There’s no question that I fancy myself an explorer. But in reality, my sense of adventure is often tempered by things like, parenting duties, work, and the certainty of my urban existence. The fishing community is rife with like-minded travelers searching far and wide seeking what experience “isn’t” in their own backyards. Exchanging pleasantries with some anglers can feel like an ego boosting “hang low contest,” where guys play out their games of one upmanship to the far ends of the globe. The conversation is usually dismissive of this or that brand of fishing. Certain Bear Grylls wannabes consider themselves to be evolved lifeforms whose angling prowess is higher on the pecking order than the rest of us. I’ve sat in board rooms where outdoors executives attach acronyms to the different levels of angler participation and their monetary input into the economy. The avid angler is a desirable commodity with their willingness to lemming out large sums of dough for a broad range of items, and are marketed to accordingly. On the lower end of the scale is the casual fisherman whose pastime hasn’t evolved to the state of madness that most of us are stricken with.
At one point many moons ago I was a casual angler. But like others, I was young, impressionable, and slowly worked my way up the angling food chain. A life of shore fishing eventually gave way to float tubes, canoes and small portable crafts. The next rung included outboard engines, boat upgrades, the stock piling of gear, and the entry into the overpriced world of fly fishing accoutrements. Before I knew it I had become a full-fledged junkie, willing to travel great distances in search of a tug. In the context of trout fishing, I have left many destinations by the wayside on the troutsformation superhighway in lieu of greener pastures. One of those impoundments is Courthouse Pond located in Chaska, MN, U.S.A. considered by a few to be the epicenter of midwest trouting. I’ve only fished this put and take juggernaut once in the late nineties with a few buddies. I grabbed a fly rod, float tube, some flies and jumped into the lake. If memory serves, a few guys yelled obscenities at me proclaiming that float tubes aren’t allowed on the lake. No fish were caught, and I still don’t know if I was breaking the law? Being relatively new to Minnesota the Twin Cities Fishing Guide was the primary outlet for local exploration. These were the days before PM’s, remember the world before sharing information via online communities? While this volume is almost twenty years old, the kiss and tell information is as useful today as it was the day it was published.
Saturday morning in a late season straw grasping scenario I plotted a course for Chaska, preparing myself to do battle with pellet fed pond predators.
Most stream trout lakes in Minnesota close for the season on October 31st. A little birdie (known as the MN DNR Website) told me that the pond had been loaded up with Rainbows and Brookies over the last two weeks in preparation for the upcoming ice fishing season. This was the catalyst for my early morning raid on the pond. I arrived at legal time surmising that this would be my best opportunity to enjoy some semblance of solitude amongst my bank fishing brethren. This is my standard approach for Steelheading and my guess proved to be correct in this instance as well. I enjoyed a remarkably good looking sunrise with the pond all to myself. Balmy 27 degree morning temps certainly didn’t hurt my cause either. It’s this kind of weather that is no big deal to any self respecting ice fisherman, but perhaps insanity to others. Regularly deicing your rod guides just comes with the turf.
My strategy for CHP (Courthouse Pond) would be different from the usual fare. I had a handful of specific goals in mind before I ever wet a line. The first was to catch a stocker Rainbow (lofty goal, huh)! This may seem like a strange challenge, but I must confess that I haven’t caught one this year. I don’t normally go out of my way to chase the stocking trucks to traditional put and take locations, nor did I fish any prime destination water featuring any bows this year. Rainbows aren’t as common in the Twin Cities triangle of trouting as in other parts of the Driftless, it’s mostly Browns and Brookies. So consider this my lame 2012 bucket list item. My second goal was to test a personal legend. Located in the gray matter of most fisherman is a lure or fly “hall of fame” so to speak. Most likely you have a handful of lures that have probably reached legendary status within your own sphere of influence. The most pivotal lure in my trout “hall of fame,” is the Super Duper. I can’t be sure exactly what year it was enshrined, but the magic happened deep in the San Juans of Southwest Colorado. It all started after struggling the first few days of a our trip to catch many bows on our salmon egg rigs. After meeting up with a crotchety old family friend for a fishing outing, he furnished my brother and I with some Super Dupers. It was game on. These tiny little fluttering spoons dominated the lake next to our campsite, duping trout after trout. It was trout dinners all the way around, and it served to cement my lifelong love affair with the Rainbow. I generally keep a few Super Dupers around to test their effectiveness from time to time. While I spend the vast majority of my time fly fishing for trout I’m hardly a fly or die purist (if that hasn’t become clear from previous posts). I picked my way through my ocean of tackle in search of my beloved Super Dupers, but couldn’t seem to find any. Forced to move on to plan B, I grabbed a box of ice fishing spoons to serve as a suitable replacement for the legend.
I sat on the banks of CHP with two rods in tow. An 8-weight fly rod with a standard assortment of flies, and 7-foot spinning rod ready for stocker slaying duties. I chose the 8-weight simply because I can cast it mile and I rigged up a spinning rod with the tiny fluttering spoon featured above.
The early morning was spent alternating between spinning and fly techniques with little to show for my efforts. There really isn’t any brand of fishing that I don’t enjoy, but I must confess that initially the basics of pond fishing felt foreign and strange to me. This forced me to once again adjust my “rewards system” and simply take what the pond was offering me. I cautioned myself to stay away from the dangerous game of comparisons. Gambling addicts take any game of chance for what it is. Playing a lotto scratch ticket can be a shot of methadone, but don’t make the mistake of comparing it to Caesar’s Palace. The pond held Pods of cruising stockers periodically slashing on the surface giving up their location. Many people consider fishing for “dumb” virgin stockers to be an easy or lower form of trout fishing. I’ve found that this brand of fishing is a game of extremes, either you dupe them with great ease or they can be maddeningly difficult to subdue. This morning would prove to be the latter. This is no joke. The fishing strategy was very similar to the Bonefishing and Permit bite I had earlier this year. You’d visually locate either singles or schools of fish and cast your “shot” in close proximity to the them. The spoon often got a follow, but very few bites. I lightly hooked a fish or two, but ultimately lost them as they shook the hook. After working my way through a number of ineffective flies, I chose a double estaz egg rig that was meant for lake run trib duties. This fly rig garnered me a few light bites, but once again no dice. I wasn’t convinced that these fish had fully switched gears from their pellet diets yet and it became clear to me that there would be no easy path towards reaching my goals. A few other anglers had arrived at the pond and I chatted with them to see how the bite was. The locals proclaimed that the fish had a bad case of lockjaw since arriving the previous week, and were not showing a particular preference between, bait, lure or fly. I switched back to spoon duties and finally connected with a fish. I could tell right away that this wasn’t the fish that I had been seeking. Pods of perfect eater bows in the 14″-16″ range were plentiful, even a few run ins with bruiser holdover browns had occurred, but this was on the smaller side. Standard fishing karma was in play. I worked my ass off to catch what some call a “dumb” trout and it turns out to be the smallest one of the bunch. I opted to bonk it nonetheless, thinking that this was only the beginning of the action.
A short time later a monster brooder bow in excess of 25″ slinked out of the depths to sun itself in the shallows a short cast away. He lazily swam off only to rebuff my offer. After a quick run down the bank and a light nip and miss from a hard charging group of smaller bows, the monster appeared a second time in the same location. She opted to flip me the bird again and retreat to cover. I had begun to accept to the fact that I was losing the battle. There was a red-bearded fella in a Viet Nam Vet hat down the way who was clearly the master of his domain. He had gotten two nice eater bows by aggressively ripping an upsized Little Cleo on what appeared to be a 9-foot spinning rod. Whether he was in search of the snag or a reaction strike remained unclear to me. Either way him and I were the only ones able to bring a fish to hand. My time was up and I packed up my gear, sporting a light case of tail between my legs. Neither pissy fly techniques nor childhood flutter spoons could do much damage. The mission wasn’t accomplished.
I’m well versed in the world of consolation prizes. With many green “participation” ribbons in my trophy case, this is not unchartered territory. I knew better than to ask my daughter to fish that morning as she’s slowly outgrown the concept of fishing with Dad. Jack on the other hand would have been a good candidate for trout pond duties, had it not been for cold temps and early wake up calls. Though this did not preclude us from a good round of surgery followed by a light snack.
Everything tastes better with bacon, right? We quicky pan fried the monster in slathering of butter, flour, bacon, garlic, with a hit of sel de cuisine to be sure that any thoughts of a healthy snack were solidly swept under the rug. We quickly inhaled the offering and I vowed next time to do a better job of providing for the family. For the record I’m a heads off kind of guy. Growing up we were a “heads on” family, so perhaps it’s leftover rebellion from my youth? I don’t care to stare into the cold dead eye of my target any more than necessary, and certainly not while I’m eating. What the fuck are we, a pack of hyenas or Andrew Zimmern?
Fishing is a funny thing. A little Brookie like this can be had in droves on any given stream with ease most days. But this late fall outing on what most deem to be “lesser water” required all of my combined fishing experience and skill. The reality is that I missed the mark. One can search far and wide and drop thousands of dollars in pursuit of quarry, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Experience is around every corner. The world of chasing Mako sharks, Permit or Taimen may be what floats your boat, and “it’s all good” in my estimation. But the fact of the matter is that each and everyone who wets a line, however and wherever they to do it, it’s all just Man vs. Wild.