After multiple weeks of holiday cheer (and the extended break compliments of the weather terrorists) the juices are now flowing again. The Minnesota winter trout fishing opener can be a rite of passage. For me it’s simply the removal of a mental barrier. I rarely race out to be on the water simply to fill in a blank. I’m often more moderate in my approach. I scan the horizon in search of a heat wave. Anything approaching or exceeding the mythical 32 degrees mark will fit the bill, but I’m usually not in a huge rush to wet the line. All good things come to those who wait.
Deprived anglers regularly choose to fill their dusty fly boxes with the latest creations, but I’ve never been one to ward off the winter demons with such methadone. That’s not to say I don’t tie flies, it’s just that the placebo has proven to be ineffective on me. I can’t seem fool myself into dreaming about mid-June by whipping up a bunch of mayfly patterns. Tying for me is more reactionary in nature. Either there is an immediate need or an inspired whim to push me into service.
The best distraction for me lately has been coaching youth Hockey. I’ve found it to be somewhat effective in helping me tolerate the midwinter doldrums. A total shifting of the mental gears is usually how I roll. But I must confess that the strategy is wearing thin. In the interest of full disclosure, I spent the holidays cracking open the laptop late at night to peep pictures of naked fish, review maps, and read the latest discourse. Plans were made for the upcoming season. Some will come to fruition, others will remain what-ifs.
In our time of great need, as a measure of public service, I plucked another round of 2013 unpublished B-sides for your viewing enjoyment. Hopefully this will help brighten the most depressing day of the year. The fact of the matter is that I left quite a few stories untold and unseen. To keep this post manageable, I may not get into many specifics but I will throw down a respectable number of frames. Happy New Year and may the force be with you.
In my last post I offered up a heavy dose of Brook Trout love. This soliloquy is thick with Browns, but has a sprinkling of Bows and Brooks for good measure. Troutin’ is an unpredictable undertaking. If you attempt to target one species or the other it may not work out the way you planned, and sometimes it’s a blessing in disguise. I don’t generally go out of my way to seek the Driftless slam of a Brown, Brook and Bow, but accomplished the feat twice, if memory serves. Sure I need a Tiger to actually round out the lineup, but that omission will be our little secret.
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! The best snake is of the roadkill variety, right? Wrong. I almost stepped on this guy returning to my car one afternoon. My heart skipped a few beats after I heard a mimic rattle, but quickly determined that it wasn’t a Rattl’r, but a relatively harmless Fox Snake. Too little too late, as the mental damage was already done to my fragile faculties. Not to be outdone, check out the massive Wolf Spider throwing down an impressive expanse of midstream webs. The metronome of nature doing it’s thang is welcome respite from the cruise control of throwing loops. These critters serve as a reminder that we’re simply unruly house guests, spilling beers on the carpet of their hood.
I’m a creature of habit and I like to do my damage while others are catching some Z’s. It’s a good way to insure your favorite run won’t be overrun with foot traffic. The ever changing psyche of the angler is ripe for the picking. In warmwater fishing circles we refer to this approach as “topwater.” Troutheads simply call it “mousing,” as if trout only eat mice at night. I typically post a few “topwater” fish each year, but neglected to do so in recent posts.
It’s not necessary for me to go into the tactics behind this approach since they are well documented ad nauseam. Generally speaking, most of the tactical rules hold true. One nugget I’ll add is that I prefer a night with a few wind gusts. It helps masquerade your presence, and probably convinces the fish that your critter has actually just been blown into the river. But the beauty of this method, like all fishing, is that there aren’t actually any rules, just opinions. So let me throw mine into the hopper. I’ve most likely stood on my soapbox before on this issue, and if so I’ll apologize in advance. Having a blog is like having dementia, you often forget what you’ve said or done.
I strongly dislike the standard spun deer hair style mouse that you see at shops everywhere. Others regale you with their ability to “push water” and create a wake that drives big trout nuts. That very well may be true, but the deer hair also adds unnecessary bulk. It acts like a bulbous porcupine making it harder for the fish to get the fly in its mouth and inhibits good hook penetration. I prefer a more streamlined approach. I’ve touted my Duane Arnold fly for the last few years for good reason. I catch more fish with it. It’s cross between a Chernobyl and an Electric Frog. I’ve done quite a bit of side by side tests between the Duane Arnold and mouse patterns, and the increased hooking/landing percentage is immense. While the trout man tends to be unexplainably infatuated over the notion of a mouse eating Brown, mister fish isn’t swayed by such fads. They’ll eat something resembling a hopper on steroids, just as easily as a mouse. It’s a simple game of opportunity, and there’s no such thing as too big. The red Chernobyl above is your standard issue commercial tie for comparison. I’m no great mind in fly creation, but the mouse is a prototype I’ve been toying with. You palmer the foam body of the Duane Arnold with something from Michael’s called glitter eyelash yarn (it’s pretty much the same stuff that is labeled synthetic hackle at most shops). I use it as the body of my Sloppy Joe fly, but have adapted it for mouse duties. It gives the appearance of bulk, but is much more forgiving and less of a mouthful than deer hair. What’s easier to sink your teeth into, a porcupine or a squirrel? I don’t find color to be as critical as I’m sure others do, it’s more of a profile thing. I didn’t have any matching zonker strips for this round of tying, so I just used the olive ones I had on hand. The fish ate it nevertheless. Like my Shirley Temple fly experiment, I even tested a few jointed versions, but they haven’t earned their way on the blog yet. Maybe this will be the year that I strike mouse pattern paydirt.
Let’s get to the results portion of the nocturnal topwater game. I realize that this fish isn’t exactly unpublished content since I posted the pic a few months ago. I had the best intentions of writing a post at that point, but got busy and this guy, like many others, was put on the back burner. This dude absolutely crushed a Duane Arnold upon impact. I like to accelerate my forward casting stroke to forcibly slap the water with my offering. It’s the antithesis to everything you learned about properly presenting a dry fly. When he emerged from the depths I was stunned with his beak-like appearance. I almost convinced myself that it was a North Shore humpy. Topwater is a hit or miss proposition. It had been quite some time since I’d even crossed paths with a quality fish. I got completely skunked on a few of my best spots this season, but put some effort into dangerously traversing some new sections of streams. Fortunately my knees are no worse for the wear. I must atone for committing a cardinal sin in the eyes of some. I was so punch drunk with this fish that I marched right over to the bank to take a quick measurement and snap a few pics. After losing a few fish while photographing them earlier in the season I was determined to document this catch. Trout like so many other aspects of society have become highly regulated. Everything is treated with kid gloves. I never allow my children to walk down our front steps without wearing their helmets, and I certainly don’t put my trout into harms way by placing them on the bank. I’m all about best practices, but truthfully I’m a bacon man who’s willing to live with the consequences of my actions. I endeavor to treat this delicate little flower with the respect that it so richly deserves.
And thus concludes my midwinter medley. Surfing through these pics afforded me the opportunity to relive the experience. I can almost feel the late summer breeze and hear the explosive take of my last topwater fish. It was as if someone threw a chunk of riprap into the river. What is the lesser of two evils, trudging through waist high snow drifts of January or crawling elbow deep in the silty quicksands of summer? We are a strange breed, again and again unable to control our impulses. There is an emptiness that curiously can only be filled with a simple field mouse. It’s almost laughable when you openly admit such a weakness. Let’s not tell our friends, okay? The good news is that it’s not the most adverse shortcoming of mice and men.