Rather than concentrate on generating blog posts, I focused on what really mattered over the past two weeks. Catching trout and enjoying the last weeks, days and hours of my 2018 Minnesota trout season. It’s been a bit of a battle between the rain that seemed like it might never end to the cold air temperatures which shocked most of us into the brutal realization that fall is here and winter is on its heels. Day 1 was almost two weeks ago. I hadn’t taken much time to find trout after returning from the BWCA mostly because as fall comes so does the harvest in the garden, pumpkin patches, and things I want to explore and experience with my daughter before winter comes. I’ve been concentrating on expanding my photography skills and working with a new camera which requires a subject, enter Carl.
The weather was cool when we arrived, multiple days over the past two weeks I considered putting my waders on but refrained as much as possible. We both put on neoprene booties and opted to wet wade with those. In weather as low as 40degrees I believe this to be a great choice and not once did I regret it. We fished for larger browns lower on a section of water and wanted to target brookies once we hiked further up. I remember the water being oddly stained and we both wondered if the cattle we know tend to linger upstream were a contributing factor. Regardless the trout were aggressive and actively chased down a streamer, most were holding higher in the riffles. My concerns that the colder temperatures following a much warmer day would cause the trout to be less active were put to rest at the first riffle I swung my streamer through. I started the day and ended it fishing the same Black, Blue and White Dirty Mop. Carl for his part wanted to fish top water flies and started with a hopper switching quickly to a #12 Hairball when it became evident that the temperatures were not warm enough for the fish to buy a hopper pattern.
The #12 Hairball and Dirty Mop moved a ton of fish. I remember missing a brookie that was much lower in the system than I expected to find, that fish was a chunk and would have possibly been the fish of the day for me. As fate would have it I would be granted a much more rare opportunity later. Around noon under clearing skies, we saw the first Baetis begin to emerge. They were readily seen floating down the stream but nothing rose to them. Carl swapped to a BWO pattern and did his best but almost nothing was having anything on the surface. The bugs kept coming and at a point, we were both trying to figure out what was going on. No fish were rising and there were plenty of surface flies to warrant a good day of dry fly fishing. The water was stained but not terribly so. We came to the conclusion that perhaps there were just too many subsurface insects emerging to warrant a trout to rise. Either way, the BWO’s came out steady throughout the day with almost no rising noted.
The frequency of Baetis on the surface was inversely correlated with the effectiveness of my streamer. For two hours we had a solid lull where few if any fish were chasing my fly down. I considered putting on a nymph but I opted to go forward with the streamer and take photos of Carl. The fish were more responsive to the #12 Hairball that Carl ended up fishing most of the rest of the day. Far upstream we came across a large herd of cattle who complicated things as they continued to follow us closer than either of us would have preferred. Brookies began hitting flies hard from 2-4:30pm. We hiked as far up as we could go noting an increase in pool depth from the flooding that occurred which took a heavy toll on places like Coon Valley. On the way out we were accosted by the cattle forcing us to climb half a bluff to cut around and drop back down. We came up behind them and fished a section of water we were forced to skip earlier. Carl nails a nice brown and I had one fish chase my fly to my feet before committing. Once it did I was certain of what I had suspected. It was a tiger trout. To this point, I had only caught one small not very colorful specimen in my history as a driftless trout angler. This fish was beautiful and capped off the first day of the season’s end.