Well it’s here, I’m sure as the temperatures fluctuate a bit some evenings will produce more or less aggressive strikes but for the most part it is official… the mousing season has begun and I plan on taking full advantage of the hours leading up to the 11pm curfew. Mousing was very productive on the 22nd, the couple other evenings we’ve been out have seen a couple trout come to hand but nothing like the 22nd, strike after strike Carl and I were pulling in Brown trout. There is something very special about evening mousing that sets it apart from other dimensions of Driftless fly fishing. On the 22nd we arrived early enough to make our hike then sit in place as the sun set, felt the air temp drop and witness the fog roll in. We started fishing just before it got uber dark and I managed to get one trout to surface before things went totally black, after that a well placed fly with the proper retrieve was going to get hit. We worked larger open pools for the most part but I have been toying with other locations to present this pattern, my first trout of the evening was caught by dropping my mouse down a fast run and letting it swing across the tail end in the faster water. This is going to be the season of exploration, trial and error and of course big fish. I managed to land over a dozen easy but lost quite a few, I’m amazed at the smaller trout that readily slam this fat fly. I have to think a handful of the fish I lost just couldn’t get the entire fly (including the hook) into their mouths. Second to the last fish of the night and Carl slams an 18inch Male Brown in, the strike was something to hear. I managed the last fish of the night. If you’ve got a good headlamp, red-light function is a must, I’d get out there and start getting used to the creek in the dark it’s a blast. Note: We definitely 100% sure we heard a wolf howling on the ridge as we stood below fishing the creek. I know what a coyote sounds like and trust me this was no coyote. I’m also pretty sure we heard an owl somewhere in the dark as well. Chased off a handful of deer and who knows what else starring at our lights in the distance. The mousing season has begun…
Notes and Observations:
- Arrival Water Temp: ~53°F at 9:59am
- Arrival Air Temp: Low 60′s
- Again Low Stained Water
- Again Fished the SMB First
- First BWO’s arrived at 11:44am
- Fished the SMB after the Hatch Again
- A Down/Across into the Tail of Runs Worked Well
The third day of the show was almost exactly the same as the previous two, warm air temps on arrival, warm water too. BWO’s arriving just before noon and streamer fishing before that. Again the trout wanted the SMB in the faster runs that were less than 3ft deep. I love watching trout dart out and tackle my fly, this scene played out almost every other cast with the SMB. Stopped and sat on a run known for putting on the show, we waited and at 11:44 the BWO’s came and with them the full show, leaping trout, aggressive splashy strikes, everything we wanted. I fished with Sershen, George slayer and general trout enthusiast. We stood knee deep in trout water and took back to back trout on dry flies making short 15-20ft casts for close to an hour. The whole time watching rising trout all around us, nothing else compares. After the BWO’s came and went we moved upstream and I opted to go back to the SMB for a third day in a row. Upstream a ways during the lull that I had experience the prior two days where the trout just slowed down and didn’t want to aggressively hit my streamer I tried something different. I stood at the head of a run and tossed my fly in the tail, slowly I pulled it up and through the faster part of the run. My fly almost exposed exploded. One brown, again and another and again this time a brookie. That made the day, got to fish a hatch, take numerous browns and rainbows on a streamer then turned around the afternoon lull by hammering over a dozen trout from a single run two of which were beautiful brookies. A dozen times that same exact presentation pulled trout after trout up, why? What about my streamer hanging less than an inch from the surface would illicit such a response? I don’t know but it worked the rest of the day. Perhaps the lesson here is that if your fly isn’t producing the strikes you want alter the presentation before swapping the pattern, save yourself the time and tippet first then if all else fails try a different fly.
Notes and Observations:
- Arrival Air Temp: ~62°F at 9:49am
- Arrival Water Temp 52°F at 9:59am
- Low Slightly Stained Water
- BWO’s Arrive at 11:45am
- Streamer Fishing First Few Hours of the Day
- Aggressive Strikes from Browns in the Riffles/Shallower Runs
- Broke my Tip Top Guide off Roll Casting Under a Tree
- Fished to Rising Trout From 11:45am-12:45pm
Similar day to the previous, beautiful weather, wet wading, aggressive trout, bugs, everything I could have wanted all packaged in a Mid 80 degree high temperature. Sunny skies with minimal wind, couldn’t ask for more. Fished the SMB early prior to the show then swapped to a #16 BWO Comparadun as I had the day before. Fewer bugs came off this day but a handful of Dark Hendricksons emerged between the BWO’s, the nice weather is nice but it’s a bit concerning when we see hatching a good two to three weeks early. Landed a good number of trout, swapped back to the streamer after the hatch had finished up. Again fishing slowed later in the afternoon for the SMB.
Notes and Observations:
- Arrival Air Temp: 59°F at 10:29am
- Arrival Water Temp: ~49°F at 10:39am
- Low Slightly Stained Water
- Ephemerella Subvaria and Baetis Nymphs Present in Lrg #’s
- Baetis Nymphs showing Translucent Wing Pads (Not Fully Developed, See Image)
- Water Temp ~51°F at 11:43am
- BWO’s Arrive at 12:35pm but were Few in #’s
- Streamer Fishing in the AM and After Hatching
- Most Trout took the SMB in Faster, <3ft Deep Runs and in the Shallowest Riffles
- Fishing Slowed after 3:30pm with the SMB
- Air Temps rose into the Low 80′s Under Clear Sunny Skies
Glorious… a good word to describe the 16th of March walking around in a T-Shirt and Wet wading gear. This would mark the first of three days that saw me on the same creek fishing the same locations observing the Show, for this time of year that would be the emergence of BWO’s and the trout response. When I can I like to spend as many days in a row fishing the same location during an event like this to take notes, learn from each day and maximize my time on the water. I started the morning with the usual assessment, put on a #8 Sprinkle Me Baby and hiked downstream close to a mile. First cast set the scene for the day, a short roll cast brought a small brown charging and four casts in I had three trout to hand. Brown’s hit the SMB much harder in the faster runs that were less than three feet deep charging around boulders and downstream after my fly. The shallowest riffles held many trout, they too came charging and resulted in many excellent fish. No lie, I landed over forty trout between the SMB in the shallows and the #16 BWO Comparadun I fished from 12:35pm until 1:45pm. Browns aggressively leaping from the creek showing all fins and a tail before smacking the creek surface, this is the show. Fishing slowed after 3:30pm and I should have probably dropped the SMB and started fishing nymphs. 85% of the trout I touched were fat gutty fish and most were above 10inches in length, nothing larger than a 14inch male that took the dry fly with a mid air hookset, again… Glorious. The show…
Again in the Dark:
My boots the creek later in the afternoon, some indecision saw me finally leave for water at 2pm but with warm air temps and daylight savings time I had plenty of light to knock a few fish before the setting sun came. I got on the creek and rigged a #16 Pink Safety fly simply because I wasn’t confident a streamer would move fish and with my limited amount of time I expected the Pink Safety fly to land a few trout quickly. Three drifts in and I watched one fish rise upstream, another drift and another rise upstream. At this point I hadn’t gotten a strike with the fly I was fishing and so I opted to swap to a #20 Griffiths Gnat, I know Carl would have slapped that fly on as soon as he saw the first fish surface. Something about his blind confidence with the dry fly makes him successful, I’ve watching him pull fish up and out when I wouldn’t have expected a trout to rise let alone strike an imitation. His skill with a dry fly is something I need to work towards and so I put on a good stretch of 6x and started letting line fly. Two drifts later I was landing my first fish of the afternoon, moments after that and another was on the end of my line. I continued working each run up to the head with success at every spot, those fish simply wanted a well dressed small dry fly that was riding high. Evolving as an angler, it’s what I’m working on and this day proves that fishing like Carl has it’s place, I need to remember that.
Notes and Observations:
- Arrival Water Temp: ~44degrees at 10:52am
- Started Fishing a #8 SMB
- Water Temp at 12:28pm: ~47degrees
- Minimal or No Hatching Mayflies
- Fished the SMB all Day, Aggressive Strikes from Faster Water
- Landed a Brook, Brown and Rainbow
- Fished a New Stretch of Creek
After landing George the day before this was the icing on the cake, fishing streamers to aggressively feeding spring trout. Watched the water temps climb up into the BWO range (48-52) but didn’t see many emerge and the trout wern’t rising. The rocks showed large numbers of both Baetis nymphs but also Ephemerella Subvaria however most were immature and still needed time before they would be ready to hatch. I was content tossing the streamer and watching trout dart, slam and chase down my fly at every turn. Many missed fish due to the slightest amount of slack line when my fly was cast at a new spot, first cast inevitably led to a strike and despite anticipating that strike a lot of trout managed to hit and spit but quite a few got stuck. It was a good day fishing in minimal wind conditions with a very respectable air temp in the upper 60′s/low 70′s at the height of the day. Low point of the day… someone put their rod in my car then I rolled my back window down accidentally, then I rolled it back up and heard a crunch. Bummer. Down one rod.
Woke to windy conditions, a good predicted air temp and the possibility of BWO’s. Met up with my friend Heath and we hit a creek I’ve been visiting for four years now. We pulled up to the water with no idea what the day was to hold. When I began fly fishing for trout in the Driftless Area ~4 years ago now I fished a creek that was off the beaten path, ignorant I fished it in the height of the summer fighting the weeds, the forest, the heat and the bugs, all of it. I hiked up the creek fishing a #16 BWO dry fly not really knowing what I was doing. I came to a hole, I made a long cast and out came a trout that perpetuated a four year search that was concluded on the 10th. At the time he hit my dry fly so hard it startled me and I missed the hookset. Moments later after I had collected myself I was preparing to make another cast to that fish when a dog comes out of nowhere and swims right through the hole spooking the trout and killing any chance I had of catching that trout.
I first wrote about George in March of the next year, when a 20+inch brown nails your dry fly you tend not to forget it. I never forgot about that trout. I went back several times to attempt catching him, same hole, same feeding lane, same fish. I brought my friend and fishing partner Heath with me and we spent hours attempting to catch this trout, we studied his hole, his habits and the creek where he lives. I detailed this in the post where I outlined the difficulties associated with catching this brown, small creek, tight deep hole with a log running directly across the main seam making an upstream cast and a long deep drift virtually impossible. A year goes by and I still go the creek looking for this trout, another year goes by and I still hadn’t been able to catch him. ~2 years ago he disappeared. We went back time and time again to see no signs of the monster we knew lived there. We figured he moved on, died or was caught and was hanging on someone wall. Last year a rain event opened the hole up by moving the log that crossed the hole, by this time I’d been referring to trout over 20inches as a George. I had accepted that he was gone but everytime I visited that creek I referred to that hole as George’s hole.
Forward to March 10th, 2012. We pull up to a normal day with normal expectations, hoping to run into a few bugs, hoping to land a couple trout and avoid the wind that the rest of the angling population would be struggling with. The wind was avoided for the most part and we hiked the creek spying brown trout in large numbers everywhere, we both fished a small #18 PT that Heath had tied and which had been crushing trout on every other outing we’d been on in the last couple months. Just another typically day until we got upstream closer to George’s hole. Believing that George was long gone I offered the hole to Heath as I wanted to fish the hole directly downstream first. I pulled a couple small trout out and we moved upstream, with no log to hamper a drift Heath got in position and began casting line topped with his #18 PT. We heard a crash in the distance, we both stopped. It sounded like a tree had just fallen over. Heath on the opposite bank closest to the noise looked up to see a Cougar leaving the scene, fleeing up the bluff. We both stood a bit stunned, glad he ran up the bluff and away from us. Heath proceeded to look back at the hole when he stopped dead in his tracks, George was sitting in the belly of the hole. I chased to the other side of the creek, looked down and there was the trout that I had stalked for two years, believed was gone and had become a legend in my mind sitting there with no log to hamper the needed drift. We were both shaking, we had to stop for a minute. We evaluated the situation and got comfortable, we wern’t going anywhere until this trout spooked out or came to hand.
He was holding far up in the head over 4 feet deep, maybe 5. The fast current combined with the needed angle on the cast was going to be a challenge. Do you cast a super heavy fly to get it to him and risk spooking him out? We started with a small nymph but it quickly became apparent that more weight was needed to get the fly in front of this trouts face in the allotted distance/time the fly had to drift. We eventually settled on a #8 Hairball with an additional splitshot and Heath began casting, each time attempting to get the best possible drift without spooking him out or the rest of the trout in the hole. Heath proceeded to make cast after cast but each time his fly would either get stuck on a rock and we were forced to risk spooking him by breaking the line or it would go over his head and end up in the tail of the pool. We lost a handful of flies snagging them on the bottom and yet he didn’t spook. At one point during this hour long ordeal the tippet of Heath’s leader must have brushed against his backside as he moved from his feeding lane to another location, our anxiety grew with each cast. When would he spook, would he eat? Both of us were content to sit until he came to hand or disappeared, yet he continued to sit on the bottom looking like a shark amongst minnows. After 45 minutes I was beginning to lose hope, I was considering putting on a huge meaty streamer to see if we could get him to chase it down but if that failed he would spook out for sure. We stopped periodically and waited, he moved back up to the head of the run where the more difficult cast was required. Heath continued to cast and I continued to watch this trout’s every move for any sign that he ate the fly we were putting on him. Finally, close to an hour in he moved, the hook was set and what I thought looked big on the bottom was enormous near the surface. I was in the creek with the net almost immediately, a botched net job on my part almost lost the fish (something I still have to work on), a four minute battle saw him drive for cover rocks, hold tight to the bottom and eventually chase up a riffle. George, we finally had George.
We took great care to handle this trout with respect, photo’s were taken then a large amount of time was spent holding him in the riffles, making sure he was ready to go back to his hole before we left him. We each got to hold that massive trout, the colors, the spots, the jaw, the most spectacular Driftless specimen I have ever seen. Notch one off the bucket list. We sat amazed, we had just completed a journey, just concluded a legend. It may be my legend but it’s true, every word of it. Every trout I touch over 20inches will be known as a George for as long as I live because of the massive brown in a tiny creek that I ran into one August day in 2008 only two months after picking up a fly rod for the first time. I am thankful that we were both able to see this trout, I don’t mind not being the one to physically hook this fish, that means very little to me. It was more important that I was present to see this fish, that the one to catch it had put in the time and stalked it with me and that it went back to it’s hole un-harmed. I have plans to go check up on him soon but I don’t know that I’ll ever cast to him again. I’ll be content knowing we got to see the monster in the tiny creek and that he lived to see another day.
To quickly address the lack of content, lack of motivation and lack of fish. This winter season, despite the above average air temperatures, below average precipitation totals and number of days spent on the creek has produced little to write about. I felt my motivation slipping in the first two weeks of February and from there I’ve just been biding my time grumpy that everytime I go out the waters been low, the trout seem spookier than normal and I’ve just been catching less. That doesn’t make going to the creek any less enjoyable but it puts spending a Saturday on the water, paying for the gas and putting the miles on a vehicle come into perspective a bit more when you’ve only been catching one or two fish an outing. Maybe I’m slipping, maybe the low water/spooky trout is just an excuse to cover my month and a half dry spell, either way it doesn’t matter anymore. The fish are there, the bugs are going to be showing up in larger numbers and I’ll be there, waiting.
The 4th of March, 26 degree air temp on arrival at ~11:30am. Sunny skies, very minimal wind with low and gin clear creek water. I picked a spot I’ve been missing for some reason, maybe it’s pink line syndrome that’s been getting to me, driving past miles of creek that I can’t touch just to get to a short reach of a stream I’ve seen dozens of times. This spot is obviously a pink line (because I don’t violate our trout regulations) but I hadn’t seen it in quite a while. I knew it would be a bit more difficult due to it’s size and water levels but I was in the mood for a hike and if catching one or two was my last months average then I figured seeing something fresh and maybe catching one along the way would suffice my appetite. Carl came with, we started lower than I typically do and fished upstream farther than I’d ever gone, ~3.5 miles each way.
Trout were seen almost immediately, one rose while we put our gear on. I went straight to a #18 Pink Safety fly knowing that I just wanted one trout and sometimes the Pink Safety fly is the way to get that job done so the skunk is off and the rest of the day can be spent enjoying the Driftless area, searching the creek, spying for bugs and watching your friend have a kick ass day on the creek. My first cast on a hole I hiked directly to was poor and I planted my fly on a branch just above the group of trout I was targeting. Not good. Somehow I managed to kick my fly off and get it back in the creek before the trout spooked, instantly the first brown that saw it hit and hit hard. Finally a strike worthy of a quick hookset. With 10inches of spotted fish in my hands I knelt in the creek, it was going to be a damn fine day.
I continued to fish the #18 Pink Safety fly for the majority of the afternoon while Carl fished drys for a bit, a small nymph for a while and ultimately ended up tossing a lightly weighted streamer of his own design. Honestly it wasn’t much to look at (sorry man) but it did make me think I need something like it in my box. Things that caught my attention, it’s smaller size (maybe a #10 or 12), lightly weighted with a significant amount of flash. I think the size and weight made it perfect for this small creek with it’s low water and spooky trout. My SMB would have been too heavy and too big, the KML might have worked but again even the smallest size I tie that fly in would have been big compared to what Carl was tossing. The fly I ended up putting on later in the day was a #8 Hairball, I tie it on a 2x short scud hook so it’s over all appearance is pretty small for a streamer but has a nice large hook gap. Learn from those who fish, ask questions, have a dialogue about what’s going on while your out. I can’t fish with just anyone, it’s been proven over the years. I like fishing with someone, actively fishing with someone else gives you their perspective, bounce ideas and thoughts off one another, it will make you a better angler.
I’ve spent quite a few hours on this creek, I love how each time I visit it seems that mother nature changes the game plan. You’ll arrive to find a spot that was once blocked by a downed tree now open and free to drift a fly through and at the same time just upstream the hole you were itching to fish will no doubt be clogged with debris of some sort. It’s a challenge. Carl and I strolled up to a hole that was previously open to clean clear casts from fifty feet but due to a newly downed tree we had to sneak up from behind. Ironic how the tree downed across the tail of the pool provided cover for the fish but also allowed Carl to sneak up closer than he would have been allowed before to slip a short cast in to pull out a 13inch brown. As he was lifting the brown from the creek I watched a dogger come from the depths, she looked right at Carl’s fly hanging from the smaller trout’s mouth. Without spooking she watched the smaller fish get pulled from the creek and proceeded to move back to the feeding lane. I watched this happen while Carl missed it, I knew that fish wanted that fly. I was awe struck for a moment, after spitting out the details to Carl I watched as he tossed his fly in for a second time. A short drift and a tight line produced that trout, all 18inches of her. Some creeks grow brown trout quickly but they tend not to grow as large and often die younger while other creeks grow brown’s slowly, they often grow larger and live longer. I believe this creek to be a “slow grow” creek, this trout could be over 6 years old. She’s not the dominate predator around either, the severe dorsal fin damage and the large hit on her top side make me question what would consider her dinner.
We let her go and smiled in the sun. I love the fish of the day, often you know it when it’s happened and it makes the rest of the day that much more satisfying. Carl and I spent the rest of the afternoon hiking further up the valley in search of brookies but to my surprise found only a scant few. What we did find however were large numbers of brown trout surrounded by beautiful spawning substrate and plenty of cover. Everywhere we looked there was a spot with 20-30 small browns and a couple nicer ones lurking off to the sides. Cover rocks and tree limbs have been good to these trout. I watched Carl sneak cast from behind an obstruction to pull out a small brown on his knees. That is the definition of a driftless angler, casting hidden on your knees to pull a wild trout out from a four foot wide creek and he made it look easy. We fished to the end of the pink line and turned around for the ~45min hike out. This was what I needed, the motivator, the day when the trout didn’t require force feeding, conditions were modest yet very comfortable, and the hike through the valley void of other humans…necessary.
- Air Temp: ~30 Degrees F
- Water Temp: 52 Degrees F
- Conditions: Sunny Skies/Minimal Wind
- Time: 12:28pm
The first BWO’s I’ve seen since I stopped crossing the border showed up the other day. I nearly dove head first into the creek after them but it being ~30 degrees out I showed a bit of restraint. I blew the only hole showing rising trout just to get a couple pictures of these flies, they came and went quickly. Hatching lasted maybe 45minutes and the numbers were minimal, I counted a scant few float by every so often. This is just the beginning, they are here, check the rocks, look for those dark fat wing pads, then take note and go back. About time this season put up something to write about.