After seeing the movie Super Size Me I recall contemplating if this film would actually create a dent in the armor of the mighty “golden arches.” Most reasonable people are aware of the risks that fast food presents, but just don’t care in lieu of instant gratification and ease of caloric intake. Strangely enough trout streams can be a lot like fast food restaurants and the famed Rush River of Western Wisconsin is included on the list. Don’t get me wrong the Rush is a fine piece of water, perhaps the finest in the area. It’s comfortable like an old pair of shoes, giving you what you want when you want it. The Rush delivers a shot of instant gratification like a salty batch of fries right out of the fryer.
A few months back I somewhat reluctantly agreed to host a few “guided” fishing trips as part of a school fundraiser silent auction. The first trip was a trout adventure for two in either Minnesota or Wisconsin and the second was a warmwater trip in search of Minneapolis city lakes finest.
After some fairly heated rounds of alcohol-fueled bidding, the date was set. My buddies Sok and Travis had stepped up to the plate ponying up a healthy chunk of dough to “see what this fly thing is all about.” For the record Sok is an avid angler, but has somewhat limited experience fly fishing and Travis claims to fish for walleyes once or twice a year as part of family trips, but I suspect he likes to kick back and knock back a few “cold ones.” I briefly contemplated the appropriate destination for our outing, but it didn’t take long to come up with the answer.
We made a quick stop at the new Lund’s Fly Shop in River Falls before arriving at our destination on the Rush River. The South Fork of the Kinni was briefly discussed until road construction prevented us from heading towards the SF, so we opted to go straight for the belly of the beast. I’d imagine that most first time Twin Cities fly fisherman start their journey on one corner of the big Bermuda Triangle of trouting (Hay Creek, the Kinni and the Rush). For my money I consider the lower Kinni to be the best looking water of the bunch, but it loses a few points due to the small number of bigger fish. Size is where the Rush has historically shined, though every access point on the Rush tends to be like a gentlemanly episode of Supermarket Sweep. Desperate contestants politely battling to get a prime spot on the conveyor belt of trout. Over the years I’ve grown weary of this dance, so I don’t fish the Rush with the regularity that I used to. I personally prefer to fish other streams in the area, but life is all about guilty pleasures. Don’t we all sneak out for the occasional Big Mac?
We arrived on a lower stretch of the Rush that has been good to me over the years, despite it’s tendency to attract the crowds. I had hoped that our weekday afternoon arrival time would allow us ample time to fine tune our casting strokes before the eagerly anticipated evening Sulphur hatch and the crowds that accompany them. I always use the term “Sulphur hatch” when referring to this early June hatch, but it isn’t always the notoriously apple green colored Kinni Sulphur that you find.
I rigged the boys up with different dry/dropper rigs as sporadic rising was easily visible from our access point. As in most years a multitude of different bugs were witnessed streamside. Sok was on the receiving end of an Elk Hair Caddis rig and Travis would be the first to test drive a Parachute Adams with emerger dropper. Often times the “match the hatch” approach isn’t necessary in early June on the Rush, the fish are just “looking up” and any number of offerings may fit the bill. After a half hour of casting lessons on an easy going stretch the fellas were ready to test their meddle against the highly harassed Rush river browns and brookies.
I sent Sok upstream along a solid edge seam leading to a nice looking pool, pointing out where I thought the best holding spots would be. Travis and I moved upsteam to continue “live action” casting lessons. Within 20 minutes I heard the jubilation of man with trout. Sok nailed the first fish of the day “flying solo” on the Elk Hair Caddis.
After a few quick pics of Rush River gold with Sok, I continued working with Travis who had a “wicked slice” with the long rod combined with a bad case of what we called “Lamar Wrist.” Sure enough after about 45 minutes of work he put the fly right where I wanted and an eager brown swallowed it up like a Sausage McGriddle. Unfortunately for us, the jedi and pupil relationship hadn’t deepened to the point of advanced fish landing strategies and a mile of loose line allowed the fish to escape our evil clutches. A few cold ones were in order after an hour of hard work, as Travis poached in his borrowed insulated rubber waters.
After a momentary break from the mid afternoon sun Travis and I worked our way up to a promising looking hole that favored the right-handed angler. The combination of overhanging trees and Travis’s prepubescent left-handed casting stroke, left me considering our next plan of attack. I decided to throw the change up and pulled out a spinning rod…gasp! Yep that’s right, we came armed for combat with short and long rods in tow. I asked the guys what their goals were before the trip and Travis stated he was just there to have fun and didn’t care what approach we used. I planned in advance to throw the spinning rod some to give the guys a mix of both spin and fly trout techniques.
Travis fired off a few casts with the #6 Panther Martin spinner and quickly moved into the win column. A few small browns were brought to hand before we even moved into the sweet spot. I explained to him how to approach the prime holding lie with a prediction that he’d launch it into the overhanging tree on the other bank. He launched his spinner high into the air like a Joe Mauer sac fly making one pass over the tree limb and landing the lure squarely into the g-spot. Without fail a standard Rush brown enveloped the bait, the force of which freed the line from the limb 15 feet above the water. After which he masterfully brought the fish to hand. Travis is one of a few guys I know that I’d call a “big Dutch dude” who also has giant hands. His firm grip on this fish was strangely similar to my son Jack’s first trout last season.
A few hours passed with the fish rising to both something and nothing at all. You’d get one fish to rise to a specific fly, then the next would reject it completely. I could tell early in the evening that it wasn’t shaping up to be the epic evening on the Rush that I’d hoped for. Slowly but surely as the light gave way to dark the Kinni Sulphurs began to make their ritualistic appearance.
Our Plan A destination was spoiled to due to the high number of “game show contestants” moving in on our intended spot, a shallow riffle dumping into corner bend that collects the mayflys like a sieve. This traffic jam moment right at the beginning of the dance reminded me why I don’t eat at the Rush River drive thru very often. We quickly made the decision to hightail it back to the car to head downstream to some lesser water in search of some risers and the possibility of hitting a bigger fish.
We popped in on the backup spot, finding it devoid of other anglers, and quickly worked our way upstream. Eventually we found a reasonable looking hole containing a dozen fish rising to the bugs with some regularity. This was going to be the last stop on our Rush River tour. Sok began working with a Kinni Sulphur rig and Travis with a spinner. In short time both guys began to get fish, as I worked back and forth helping land and unhook fish, quickly snapping the excessively high number of grip and grins that populate this post. The fish began to cool on the Kinni Sulphur dry so I went to my typical bag of tricks by replacing it with one of the bigger dries I had in the box. For whatever reason this large attractor strategy often works once you get deeper into dusk on this hatch. I opted for a big stimulator but a #12 little yellow stone will also do the trick.
Sok was committed to working on his fly casting prowess but Travis had been back and forth between short and long rods. I suggested he throw spinners in search of bigger fish on the home stretch while Sok worked the risers. Sure enough he hooked a dandy. I had been trying to convince Travis to open his grip on the fish all day, so we could get a better shot, and sure enough we finally did (see above).
We finally persuaded Sok to start the long blind wade back to the car. He is clearly “one of us.” My older brother has the longest attention span of any angler I know. Since we were wee lads the guy could cast for hour after hour even if there is no action. Sun up to sun down, no problem! Sok clearly has the persistence gene also. As we began the hike back I heard from the darkness behind me, “holy shit, it’s past ten o’clock!” I got to hand it to these guys, they kicked ass for their first “serious” trout trip.
It’s definitely a different perspective seeing the fish, but not making casts to them. You’ve got to give props to full time guides and the hard work they put in. It’s both rewarding and entertaining watching other anglers fish their first trout hatch.
It’s like a time machine back to some of my greatest fishing memories, I’m loving it.