Better late than never? You bet. The long wait was over as I finally made my inaugural run into the badger state for some trouting last Friday. In typical fashion it was an early departure. Dawn raids are an imperfect proposition this time of year, but I don’t give a shit. While y’all were sleeping I was logging miles making a deep run to review some new turf. One of my February habits is to pour over my maps in search of new valleys to explore. You see by nature, or perhaps nurture I’m a “run and gunner.” Many may choose to set course for one access point and plod through it like a mouse seeking cheese. My preferred method is often more of a shotgun approach. I pick a few streams worthy of further review and rank the sections as plan A, plan B, plan C etc. The cardinal rule is that the fish ultimately dictate the tour. If I encounter a hot bite I’ll stay put and fish the section more thoroughly. My approach on this frigid March morning was to look at some marginal Brook trout water. In my mind I considered this more of a scouting mission than a results oriented affair. I had the luxury of several opener reports from my trouting cronies. They forewarned me that the Brook trout bite was poor to say the least. I even knew of specific spots where large Brown trout were readily being duped. I’m often driven to zig when everyone else zags, to a fault. It may be hard for some to fathom but sometimes I go “looking” with low expectations of doing much “catching.” Numbers are superflous. I’ll leave the body count to other anglers. I was looking for one big bite, not many average ones. Not that I didn’t want to catch fish, in the back of your mind you hope for the best of both worlds, but I don’t deem this the kind of water that can produce those results. At a bare minimum I was seeking evidence that proved these locations worthy of further review in better circumstances. I forewarned in my last post that I’d swing for the fences, but would I strikeout?
I emerged from the shroud of darkness afforded by the fog-filled valley only to be greeted with a winter wonderland. To may dismay it wasn’t yet June. The hefty snowfall from earlier in the week left the area with a fresh coat of powder. There’s something great about getting a first look at something that you’ve only imagined in your mind. As expected this stream was extremely shallow, silty and looked like a tough nut to crack. Bites, or fish for that matter were not going to be doled out in spades. I was going to have to earn my keep, just the way I like it. I grabbed my rod and worked my way upstream. I was immediately struck with how cold it was. The daytime high temps were going to protrude into the mid to upper 30′s but this was much colder. I tied on one of the new micro streamers that I’d conceived for this specific occasion. In short order it turned into an ice ball with a gapless hook. Keeping my line deiced also became a full-time occupation. Slinging this rig around began to feel more like a medieval mace than a delicate fly fishing offering. Ice management overwhelmed the opening rounds of my season. My standard approach is to deice the streamer by biting down carefully on the lure. The trick is to not get hooked on your own creation. Easier said than done. I approached the first good-looking hole with the stealthiness of an atrophied angler. The first fish of the season scooted away upstream in disgust of my presence.
I continued my journey flipping my offering to every nook and cranny in the ultra skinny water. After some time I finally found a few spots pushing more current and a bit more depth. Unfortunately a thin layer of ice covered some of the better corner pools, and where I was able to cast, nobody was home. I plodded on to the next spot, which was a series of laydowns that I soon realized to be beaver activity. I had finally found decent depth, but I listened as a beaver noisily made his way downstream to my location. He poked his head out of the water, flipped me the beaver bird, and continued on his way. The call of other destinations grew too loud which finally caused me to pull up stakes. Before I departed the valley I toured most of the bridge crossings to commit them to the memory banks for future endeavors. No fish were brought to hand which you might perceive as a failure. But there’s a small piece of unspoken evidence which forces me to keep this spot in my back pocket. These fishless pursuits may make for boring discourse, but if you’re committed enough to read along, there will be more of this type of Brook trout exploration in 2013. Like most fishing pursuits in my adult life it’s a long-term investment, no risk, no reward.
I warmed up in my car, grabbed a snack and hightailed it to another county. En route I placed a prearranged call to a local landowner that I chatted with earlier in the week. He told me to give him a call if I was interested in fishing his place. He’s wedged a few miles from the nearest bridge, but has some turf on a stream that I’d never fished before. I drove downstream and popped in on a few access points prior to my arrival. I found some very promising looking deep holes with significant shelf ice, but couldn’t manage a bite or even evidence of aquatic life for that matter. I wasn’t encouraged. This stream held both Brooks and Browns, but all I could see were huge Titanic-like chunks of ice drifting through the runs. No worries I told myself and I stayed the course. I proceeded to fish his property for an hour or so and didn’t see a single fish, nor did a snap any pictures of this stream. The hope was to at least spook a few so that I could gauge this creek’s potential. I’m at a loss on this one. Will I return? Only time will tell.
Now came the scramble portion of the day as I decided to start working my way back to civilization. The plan was to bridge hop my way back on new water. Most spots were not particularly fishable and I spent little time reviewing them. While I was committed to the notion of marginal water and one big bite, there was an elephant in the room. The stench of the skunk began to linger in the air. I figured the least I could do was to remedy that situation by getting a little slime on the hands for good measure. With my tail between my legs, I set course to go win the loser’s bracket.
After reviewing the last creek on my list, it left me perilously close to a stream that I hadn’t visited in the last year or two. A little birdie had told me that this piece of water was fishing well and it didn’t disappoint. The minute I slipped into it’s gin-clear waters I was transfixed by the activity level compared to what I’d seen so far. It’s as if these trout missed the lockjaw memo. Midges were everywhere, but what was more impressive was the Stonefly activity. A smorgasbord of winter Stones dotted the banks with some big dudes in the mix. The trout didn’t miss a beat as you’d find fish readily rolling on these bad boys. I had two things working against me at this point. The first was time. I only had a half hour of fishing time left to spare before I had to make the run home for a previous engagement. The second was fly selection. I had tied a handful of artificials to mimic this bug, but failed to transfer the box to my wading jacket as I had been fishing without my usual chestpack.
There was no turning back at this point, so I put on a very small bugger by my usual standards. Probably a 12 but who knows as I can be devoid of details when I’ve got fish on the brain. In short order I was getting hits and chasers without hookups, including one pretty nice Brookie. It took me a bit to get in rhythm with these fish, but fairly quickly I put a cookie cutter Brown on the board. I proceeded to get a second one identical to the first by flipping my offering into a deep logjam. While the results aren’t stunning, that act alone got the juices flowing. It’s the kind of thing you long for on those cold December nights. I blasted upstream and fooled a few more dink risers with my very unStonefly looking offering. Time was up and I practically ran back to the truck as I had almost “one last casted” my way to being late on my arrival.
I jumped in the car and began my journey back from solitary confinement. While proceeding through the Twin Cities trouting gateway of Pierce County, it dawned on me that I had covered 5 western Wisconsin counties on my saga. The results were certainly a mixed bag. I like winter fishing just fine, but there’s no question I’m looking forward to the thaw. The majority of what I saw wasn’t ready for primetime. Either through inherent shortcomings or the water was still too cold it was a “no go”, but that was to be expected.
The lesson to be learned from Clark Griswold is that it’s more about the journey that it ever has been about the ultimate destination or prize. There’s no shame in mixing it up and simply kicking the tires from time to time. Don’t hesitate to go on that Vacation you’ve been thinking about, even if you’re rudely greeted with, Sorry folks park’s closed.