Let’s kick things off with what really matters. How about a proper shout out to Jack? As I sit here scribing this post my boy is recovering from surgery. Sure it was just a simple tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy, but not the most fun day for a 5-year old. In the context of the angling arts, it just reminded me how great of a day I had with him roaming the spring creeks of Wisconsin this spring. There was a pivotal moment on Isabelle Creek where we weren’t merely father and son, but just two guys fishing. He insisted that he fish “the spot” all by himself and asked me to move upstream to the next hole. I obliged, but continued to watch him from afar. At that point in the season he was practically an “open-faced” spinning reel virgin, but could cast with shocking competency. While he didn’t manage any fish from that spot, he did insist that we stay and fish much later than I anticipated. We “one more casted” our way to being tardy in our arrival back home. The jury is still out on whether or not he’ll adopt fishing with the fervor of his old man, but the early signs certainly are leaning that way. Get well soon, fella.

 

I must confess that I was never really much of a Suicidal Tendencies fan. While they regularly graced the pages of my beloved Thrasher magazine in my angst years, I leaned more towards the musical stylings of The Dead MilkmenDinosaur Jr.The Misfits and Public Image Limited, amongst others. As I sat behind the wheel last week contemplating what had just happened to me, their name kept jumping across the synapses as ripe fruit for this trout finale.

I was granted the opportunity for one last overnight exploit into the Heart of the Driftless to finish off the 2012 season. I plotted a course to a new piece of water that I’d been eyeballing for some time on a stream I’ll lovingly refer to as “Bear Creek” (details forthcoming). The plan was to swing by Bear Creek for a few hours during the typical midday lull, then move on to Plan A, B, and C streams that I’d earmarked for evening and morning duties. I was so confident that this would be a quickie pop-in on this stretch that I left all of my provisions in the car. Devoid of snacks, water, flashlights, beer etc. No matter how often I fish or how old I get, I’m still basically a kid in a candy store at this point in the excursion. Standing streamside with new water to explore, I just grabbed my rod and got down to business with the giddiness of a schoolgirl.

 

 

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, not the ideal scenario by my estimation, but beggars can’t be choosers. I worked my way up through some average looking shallow logjams and managed one feisty 13″ brown for the trouble. Further upstream was a deep funnel dumping into large slow pool bordered by a mess of trees. I couldn’t see the bottom of this run, but it appeared to be one of those spots that was at least 5 feet deep and likely more. After a dozen casts I began to wonder if anyone was home. Right when I was preparing to throw in the towel on this spot my fly was hammered from the abyss by a solid looking specimen. Not quite trophy status, but a damn nice fish for sure. I was on the board and that’s all I cared about.

 

 

As I continued upstream into a surprisingly deep and slippery section of stream I connected with this somewhat unremarkable specimen as I tripped on a streamside log. While she tended to be on the skinny side, she helped cement something in my mind. Bear Creek actually held a surprising number of fish, and most of them were well above average from a size standpoint. Could there be some truly big fish mixed in with these respectable looking browns?

 

 




What transpired the next few hours was jaw dropping. I proceeded to have one of the best “numbers” days I’ve had in recent memory. Every nook and cranny held fish. It’s not just that the runs were loaded, it’s that the fish had bad intentions, they had Suicidal Tendencies. If I was fishing in another era I would have stacked up these fish like a pile cordwood, and my family would have eaten well this winter. It was as close as I’ve gotten to what I refer to as “fishing heaven” in quite some time. The fishing heaven concept isn’t religious by any stretch of the imagination. There is a delicate balance in the fishing universe, and you don’t want to have too many killer days on the water in any one period of time. It’s important that you have a healthy mix of good days, bad days and the vast majority of so-so days. If you have too many unbelievable outings, you’ll lose sight of what you’re fighting for. It’s just too easy. Generally I prefer a bite that’s a little bit on the challenging side. The behavior of the trout on this day were determined to say the least. Apparent was the alter ego to the wariness, the aprehension, the selectivity. It’s like I was chasing Japanese zeros dive bombing relentlessly throughout the riffle run sequence. They would dart across runs and out from hidey holes to hammer your offering, and it didn’t matter much what you threw. These fish were doing their best to emulate their Montauk blitzing cousins. My usual steelhead-sized net came in handy on this day. At one point I stood at a nice corner bend and pulled in 10 fish in roughly 15 casts, all mid teens with back to back 18″ caliber fish. This wicked pace forced me deeper into the river valley on a journey much longer than I anticipated. I was unable to turn back, I just had to see what was around the next bend. It was an itch that I could not scratch. I would proceed to journey about 4 miles upstream before impending darkness would finally force me to begin the journey back. The pics I’ve selected are just a sliver of what I caught. Things got so ridiculous by the last pool upstream that I caught an ultra thick guy just a hair south of the mythical 20″ mark and I didn’t even bother photographing it. I immediately regretted the decision. I had stopped taking photographs of fish early in the blitz, only pulling it out for unique characteristics. The shots almost seemed to become a redundancy.

 



This girl was the best of the bunch. She came from a really wide slow moving corner pool. It was a super long cast and a blind hookup. Water levels were quite low on Bear Creek and I knew right away that it was better than some of the other fish I’d been catching. My guess is that she was working the corner looking for love. While no actual prespawn activity was witnessed, it looked like the kind of place that may have a few redds in the coming weeks.  If memory serves, this is one of the better looking females I caught all season. For some reason a lot of the bigs tend to be kype jawed males, but the big voluptuous females tend to be a bit more rare. Catching a shitload of big fish with relative ease under bluebird skies in the mid afternoon sun. Hell yeah! 

 
 

As I began my long wade back to the car I started to guesstimate how long it would take me to return. I decided that I better skip most of the inferior spots and concentrate a few of the missed fish and better runs on the way back downstream. At this point hunger and delirium had began to set in. As I traversed this island above I noticed some fresh piles of what I instantly feared was black bear scat. The thought of bears in the Driftless is something that almost never enters my mind. Sure, I’ve fished out west and Alaska where Grizzlies are a constant thought in the back of your head. Even when I’m up north black bear sightings are a real possibility, but this was somewhat of rarity. Who knows if it was even bear scat? I didn’t bother to photograph it since I was determined to get back to the car before midnight, but it did look identical to the blackberry scat on this site. So the Bear Creek name shall live in infamy!

 
 

I picked up a few bonus fish on the long hike out of the valley, but not the behemoth I was seeking. Here’s the last good fish of the day, picked up in an ultra skinny riffle. After not documenting many fish over the last few hours I felt compelled snap this sloppy looking frame. A good fish to complete the 8-mile pseudo-marathon. I slogged my way through some pretty deep water slipping and dunking myself in the drink a few times. It didn’t really matter at that point because I’ve reached the point of no return with my waders. Both of my pairs have leaks that I can no longer contain with the regular Shoe Goo treatment. I was soaking wet, thirsty, hungry, tired and reveling in a post trout euphoria.

 
 

My unexpected saga left me many miles from my intended campground. I changed into some dry clothes, cranked up the heat and hit the road. Soon I began to ingest any snack I could get my hands on, though it just wasn’t cutting the mustard. There would be no hearty campfire in my future. The only option was to do the walk of shame and indulge in a bag of glop compliments of my friends at the golden arches. As I sat hovering like a drunken hobo over my Quarter Pounder with Cheese value meal, I was convinced that the meal was a smiley face staring me down. I’m lovin’ it!

 
 

I successfully made it to the campground and quickly cracked a beer and setup the tent under the cover of darkness. After getting my camp site in working order I sat and sipped my beer under a full moon with the crisp Autumn air creeping in around me. I reviewed the contents of my camera to see the damage I had done and began to contemplate my final play. I finished the beer and ashamedly came to the reality that I lacked energy to knock back any more cold ones. I crawled into my sleeping bag, set the alarm for “damn early,” and forged my final assault on the trout of our beloved Driftless region.

 
 

There was really nothing left for me to prove this season. I caught numbers of fish, I caught huge fish, but I hadn’t caught a true river monster. I opted to go back to the scene of the crime. I went to see if I could hook up with the largest fish I spooked this season. As the pictures above indicate, it just wasn’t meant to be. After the marathon the night before I had little energy for a long session. I hiked up to a few good looking holes managing a handful of average-sized fish. The exact spot of Moby was occupied by a dink. The final fish of the year was this mangy looking minnow. A fitting end consistent with my “fishing heaven” diatribe.

 
 

I strolled back to the bridge at a snails pace attempting to soak in as much wade time as possible. The last week of trouting had been absolutely unreal. I’ve got almost more money in my mental bank than I know what to do with. Only time will tell if that cash will get me through the cold winter? One thing I know for sure. I’m looking forward to the day down the road when the fish have another bad case of Suicidal Tendencies.