The proliferation of the duct tape and plastic sheeting mentality is not a new phenomenon. A wise man once exclaimed, “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Another one of my personal favorites is the classic cold war era Duck and Cover propaganda film where children were advised on how to protect themselves from an atomic blast. Paranoia and the line between information and misinformation has never been as tenuous as it is in today’s instamatic twittersphere.
In the context of trout fishing, there are segments of the community that believe that you can’t fish in the midsummer heat without doing irreparable damage to the resource, due to heat stress, lactic acid build-up, and other factors. I consider myself to be a responsible angler, following the conventional best practices, but at times I feel like we’ve forgotten that this pursuit is after all fishing. You know, the barbaric act of invading the homes of wild animals and ruthlessly extracting them with sharp instruments of terror? Originally for sustenance, now often times for simple amusement. How would you like it if I “matched the hatch” by dangling a pile of chocolate chip cookies attached to a meat hook into your child’s bedroom while they innocently played? The unfortunate reality is that fly fishing is no more holy than dragging big chunks of cut bait. It’s all just a means to an end. It’s not that I’m blind to the plight, as I hadn’t chased trout in the better part of the month due to the historic heat wave that has gripped the midwest. As time grew from my last trouting excursion, the itch to fish grew with a greater intensity. This week greeted us with a window of cooler temps and precipitation which allowed me to get back on the saddle. I was on a solo mission to survey a half dozen streams to survey the state of the union, in the face of what some are calling the Drought of 2012.
My first thought was to test smaller brook trout water. I hadn’t fished this stream since last season, and I was filled with anticipation. The ever-changing spring creek ecosystem never ceases to amaze me. Spots that we grow fond of change with the seasons. I’ve learned to not get too attached to any one spot, because creeks like hemorrhoids expand and contract wreaking havoc along the way. To my dismay, some of the better spots had silted in during high water events earlier this spring. From past experience I’d say water levels were average to slightly below average. This stream wasn’t in as great of shape as I’d anticipated, so I decided to walk the easy going pasture stretch to survey the creek further. I only made casts to a few select pools, including throwing a cricket to a few eager risers.
I “Frankenymphed” a few more fish as I worked my way upstream, hooking one or two bigger fish from their laydown log hidey holes, but was unable to seal the deal. The cattle began to hone in on my presence steadily growing closer, so I decided to pull up stakes and look for some different water.
To Fish or Not to Fish, That is the Question!
As I was flipping my through my photos from the week I began to ponder the question, are we even in a drought? As I drove through some areas that I hadn’t made it to this year it was clear that there was variety of answers to that question. Here at the Adrift™ worldwide headquarters in Minneapolis, the official rain gauge added better than an inch and a half of precipitation this week, but clearly while some have gotten rain others have been left in the dust. My BFF’s at WCCO seemed to indicate that the northern part of the Driftless hasn’t yet reached DEFCON 1, or really DEFCON 4 for that matter. So my buddy, Matt Brickman, and the U.S. drought monitor say it’s a no go for a drought here at home, but certainly extreme heat has still been an issue throughout the region.
I stopped by the Cannon River to see what sort of shape a larger body of water would be in. Obviously this is a warmwater system, but there is a fair amount of coldwater streams that dump into the main stem. I made a few casts into a cooler inflow, which quickly revealed the presence of a large fish following my offering, but managed to miss. I fired back a second cast which was rudely greeting with vicious strike. Apparently there was a tandem of pike sitting in the relaxing comfort of the cooler water, but I only managed to hookup with the smaller mangy looking one. I waded for a short time working a nice looking riffle and deeper eddy adjacent to a logjam with no success. The Cannon seemed to be running at typical summer flows. I checked the handy USGS site which compares current conditions to the historical streamflow which seemed to support my informal assessment.
I put on some miles this week hopping around to a variety of different streams. The cooler weather kept the air temperatures in the low 70′s until about noon when things pushed up into the 80′s. A vast improvement from the 100 degree days we’ve had in previous weeks. Stream temps were surprisingly ice cold in most instances. I was toting my digital thermometer, which quit working so I had to check things the old fashioned way (by feel).
I’m happy to report that hopper season is in full swing pretty much everywhere I looked. The bigger of these two fish crushed a hopper about 20 feet upstream of where I was standing. I didn’t take the time to tie on a hopper, I just fired the Sloppy Joe I was using to the pool and the fish absolutely smoked it. I made a conscious effort to play him quickly and only raise the fish quickly to get a pic. See, I’m not a butcher after all, my prediction is that he’s still happily inhaling hoppers with reckless abandon. Cold, deep water and a quick net job helped my efforts.
I snuck in an early morning raid. Enjoy the latest installment of wee hours bliss. Two things really put a damper on the road trip. Notice I’m not smiling? I spent my drive listening to the Batman tragedy unfold in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater. Hey, James Holmes, fuck you! Secondly, the coffee wasn’t ready upon my arrival at my neighborhood gas station. Here’s what I look like waiting for coffee to brew. Things could only be looking up from here, right?
Did I mention that hoppers are out in full force? I started the morning running a Chernobyl Ant with a Frankenymph dropper. I tied a pile of jumbo-sized Chernobyl Ants last season to use during hopper season just to see how they compare to more traditional terrestrial patterns. I can’t say that I’ve kicked ass on them, but I’ve managed a few fish and decided it might be a nice change of pace from my mousing mishaps from earlier in the year.
I arrived at a slower section of water just before dawn. It was still dark enough that I couldn’t get a good read on the water levels on this stream. I made a few casts upstream to the top of the pool with no success. Next I tried casting across the stream and slowly stripping the rig back to me. A few casts into this regimen I noticed that my flyline was wrapped around my leg. Why are fly fishermen always stepping in and out of our flylines? We’re gluttons for punishment I suppose, because this clearly isn’t the most efficient method to catch fish. As I stood streamside doing the Texas two-step, my fly paused perilously close to a small cut bank. Sure enough while I was attempting to free myself from my entanglement I hear the tell-tale pop sound of a big foam fly being inhaled. I immediately set the hook and the fish began to run. As I let the semi-taught line run through my stripping hand I came to the conclusion, albeit a few seconds too late, that my flyline was still wrapped around my leg. The final chapter of this saga would conclude with me fumbling to free the line from my leg, subsequently allowing the beast to shake loose from my wrath. In a moment of disgust, like Tiger Woods melting down on the back nine of a major, I threw my rod to the ground spewing a series of F-bombs.
I stood for a few minutes struggling to regain my composure, and reassuring myself that missing fish is part of the low light topwater game. Deep into my peripheral vision I see a slash on the pool slick about 30 yards to my left. The splash seemed consistent with a fish and not other wildlife, but closer inspection was in short order. I arrived at what I imagined was the sweet spot, but I couldn’t be 100% sure since I was trampling around in the dark. I made a couple of short casts with no reply. On the third cast I allowed my offering to drift further downstream and as I started to strip it back upstream, the early morning silence was broken with a sharp popping sound. I had connected with a respectable fish and this time I wouldn’t be beat. One of the thrills of late night and early morning fishing is that you never really know what you have until they’re in the net and you shine your flashlight into the abyss. It’s kind of like a kid on Christmas morning. This present, while not the biggest I have ever received, was a healthy specimen and a trophy by some standards. Things were definitely looking up.
After my early morning antics, the bite slowed for the better part of an hour and a half. I foolishly clung to my modified hopper/dropper setup thinking that because the early morning fish smacked the Chernobyl Ant that others would follow suit. That wasn’t the case. Eventually I came to my senses switching up to an old standby, the big dumbell eyed woolly bugger. Within ten minutes I connected with a decent, yet sparsely spotted fish. One of my favorite things about fishing for brown trout is the variety within the species, and specifically with patterns. Personally I like the ones that are densely covered with big spots and a rusty yellow/orange hue. This one was the exact opposite, with very few spots and and a golden-green coloration. Unfortunately, trout fishing isn’t like Russian mail order brides. You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.
As my morning drew towards a conclusion, I was fairly satisfied to have caught a few decent fish. The clock was ticking closer to 7:30 and I planned to be off the water before the sun began to beat down with full force. I casually flipped my bugger to a to a few more holes and was rewarded with a good one. I had never caught a fish in this small stretch of faster water, but had occasionally made a cast or two. Ever notice how some phenomenal looking spots never really pan out and other mediocre ones hit big? This was the latter, as I was rewarded with a thick rusty-colored male for my efforts. The brute put on a good show and wasn’t easy to land. I got lucky since I didn’t play him to exhaustion. He darted by me at one point and I desperately made a stab with my net to stop him in his tracks while he was still hot under the collar. A few quick pics and I sent him on his way. My favorite is the “jaw flapper” closeup shot at the bottom.
As I sat in the stream reflecting upon what a fantastic few days of fishing this had been, I was struck with how cold this spring fed stream was. An excellent way to end my first week off the “trout” wagon. I felt fully confident in my choice to go fishing, and treat the resource in high regard. Reasonable reactions to extreme situations are in order, and you won’t get me to Duck and Cover.