20 degree air temps with no wind. The combination of the two made the day.
The stream eventually opened up a bit and we found a few good deep runs to spend a bit of time tempting trout. With the #16 Orange Scud and #20 Miracle Nymph trailer I got no strikes, not a single one. I put on a second splitshot to ensure I was getting deep enough when I snagged something and lost the entire rig down to the 4x tippet on the end of my leader. I made a choice, rather than spend the time to tie on a stretch of 5x tippet and top it off with a few smaller nymphs I opted to go straight to the #8 Olive Sprinkle Me Baby I had used the last time I was out. No additional weight, just the conehead and wraps of weighted wire to help sink the fat fly. A few passes later and I knew I was on to something as I had several noticeable strikes. I was expecting slower strikes but my fly line was jumping as if summer nymphing. Eventually I managed to get a good hookset and began the afternoon of back to back Brown trout.
Once we figured out where the trout were and what they were willing to take we each hooked up with several trout over 12inches. We each landed a few 14inch browns unfortunately I rolled and lost two approaching 18inches. That can be a bit disappointing but not when compared with the excellent weather conditions and otherwise cooperating trout. It seemed the larger the trout the slower and less pronounced the strike. I got to the point where any slow in my line resulted in a hookset no matter how insignificant it seemed. One of the larger trout lost was hooked in this manner but I was too late by the time by the time my line slowed. In a few instances the smaller 10inch trout would be willing to almost surface in pursuit of the streamer as it rose on the swing. A note worthy event considering the amount of calories burned by those trout chasing down my streamer.
This scene played out under the mid-day sun until close to 3pm when the sun eventually hit a bank of clouds, the air temp took a nose dive and the trout activity followed suit shortly after. We each landed a dozen easy and lost probably three times that many more, for a while it seemed every third drift resulted in a noticeable strike, on the #8 SMB of all flies, one reason to bring your streamer box with you everytime. There are some hungry trout out there just waiting for you to toss a meal in front of its nose, even in the dead of winter trout still have to eat.
Day two began onstream at ~11:40am under clear sunny skies with an air temp approaching 13 degrees. With minimal wind predicted I knew today would be a bit more comfortable, sweet. I love the winter sun. The few hours when it hangs highest in the sky everything seems to wake up, birds are making noise, the trout are up, bugs might be hatching. A sunny 13 degree day can feel like 35 if your prepared and the wind isn’t blowing. We hit a different stream with perhaps two loosely set goals for the day and maybe a third that is always there and is never really acknowledged. 1st, to hike, to keep moving, maybe see a couple miles of stream. 2nd, to bring to hand a brown trout then a brook. The 3rd unspoken goal of every trip is just to smile and remember that some days you are stuck at work, fish or no fish this doesn’t get much better.
Parked and rigged I made a short hike through the snow covered forest floor to the stream. I remember thinking how the snow isn’t much of an obstacle when compared to 7-8ft tall weeds that grow obnoxiously thick through this section of forest and make this place very un-inviting in the summer months. Approaching slow and low I knew the water here was going to be gin clear and it was. I waited several minutes looking for any sign of a rising trout or skittering midge but none were seen, even later in the day only a scant few midges were observed and only a handful 3-4 risers seen. The trout were holding deeper so I opted for the Orange Hot Spot Scud again today in a #16 thinking that I might trail it with a #20 Midge Larva pattern later. Again takes were very subtle, I lost the first two definitive strikes but a short time later I was netting a 10in Brown trout. We each managed a few from this first hole before our coffee got cold and we began the hike upstream.
The sun really made the day as we hiked, nothing was cold and infact had I kept the pace full steam we would have been sweating quite a bit before we finished but thats why we stop and fish. I hit a few narrower sections (2-3ft wide) of old habitat improvement as we hiked upstream loosing a few flies to tree limbs and snags on the banks trying to get that perfect cast to the trout before I fumbled and gave my position away. I did eventually add on a trailing #20 Midge pattern to give the trout a second option. I ended up losing a few strong strikes as I was not anticipating such a quick and sharp reactions as my flies entered the water, like the trout knew they were coming and had already commited to the take without my knowledge.
Looking to the 2nd goal for the day we moved upstream in search of beautiful brookies. I’ve fished this stream enough to know where the brookies hide out and I wasted little time finding them sitting in the same spot they’ve held for a very long time. We each attempted deep drifiting nymphs to the smaller trout but failed to bring a fish to hand. We got a few strikes but were un-able to set the hook in time and after thirty or so minutes attempting to get the longest and deepest drift possible produced nothing, with that the sun had passed the peak for the day and was on it’s way out. We gathered our things and began the hike out, along the way I stopped to swing a fat streamer through a few of the deeper sections but other than a few looks I was out of luck. I should note that every trout I got to hand had the #16 OHS Scud in it’s mouth. So no brookie and thus I have a goal for next time but still an excellent day and a good way to begin the new season with back to back days fishing the Driftless Area.
The 1st of January opened catch and release season for stream trout in Minnesota and for me began my 3rd full season fishing the Driftless Area creeks that surround me. Although I did manage a trip to Iowa in the off-season it truly felt like it had been forever since I tied on tippet, flies or made a cast. At ~11:30am we arrived at the spot that you can find myself and a friend of mine every January 1st no matter the conditions. Last year saw a high air-temp of 5 degrees and this year was similar with estimates topping out at 9 above during the height of the day with a fairly strong wind. The proper gear was prepared and we hiked to the spot to get comfortable.
Gin clear water with rising rainbows is what was expected as we peered over the bank, however, the ironic and perhaps fickle Minnesota winter had given us a few days of above average temperatures topping out over 40 degrees at my house just prior to the opener, this prompted the melting of close to a foot or more of snow pack muddying the creek and likely lowering the water temp a bit. We only saw two or three rises all afternoon and only a scant few midges on the surface, with the muddy water and minimal midge activity I opted for a recent winter tie. The #18 Orange Hot Spot Scud, a single fly at the end of my 9ft leader. I fished without an indicator due to the varying depths I wanted to reach without having to play with my line and thus freeze my fingers any more than necessary.
Within the first half an hour each of us had managed a smaller rainbow to the net, with air temps this cold we don’t mess around, a simple photo or two quickly and back in the drink. Fishing no indicator on a slower section of water often means loosing over 50 percent of the strikes and those are just the ones you think you see. The fish were slow, a strike was often just your fly line slowing in the column rather than bouncing or jolting. My advice is set the hook often, when you think your line has done anything to indicate something below lift your rod tip in a quick but not sharp manner. Trout activity increased through ~1:30pm and began to slow after, clouds rolled in and the wind began to pick up a bit as you can tell by the grey winter photos. We nymphed for a while yet picking up a few more as we explored a few other options on this creek. When my #18 OHS Scud failed to produce any strikes out of a deeper pool I made a decision to swap to a #8 Olive Sprinkle Me Baby.
This fly is a favorite of mine and it should be noted that a fat streamer even in the winter should not go over looked. I wait until I’m finished nymphing my winter holes, before I move on I send a streamer through once or twice maybe more if fish react. Sometimes those larger fish just refuse to move on your #18 Scud but when faced with a #2-8 Streamer you might be surprised. A few passes and I rolled a 14in Rainbow only to lose it at the last moment, I tried a few more times and came up with a 12in and another 14in Rainbow for my efforts both came out of the darkness to slam my #8 SMB as it rose to the surface on the swing. With my hands cold and smelling of trout we hit the road for home at ~3pm, fish were seen, lines were taught and another excellent season of fishing opened. I love winter season in the Driftless Area.
p.s. Thanks to Heath for the excellent video below, it contains footage from our outing on January 1st and a bit from the 2nd of which I’ll write about a bit later.