The life of any respectable fishing junkie is filled with late nights and early mornings on the road. A diet of bad gas station coffee and stale donuts is the order of the day. The prefishing combination of insomnia, anticipation and AM radio is a lifelong ailment. There’s something great about doing something while the “regular people” sleep. As the 2012 trout season unfolds with the Wisconsin opener this weekend, I’m sure there are throngs of us going through this perpetual rite of passage. Often times it’s you, truckers, drunk drivers and transients wandering your way through the margins.
Last year as I left the city lights behind, slipping into the darkness of the night, I became the first responder to a horrific crash. A young couple and their small boy had rolled their vehicle on the freeway and were walking down the middle of the road injured and in shock. I hopped out of my truck decked out in my waders and wading jacket, as I regularly get suited up in my garage before hitting the road. Many may find driving in their gear uncomfortable, but I don’t like to screw around when I get to the stream early. I like to grab my rod and go. The crash victims had suffered head injuries and were bleeding profusely. In their altered state they must have thought I was an astronaut dressed in my ridiculous “plastic pants.” I called 911, ushered them safely to the side of the road and waited for the real first responders to arrive. Now whenever I drive early in the morning I think of that family and wonder what became of them.
I was out fishing before dawn for only the second time this season. I was determined to start off with topwater flies. Last year I threw more of a standard “mousing” pattern, but this year I wanted to give an Electric Frog, compliments of the fine folks at Lund’s fly shop a go. My first cast into a slow, deep pool caused a cataclysmic eruption that didn’t connect. One quick, false cast and I threw the foam morsel right back at the fish only to be blue-balled a second time. The third cast, no dice. That was all I could manage in my first 20 minutes of early morning mousing.
I’ve been throwing standard buggers in olive and black, but also tying a variation I call, “Sloppy Joe.” The reason for the name is two-fold. One, I’m probably the sloppiest fly tyer on the planet. Whatever portion of the brain controls “attention to detail” in things like flies and wrapping Christmas presents, I’m horribly deficient. I guess that’s a bit odd given I’m a designer and extremely anal with the things I create, but flies just don’t seem to be included in that mix. The second part of the name is due to the body of the fly. I’ve been creating some of the bodies using Martha Stewart’s Glitter Eyelash Yarn in sort of a copper/poop color that is somewhat indicative of the weird red haze left in your sloppy joe pan. I’m guessing Martha didn’t have fly tying in mind when she gave the go ahead on this product, just another notch in her belt I suppose? The yarn gives it sort of a wet mop effect, which acts a lot like a craw trailer on a bass jig by slowing the decent rate. Another idea borrowed from my bassin’ brethren, it’s basically a swim jig on a fly rod. “Hell no” goes the purist!
After I swung and missed a few times on the frog I decided to switch to the Sloppy Joe. Sure enough, on the first cast to a nice run, a fish absolutely smoked the fly. It was game on! Clearly this was a big fish, and after a good battle I brought the nocturnal beast to hand. The one man Adrift “production team” has been challenged with shooting fish pics and video by myself lately, and this low light situation is even harder. To get good shots requires as much skill and precision as the fishing itself. Most of the pics of this fish turned out poorly, bummer! Based upon the early bites, I had a feeling it was going to be a good day.
Half the battle over the last week has been precipitation. We’ve had heavy rains every day or two which is killer news after 9 months of dry conditions, but has wreaked havoc on many streams in the short term. Finding water that was clear enough to fish was challenging, but actually the muddy water turned out to be helpful.
The muddy conditions had the fish putting on the feedbag. Look at the wad of worms dangling from the chin of this fish! I had multiple fish spew hoards of crawlers when I landed them. This is evidence of how important the aquatic and earthworm is to the diet of a trout. It’s not just bugs, ladies and gents, and you wonder why I throw the “Pack-o-Twizzlers” fly?
This morning had already turned out to be one of the best in recent memory, but what transpired next was icing on the cake. I cast my fly to the top of a deep cut bank and let it drift down into the bend where it was greeted rudely with a jack hammer-like thud. I reared back to set the hook on what felt like an oversized snapping turtle. After 30 seconds of the fish hugging the bottom I realized I better jump into the stream to take on the beast via hand-to-hand combat. Damn, I wish I would have setup my GoPro camera to capture the fist fight! I’ve taken a break from shooting and editing videos for awhile so I can get back to fishing (wrong day to not shoot video). The next few minutes of battle had me chasing the fish up and down the creek where the fish relentlessly bulldogged me. I couldn’t even raise it to see what I was dealing with. Clearly the opening rounds went to the fish, but ultimately I would have the last laugh. As I lifted the fish in the net, I was mortified with its weight. I’ve caught a number of fish eclipsing the mythical 20″ mark but this beast was in a different category. Let’s just cut the bullshit, I’m just going to show an exorbitant amount of photos of this fish ‘cuz I’m still stoked by the catch.
Let the cavalcade of kype begin!
The beast and I consummated our relationship via a quick photo shoot. I have several pieces of tape on my net handle that give me measurements, but at the beginning of the season I put a tape measure in my chest pack for “special occasions.” I got a precise measurement of the fish and released it back to its lair. The one thing I know is that photos lie. It’s easy to make smaller fish look big and sometimes big fish look small (and everything in between). The recent big brown out of the lower Kinni was open to scrutiny the minute it was posted on the Gray Goat site. On a side note, I am also a fly tying student of Andy’s from many moons ago durning the Bentley’s years, and caught this fish on my Sloppy Joe pattern. Well done on the tutelage Andy (if you ever find your way to my pages)! I’d imagine this fish is at least in a similar stratosphere as the killer Winona Fly Factory haul from earlier this year, but I’ll leave those discussions to the pundits to estimate, congratulate or call bullshit.
I stumbled back to my car in an absolute drunken stupor of big brown euphoria, with a fresh tick bite to keep me wondering if Lyme’s Disease will soon set in?
It’s funny. As I sat in the pre-dawn darkness stalking these fish it took me back to when I was a teenager. Regularly sneaking into a nearby private pond in search of big nighttime topwater bass. These early morning Rambo missions make me feel like I’m a kid again, I won’t grow up, I’ll never grow up, right?
Man, what a long strange trip its been.