I’ve been relegated to the bottom of the barrel over the last few weeks. It’s absolutely the lowest point of the year from a fishing standpoint and there are very few local outlets to get a fix. Work and holiday fanfare have helped pass the time, but still doesn’t quench the thirst. The ice hasn’t set up to my liking just yet and the winter stream trout season is a few weeks out.  The good news for y’all is that there will be no lumps of coal in your holiday stocking. Like a time capsule from a warmer time and place I offer you this fat slice of holiday cheer.  I left you hanging in a early summer post with a simple promise that I’d spin the yarn behind this mysterious image of my misplaced net when the time was right, and that time is now.

 

 

For my money, there’s no greater month for midwest stream trout than June. If I had only one day to fish a year it would be in June. Not too hot, not too weedy and buggy as hell. The activity level of Driftless trout in June is like a druken Australian Rugby team visiting Amsterdam’s red light district. Loud, reckless and full of risky decisions. The fish have a bad knack of looking to the heavens for sustenance. This makes for easy pickings. I could throw a pencil top eraser on a prime June day and proceed with some level of confidence that I’d get bit.
While evening insect activity can provide hours of bliss, this would be another one of my prototypical early morning raids. I showed up creekside at my typical predawn “legal” arrival time. This would be a full day of trouting. I’d get one early morning round kid free, then Jack and I were spending the afternoon and evening in search of fishable water. I was a little apprehensive that I might experience a washout, as extremely heavy rains had blasted the region in the days prior to my arrival. My fears seemed warranted for the first few hours. I slugged through the muggy morning throwing a Duane Arnold with a long Strawberry Twizzler dropper. The bite was far from good. I couldn’t muster a single bite during the typical early morning peak. As the sun began to light the canvas I was able to get a handle on the water conditions. The stream was flowing like a watered down glass of chocolate milk. I seem to have a longer leash than most when it comes to tackling muddy water. I think it’s the years of chasing bass with great fervor in every imaginable water condition. The bites may be few and far between, but it also allows you to approach otherwise weary fish at an extremely close range. In this instance there was just enough clarity to keep me plodding along with some hope that I’d connect.

 

 

After a few hours the hard work finally paid off. I managed a respectable, but not giant fish. The skunk factor was swept aside as the healthy brown ingested my worm-like creation. High water conditions had me lengthening my dropper to about 3 or 4 feet. There’s no question that this dry/dropper dredging technique creates a great deal of drag on the top fly, but that matters little. I find that adding a little movement to this fly is advantageous. Any fish to hit the Duane Arnold would be considered a bonus in my book, especially in this swill. I continued to work upstream with a renewed confidence that things were looking up. A short time later I stealthily slid up to a small cut bank and flipped my offering about 10 or 15 feet ahead. I immediately felt a tug as the worm tucked itself neatly into the heart of the bank.

 

 

As I set the hook on this fish I got the sense that it was a decent, but not necessarily a giant. The beast proceeded to make a few runs up and down the stream not giving me an inch. The deeper muddy conditions prohibited me from getting a good look at what I was up against as the drag began to heat up. Eventually I gained the advantage and was able to bring my nemesis up from the depths.  I made one big swipe with my net and was stunned with what I had uncovered. A gorgeous hook-jawed male that dwarfed the nice one I had caught just a few weeks earlier. I was fairly certain that this was my biggest Driftless stream trout to date. I quickly measured the fish and proceeded to setup my tripod for the obligatory grip and grin shot to serve as “proof of purchase.” A few more snaps and I sent him back to his lair. Big fish drunkenness began to flow through my veins. I mentioned this impaired state in my recent Milwaukee’s Best post.  The state of euphoria that I feel when I catch big fish is a fascinating intoxicant. Things got a little bit blurry for me after this catch. I contemplated calling it a day and heading back to the car, since I figured that I couldn’t top this feat. I opted to work my way back popping in on a spot here or there, but lacking the diligence of my early morning efforts.

 

 

I approached one of the last few spots of the morning with the casual ease of success already under my belt. The same high octane hopper/dropper dredge rig adorned my 6-weight fly rod. This corner bank has never produced a trout for me before, but on a hot sunny afternoon last summer a monster fish revealed itself. It briefly darted out from under the bank and shot upstream. After catching a glimpse of the behemoth that I estimated to be in the “mid-twenties” I couldn’t help from visiting this spot on occasion when I’ve fished this creek. I slowly and somewhat haphazardly approached the corner in my “drunken” haze.
I fired off a cast, as I had several times before, with the empty expectations of impending rejection. This time proved to be different. My rig slowly floated downstream into a root wad on the corner bend when I watched my “bobber” get sucked under. I swiftly set the hook and within milliseconds began repeating rather loudly the phrase “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!” In retrospect I realize that I was shouting this phrase, in conjunction with other expletives, rather uncontrollably throughout the duel.  Upon hookset the fish immediately porpoised to the surface with a sense of anger that only comes from an apex predator experiencing her first encounter. Once again my mind couldn’t quite comprehend what I was seeing. Stream trout aren’t supposed be this big and thick, this has to be a carp I told myself. Though the tell tale markings of a brown were scorching my synapses. This battle was violent compared to the earlier catch. I knew what I was up against and jumped into the stream to prepare myself for the bare-knuckle brawl. It didn’t disappoint, as this fish was hot under the collar. I made a few ill-timed attempts to subdue the beast using my net with no success. She raced up and down the creek a few times taking me along for the ride. Finally she swam by to my right as I stabbed blindly into the chocolatey abyss. I managed to secure her into my evil clutches.
I was dumbfounded at this point. My big fish drunkenness had moved into full blackout mode. The first fish was big but this one was a much thicker specimen. I pulled out the camera to snap a few pics and measure her. My usual attention to detail was nonexistent. I didn’t realize it but the big brown soaked my camera lens with a convulsive flap of the tail. I would later come to find out that most of my shots of this fish were blurry and very poorly lit. The fishing gods have a strange propensity to even the scorecard. One of my better stream trout was brought to hand, but I did a poor job in the photography department. It’s of little importance in the larger scheme of things. This morning outing will be permanently committed to the memory banks for a lifetime of enjoyment.

 
 

I released the big girl back to the creek and continued to stumble back to my car. There would be no more casts this morning, as I concluded that I’d done enough damage. After about 15 minutes of hiking I realized that I my net wasn’t strapped to my back and my sunglasses were nowhere to be found. A quick 180 was in order as I slowly made my way back to the scene of the crime. Upon initial inspection there was no sign of my net. My big trout drunkenness isn’t just lip service. As I replayed the moment in my head I realized that I simply let go of my net allowing it to flow downstream after I released the fish. I began to walk downstream attempting to recover my net. After searching for some time I feared it lost. Just before I threw in the towel I noticed the submerged handle protruding from a thick logjam. I retrieved the net from the cluster of branches and wandered my way back to civilization. The air was thick with humidity. The air was thick with the smell of victory. I Love the Smell of Napalm in the Morning.

This outing was the catalyst for a piece I wrote for American Angler. Look for my Close Encounters feature article in the January/February issue on newsstands now.