The Perfect Storm

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_big_brook_trout_09There has been a healthy dose of hit or miss permeating my daily grind since our last visit. Outside of the angling paradigm, I’ve been stuck in a rut of a different sort lately. 2016 to this point has been little more than a blur of too many 12-20 hour workdays. As if that isn’t bad enough, the j-o-b has been bleeding profusely into the weekends, which tends to wear a guy down. To add insult to injury, the honey-do list has been in full effect. There’s nothing greater than some time on the water to release the pressure buildup. I’ve had the good fortune to be able to escape deeper into the midwest troutin’ abyss for some camping and fishing to clear the cobwebs in recent weeks.

Water conditions have been quite manageable this spring. I’ve been rained out of a few areas, but for the most part streams have been somewhat low and clear. I plotted a course this week, full well knowing that things were about to change. Our run of summertime conditions were about to take a turn for the worse. While legions of brown trout enthusiasts trip over each other looking for the next big thing, I plotted a course for brook trout bliss. It’s no secret in these parts that I’ve been a certified char-o-holic the last few years. I’ve gone through these phases in the past. From bull bluegills to slab crappies, there’s something fascinating about searching for the biggest of the “little fish.” It’s not exactly a Labrador conquest, most midwest brookies have the stature of an Oscar Meyer weiner. I’ve found that there isn’t any one pursuit in angling that can sustain my interest over the course of the long haul. Let’s just speak plainly, I’ve got the attention span of a cocker spaniel. My ever changing angling goals are a simple case of peeling the other layers off of the onion, and brook troutin’ is simply the next layer.

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_big_brook_trout_12adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_big_brook_trout_03adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_big_brook_trout_10I found myself standing knee deep, up shit creek without a paddle so to speak. The morning had started out dry, but you could just see that the sky was about to bust at the seams. I carefully watched the weather forecast and knew I had a limited window of opportunity before my dreams would be washed away for good. If I haven’t mentioned it previously, I love fishing in the rain. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I’m a sucker for adverse weather conditions. A little unpredictability goes a long ways. If I wanted it easy, I’d stick to my weekly game of shuffleboard.

As I worked my way upstream I picked up a few dinks here and there. This action served to keep my attention span from waning, but it wasn’t particularly productive and was smelling like another run of the mill kind of day. I nonchalantly worked my way through a nondescript section of water intermittently firing off casts to lackluster features. At one point I was fairly sure I’d snagged something on the bottom when I realized that it had a pulse. I attempted to horse the fish into sight. When I first set my eyes on it, it looked as if I’d crossed paths with an nomadic northern pike. I’ve caught pike while trout fishing from time to time, so it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility. In the interest of full disclosure, I repeatedly chased a monster Brookie last year that I spied on a popular section of a stream that had the same M.O. I’d seen the fish a few times earlier in the season and eventually hooked into the toad early one morning. adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_pullquote_1He flashed out from a log, grabbed my offering, made a few head shakes and went along his merry way. It was like two ships quietly passing in the night. I never saw the beast again and I’m sure she found her way into the clutches of another lucky angler. This was the first time I’ve had my lucent pike/brookie hallucination. My brain went into cruise control yet again with this latest fish and just automatically perceived it as the tell tale greenish hue of a pike. While this fish was nothing special by global standards, brook trout generally don’t come in that size category in this part of the universe, and my mind automatically wandered to the billion pint-sized pike I’ve battled over the years. Perhaps it’s just the greenish tubular flash of the take. Who the hell knows, the mind works in mysterious ways? Once I got the beast into closer range I realized that it was a quality brookie. Like a finely tuned instrument, I reached back to my sling pack to fetch my trusty landing net. The “oh shit” moment hit me like a ton of bricks. “Where the fuck is my net,” I asked myself in a panic stricken outburst? While going net free is commonplace for some, I’m an ardent subscriber to using one for trout fishing. Especially if you photograph as many fish as I do. It allows the fish swim comfortably while you catch your breath, remove the fly, retrieve your camera etc. It became readily apparent that I was going to have to do this the old fashioned way. I looked for relief from the tall bank to walk the fish into the shallows. I gingerly worked her up to the bank and proceeded to scoop her up via a light craddle maneuver. This is the point where the typical “lose your mind” punch drunk, big fish behavior is full effect. I immediately realized that this fish was worthy of measurement and a few pics. I kneeled down and positioned the fish on my thighs while attempting a quick tape measure and photograph. I was so swept up in the moment that I didn’t realize that my camera settings were all jacked up (see shitty pic above). It’s at this point that the skies opened up into a torrential downpour. It’s as if Prince himself had deemed this moment worthy of celebration. I’ve purified myself numerous times in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, so I guess I’ve earned my stripes. Within seconds my lens (and my psyche) were soaked to the bone. I pulled out my backup first generation GoPro and shot a few self absorbed “man fondles fish” pics in burst mode to commit the moment to eternity. The shoddy, yet strangely appropriate psychedelic results speak for themselves. I’d be remiss in my duties as a citizen of Minneapolis if I didn’t do my part to send Prince off in style. We all have our connection with the purple one. I mean the guy pretty much scored a decent portion of my childhood. The introductory guitar solo of Purple Rain takes me right back to standing on the sidelines (in predictable wallflower fashion) at every school slow dance and roller skating rink I ever attended. In fourth grade I wasn’t exactly sure what business “darling Nikki” had masturbating with a magazine, but Prince sure made me curious. When life gives you lemons in the form of rain-induced blurry fish pictures, why not make lemonade in the form of a laughable Prince tribute?

 

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Occasionally I have to pull myself away from the temptation of the “me, me, me carousel” and look at things through a longer lens. This is one of the reasons I went off the grid and didn’t even carry a camera or tape measure for several years before I started this god foresaken endeavor. From my experience behind every door that you open through your outdoor pursuits, you’ll simply find another door. By that rationale this outing is not one of photographic excellence, or peddling my wares, or some masterpiece of storytelling. It’s simply pounding another stake in the ground. For whatever reason, it will always be appropriately engrained with the surrealist smear of the perfect storm.

 

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Stuck in a Moment

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I’m happy to report that I feel compelled for the first time in a while to tell an actual fishing related story. Not just the lazy camera dump and caption level blog entry that has polluted this site for some time. I had an interesting trip recently that seemed worthy of doing an actual write up. But to simply cut to the chase, that story will not be told in this edition of fishing with Andy. I’ll leave that for another day. Let us continue to plod our way through the flotsam and jetsom of the Adrift universe. This one is a simple case of standing up straight and carrying your own weight. We won’t let a light infestation of Brook Trout gill lice rain on our parade. Because truth be told, there’s nothing like a stout round of Brooks and Browns to cure what ails ya.

 

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But I digress, one of the greatest things about this endeavor beyond the false claims of angling prowess, is when the stars align and you’re able to capture what it’s really all about. Are there any photographers in the house? I tend to become acutely aware of what’s really going on through the “natural light,” often experienced at dusk and dawn (despite my inability to capture and reproduce it in any truly meaningful way). Immersing myself in these moments strips away the varnish of everyday life. It affords me the opportunity to take a deep breath and see the things that aren’t otherwise there. Many of you are probably asking what I’m smoking right now, and that’s a perfectly reasonable inquiry. It’s an each to their own proposition. But when you boil it down to the essentials though my own personal lens. It’s not about what you’re catching, which brands you think are “hip”, or even stockpiling more unnecessary stuff. It’s not about impressing strangers wherever the zeros and ones are flowing, or how you go about your business. It’s about where you’re standing, and the simple fact that you’re even standing at all. Every once in a while your low rent point-and-shoot will do you a favor, and you’ll truly see all that you can’t leave behind.

 

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Like a Hot Knife Through Butter

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Before I can even muster a post on current affairs, it appears as if we’re on cruise control to greener pastures. I’m not going to lie, I stood streamside a few days back and contemplated whether or not I should wet wade this particular stretch of brook trout water. I was simply feeling a little hot under the collar and was looking for relief from the warm afternoon sun. Perhaps wet wading is a bit too aggressive for the task at hand, but is it too much to ask for an old-fashioned Minnesota winter? Not that I’m looking to struggle through the doldrums of an arctic chill, but this mild 2016 has put a serious hamper on my other wintertime activities (namely ice fishing, pond hockey, with a light side of skiing and snowboarding for good measure). But where global warming has proven to shine is in the winter trout angling department. Gone are the days of trifling through deep snow drifts, wicked ice shelves and the incessant picking of ice from your guides. You can simply wait for the next unseasonably warm day to work your magic. And thankfully the snowfall has come in small doses. Maybe it’s time to put those snowshoes on craigslist? Sorry great, great grandchildren your loss of polar ice is ultimately my gain. Let’s just let the extreme weather games play out because as of late the fish have responded in kind. I’ve been fortunate to rack up numbers of good looking Brookies in spades. It’s been an episode of “Attack of the Clones” with the cookie-cutter dark male char as the order of the day. I haven’t even pulled out my camera all that much, because it feels like I’m catching the same fish repeatedly. But I suppose that’s a good problem to have. I mean what else are you going to look at in-between this long-winded dribble?

 

 

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To be, or not to be…

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_winter_17adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_winter_16The world can be a cold and unforgiving place. Peddling your wares on the information superhighway is a tough road to hoe. You tend to tear yourself wide open to scrutiny. Sure, the digital high fives stroke your ego when it’s all going well, but the ebb and flow of zeros and ones eventually lead to the Willy Loman moment where you question what it’s really all about? As I’ve stated ad nauseam, I tend to fall into the “reluctantly engaged” category with a light side of misanthrope. Once you actually break through the digital veil I tend to be much more normal than I let on. Sometimes my writing strikes a chord, other times it falls flat on its face. Not to mention my willingness to express opinions with an artificially injected highfalutin ego (just for good measure). The somewhat heated commentary following my last post highlights the risk in “putting it all out there.” At the end of the day this place is more of a personal journal than anything else, but I’m glad to have anyone on board who finds amusement in my journey. Truth be told, my reporting last season was incomplete at best. I neglected to write or photograph a good portion of my efforts (not to mention I left a handful of posts cued up in WordPress, but chose not to publish my findings). These installments represent a small cross-section of leftovers. Like many of you, I fill up my hard drive with hundreds of frames of angling photos every year. Upon further review they come out good, bad and otherwise, but only scratch the surface here on the blog. I always test my cameras before I’m on the water. My trusty first generation GoPro with its VIC-20 like intuitiveness is always good for an inadvertent selfie, or two.

 
 

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While You Were Away…

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_01I’ve had a significant case of writer’s block in the gap since my last post. I’ve had scads of images queued up for months in a handful of entries that just haven’t come to fruition. Fish and fishing has come and gone with little more than a few handheld fish shots to bear witness. The truth of the matter is that I hit it pretty hard to finish up the 2015 fall campaign. I was never convinced that I had any stories strong enough spin into a full length feature. But enough of the sad sack apologies, this is a new year with new challenges ahead. Like most of my local brethren, I’m super stoked that Wisconsin has evolved from the dark ages to allow for winter trout fishing. So with that in mind, I’ll unload some of the unpublished bits and pieces to stoke the fire a bit before diving into any winter trip reports. I need to flush this backlog of effluent from the pipes before loading new content into the system.

 

 

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The Hurt Locker

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_02My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. After gauging the level of dissatisfaction amongst the passengers in my vehicle, I have unilaterally adopted a strategy to completely eradicate the lingering musk. While it is true we are not completely out of the woods in the waning days of the inland trout season, significant measures have been taken to put us on the road to recovery. In the interest of full disclosure it is a statement of fact that my days on the water were limited until recently. I’ve been locked in a mental box. The pain and discomfort associated with my aforementioned malady, made it so I couldn’t even wear my sling pack for a period of time, not to mention fly casting. More to the point, nothing says that your “shit stank” like the ubiquitous Pine Tree air freshener. Mrs. Adrift is so embarrassed by the ultimate beacon of feculence that adorns my ride that she takes it down every time she drives my car. But that’s half the fun of it anyway. The irony of my predicament is that I actually run a pretty tight ship when it comes to automotive cleanliness. A wicked cocktail of leaky waders and a muddy dog as co-pilot is the likely culprit, but at this point tests prove inconclusive. The good news is that angling battle stations have been mostly operational for a few weeks, and I’ve endeavored to get while the gettin’s good.

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brown_trout_08adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brook_trout_03adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_grasshopper_hopper_01adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brook_trout_04adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_whitewater_01adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brown_trout_07adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brook_trout_05adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_hurt_locker_01I’m not going to spin any lengthy yarn with this one, just throw down a smattering of frames that have been queued up for some time. There’s been a glacially slow movement towards offering up a regular stream of bite size nuggets via my currently minuscule Instagram account, but that’s to be expected. I’m often guilty of dancing with myself. Truth be told, I’m more Ted Kaczynski than Ted Turner in my isolationist social media tendencies. A small cabin in Montana sounds pretty damn good now doesn’t it?

After being sidelined it feels pretty good to be back on the horse as we transition into autumn. As best I can tell the fish, like the leaves, are quite a bit behind schedule. I’ll attempt to fill the mental tank before ultimately being frozen out and switching to off-season activities. As much as I’d like to blame man’s best friend (Abe) for my aromatic abnormality, my nasty little habit of wearing my leaky waders while driving between spots has cost me dearly. I may try to masquerade things with the sweet smell of Margarita, but I honestly don’t know if my vehicle with ever be the same. The ripple effect of injury and effluent can put you into a tailspin, but I’m happy to report that there is light at the end of the hurt locker.

 

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Guilt by Association

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_01The jury is still out on a number of fronts. As I attempted to “take it easy” for the better part of August I made the wise decision to reinvest my dividends. Yup, it’s about that time of year where I put the boy front and center. The old makin’ lemons from lemonade mantra is in full effect. My back still isn’t up to snuff, so I’ve been shying away from hours of hauling big flies on big rods. Many like to dabble towards the other end of the spectrum by dangling microscopic offerings from little more than an overpriced willow branch. adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_pullquote_01I must be stricken with a Napoleonic fishing complex, because I can “overcompensate” with the best of them, but that’s neither here nor there. Family centric posts of this magnitude are likely better served up to loved ones via Facebook for the guaranteed “like”.  That just isn’t my speed. I’m little more than a social media wallflower waiting to be plucked from the ditch along the information superhighway. But more to the point, I’m not about to take my foot off the gas on this long term project. Make no mistake, there is a war raging in the hearts and minds of parents and kids everywhere, and it revolves around one simple question. How do I get my kids off of their butts and off of the fucking electronics? Their lives (like ours), is a barren wasteland of iPads, iPods and any other number force fed entertainment devices. How is the simple beauty of a spring creek waterfall every going to compete with World of Warcraft? As best I can tell, there is no easy answer. I’m determined to pay it forward by committing more boots to the ground. Untether those whipper snappers from the chains that bind, and attempt to get lost in the outdoors. 

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_03adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_02adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_07adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_06adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_19We have taken a few end of summer troutin’ excursions. I even managed to get Ava out for an afternoon session, but she wasn’t game for this larger camping expedition. Jack was more than happy to oblige. This sort of endeavor often allows me to kill two birds with one stone. You can indulge in another sliver from the Driftless pie by exploring new water, and make some memories while you’re at it. But as I revealed in my previous installments of father and son camping, there are limits to what you can accomplish. I’ve found that the rough and tumble world of spring creek fishing can be too rugged for Jack. Sometimes I have to remind myself to see the world through his eyes. I suppose if I was eyeball to eyeball with a thick batch of wild parsnip, I might also reconsider the merits of this form of recreation. The best course of action is to concentrate your efforts on easy walking pasture stretches, golf course style habitat improvement areas, and a healthy dose of bridge hopping. This isn’t my preferred way to break down trout water, but it isn’t all about me. Standing spitting distance from miles of choice fly water, but being unable to fully fish it can be a tough pill to swallow. I drove past productive spots that I’ve fished in the past and I couldn’t help but wonder what lies beneath? We tried a little wet wading, but Jack isn’t tall enough yet, nor does he really have the stamina to undertake an entire stretch of water. Would it be considered child endangerment to leave your son at a bridge while his old man explores a quickie round of brook trout bliss? But seriously, every year we go fishing Jack’s attention span seems to increase. We popped in on a few marginal areas that I hoped would connect him with a giant. On his first cast he nabbed a beautiful, dark-colored brookie. A few minutes later fate took a left turn and netted him a smallish largemouth bass. He’s learning at a young age what exploring “chub water” is all about.

 

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_18adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_17adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_09adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_10adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_11We bounced around to a few different bridges with little success. I decided we’d better make a run further south to a stream I have never fished, but would put us closer to a few different camping options for the night. We popped in on a habitat improvement section that was surprisingly manageable for Jack to walk and wade. I’ve been outspoken about the over usage and lack of creativity found in many stream improvement projects. I obviously support the idea of making our coldwater resources better, but many stream designs have a sameness to them that simply seems overcooked. Predictable little fake lunker bunkers that might as well have a sign saying “Catch Fish Here –>”. In golfing terms, it’s like you’re playing the same poorly conceived hole over and over again. Why even bother to play different courses when we’re making them all the same? Or more to the point, much of the H.I. in these parts is like a case of excessive plastic surgery gone bad. adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_pullquote_02I get it. In theory it’s supposed to be about the fish, and not the fisherman, and “playability” probably doesn’t enter into the “make waters better” lexicon, but I think in some instances less can be more. Why is the default position always to give a stream the complete arsenal of cosmetic procedures, when sometimes just a little nip and tuck will suffice? But I digress, Jack and I worked a few hundred yards of some of the better habitat improvement work that I’ve seen. I was happy to see that they left many of the native wood features and streamside trees in tact. After a slow start we started to pick up a steady stream of respectable brookies. We were having so much fun fishing and collecting grasshoppers that time got away from us. I uncharacteristically underestimated how quickly the sun sets this late in summer, and I would ultimately pay the price for my propensity to “wing it.” I wasn’t exactly sure where we were going to camp for the night and got slightly lost in our quest to find our camping accommodations. Eventually we found our way and got set for the usual round of campfire tomfoolery. The high point of our afternoon had been to select a candidate for harvest. When it comes to trout I’m largely a catch and release fisherman, but Jack insists upon cooking one up on the fire, which is just fine by me. Earlier in the day we looked for a few stocker Bows, but were unsuccessful in our efforts. We decided to sacrifice a decent brookie from his woody lair for the traditional consumption ritual. Like most boys of his age group, half the fun of it is the biological dissection portion of the equation.

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_12adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_13adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_14adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brook_trout_02adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_22adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_16 adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_15adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_05 adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_04adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_pike_01adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_21adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_23We awoke in the morning to find ourselves socked in by thick layer of Driftless fog. The task at hand was to break down camp then hit the road for a morning adrift amongst the rural landscape. After a solid round the day before we elected to look at a few more access points on the same creek, and were not disappointed. No monsters came to hand, but quality fish were very easy to come by on the most predictable of kid friendly locations. At one point we spied a deep bridge pool on the main stem of of larger river that is believed to hold big browns. It was just downstream from a small brookie feeder, so I hoped there would be some colder water to draw them in. Like the largemouth bass from the day before, we were given the warmwater curveball. A big slimer emerged from the hole to engulf the offering. Jack hasn’t worked his way up to handling bigger pike so I quickly held the fish up for a pic, before she managed to flop out of my hands and snap the line.

I’m just as guilty as your average bloke. Some of my good and bad habits tend to rub off on Jack. I’ve got a propensity to have less than desirable dietary habits when I’m on the road. I often just eat crap, then get back to the fishing. At one point he asked me if he could dine from the “rollers of death” and I obliged by letting him snatch a hot dog from the infamous local gas station concessions. It remains to be seen if my investment in father and son fishing trips will turn Jack into a lifelong outdoorsman or even a fly fisherman for that matter, and that’s okay. It’s honestly more about the quality time than any master plan. But the early returns indicate that he’s guilty by association.

 

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No Right Turn

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Let me just cut to the chase. I’ve been placed on injured reserve, and have been languishing there for the better part of August. I’ve got a neck and back injury that has prevented me from fully participating in any official angling activities. It all started with the infamous “I can’t turn my head to the right” scenario and escalated from there. I’m your sterotypical male that foolishly avoids medical intervention at all costs. I generally suffer through any ailment with little or no complaints. The fact that I’m even discussing a health issue affirms that sad truth that the tread on the tires can wear thin. Usually I just plod my way through the pain and eventually everything returns to normal. Neck and back pain is something that I’ve wrestled with from time to time, but probably not any more than your average Joe. Years ago I fished a bass tournament in its entirety unable to turn my head to right, but I didn’t let that rain on my parade. A few weeks ago in my usual display of stubbornness I decided to temp fate yet again. I was taking out the garbage one afternoon and a giant hopper just stared me in the face. The friendly little fella reminded that we’re knee deep in terrestrial season, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_015adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brown_trout_03Much to the chagrin of the purist, my strategy would contain a contingency plan utilizing spinner gear as a backup. I’ve had a plethora of symptoms emblematic of a pinched nerve which has been wreaking havoc on my casting shoulder. I wasn’t sure it would hold up to the wear and tear of fly casting my standard flies. The reason I largely stick to writing about fly fishing for trout on this site is a question of audience. It’s a conscious effort to not mix church and state, despite the fact that chasing trout with the long rod is my favorite way to “skin the cat.” In some angling circles oil and water just don’t mix, but let’s be honest here, foolin’ fish is simply foolin’ fish no matter which reel you choose to strap to your rod. Let me say it this way, you can remove the Zebco 202 from the boy, but you can’t remove the boy from the Zebco 202 (as much as some might try). Embrace your past, I choose to put my pants on one leg at a time. We all learned to walk before we ran. If it wasn’t clear in the thousands of words displayed here that I often incorporate conventional concepts into my fly strategies. When I sit down to tie I often think of the available forage, popular fly patterns, and even the spincasting equivalent. What have others considered to solve this challenge? It’s the simple question of what triggers a fish to eat? It’s not about it being easy, it’s about making a better mousetrap. The difference is in the delivery mechanism. I can’t help but utilize the shotgun approach, it’s practically imprinted into my DNA. Don’t you just wonder why a Rapala “just works,” or what’s the magic behind the ubiquitous Panther Martin spinner? Even the worm dunker who kicks ass doin’ his thang on your local waters should be worthy of strategic analysis, not acrimony. adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_pullquote_02There’s a fair chance that many of you don’t support my approach, and the agree to disagree mantra may be in full effect. The creek fishing of my youth was steeped in the usual tactics. In my household we had fly rods and spinning rods and never thought much about it. My favorite childhood lure was a chartreuse buzzbait for largemouth bass on local lakes. I was fascinated by the abstract chunk of metal with the strange propellor and unnatural color scheme that flawlessly coaxed fish into explosive takes. That’s the reason why I still love the nostalgic sound of a large trout crushing a big foam fly. It’s not a coincidence that the big double “deceiveresque” pattern I’ve been throwing lately is evocative of a firetiger jerkbait. I truly believe that open-minded admiration of all angling methodologies helps me be a more effective, and well-rounded streamer fisherman. I’m perfectly okay with blurring the lines between disciplines. It’s not meant as a replacement to the core aquatic insect approach to fly fishing. There’s still nothing cooler than watching a adept nympher diagnose the situation and skillfully dissect a run. Some people like to turn over rocks for answers, others like to throw meat. And isn’t that what’s great about America? For me it’s always been about playing to my strengths while adding a new dimension to my approach. As I’ve said countless times before, why let the spin anglers have all the fun?

Enough of the long-winded soapbox diatribe, let’s get back to the task at hand.

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brown_trout_09I have a hard time doing nothing. Despite my current physical limitations I decided to try a low impact outing to see how things went with my back. I started the morning by throwing flies and managed two decent, but not spectacular fish. After putting a few notches on my belt I moved to a different spot and decided to give my shoulder a rest by scouting a new section of water utilizing the spinning rod. I arrived at the bridge crossing still early in the AM to find that I had the spot all to myself. I quickly found that a soft underhand pitch seemed significantly less taxing than my full flycast. I worked my way upstream at a good clip more interested in surveying the water for future assaults rather than carefully picking it apart. After an hour of wading a pair of anglers popped out of the woods and proceeded to work the run directly upstream of my location. When I gave them a hearty “good mornin’ fellas” they seemed to be caught off guard by my presence. adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_pullquote_01I hadn’t heard them walking up the bank around me, and they certainly didn’t wade up behind me, so I asked them if they had been working upstream from me the entire time. They responded with a wishy washy answer that I didn’t quite understand. I was simply trying to determine if I had been hitting “sloppy seconds” spots right behind them, which might explain my lackluster results. I then came to the realization that they had likely taken a short cut well away from the creek through a complicated series of woods, barbed wire fences and a farmer’s field to cut in front of me. Clearly they had underestimated how far and fast I had moved upstream. This dilemma brought the usual questions of streamside etiquette to the forefront. Our conflicting goals had us both looking to fish the same stretch of water. Is the unspoken rule first come, first serve? Did I have the right to continue upstream unimpeded, or was I supposed to acquiesce to the guys on the Rambo mission attempting to cheat me out of the spot? I decided to compromise and tell them that I planned proceed as far upstream as the next farm house then turnaround and head back to my car. They agreed and said they’d hike further up to give me my space. To my dismay after another 5 minutes of working upstream I realized that they had just walked out of sight then popped back into the creek just upstream from me again. I wasn’t interested in the backwoods brawl, and my heart wasn’t really in it anyway. So I folded my tent by going back to my car to reevaluate my life. Do nice guys always finish last? Needless to say, I didn’t jam my pocket knife into their truck’s tire, but the thought definitely crossed my mind.

 

 

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adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brown_trout_07adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_iowa_01After a lukewarm start to the day I couldn’t help but switch back to the fly rod and attempt to put a few more fish under my belt. The bite wasn’t fast and furious by any stretch of the imagination, but I tangled with a few Brookies. There was one noteworthy encounter that I’ll likely spin into a yarn another day. I was encouraged that physically I felt pretty good following my morning on the water, but my body was giving me a red herring. I would pay dearly for my transgressions. The next morning I woke up and was barely able to get out of bed. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I “cried” in a literal sense, but Mrs. Adrift said something to the effect, “I’ve never seen you like that,” followed by a short discussion about the pains involved with child birth. It’s as if I’d been stabbed in the back a second time in as many days. I’ve often wondered what people meant when they use the phrase “my back is out”, but I’ve now learned that lesson the hard way. I spent the better part of the next week in fairly significant pain, even reduced to sleeping on our hardwood floors for parts of the night. I’m not sure why, but that was the only way I could find relief? I briefly considered and dismissed a Brett Favre style addiction to painkillers to soothe what ails me. Perhaps I’ll stick to dreaming of icy cold waters for escape.

I’m a few weeks into limited duty, and I’ve seen some improvement, but it seems like I may have some professional intervention in the very near future (if I finally pull my head out of my ass). I was driving back from a funeral in Iowa last week which gave me plenty of time to consider the task at hand. At this point I’m not sure if this malady will continue to put a serious cramp in my angling style, or even end my season for that matter. But one thing I know for certain is that a little dose of troutin’ is better than none. If I have to be reduced to short rod duty for awhile then so be it. Whether I deprive myself of all fishing for the longer term good, or I choose to recklessly exercise my demons. There’s no right turn.

 

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Crossing the Line

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brook_trout_19I offer up this grainy pic as the only testament to one of the high points of my summer. It wasn’t a great morning for any angling specific reasons, this is more of an aesthetic high five. I meandered my way through a series of foreign valleys in preparation for an early morning raid. Thick bands of fog greeted me as I dropped in and out of each coulee. I half heartedly looked for a good vista to snap a nicer pic, but honestly I was too giddy to worry too much about photographic results. A quick iphone shot in transit will have to suffice. I’ve never been one to get particularly sappy about nature, or offer up some spiritual or philosophical bluster. I’ll simply say that there’s a handful of times per year that I find myself awestruck by the beauty of nature, and this was one of those times. There’s just something extraordinary about watching the morning fog burn off of the Driftless landscape.

I plotted a course for a specific beat on a creek that I’ve contemplated hitting for some time. Like most angling zealots, my to-do list is a never-ending series of unfulfilled promises. There are a few streams that I failed to explore during my Staycation Brookie saga earlier this summer, and I’m hellbent on finishing the task at hand. At this point in the season I’d imagine that these posts are as stale as week old bread, and that’s okay by me. I’m utilizing this space as a log book as much as anything, and it’s worth reminding myself that this thing is a marathon not a sprint. So I’d expect this pattern may repeat itself for some time.  

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brook_trout_21adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brook_trout_09It’s almost laughable to think that my eagerly anticipated destination was this subpar stretch of water. This out of bounds gem is a little rough around the edges and not even designated trout water. Like the clumsy kid on the playground who is picked last in a game of kickball, this crick wasn’t deemed worthy of inclusion. When tackling water of this caliber, you just never really know what you’ll find. You expect the worst and hope for the best. I’ve learned from experience that you’ll miss much more than you’ll hit on this proposition, but that’s half the fun of it anyway.

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_brook_trout_pullquote_01I popped into the early morning drink and immediately noticed a telltale diarrhea colored stain to the water. There was a squall line of showers that raced through the area the day before that I hoped didn’t wreak too much havoc. But like the majority of my outings this summer I was forced to contend with deteriorating water conditions. At best, most area streams are running full, at worst they’ve been virtually unfishable. Part of me actually longs for marginally low and clear summer conditions, but if it wasn’t evident by my last post I’ve fondly grown to accept such shortcomings. I quickly adjusted to the task at hand and began to work my way upstream at a good clip. I knew by reviewing maps in advance that there was an awful lot of poor habitat in-between quality holes. After 20 minutes of marching I arrived at the first reasonable bit of deeper water. I opted to do a little prospecting with my version of an Eggi Won Kenobi which adds a big tungsten bead and swaps out the yarn for an estaz egg (big surprise). After a few casts I had a nibble from an unknown inhabitant, but failed to hookup. After patiently scouring the zone I managed to identify the culprit, by securing an insignificant little creek chub into my evil clutches. Admittedly a small shadow of doubt cast over me like a light breeze. Not to be dissuaded I continued to work the deep corner bend, surprised that it didn’t have more to offer. After a few more drifts I managed a second smallish, but more meaningful adversary. A run of the mill Brook Trout came to hand, confirming what I suspected all along. There were in fact trout to be had in these parts.
adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brook_trout_01dadrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brook_trout_12adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brook_trout_06adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brook_trout_16adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brook_trout_07I proceeded upstream through a series of bends that provided decent but not spectacular habitat. It mattered little as I began to pick up a reasonable number of average-sized fish. I fired a cast to an inconsequential looking midstream log when I noticed a more formidable trout swing and miss. Without missing a beat I went right back at the belly of the beast and managed a solid take. After a few rounds of beating each other up, I snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by scooping up the football-shaped beast into my net. After losing my favorite landing net back in June, I decided to restring this one with a Brodin Ghost Bag. It was a gift from a family friend a few years ago, but I have rarely used it because it didn’t have a tangle free net. Problem solved. This humpbacked Brookie had an impressive kype to body ratio and must have some serious largemouth bass running through it’s DNA. Consider the new net christened.

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brook_trout_17adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brook_trout_08adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brook_trout_15adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brook_trout_05badrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brook_trout_14adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_brook_trout_11bI spent the remainder of the morning plying every nook and cranny for all it’s worth. The bite was strong for the first few hours before bluebird skies and rising temps began to cool things off a bit. It was a highwire act between fishable and overly muddy water conditions. Once again riding the line with suspect water clarity proved to bear fruit. I managed to photograph the first few fish, before deeming the act redundant and unnecessary. Most spots held small to medium-sized fish, but I managed a half-dozen tank Brookies on the best spots. In an unusual turn of events, apparently taking a shot in the dark will meet or exceed your expectations. Funny concept, huh? Needless to say I’ve already began plotting my next foray into this neck of the woods.

I stepped out of the stream at one bridge crossing and was struck by the array of artistic exuberance. In the spirit of truck stop bathrooms, the Sistine Chapel of phallic expression adorned every inch of the crossing, and not everything would be considered in the spirit of good taste. It’s the old school journalistic ethic in me that feels the need report such travesties. Truth be told, I find the youthful dialogue to be immensely amusing. Some shit changes, while other angst filled diatribes seem to remain the same. When searching for a blank canvas to paint your master piece, or just a little slice of Brook Trout heaven, sometimes you simply need to cross the line.

 

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Filthy

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_007adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_008adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_005Like any good trout bum worth their salt I’ve found myself glued to weather reports, river gauges and other meteorological what not lately. The roller coaster of fluctuating water levels has been impressive this summer. Without strict adherence to the information provided, one could certainly find themselves up shit creek. Significant rain events seem to have a strange way of both repelling and attracting people at the same time. Wiser people than myself tend to steer clear of high water. I’ve got a nasty little habit of probing the dirtiest depths of muddy water in search of angling nirvana. To go, or not to go, that is the question.

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_012adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_014adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_015adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_02adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_04adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_013adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_021adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_019Fishing in the mud can be an exercise in futility. It’s a low percentage game for sure, but it’s like swinging for the fences. If the stars are aligned you’ll find the apex trout in the system vulnerable to your offerings. They abandon the comfort of the usual hidey hole and move into shallows where you’d never even bother to cast under normal conditions. There’s nothing like a muddy veil to reassure even the most fickle trout that he’s safe from predation. It’s a reliable pattern on creeks far and wide. Most of the time I find myself a day late and a dollar short (or overly anxious by jumping the gun). But when you time it just right it can be good. I like to throw something big and gaudy or try to match the hatch by representing something washing into the creek. Given the amount of precipitation we’ve had this year, it’s been a bumper crop of quality brooks and browns on unfamiliar turf. The endorphins flow like Donald Trump’s comb over following a stout round. With that being said, the stupid expression on my face is enough to avoid the self absorbed grip-n-grin selfie for the foreseeable future.

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_009adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_011adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_016adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_010adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_004The dog days are ahead dead to rights. But that’s just code for peak terrestrial season in my book (or tricos if that’s your drink of choice). Phrases like “back to school, NFL training camp and the great Minnesota get together” have entered the lexicon. Which on some level signals the beginning of the end. But let there be no shame in your game. Like the bottom falling out of a nasty slider, sometimes you have to give them a healthy dose of the filthy stuff.

 

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Staycation

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_27adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_11adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_28Is there anything better than the much anticipated summer vacation? When shopping angling destinations, it’s like a trip to Baskin-Robbins with too many flavors and too little time. Variety is the spice of life, and traveling provides an opportunity to get outside of the familiar. We go to places far and wide that offer up something that is missing in our daily grind. In flyover country fly anglers often head to higher ground, or even higher latitudes in search of angling bliss. Our Middle West manifest destiny finds us wetting our lines throughout the Mountain West or crossing into enemy territory for a healthy dose of Canadian bacon. Stories from Canadian fishing trips are recalled with the ferver a boy who has just seen his first magic act. The irony of this behavior is that the “fishing heaven” that I longed for in my youth was actually Minnesota. The land of 10,000 lakes had everything that Eastern Iowa didn’t. I occasionally have to remind myself of how good we have it in these parts. Excellent angling is around every corner if you chose to embrace it.

A few months ago I found myself surfing plane tickets in search of the next big thing. Invites to Idaho, a mad dash to Montana or Colorado were considered and dismissed. Am I in the mood for Rocky Road or Strawberry Cheesecake? Ultimately I settled on the notion of a road trip. My road trips tend to differ from the norm. I like to circle a loose collection of destinations on the map and “wing it.” The cardinal rule of road trip fishing is that there are no rules. You can throw the creature comforts right out the window, because there are no preconceived reservations in swanky hotels, cabins or lodges. Half the fun of it is that you start every morning not knowing where you will end up at the end of the day. In my younger days I’d often find myself in some hole-in-the-wall bar, but those are stories for another day. Now it’s more about the angling. It’s part Easy Riders, part Babe Winklemen and the fish are your only guide. If you’re on a good bite, you stick around, otherwise you move on to the next dot on the map. The idea is simply to roll with the punches and play the hand you’re dealt, as opposed to the templated fishing adventure where you’re being told where to fish and what to cast.

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_brook_trout_pullquote_01My original plan was head up the north shore of Superior for 3 or 4 days to mine the resident trout and char of northern Minnesota and Northwestern Ontario. I still have brook trout on the brain, and who doesn’t want to go to the land of the giants? Anglers everywhere are drawn to the region for the last stronghold of Coaster brook trout and Nipigon behemoths. This region harbors the brand of brookies that are hard to find these days. As my window of opportunity drew closer I began to have second thoughts about the original plan. I don’t know what it is, but just going up to Nipigon and fishing out of my boat on big water for a monster brook trout feels like a simple transaction. Is it just too easy? Shouldn’t a real trophy be earned not bought? Perhaps if I can muster up a finer fish than Dr. Cook’s I’ll feel better about the proceedings. I mean this in a respectful manor, because I’m an ardent “each to their own” kind of guy, but “the internets” are already filled with lemming anglers looking for their Nipigon trophies. The allure of this proposition is almost overwhelming. It’s like waving a big white rock under the nose of a raging crack addict, but I wasn’t so sure I wanted to join that club. Truthfully, I only have one whopper Coaster under my belt from years ago. I have misplaced the photo through the last few computer changes. At this point it almost feels like it never happened. For better or worse, I decided that my north shore journey would be better served towards the end of the season when colored up Coasters and bull Brookies can be found in a variety of locations. I’ll likely get over my hangups and scratch the itch another time. Though, I literally stood in my garage loading up my tent, cooler and a small cache of gear not knowing where I was going. “Do I need my bigger rods with sink tips for Canada or should I opt for something else,” I asked myself?

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_30 adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_31 adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_32adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_09adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_24adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_10adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_33After a quick map survey I conceived a paired down plan to stick closer to home and fish the creeks that I never seem to have enough time to hit. You know the places that I am talking about. They are just a little bit longer drive, and less of a “sure thing” than many of our favorites. It takes a rock solid constitution to cross a half a dozen streams that you know fish well to go for the crapshoot. The risk/reward proposition seems to keep these less popular destinations as “what ifs.” I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t give a shout out to the Lewis & Clark of this entire proposition. Humphrey & Shogren’s seminal work on this region is still relevant decades after it’s original release. Nice work fellas! I don’t actually reference the book as much these days since I’ve practically worn mine out, but the spirit of their adventures live on in the next generation of midwest troutin’ diehards.

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_29Have I mentioned that good things come in small packages? Generally speaking everything about spring creek Brook Troutin’ is smaller. Smaller rods, smaller offerings, smaller results. On the flip side the rewards can be big. After hours of picking through candy bar sized trout, if you’re lucky enough to find a “big one” you’ll feel like you just hooked into Jaws. Those “big ones” are actually small ones by other standards, which that alone is worth the price of admission. But bigger isn’t always better. You just gotta love the patterns and coloration of Brook Trout. Usually it’s the little guys that stop you in your tracks.

I logged more miles than I’d care to admit and not everything came up roses. The rain has been fairly relentless recently and it wreaked havoc on a handful of places that I wanted to fish. I found just enough clear water on a few streams to muster up a good number of quality trout, with a few exceptional fish. The fishing was good enough that I didn’t even bother to photograph most of what I saw. There’s only so many times you can hold a Brookie up to a camera without it becoming a silly proposition. This will be our little secret, but I did break from the plan and throw Sulpher dries mixed with a round of late night mousing/topwater for big Browns one evening, but let’s not change course at this point.

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_15adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_14adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_08badrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_17adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_38The older I get the less I seem to be able to fully go all “Christopher McCandless” on the bit. By and large I am living out of my car for the duration of a road trip. I was so tired one evening that I sat in my car eating a roast beef sandwich at midnight, lamenting the loss of my trusty landing net. I searched my DeLorme for the nearest campground or wayside rest area. After driving for the better part of an hour, I rudely rolled into an empty campsite and curled up in the back of my car for a rocky night’s sleep. Echoes of an unhappy baby rang out throughout the wee hours of the morning. Not exactly the peace and solitude that I had in mind, but these are the pitfalls that come with this type of helter-skelter endeavor. Let us continue the jam-packed processional of pics.

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_01badrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_19adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_02adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_37adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_26adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_34adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_25adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_20adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_22There’s nothing like a little dirt under your fingernails to recharge the batteries. The constant juggling of work, family and other complications can cramp your angling style. The urgency of reality beckons us back like the snap of a wet towel. It regularly hampers my ability to truly scratch beneath the surface to the seedy underbelly of brook trout country. The narrative containing grandiose plans at exotic locales will be saved for another day. To a certain extent I’m offering you up yet another cookie cutter canter, but let us not underestimate the value of the staycation.

 

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Funny Math

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_17adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_18adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_19It’s time to get while the gettin’s good. And the gettin’ is good in these parts. At this point the transition to summertime troutin’ tendencies is complete. I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who’s full of hot air. Today’s little heat wave is a far cry from the morning chills I experienced recently. The daytime highs have been moderate, but I opted to give it a go on one of the coldest morning’s in recent memory. One should never underestimate Mother Nature, but I’m prone to rash decisions. I found myself shivering in the icy cold waters of spring creek delirium, with only a thin layer of breathable fabric to reduce the shrinkage. Not to be dissuaded, I plodded forward in typical binge and purge fashion, ignoring the fact that my teeth were chattering like an age old teletype machine. Let’s not let little things like hypothermia get in the way of our quest for numerological know-how.

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_27adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_16Despite that fact that we’re knee deep in our orgy of dry fly antics, my mind has prematurely wondered towards the giant bugs of terrestrial season. I’ve probably been spending more time tying than casting, and that’s a problem in itself. I’ve secretly been pulling out the vise and constructing new monstrosities meant to test my meddle. Some may see air time, others will be sent to the dust bin of bad ideas. Putting your own spin on a known quantity is half the fun of it anyway. The results portion of the equation have yet to be written.

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_04adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_09adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_brook_trout_31Since we’re talkin’ tactics, I figured I’d follwup on the Brookie bonanza from earlier posts. The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray, but the latest batch of flies and strategies have been paying dividends in the form of a smattering of quality fish. The curiously unnamed pink fly has done some serious damage. Perhaps we shall call her a “double-bubble” #10 Bubblicious? Somewhere between my Strawberry Twizzlers fly and a Pink Squirrel lies this double tungsten bomb-beaded blasphemy. No need to get your panties in a twist over the material choices folks, she’s all artificial. A light round of R&D tells me that if you want to increase the durability, but sacrifice some action you can substitute the current tail with chenille, but it’s all cheatin’ in the minds of some I suppose. Perhaps thoraxes, dubbed bodies and legs comprised of space age components are okay, but not plastisol tails? I don’t really follow any prescribed conventions when it comes to fly tying, so everything is fair game in my pea-sized brain. I’ll leave the unspoken rules of proper fly roddin’ to those in the know. I’m just full of contradictions, but the truth remains that good ol’ Bubblicious has worked as good, if not better than I’d hoped. I’ve been delinquent in furnishing you with any angling action lately, so I’ll just offer up this murderer’s row of finned foes and then we can proceed to go about our business.

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_24cadrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_08adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_21adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_03adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_20adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_02adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_22adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_14adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_26 adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_01adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_trout_25Why are we so entrapped by a game of numbers? The true measure of a man can’t be found in a simple spreadsheet or at the long end of a ruler. If I wanted to keep score, I’d be swinging the sticks on the golf course. It’s not that I’m immune to amassing quantities of quality fish. I like big fish and a good bite as much as the next guy. How many fish did I catch on this morning? It was somewhere exactly between “a lot” and “many”, but I can’t be 100% sure. Heck, I have a favorite corner bend that I throw Sulphers on ’til the cows come home, but truthfully I’m simply out to put one in the mental win column. Sometimes the simple arithmetic of religiously counting fish, or measuring every catch to within a micron can be almost too much for me to bear. Is more really more? Going fishing and not fervently keeping score is addition by subtraction in my estimation. I never liked math class, and I’m not about to start now. It’s all about the experience by matching wits with something that is wholly uncontrollable. Not to mention the silence, ahh the simple beauty of utter silence. So get out there and get while the gettin’s good (the numbers are there for the taking). There’s no question that I’m often guilty of using some “funny logic,” but in this case it’s simply that I find the math to be the funniest part of this whole equation.

 

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Get the Lead Out

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I feel compelled to make up for my last post. I was exhausted following a few days of fishing and was just too lazy to recount the ups and downs of steelheading bliss. I will endeavor to make up for my shortcomings by giving you some tactical tidbits in this post. Tactics and tying don’t make up a great deal of my rhetoric for good reason. As I’ve stated previously I’m no great mind in the world of fly tying, and my skill set leaves something to be desired. But why let my limited repertoire rain on your parade? I simply utilize a personalized approach that works for me. I love a hatch as much as the next guy, but I see no point in discussing my elk hair caddis pattern because it’s well traveled turf. I’d rather chat about my hairbrained schemes. At the core I’m constantly experimenting and can find inspiration from a variety of sources. Towards the end of last season I broke from my usual fluff and actually offered up a little bit of insight into my madness. I shared with you my “Little Boy” heavyweight bugger. The thing is a XL sized tank and mostly inappropriate when mining for char. I’ve adapted the thinking behind this fly for brook troutin’ duties. Not that these flies won’t work for browns, it’s just that I’ve got a soft spot for the little guys, and I’ve been on a brookie binge lately. I’m keying on some ultra deep pools that can be found on some prime brook trout streams. From an approach standpoint my tightline tactics have been dominating the landscape. I find myself using a modified Czech nymphing approach and less of the traditional nymph rigs that are prone to tangle and snag. I’ve grown to prefer a direct connection with my offering as opposed to being hampered by a series of floats, split shots and point flies. Here’s a rag tag cross section of flies that have gotten air time over the last few weeks.  I’m constantly refining my designs. The challenge has been in creating a fly that will plummet into the deepest of pools, but remain compact. Weight is the critical link to mastering strike detection using this approach. I’ve tried any number of tricks. You name it, barbell eyes, beads, lead wire all have been used, and regularly I use all of them in one pattern. Tungsten bomb beads have become a mainstay in my arsenal, and one just doesn’t seem to be enough in some applications. You’ll see that I frequently employ a double-beaded version. Sure I could throw a change up and go with the sinking line route, but where’s the fun in that? I’m a tinkerer by nature and prefer the heavy fly highsticking routine.

 



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Let’s not kid ourselves. It’s not like brook troutin’ is rocket science. A quality brown trout worth his salt can be fickle enough to fray your nerves. It’s like they have just a touch of muskie to them. That’s not the case with most brook trout. They’re more of the bluegill ilk. But a trout, is a trout, is a trout. If it was always easy we wouldn’t be talking about it. I had an epiphany of sorts back in February. Jack and I were doing some late winter ice fishing and I inadvertently left a few panfish jigs in my Patagonia sling pack. Jigs are a popular choice everywhere spinning reels spin, but for some reason as fly anglers we must tie our lead to the hook. And there in lies the shortcoming. I periodically can’t seem to find products at the fly shop that do what I want them to. It made me think about how much innovation has occurred in the ice fishing universe. Everything about the sport has changed in the last 20 years. adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_pullquote_01In particular the micro plastics and jigs that are meant to imitate aquatic insects are impressive. Driven by the almighty dollar, conventional baits are reinvented every few years. Conversely, stodgy old fly anglers year in and year out are content to slip their ubiquitous coneheads on to their olive-colored buggers. The traditions of fly fishing are both a blessing and a curse. Old school tactics are part of the allure of it all. I’ve got nothing but high fives and respect for those who fish classic fly patterns, but Norman Rockwell isn’t going to get me to the bottom of that 12 foot pool. Dave Genz on the other hand will. The godfather of modern ice fishing’s new series of tungsten bombing drop jigs are just what the doctor ordered. A marmooska jig on steriods, its massive tungsten head coupled with a tiny hook is perfect for dainty little brookies. Its designed to punch through iced over holes, but delicate enough for the smallest panfish and it’s damn heavy for its compact size. Casting the heavier flies in my brook trout lineup aren’t for the faint of heart. Like it’s big brother the “Little Boy” bugger, its difficult to roll this baby over with a traditional casting stroke. Even working the beast through a pool is a new dimension in fly rodding. Its like you’re pounding the bottom with a ball peen hammer. Not exactly your garden variety drag-free drift. I like to refer to my large single nymph fishing as “frankenymphing”. Close quarters dinkin’ and dunkin’ is where they can do some serious damage. While these seedy little cheatin’ attractors can represent aquatic insects, baitfish, worms or even baby brookies, the big tungsten jig versions require a specific yo-yo technique. As you can see above even the dinkiest of brook trout can find them a tasty morsel.

 

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Posting up a pic of a Rush River Bubblejack IPA makes me feel kind of icky. Featuring a fishing-themed beer on a fishing blog should probably be against the law (and an IPA nevertheless). Beer snobs everywhere have grown to dismiss this over saturated style of beer. I’d probably fare better if I said that I own a selfie stick. It’s not like it’s actually a brand that kowtows to our people (like Trout Slayer) but the Rush is on the Mt. Rushmore of local streams. For quite some time I avoided beer from Rush River Brewing for no good reason. Perhaps I felt like was giving in by drinking a beer named after a local favorite? One of my neighborhood pizza joints features this beer on their limited menu and eventually I caved. Its passé hoppiness has grown on me. I just as easily could have threw down a Bell’s Two Hearted. At least it’s not a PBR. Maybe we need to stop associating fly fishing with beer drinking? Lemonade anyone?

 

 


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adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_brook_trout_41adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_brook_trout_33I hit the road bright and early recently to test my meddle. Upon reviewing a new section on an old favorite stream at dawn I had a close encounter of the third kind. The precipitation that has hit the region lately had me wondering about the water level and clarity. I was carefully looking through the woods to see if I could get a good look at the water level when a dark object caught my attention in my peripheral vision. I turned to my right and noticed something staring back at me. It doesn’t make any sense, but the first impression I got was the outline of the old Mickey Mouse ice cream bars with the big ears that were popular in my youth. It took me a few seconds to register what it was, but I finally realized that a big black bear was standing in the brush across the clearing checking me out. By the time fully processed the encounter, in good black bear fashion, he turned and ran away. Needless to say I chose to move on to another stream. It’s the first time I’ve seen one while fly fishing in this area. After regaling Mrs. Adrift with the tale she wasn’t impressed. I chose to take out an insurance policy for future visits to this watershed in the name of bear pepper spray. Overkill? Perhaps. When looking to bomb the deepest of pools, or escaping from the evil clutches of your garden variety black bear. You’d better get the lead out.

 

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Ask and Ye Shall Receive?

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_brook_trout_15Some look upward with their palms to the sky to seek answers to some of life’s most basic questions. Others use a completely different methodology to unlock life’s riddles. My daily life is bogged down with just as many what if’s and mental scratch tickets as the next fella, but most of my questions tend to be more transactional in nature. Like, “when is the new battery charger for my camera going to arrive?” The workhorse camera for providing you blog content has been the now classic Panasonic Lumix TS3. I don’t need to tell you that these little waterproof point and shoot cameras have been game changers for “fish gropers” everywhere. More to the point, my battery charger and I had unexpectedly parted ways recently, leaving my camera a lifeless pile of microchips. I placed an order for a new charger using the ultra-reliable eBay as a means to furnish me with a replacement. My friends at the USPS placed an envelope at my doorstep providing a new dimension in customer service. The “received without contents” and “received unsealed” stickers might as well said, “we hope you enjoy your empty box”, or “we’re sorry for your loss.” The mantra of “through rain, sleet and snow” took on a whole new meaning as I considered my next move.

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_brook_trout_07Selfie nation has become the bane of our collective existence. The power of phone-based cameras have allowed the self absorbed to put themselves into context, and I have been not been guiltless in this crime. This wasn’t a simple case of hollow self indulgence. Action fishing shots are hard to come by when you have a tendency to fish by yourself. Originally it was an attempt to sprinkle a few humans (me) into the endless ribbon of woods, water and fish. Eventually I’d just throw a good one in from time to time to annoy Mrs. Adrift. Hello world! I offer up this shot in the spirit of photographic experimentation. In my estimation this portal is little more than a personal scrapbook of my fishing pursuits anyway.

With my Panasonic down for the count I grabbed a Nikon DSLR with every intention of bringing you some Brookie action in “full HD.” Unfortunately I wimped out and decided to capture the day via an iphone and a GoPro. Call me lazy, but fishing, handling the catch, and snapping away with a real camera is just too much of a chore. While a GoPro does a nice job of capturing video, it’s a crap shoot when relied upon to shoot still photography. GoPro results, and iphones to a lesser extent, are an exercise in guesswork. It’s a push the button and hope for the best endeavor. With the blown out highlights and the wide angle lens, I find the shots to be almost cartoonish in their appearance. It doesn’t help that my first generation GoPro has a few scratches in the lens that create predictable blurry spots in the frame. Don’t get me started on iphones. Even though I always carry mine in a waterproof case, I’ve managed to kill 3 of them on the water. But enough of the shortcomings (and silly camera banter) let’s get to the results portion of the equation.

 

 

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It’s not like this year’s spring runoff has left us up shit creek, but let’s not count our chickens before they hatch. Reports have run rampant of a notoriously poor start to the Wisconsin trout season. As I went fishless for the first hour of the day, I was building confidence that I’d succumb to another lackluster excursion. There was just enough remaining stain on the water that I couldn’t see the bottom of the deeper pools. 
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I swung a juicy looking Shirley Temple into a medium paced run, only to watch a decent looking chunk emerge to lazily inspect my offering. I threw it back into the spot and allowed it to sink all the way to the bottom. Without hesitation the char snatched it up like a Scooby snack. This was the key that unlocked the remainder of the afternoon. The bites weren’t particularly plentiful or aggressive, but if I allowed the fly to dredge the bottom, I’d occasionally pick up a hit or two. In the deepest spot of the afternoon, I picked up two or three solid Brookies, but not anything to get too excited about. It’s funny how we can adjust our expectations. An eleven or twelve inch brown trout is as common as passed gas, but in the midwest spring creek brook trout paradigm, it’s a respectable result. After another handful of fruitless drifts, I highsticked the heart of the run one more time, garnering a solid take. As I set the hook, it became immediately apparent that a more substantial opponent had stepped into the ring. After gingerly clearing him from any potential pitfalls, I slid down the bank and into the drink, spooking every trout in the tri-county area. But it mattered little as I netted the brute and waded down into shallow water for closer inspection. I snapped a few pics and sent him on his way. At this point it dawned on me that the needle had conclusively moved to hit from miss.

 



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adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_brook_trout_16I forged a path further upstream into clearer water. The clarity didn’t seem to help the situation, and the fish became less cooperative. After picking up a few more quality participants, the hits eventually gave way to a series of frustrating short strikes. It mattered little because my time had run out. In an uncharacteristic display of restraint, I didn’t “one last cast” myself into the danger zone.

There are many times that I set out with fairly low expectations, but you always have to at least hope for the best. I’ve had a fairly serious case of Brookie on the brain the last few months, but I hadn’t taken the time to partake. This little jaunt was enough to temporarily tamp down the urges. Rolling around at night and simply dreaming of brook trout won’t bring them to hand. A little elbow grease and solid plan was enough to exercise these demons. It makes you wonder who coined the phrase “expect the unexpected?” Ask and ye shall receive?

 

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Finding Nemo

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adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_fly_tying_02Did you think I’d forgotten you? Without a doubt I suffer from multiple personality disorder. I’m able to switch from one vice to the next like a kid in a candy store. The frigid days of February made for some solid rounds of neighborhood puck and ice fishing, but left the long rod waning. This is the thinnest Minnesota snowpack I can recall. Great for streamside angling, but maybe not so great for recharging aquifers? In other news, there were no pseudo Middle West powder runs to ease the suffering. Perhaps there’s still a fleeting opportunity to make up for lost time? In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I’ve been pursuing cabin fever with the greatest intensity. But how long can one simply be the fish in the aquarium? It’s a big world out there, and the juices are starting to flow in earnest. There is light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. The Wisconsin early season trout opener is the opening salvo in this house of cards. I’m a little fearful that there will be a repeat performance of last year’s perpetual winter, but I’m not one to make excuses. Get out there and fish hard, ’cause before you know it the weeds will be head high. I’ll be plodding a few tracks with the best intentions to truly find Nemo.

 

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Placebo

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_fall_01Let’s just pretend we didn’t get polar vortex’d this week, okay? What a difference a day makes. It’s as if someone simply turned out the lights. I look forward to many winter activities, but I must confess that when January weather starts in November, the dark season can be a long haul. This is when the fantasy begins. It’s not that there isn’t any winter angling, it’s that we are simply the meat in delusion sandwich. Eagerly anticipating the spring thaw, and longingly look back at the previous years success and failures is the norm. It’s with this in mind that I offer up a light smattering of greatest hits from the last few months. I often wonder why we examine fishing blogs anyway? Why does anyone give a shit about what I do or say? I suspect that the purpose is multifaceted. For some it’s trolling for intell, for others it provides a vicarious escape from the daily humdrum. Let’s just remind ourselves that the glass is half full. We had an extra two weeks to chase tail this fall, and the Minnesota State Park’s trout season is well under way (for those in need of a fix). I’ve mostly been knee deep in ice rinks and vise time, eagerly anticipating a run. I also lost a massive Muskie recently, just for good measure. She proceeded to tangle me into some shallow water cables, in an defiant act of karma convergence. But that’s a story for another day. Let’s not concentrate on the cold brutality of reality, how ’bout we long for the past?

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_fox_red_lab_02adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_fox_red_lab_01I gave Abe center stage in a post earlier this year, so I figured I’d catalog a shot or two with the larger, less mature version of the beast. It’s worth noting that he is just as suspicious of kayakers as his old man. His angling skills at this stage of development leave a lot to be desired, but we can only dream of the day that earns his spot as a humble troutin’ companion.

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_fall_05adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_fall_07adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_fall_03adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_07adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_fall_02adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_01adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_06 adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_driftless_02Habitat improvement? You don’t generally see this bank stabilization strategy much in the midwest. I’m sure some turn their noses up at such tactics, but a 1943 Packard hidey hole makes for some serious business. I’d take the creativity of a stretch like this any day over the tiresome Stepford Wives style habitat improvement infecting trout streams everywhere. In vogue H.I. stream tactics make ebola look like the common cold. For what it’s worth this landowner couldn’t be a nicer guy. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

 

 

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Right Place, Right Time

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So much angling fodder is spent discussing the nuances of gear, tackle and tactical approaches. There’s really very little left to the imagination. Many folks will be more than happy to offer up a treatise on the latest flyline or fly and why their flavor of the week is something to behold. The Ferrari drivers in our lot will go to great lengths to justify their existence, and even greater lengths to explain the advantages of a $1,200 rod. The script for high enders reads like an ubiquitous Powerpoint presentation. If you want to be the best, you have to drive the best. In a former lifetime I was stricken by such ailments, but have toned down the rhetoric in recent years. As someone who is in the business of building facades around products and services of varying quality. I’ve paid my dues and seen behind the puppeteers curtain. I am not guiltless in this pursuit, but I’m also not driven by the next big thing.

I like to keep things simple. Fishing is 90% being at the right place at the right time, 9% tactics and execution and 1% other. It’s really that simple. So why do we spend so much energy on the 9%? You can probably answer that better than I, but scrutiny comes with the turf. There’s an argument to be made that I’m demonstrating some “funny math” here, but I’m confident with my scientific method. Why do you think the guy with the 6″ Rapala or the 8 year-old with the bobber rig just landed “your” fish?

 

 

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The easiest way to find yourself in the right place at the right time is to hire a guide, or alternatively befriend someone in the know (or just cherry pick someone else’s spots). This may be standard operating procedure for most, but for me it tarnishes the experience. Win, lose or draw I usually want to do it of my own accord. Sharing information is good, being told exactly where to cast is another thing altogether. The moment of discovery is one of my favorite facets of this pursuit. If I wanted it easy I’d play shuffleboard in my free time. Antisocial angling tendencies is just another one on my burgeoning list of idiosyncrasies.

As I glean all that I can from this waning season, I’ve accepted my place, wading in the margins of proper angling society while others bask in the spoils. The truth of the matter is that I’m being somewhat dramatic. I have a few gems in my back pocket to keep me warm this winter. When it comes down to it, finding yourself in the right place at the right time isn’t just a happy accident, it’s a compulsive pursuit.

 

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20/20

_adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_fly_fishing_01In one way or another we are all “masters” of our domains. Anyone worth their salt has an innate sense of self confidence. Conviction manifests itself in a broad array of flavors and intensities, but is omnipresent in most blokes. One of my quirky habits is to observe this characteristic in people. It’s not that I’m above such accidental temerity, on the contrary my middle name is hubris… Andrew Hubris Weaverling.

On a primal level we are programmed with baseline 20/20 vision when it comes to decision making. And that’s a good thing. How can you pretend to guide anyone to the angling promised land if you’re not chock-full of confidence, good decision making, and a light touch of bullshit?

 

 

_adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_fly_fishing_03_adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_fly_fishing_02 _adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_fly_fishing_04_adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_fly_fishing_07_adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_fly_fishing_09Jim was the big winner when it came to auctioning off my mixed skill set for an annual fundraiser benefit. But for better or worse, this is a guide trip for two. Through the good graces of Jim, budding fly fishing enthusiast Sok weaseled his way into the trip for a third straight year (rubber galoshes and all).

The truth of the matter is that unlike a real guide, I hadn’t been out fishing midday recently. I was dependent upon gut instinct to get me through the trip. Bluebird skies and dog day heat were bearing down on us for the first few hours. I elected to tie up a mess of terrestrials as our first line of defense. It’s not news to any ardent Adrifter™ that I’m all about the reaction strike. Sure we could have drifted any number of nymphs under a float for some easy takes, but that leaves the angler somewhat disconnected from the action. I figured the fellas would enjoy the splat-and-take offensive action without being masqueraded by a bobber. Hoppers were the first course, and they didn’t disappoint. Within minutes of our foray into an easy walkin’ pasture stretch we had a solid take. I chose this familiar beat as a warm up and to observe Jim’s casting abilities. I really feel for Jim, he has the unfortunate burden of having only fished from drift boats in much flaunted Montana waters. The Driftless virgin did well in his warm up session, as I largely ignored the veteran Sok. He was relinquished to the bleak world of the trout selfie. In the interest of full disclosure, I realized when I got home that I had concentrated on the fishing and ignored quality pics for the blog. After a short session I pulled the plug on the first spot, suggesting we move on to Plan B.

 

 

_adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_fly_fishing_05_adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_fly_fishing_08_adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_fly_fishing_06The reason for the move was to hit another easy walkin’ stretch that could provide better numbers of a fish with the first realistic shot at a big. Golf course like ease is generally part of my guiding formula, but not always the best choice if seeking sizable combatants.

Upon arrival we took a few minutes to “hydrate” ourselves. I consider this a full service affair since I serve as the self described “beer sherpa”, cab driver, and personal trainer in addition to my guiding duties. As I chomped on a sandwich I concocted a plan to embolden the soldiers for the upcoming mission. I proclaimed that this stream was so good that I could walk down to the stream, sandwich in one hand, fly rod in the other and bring a fish to hand in seconds. It’s poor form to take fish away from the clients, but we had a few miles to stretch out and I was confident that there’d be more than enough to go around. The plan went off without a hitch, as I promptly one handed a medium sized Brookie into my clutches and held it over my head like I’d just won the Indy 500. All I needed was the illustrious glass of milk to wash my sandwich down. I returned to the car, gave the troops a pep talk, recommending that we head downstream to the lower section for the chance at a beast.

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_pullquote_01After a few minutes of adjusting to the new conditions, both Sok and Jim were getting takes. I hovered between the two observing the low water conditions and eagerly anticipating what lied ahead. We put a few dinks under our belts, then I heard Sok yell from a deep and narrow section upstream that he had a bigger fish. I didn’t immediately react to the proclamation since we were only getting smalls. Upon further examination I realized that Sok’s 5-weight was folded over and throbbing like a compound fracture. It’s only then that I realized he was into a big Brown. By the time I arrived he had walked it down to a bigger pool where I could clearly see it’s prowess. Sok had nabbed a midday, bluebird skies tank, north of the mythical Mason-Dixon line of 20″. I find it amusing that some “trophy” trout are long and thin like the bemoaned hammer handles of Pikedom, yet others are built like absolute footballs. It’s as if the thick ones are composed of both the bicep and the tricep, and this fish was the latter. Once I observed Sok gingerly working the fish in it’s cozy confines, it struck me that I was negligent in my duties. After using my gear in previous outings, Sok had come armed with his own rig, and I hadn’t checked any of the specifics. As it turned out he was rigged with 5x and only the gods knew how sturdy the connections were. In the fog of war I decided to take action. I pulled my net from it’s holster and jumped into the creek, deciding that time was of the essence. The water was crystal clear and I got a good look at what I was up against. The brute bulldogged Sok into the deepest part of the pool and I followed suit. The rush of ice cold water pouring over my waders didn’t deter me from the task at hand, as I’ve dealt with the shrinkage many times before. The fish gave me a few flybys and I foolishly conceded strikes one and two, sending him away angrier with each errant net attempt. As all big trout do, he found the only cover available to him which was some laydown brush on the close bank. I screamed at Sok to not let the fish burrow in the cover or we’d be sure to lose him, to which he obliged. The pig popped out of the cover and casually twitched to the surface, ripe for the picking. He was just out of netting range, so I began to take steps forward to scoop up our bounty when I heard our worst fears come to fruition. Sok’s line snapped like an accident waiting to happen.

We looked at each other in disbelief, but were no worse for the wear. I pulled my camera from my pocket, asked Sok to pose for the hollow victory, and immediately began to question my actions. I like to say that the grip-n-grin trout fondling photo serves as the “proof of purchase” to a angling conquest, and I can’t help but feel responsible for Sok’s missed opportunity. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. It was Sok’s first entanglement with a monster, and he deserved better. What I can do to help heal the wound of loss is to provide a memento from the experience. Does that look like the face of a defeated soldier? We were all actually pretty stoked by the experience. It’s better to have loved and lost, than to never loved at all. Here you go buddy, tight lines!

 

 

_adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_fly_fishing_11 _adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_fly_fishing_12 _adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_fly_fishing_10bAs the afternoon gave way to evening the hopper bite cooled off significantly. Jim and Sok toyed with another solid fish lingering beneath a logjam, but couldn’t get him to commit to their delicious subsurface offerings.  So we packed it up and moved to bigger water. I gave Jim brief respite from his fly rod and suggested that he work a deep corner bend with a spinning rod, unsuccessfully looking for his shot at the title. Blasphemy according to the purist, but these guys are adept bilingual anglers and I’m not one to discriminate. Eventually we found ourselves immersed in a decent sized school of risers and it was time to decipher the evening’s code. There was a mix of visible insects, but I surmised that the Yellow Sally activity was the meal ticket. We stood in virtual darkness diligently working on our dry fly mending and drag-free drifts. Their work paid dividends, when the “when in doubt set the hook” mantra was in full effect. The results were paler than the afternoon’s crescendo, but that was fine by them. They were just happy to be on the board. Sadly I don’t have that luxury. When you’re hardwired the way that I am, every micron gets assessed, rehashed and reanalyzed. Only to be second guessed again and again. In my case the vapid axiom is true. Hindsight is 20/20.

 

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Great Expectations

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_brook_trout_03I’ve stated ad nauseam that there is no finer fly fishing month in these parts than June. There truly are many fantastic times throughout the year to be a flinger, I just happen to be fond of June. As I recently searched through the battered remains of my Panasonic’s memory card I was left wanting. The pictures read more like a quilt than a fully-formed nookie blankie. There isn’t a completed story in the bunch, just a smattering of hand and fish half truths rounding out the lot. The rhythmic heartbeat of the rainy season has been more predictable than Lionel Messi from 18-yards. While things have loosened up a bit over the last week or two, by and large I’ve been washed out. Two extended trips were cancelled and I found myself on the receiving end of mother nature’s cruel hand more times than I’d care to admit. The ample mayfly activity that we so richly deserve after a tough spring has left us empty handed. And so we fish on.

 

 


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adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_brown_trout_06Sometimes you’ve got to get back to the basics and simplify your game. Anglers dot the landscape looking more like Bradley Fighting Vehicles than proper fly rodders. I can be a staunch minimalist, willing to bare it all. Bask in my damn sexy chicken legs, ’cause there’s a good chance they won’t make another appearance. I enjoy the root beer frothiness of this frame, and couldn’t help but put it up. In a post lean on quality storytelling and even leaner on impressive conquests, I’m compelled to utilize such filler.

 

 

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I have a handful of new gear to review. Including my chaotic love/hate relationship with my new landing nets, but that’s a story for another day. I will offer up a parting gift of my 8-weight TFO BVK. This rod is all style and no substance, and cannot be trusted in a heavy weight bout. You sort of know what you’re getting in a TFO stick, so you just roll with the punches. A sizable common carp folded it up like a crepe during a blistering run. As I plodded back to my truck empty handed, disappointment washed over me like a light buzz. The all too familiar glass half empty mantra has been standard operating procedure as of late. I’ve been a day late and a dollar short which tells me my space time continuum has been out of synch. If it was easy they’d call it catching, right?

 

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Baby on Board

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_abe_red_fox_labrador_04If dog is actually man’s best friend, why does he incessantly bite my heels? Is this how “friends” treat each other? This flavor of disrespect fills every horrifying episode of Real Housewives of Orange County. But it’s not the behavior I’m looking for in my daily life. I’ll cut to the chase, I’m a card carrying “dog liker.” I’ve had a long standing embargo on canines inhabiting the Adrift™ worldwide headquarters. My argument to Mrs. Adrift went something like this: “as long as I am knee deep in changing diapers, I don’t need another butt to manage.” While Mrs. Adrift has never owned a dog, I grew up with them including an excitable Golden Retriever named MacArthur that lived into my twenties. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I vividly remember the amount of work and dedication required to create a well adjusted citizen, and until recently I wasn’t up for the task.

Now that Jack is finishing 1st grade my already flimsy argument has worn thin. Louie the cat just isn’t enough of a presence to fill the animal void in our household. I finally relented and began the search in earnest for a new partner in crime. We toyed with the notion of rescuing a dog and actually had a few unsuccessful attempts at making a connection. Upon my initial delving into the seedy world of pooch acquisitions, it became apparent that demand was outpacing supply. I quickly learned that like a hot real estate market, you need to be ready to pull the trigger at a moment’s notice. Recommendations from a few colleagues at North American Hunter led us to procuring a British-style Lab due to their mild temperaments. I called around to an obscene number of breeders in the midwest, only to be told that I’d have to get on the waiting list and a puppy would become available anywhere from fall to next year. This was not an unexpected result. My homework over the last few years, in preparation for this event, informed me that this was the name of the game. A call to Red Oak Labradors netted a referral to a gentleman named Doug Westphal. Both Jeff Sorensen from Red Oak Labs and Doug regaled me with a story about a “pick of the litter” male fox red labrador puppy available from Doug Westphal Retrievers. It was 10 weeks old, potty trained, sleeping through the night in a crate, and already playing fetch. Doug couldn’t have been more friendly on the phone. He mentioned that he’s been breeding dogs for 30 years and typically sets one puppy aside from his litters to train for hunting, and often sells it at 6 months of age for a whopping $2,500. Because he had another litter on the way, he was going to sell this puppy at a bargain before the training was complete. He texted me a photo of the puppy and the puppy’s parents. The cuteness factor was in full effect and the kids were getting excited at the notion of a pup that was immediately available. Arrangements were made to visit the dog at his home in Savage. We went and met the little fella named “Abe.”  Mrs. Adrift, Jack and Ava’s hearts melted upon exposure. They were powerless against his evil clutches. My thoughts were more practical and tempered, but I must confess that he was a great looking pup. Doug explained that Abe’s dad is named Lincoln and has a heralded pedigree loaded with hunting champions. We decided that we were interested in purchasing Abe and agreed to come back the next weekend to pick him up. I took a copy of Abe’s pedigree, just so I could do a little research about Abe’s bloodlines.

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_abe_red_fox_labrador_pullquote_01We had a week to prepare. Puppy proofing, google searches and trips to the pet store were the norm. I was up to my eyeballs in work, putting in 15 hour days, and largely unavailable to participate in pregame festivities. One evening I got a frantic text (if there is such a thing) from the Mrs. in regards to Abe. As it turns out, she had been searching Fox Red Labs on Pinterest and stumbled across the picture of Abe’s parents that we’d been texted, and it was from a place called Warne’s Labs in New York. It was at this point that the “story” we’d been given from Doug and Jeff unraveled completely. There had been red flags throughout the process, but I chalked up the obvious half-truths to good old fashioned salesmanship bluster. Many of the things we’d been told just didn’t add up. And for good reason, because the story was a complete fabrication. The old “too good to be true” adage was in full effect. It was at this point I dug in my heels and attempted to figure out the reality of the situation. After several calls to breeders on the pedigree I was able to determine that Doug Westphal had no hand in the breeding of Abe, and that he wasn’t the super dog they claimed. The actual breeder didn’t even know who he was until they reviewed their paperwork. I learned that a few weeks earlier Abe had been purchased as the 5th male pick of a recent litter from Turkey Creek Labradors out of South Dakota for a few hundred dollars cheaper than what we were going to pay. The pedigree I was provided is accurate, and Abe’s dad really is a Turkey Creek stud named Lincoln. Once we determined that this bizarre scam to broker or “flip” dogs at a marginally higher price still was going to net a solid dog from a reputable breeder, we decided to bring Abe to our home. I guess I’ll never really know why we were given such a load of horseshit when trying to buy this dog. When I picked Abe up I let Doug know that I uncovered his plot. He reacted just like naughty children do by compounding the problem with more lies.  The truth of the matter is that we were actually fine with paying a little extra by not waiting months to get a puppy. Sorry for the lengthy diatribe on the matter. I’m writing this as a public service to assist people who google these “breeders” in the future. Perhaps landing on this post will help individuals make a decision on whether or not purchase a dog from their poorly executed hustle. Seems like an awful lot of work for a few hundred dollars. Needless to say Westphal Retrievers order for a female out of next year’s Turkey Creek litter has been revoked.

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_abe_red_fox_labrador_13adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_abe_red_fox_labrador_01 adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_abe_red_fox_labrador_02Enough of the fluff, let’s get to the meat on the bone. After a few days at home I was ready to take Abe for a test drive. I wasn’t really sure how a young pup would do on a fishing excursion, but I felt compelled to give it a shot. I surmised that an easy fishing habitat improvement stretch would fit the bill. As you know, I’m not prone to fishing the golf course style theme park stretches with any regularity, but I do see their value for novice anglers. And make no mistake about it, Abe is a rookie. He was surprisingly well-behaved and not particularly interested in my fly casting. After a few minutes of work we finally netted a dink Brookie that would serve as our litmus test. He made a few lunges at the perfect candy bar sized specimen, but I didn’t allow him to chew. After a lick or two I released the candidate, and he was no worse for the wear.

 

 

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_abe_red_fox_labrador_05I used this opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Abe wasn’t the only virgin in the mix. I had a small4/5 weight 6’6″ Eagle Claw Featherlight fly rod that I had yet to fish. Mrs. Adrift had procured one from Mend Provisions as a birthday present. I had eyeballed these little gems last fall in the shop, but hadn’t gotten around to picking one up. It was a simple case of nostalgia on my part. Growing up my brother had an Eagle Claw Featherlight that we regularly put through it’s paces on our neighborhood Smallmouth creek. In recent years Cameron from the Fiberglass Manifesto and others throughout the blogosphere have praised these little rods as cheap thrills. I could sugar coat it and tell you what you want to hear by complimenting the superiority of glass, but that just isn’t the case. I found the little rod to be quite awkward and it took me awhile to master the stroke. Perhaps it’s just a little too short for my liking and I need to step to one of the longer models? If nothing else it will make a great starter rod for Jack.

 

 

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I learned pretty quickly that the biggest danger for a trout fishing puppy is barbed wire. Whether lunging towards fences or swimming in creeks, Abe was in harm’s way. At one point he jumped in a deep pool and lustfully swam towards a length of barbed wire crossing the surface of the water. I quickly jumped in the drink and rescued him just in time before he became entangled in the mess. Abe had done enough good deeds to graduate from troutin’ preschool and I decided to move him up to kindergarden. I grew tired of the predictable water features and dink Brookies found in the fake habitat improvement beat. We moved to a more natural location where I suspected better Brookies could be had, and it didn’t disappoint. No giants were seen or landed, but that’s okay with us. Abe has the attention span of a gnat, but we had a pretty good round nevertheless.

In some ways it’s hard to regress to the land of newborn babies. People are rarely honest about the brutality of caring for a newborn. Sure they’re precious, but I’m not afraid to admit I’m not particularly fond of that stage of management. Let’s just say that it’s a long term investment that hopefully pays dividends down the road.

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

 

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Reality Check

adrift_fly_fishing_labor_graphic_design_minneapolis_andy_weaverling_winter_11I’ve got a fever. Both literally and figuratively. February and March has been one of the most illness laden stretches in recent memory. Packing up my goods during pregame warmups recently looked more like a NyQuil commercial than a fishing trip. And the malady doesn’t stop there. I’ve been feverishly laboring on the vise with an acute case of Steel on the brain. While trib exploits have been my central focus lately, I’ve still managed to trudge through a few of run-of-the-mill outings, including a run through a popular set of headwater springs.

 

 

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As you may know, I’ve got a nasty habit of wearing my waders to and fro. I’ve grown comfortable wearing them while driving long distances in the car. En route to my fishing destination is a fairly comfortable undertaking, given that I’m still as fresh as the morning dew. When I wear them home, it’s another story altogether. I “one last casted” my way into running late last week. Which had me jumping in the car and racing home without so much as a loosened strap or shoestring for that matter. It’s this kind of behavior that gets my car smelling like the bowels of a high school locker room. A timely text from Mrs. Adrift only compounded the problem. A small scale honey-do list forced me to do a little grocery shopping in my boots, waders and accoutraments. This wouldn’t be the first time, nor will it be last that I stroll the aisles of a South Minneapolis grocer adorning full battledress.

One minute I’m blissfully standing ass deep in the receding snow drifts of early spring, the next I’m clip clopping my studded rubber soles through the perilously slippery confines of the neighborhood market. If only the dream couldn’t die. Make the most of what little time you have. It’s only a question of time before you receive your reality check.

 

 

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Of Mice and Men


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.

 

 

 

 



Hoarding


Tamp down those thoughts of Sugar Plum fairies and let’s get back to what really matters. The glass half full portion of the equation tells us that we can be mining some of our favorite runs in just under two weeks. Can I get an Amen? With that in mind I’ll take you back to a warmer, more comforting time. A time and place where tall weeds, and even taller egos rule the roost.

I sacrificed a good month of prime summer trout fishing with my Rocky Mountain distraction. It’s not that I wasn’t fishing locally, on the contrary I continued my saga at a reasonable clip. But strangely enough my heart just wasn’t in it. I put the lion’s share of my efforts into planning, tying and dreaming of high elevation elation. It pretty much derailed my grandiose plans of a  2013 Brook Trout exposéMy angling escapades usually have a very specific agenda, and rarely is about just catchin’ some fish. It is a case of collateral damage that I can no longer just casually wet a line. But that’s how far down the rabbit hole I am. Is hindsight always 20/20? Who the hell knows?  I selected a smattering of pics from late summer Brook Troutin’ to give you visual relief from your meager subzero existence.  

I continued to amass stream miles at a healthy pace in a fairly broad range of destinations. Generally I’m the most laid back of fellas, except when it comes to planning, departing and driving to a chosen locale. My mind is like a steel trap, emboldened by dawn of the information age. Online mapping and GPS capabilities have turned the whole thing into an episode of high school math class. A prime demonstration is exemplified in the photo above. There’s no finer way to rain on my angling parade than being stuck in traffic. Tempers rarely flare in my universe. I tend to operate with the restraint of a whippet peddler at a Dead Show. When unexpectedly being kept from a round of fishing, I do not shy away from dressing down humanity.

 


After promptly taking the youngsters for a round of troutin’ I felt ready to get back on the saddle. I ambitiously doubled down on my Shirley Temple micro streamer. If one is good, why isn’t two better? An articulated version clearly removes this thing from the micro category and squarely puts it into the mini, if not into the normalcy realm. I could go into blow by blow accounts of bringing fish to hand, but this is Brook Trout after all. I can say with great confidence that this pattern is a clear cut winner. Why should we let the Brook Trout Rapala have all the fun? The fish will attack this thing with reckless abandon. What do you suppose they think this thing is anyway? These little fish are either cannibals or perverts, you be the judge. I’ll admit that this streamer really isn’t any different than a Crappie jig, and I know that is a tough pill for some to swallow. Let’s face the facts folks, the difference between a Woolly Bugger and a Maribou Crappie jig tends to only be in the amount of love that is put into it’s creation.

 

 

Have I mentioned that I hate snakes? My mother was deathly afraid of snakes and somehow passed the gene on to me. The running joke was to pretend that you see a snake on any outdoors occasion. She’d scream and practically have a heart attack and we’d all get a good chuckle out of it. I partially blame Indiana Jones for my illogical fear, but my phobia never prevents me from bushwhacking with the best of them. Let’s just say that the best snake is of the harmless roadkill variety. If snakes are bad, a rubbery gas station breakfast bagel may be worse. You would think by my last few posts of McDonald’s, DQ and now shitty gas station food that I live off this stuff. The reality is that I don’t frequent fast food with any regularity unless I’m on the road, and even then it’s a simple case of priorities. If I’m alone on a trip I often eat as fast as possible, and it’s little more than a functional necessity. If the choice is to sit and eat, or fishing. I’ll take fishing everytime. There will be plenty of time for opening and closing one’s mouth as soon as the fishing is done.

 

 

 I hit one of the finest creek chub “hopper hatches” that I’ve ever encountered while searching for Brookies. Conventional wisdom might tell you that it’s a bad sign.  As I’ve stated in the past, my kids principal regularly reminds them “if it’s not hard, you’re not learning.” A rule that is useful in academics and angling. I’m fascinated by the habits and tendencies of my fishing brothers and sisters. Some people love to fish the same holes using the same methods over and over. I’ve got a buddy that is a fly fisherman, but 99.5% of his trips are dragging leeches on a Lindy Rig in deep water for Walleyes. Another guy I know chases giant Muskies non-stop, it’s what keeps him up at night. You regularly see locals pulling up to the same spot, repeatedly working the same turf waiting for their “lucky” day when the big one will arrive on the end of their line. Many people I encounter are obsessive about one specific microcosm of fishing. There’s often one definitive trigger that satisfies their lustful need. I enjoy hearing about and respecting everyone’s ailments. I listen with great empathy.
 
 

The percentage of trips that were duds this year was fairly high. My quest to search far and wide for new Brook Trout water often reduced my ability to catch fish. Searching doesn’t always equate to catching, but that’s okay in my book. Sometimes other diehard anglers don’t even understand my approach, as they are birds of another feather. I brought quality fish to hand, but no real trophies were had. The distance between success and failure can be shorter than you think. While I’m reluctant to give specifics, I got direct evidence that just I missed mark on finding some truly monster-sized fish on more than one occasion. That’s the kind of thing that keeps us coming back for more.

My Eastern Iowan homeboys from American Pickers regularly celebrate and extract goodness from those who choose to obsessively collect junk. A&E’s Hoarders on the other hand treats the collection of objects like a sickness. These people are one step away from  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Is it a simple case of one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, or is it something much deeper?

I often find myself discussing fishing with others who know nothing about the sport. It’s almost as if we are speaking in two different languages. They have no concept of what it’s all about, and sometimes I don’t feel compelled to let them in on my secret. After many fishless hours walking back to the car or returning on a road trip I question my faith in the pursuit. On which side of the disorder equation do I belong? At the end of the day it matters little, as I have no immediate plans to stop hoarding.

 

 



ROI



My hiatus from local fishing reporting ends today. I’ve left it to others to provide you blow by blow accounts of middle west cold water conquests. Those of us who have chosen the path of blogdum are always faced with the blank page. What path do we chose to fill our infinitely scrolling publication? Long ago I opted to not be a resource for up to the minute fishing reports, water conditions or pseudo fly industry/culture babble. Mine is more editorial in nature. Within the spectrum of said editorial, lies the family photo album component of my plight. If you’ve landed at this destination with hopes of hardcore fishing exploits, today is not your day (though I will dangle the carrot of greener pastures just ahead). This is the fulfillment of a promise. An agreement I made with Ava that she’d get an opportunity to complete her “spring break slam” by entertaining a healthy round of Brook Troutin’. I agreed to write about it if she sealed the deal. The conventional rules of adult fishing need not apply. This is elementary school folks. There will be no statute of limitations on completing the slam, since we got washed out of our first attempt earlier this spring. We just picked up where we left off to complete her trifecta of a Brook, Brown and Bow (minus our traditional warm-up of midday pancakes).

 

 

I selfishly plotted and plundered my way through the peak season without taking the kids trout fishing. Upon my return from Colorado, the reminder to “pay it forward” was my first order of business. The conditions were far from ideal. It was a stifling hot, bluebird sky sort of day. We had no grandiose plans of rolling up huge numbers. As with all youth fishing it was more about the adventure and entertainment, than the casting and retrieving. No rise forms were spotted, and it didn’t matter anyway since my fly rod never made it out of the car. I told myself that if there were easy fish to be had we’d entertain some fly fishing education, but it just didn’t materialize. Our usual run to Lund’s reignited Jack’s love affair with the pocket knife, and provided us a handful of “lucky” Panther Martin spinners. The kid has a Dexter-like fascination with knives, which I don’t spend much time worrying about since he’s a chip off the old block. Upon extraction from the checkout begging, we set course to scout for holding water.

 

 

After regaling you with every aspect of my last few posts, brevity will be paramount in this instance. Suffice it say, the usual spots were not giving up their secrets with ease. We had to work for everything we got. It mattered little as all we needed was one fish to complete the task at hand. The pride is written all over Ava’s face. The fact that she refers to that fish as “my” Brook Trout says it all. Does anyone really own any fish? From a mental standpoint, hell yes. The value of quality time with your kids goes without saying. It may make for subpar blog content. But this is my world, and the transfer of the outdoors stewardship to the next generation is an immeasurable return on investment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

All You Can Eat


I’m intentionally leaking fishing content at a snails pace at this point. This approach allows us to live vicariously through my summertime exploits. Let’s pick up where we left off last time folks. Rode hard, and put away wet. Adrift in the cold, hard world of multi-million dollar mountain properties. Fortunately my exhaustion didn’t prevent me from leaving my she she surroundings in the greater Aspen area. When I inquired about less pressured alternatives to the Frying Pan and Roaring Fork, the guides I chatted with earlier suggested I give Maroon Creek a shot. It was tempting to run up to the campground for an evening of better scenery and feisty, easy fishin’ dinks. I had already bypassed the Crystal River on my late night long haul the night before. But I chose another path. Reluctantly, I began to turn towards the front range and plot my course back to civilization and the increased density of the I-70 corridor.

My first stop on the long road home was an unremarkable sliver of the mighty Colorado River in New Castle. This scrubby little stretch of town isn’t exactly a full on desert oasis, but had an eery Breaking Bad vibe to it. The Colorado had a distinct Ovaltine tinge to it, but I figured I’d do a quick flyby to see if I could connect. I slinked into the drink at a small park adjacent to a densely populated set of townhouses, and worked my way down to a large bridge. It was a refreshing change of pace to cast far and wide on such a large river. Too bad my personal Manifest Destiny wasn’t destined for much of anything, as I struck out on the big murky water. I probably didn’t spend more than an hour the section before the mid-nineties temps began to boil me in my waders.

I wasn’t particularly surprised that I had struck out. This water was big and ugly and I could only dissect a few edge seams and mediocre looking eddies. After the hike back I removed myself from my sweat soaked casing, I rolled onto the freeway with a new mission in mind. Before I could get the Ford Focus into hyperdrive, I found myself magnetically drawn to a familiar collection of ubiquitous delicacies. Yep, the poorly redesigned DQ logo drew me in like a plump crawler in a deep run. It’s as if I’d never seen ice cream before. The downside was that this was the most raucous Dairy Queen I’d ever seen. I swear every youth church group west of the continental divide had just finished whitewater rafting the Colorado. The bathroom looked like a dormitory lavatory on homecoming weekend. I sucked down a new look brazier burger and a dipped cone in short order. This wasn’t exactly the return to civilization that I was after. But beggars can’t be choosers, as I wiped the grease from my mouth and waddled back to my car.

 

 

Vail? Yes, Vail. Ever think to fish it? Me neither. I sort of stumbled upon the notion of hitting Vail in the weeks leading up to my trip. Anyone with half a brain would ignore the large stretches of the water along I-70. There’s certainly better, unpopulated and scenic areas of the state to explore. But for some reason I wanted to bust straight up the gut, and see where your average Denver angler could fish right off the freeway. This is definitely one of my idiosyncrasies. Most anglers like to get away from it all in pristine wilderness locations, and I’m certainly not immune to that disease. I don’t discriminate, I like it all, and any astute student of Adrift would know that.

I’ve proclaimed to the Mrs. on a number of occasions that I’m the world’s worst Facebook’r (my apologies, if we are FB “friends”). That statement is filled with a bit of irony, given that I develop online strategies for clients in my spare time when I’m not fishing. We all know those who are above the fray. Standing at parties, proudly proclaiming their independence from novelties such as Facebook, but really just showing their obstinance. I admire their zeal. I tend to be more of a moderate when it comes to social media. Participating, but not particularly involved, just like a junior high dance. Yes, I am a social media wallflower.

In this instance I had the audacity to reach out to some friends from the past via FB. I knew this father/son duo pretty well in high school, but had lost touch over the years. They’ve wisely moved from the corn fields of Eastern Iowa to the front range of Colorado. Actually the last time I saw the son he was passed out on my dorm room floor in college (good times). I’d noticed a few fly fishing related posts on FB and decided to reach out, which is a rare move for me, as I often chose to leave the past in the past. I didn’t have specific intentions, but thought they may be able to lend some local intell to my tour. While it didn’t work out to actually fish together, my friend replied back and mentioned that he’d guided the Vail Valley in previous years. It was this comment that encouraged me to research the Eagle River and more specifically the gold medal stretch of Gore Creek.

I drove along I-70 leading into the Vail area, and had a good vantage point to size up the Eagle River. As far as the eye could see anglers filled every nook and cranny of its trouty lies. This is the downside of Colorado’s stream access laws. The landowner owns the river bottom, so it forces the average angler into a finite number of public access points. I knew well in advance that crowds might be an issue as I made my way closer to Denver, and I had no plan to dip into the Eagle anyway as I went straight towards the big fish potential of Gore Creek.

 

 

Upon arrival in Beaver Creek, I was greeted with the puzzling maze of mountain side roads that accompany ski resorts. I plugged a few different fly shops into my iphone, but couldn’t get google maps to cooperate. At one point it sent me to a parking lot in the section of Vail that was clearly the “wrong side of the tracks.” It was interesting to see the 70’s and 80’s era condos that were clearly yesterday’s news. Vail, like many of it’s upscale brethren, now boasts a plentiful cache of fake castles. Yep, like your local mall, there’s been a facelift of architecture that attempts to convince you that you’re hobnobbing in the finest of ancient Swiss chateaus. Beyond my normal snarkiness, the reason I’m critical of Vail’s layout was my inability to find parking and and adequate access to the local fly shops (or the creek for that matter). I drove around for some time in my burnt out state missing the nuances that would grant me access. Finally I just pulled into a streamside hotel parking lot and pretended to be a guest (a wader-wearing guest). I left the concrete confines and waded into Gore Creek with a stern warning in the back of my mind. Several Coloradans forewarned of its small and technical nature. After an hour on the water I took that to simply mean “small.” Dear Colorado local, “you’re welcome to come fish any of our tiny midwest ‘technical’ spring creeks in late summer.” Then I welcome a reassessment of your beloved Gore Creek. Sincerely, Mr. Adrift.  The fishing was footloose and fancy free, compared to recent exploits. I started things off with a dry-dropper, but eventually removed the dropper altogether, ’cause they’d crush my stimulator with reckless abandon. I didn’t last long on the “gold medal” section at the hotel. I picked up a few average fish, but none of the bigger fish made their presence known. Before long I stumbled on a clearly marked piece of private property and cut my losses.

Having learned my lesson from the night before on the Uncompaghre, I decided I’d look for shelter early this evening.  I drove east of Vail to find a campsite at the Gore Creek campground on the less heralded section upstream. The fishing gods smiled upon me and I got one of the last two available sites. I quickly set up my tent, unpacked some provisions for the first time on the trip, and rolled back to town for an evening session. This time I opted to hit the public section via the park in Vail. The skies began to open up to a light drizzle, as this thing was looking a little more like the Pacific Northwest than the Rockies. The good people of Vail were kind enough to provide a score to this segment of my film. As luck would have it, the New York Philharmonic was throwing down some mean riffs in the amphitheater nearby. I was like John Rambo stealthily assaulting the steep streamside ravine in full rain gear, seeking vengeance on the fish that had wronged me. It was a surreal evening of rain, music and trout, and I didn’t see another soul. The reports of this stretch said you’d have a good shot at the slam of smallish Browns, Brooks, Cutts and Bows, and it held true to form. Getting the fish to readily rise to monster-sized attractors on my 4-weight was welcome respite from the previous nights.

 

 

I covered a mile or two of water before calling it quits. The idea of a warm, dry tent was growing on me. Stretching your legs out in a horizontal fashion was very appealing, I just didn’t have it in me to spend another evening of sleeping “diagonally.” The fact of the matter is that sleep deprivation was in full effect. I needed to get a decent night’s sleep to prepare for my last full day of fishing. I drove back to the campground, put my provisions in the bear box, and beelined for my tent. Logs were being sawed in a matter of minutes.
 

 

I awoke the next morning before dawn, and easily unlocked myself from the warm confines of my sleeping bag. With the efficiency of a skilled surgeon, I broke down camp with only a headlamp to show me the way. In short order I was en route to my next fishing destination. The Blue River in Silverthorne may be the most notorious of the Colorado tailwater “cathouses.” Tucked neatly into a sprawling city-state of crappy outlet stores, the Blue is home to a good number of planted Rainbow Trout. I pulled into the parking lot desperately low on caffeine. Like my DQ binge from the day before, I generously applied the “when in Rome” mantra. I walked into the McDonalds fully decked out with everything except for my rod. I often do this just to watch the people stare at my ridiculous attire. It’s a strategy that I’ve adopted from the good men and women serving in our armed forces. You regularly see them wearing their combat fatigues while dining (even though there is very little combat to be found at most roadside eateries). If it’s good enough for the military, it’s good enough for me. I grabbed my fake coffee shop beverage in full trout battledress and moseyed on down to the river. My plan was to arrive early, before the husbands of shopping wives dotted the stream like a string of Christmas tree lights. It worked to a tee, as I had the place all to myself. The water was low and gin clear. I decided to start small by tying up a Parchute Adams as a strike indicator, while dropping a #20  RS2. I spotted a few decent Rainbows that were easily accessible. They would not be fooled with my poorly tied offerings. I cycled through a handful of droppers, watching each fly be inspected and ultimately rebuffed by the wily Bows. Sulking in my inability to fool these heavily traveled salmonids, I carefully walked downstream to find a new hole. A good-sized school was hunkered down in the interstate overpass pool, but they looked rough. This place reminded me of a pet store aquarium, only these fish had seen there fair share of snaggers, and lustful fly rodders. I placed a cast to the top of the pool and was shocked that a Bow aggressively rose to take the Adams from the surface. I snapped a few pics and sent it back to be harassed by others. I fished for another half hour, but couldn’t get any of the larger fish to cooperate. As much as I enjoy shopping mall angling I had only planned for a quickie. It’s not uncommon for my mind to wander to the next conquest before I’ve even finished the task at hand.

 

 


What happened next was completely unexpected, and quite frankly one the most enjoyable conquests in quite some time. There’s nothing more that fly fisherman love than rehashing a little bit of cookie cutter wisdom. This sport is fraught with more “Deep Thoughts”  than is actually warranted. We’re only chasing fish with fake bugs folks. Not exactly authoring the Constitution, or putting man on the moon. One bit that is espoused with some regularity is in regards to angler evolution. It goes something like this. An angler starts out in the sport by trying to catch the most fish. Stage two of addiction is when the angler attempts to catch the biggest fish. Finally the highest rung on the ladder is the angler who is no longer is simply satisfied with catching numbers, or big fish, but seeks out the hardest, or most challenging fish. According this bullshit cliche I’ve clearly earned the “old guy” merit badge, and this fish is a testament to that cruel reality.

As I walked up the steps to the parking lot. I debated if I should hit United Colors of Benetton for a new polo shirt, or continue my fishing saga? Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a small tributary to the Blue that ran right into the strip mall melee. I’m not sure what force caused me to investigate further, since the creek was a max of 10 feet wide and only 6 inches deep in most parts. Upon further review I noticed that there was a somewhat hidden plunge pool under a roadside walking bridge that harbored a few really nice Rainbows. The hidden gems appeared to be largely unmolested by the daily grind of tourists. The challenge was to get a cast or drift into the tiny pool. It was flanked on both sides by overhanging bushes and a small rocky outcropping that formed a small protective undercut. This is the kind of challenge that I relish. I started by attempting to get a small flip cast into the run from the near side (the spot where I took the pictures above). It proved to be an exercise in futility as I just couldn’t get a fly to the far side. I changed plans and walked around to the other side, thinking I could dap and jig a streamer into the pool. I tied on a small #10 tungsten white and pink Maribou jig that had been sitting around in my box for a year or so. I tied it as a small, compact baitfish pattern that would plummet to the bottom in a hurry. I crawled on my hands and knees and peeked over the rocky bank. The pod of Bows was about 3 or 4 feet below my face downstream and the overhanging bush gave me no leeway jig my rod. I devised a radical plan to hold my rod in one hand and jig my flyline in the other, in sort of a hillbilly handfishin’ technique. I was laying on my stomach in the mud trying to peek over the ledge without spooking the fish. I was hoping to get my fly in front the biggest brute in the bunch. After 10 or 15 seconds of agitation, the beast grabbed my fly and made a dash for cover. Pandemonium broke loose as I had the fish on, but could only apply pressure via handlining. I was hoping to transfer the fish to fight it fully on my rod, but the tight quarters just didn’t allow for it. I decided to simply log roll into the creek with my net in one hand and my flyline in the other. If only I had set up a camera to capture this crazy stunt on video. After another minute of chaotic battle, I slipped the fish into my net. If you inspect the photo above carefully you’ll see my rod still sitting on the bank with the flyline tangled on the rocks and into the pool. Unorthodox close quarters approaches are one of my favorites. But this epsisode wasn’t about catching the most fish, the biggest fish, or the most challenging fish. It’s about catching the most numbers of challenging, big fish you can. Or perhaps it wasn’t about the fish at all 😉 

 

Things certainly started out on a positive note by bringing in a solid chunk in a surprising way. I even chose to double down on my McCafe before escaping the evil clutches of strip mall fishing. I moved on to the next task at hand. A little birdie mentioned that Clear Creek just above the historic toursit town of Georgetown had the potential to produce big Brook trout. I hadn’t yet chased Brook trout in earnest, since Coloradans practically consider it an invasive species. This would be a portion of my trip where I deviated from the standard playbook. Clear Creek doesn’t seem to come up as a worthy destination in most fly fishing sources, but I didn’t let that dissuade me from investigating it’s rocky reaches.  The small ribbon of intense whitewater is stuck in a steep canyon just below the historic Railroad bridge. I must confess that it was a little intimidating dropping in on such a steep and intensely flowing bit of water. Finding the holding lies was the first order of business. In short order a beautiful little Bow grabbed my stimulator and shot down into the whitewater. A fun battle on my little rod. I worked my way upstream, climbing up a dizzying array of slippery stair steps, with little to show for my efforts. Finally, I reached the portion where tourists lined the stream, busily snapping pics for their Facebook pages and photo albums. This stretch was largely a bust, but a unique challenge nevertheless.

 

 


The reason I came to the Georgetown area was to run up Guanella Pass and get into some high elevation exploits, before heading back home. I planned to fish Duck Lake just beyond the summit in search of native Greenback Cutthroats. As I arrived at the beautiful roadside lake I was greeted with the message that no angler likes to see. The perimeter was clearly marked with “No Trespassing” signs and the driveway to the lake reinforced with a healthy dose of “Private Property.” Hmmm, a half hour drive up the pass and no water to fish.

Fortunately I conceived a Plan B. I marked Silver Dollar Lake on my map as the backup plan. It was about a 3-mile trek from the main highway up to 12,400 feet. This lake receives a some pressure. But the odd half dozen anglers a day that make the hike is light compared to more prime front range destinations. In the first half mile of the ascent I chatted with an elderly gentleman who was on his way down from the lake. He was catching his breath from the journey. I inquired about the conditions up above, to which he replied, “the relentless wind didn’t allow me to successfully fish with my Tenkara.” I wondered about the effectiveness of a Tenkara on this high mountain lake under any conditions, but I didn’t broach the subject. I continued my way up to my rocky mountain high. It took me awhile to acclimate to high altitude hiking, but I fared okay given that I’d been running a fair amount of miles back home. I bypassed the lower elevation lake, since I was warned that it is private property. After another hour of hiking I arrived near the summit. A chilly blast of cold air shot off the mountain ridge and smacked me in the face, reminding me who was boss. I scanned the area, and noted a blue dot on the far side of the lake. I couldn’t tell for sure but the telltale rhythm seemed to be indicative of a fly fisherman. I waded a short flat towards the west side of the lake, throwing a garden variety black woolly bugger, just to acquaint myself with the lake. As I worked my way around the chilly blast turned into a full force gale of sleet and snow. I couldn’t help but think of Norman Rockwell and his Tenkara back at basecamp under these conditions. As luck would have it, I packed my 8-weight for this leg of the journey. I was in search of big Cutts and I wanted to be able to fire off long distance dedications at will. Fortunately the precipitation was short lived as the storm cleared out and the air temps began to rise to more temperate conditions. The blue dot from the far side of the lake had come around to my side and leapfrogged me on the trail. I gave the gentleman a hearty, “how do you do?” But received no reply. He clearly was in the zone and had little time for exchanging pleasantries. Over the next couple of hours we were partners in pursuit as we both worked the west side of the lake. Me with my water bottles and Powerbars, he with his steady stream of cigs. I wondered how difficult the hike must have been for a middle-aged chain-smoking fly rodder? As it turns out my burner buddy and I couldn’t seal the deal. You could see about 10 feet down in the crystal clear waters. There was a steady stream of fish cycling through the area, but it was virtually impossible to get any interest from them. At one point I had a really nice Cutt put on the brakes and beeline for my Black Beauty. It’s nose got within two inches of my fly before making a jarring last minute rebuff. I had a similar experience on a damselfly pattern. For whatever reason I just couldn’t get the fish to commit. Streamers, terrestrials, nymphs and dries, I emptied my box trying to unlock the mystery. At one point I watched a 23″caliber Cutt make an abrupt turn towards an invisible insect and blast out of the water to take the enigma. I’ll just end this chapter by admitting defeat. My high mountain game is atrophied to say the least. I had a hard time walking away from this challenge, since I’m a sore loser, but I had to extract myself with plenty of time before dusk. The long journey back down gave me plenty of time to digest my shortcomings.

 

 

It was time to freestyle. My time was running out and I was determined to squeeze whatever juice was left in my trip. I spied some reasonable looking beaver dams when I was looking for the Silver Dollar Lake trailhead. Nothing cures a fishing funk like a few eager Brookies. I hiked through a meadow that looked like black bear central. It was the kind of place that was made for human/bear interactions, but I tried to put those thoughts out of my mind. I returned to the ease of a big bushy attractor pattern, and began to work my magic. Sure enough in the first run I connected with a micro-sized beauty. I spent the better part of an hour foolin’ char as the sun began to dip low on the horizon. You would think after days and many hours of plying a dizzying array of water that I’d be too spent to march forward, but that just wasn’t the case.

 

 

I drove down to Georgetown and considered where the hell I was going to spend the night. I had no accommodations and I needed to be back to the airport by 9:30AM. As I contemplated my next move, I noticed that Clear Creek ran right through town. I was somewhat befuddled by the fast section a few miles upstream earlier, but the beat behind the gas station was a more manageable situation. I grabbed my rod and launched a few gas station lot loops. Sure enough, a tiny Brown grabbed my fly and I rejoiced in delight. I decided to walk my way through town and see what it had to offer. Colorado smiled upon me as I racked up good numbers of Browns, and Bows. Once again there was no hatch to match, but it mattered little as this was an easy evening of fishin’.

I returned to the gas station and wished I had another day to fish. No matter how long I’m away on a fishing trip, I always want “just one more day” to see what’s behind door number 3.  I just don’t feel full. No one likes a lunch buffet more than me. Let’s call a spade a spade. We’re an overweight nation indulging in a mind numbing array of mile long buffet lines. Fishing, like eating, is a worthy adversary and Colorado definitely fits the bill. From grand rivers, to small mountain hideaways there’s a little bit of everything for everyone. So don’t hesitate, the Rocky Mountains are an all you can eat proposition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like There’s No Tomorrow

The allure of the unknown pried me from my lunching location neatly tucked into the cozy confines of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in the Curecanti National Recreation Area. A day and half of eating out of a cooler left me longing for more. I set out to indulge in a celebratory meal in Montrose and potentially shoot the bull with a local fly shop to help determine my next plan of action. I had mixed emotions about this move as I could have just as easily taken a quick nap then continued my autopsy of the emerald green pools lying deep in the bowel of the Black Canyon. This would prove to be a pivotal moment in the evolution of my tour.

 


I gingerly progressed down the main drag accessing the situation. I dug deep into my memory banks to compare and contrast what had changed in the metropolis. To my mind this small town had sprawled just a wee bit since my last visit. I didn’t bother with an extensive tour, I went straight to the fly shops. As I located them, I was a bit caught off guard by the fly shop fistcuffs that ensued. Toads and CJ’s were conveniently located right next to each other. What’s a weary traveler to do? Toads appeared to cater to the more serious fly angler, while CJ’s was clearly a traditional bait store, but still contained a healthy dose of flies and accoutrements. I opted to give Toads the nod. What wasn’t readily apparent from the outside was that Toads was just as much of a nicknack housewares shop with a strong female vibe (sorry ladies) as it was fly shop. “No worries,” I thought to myself as I’m game for any retail situation.
I walked in expecting a khaki shirt wearing fella to quiz me down about my station in life, but to no avail. As a matter of fact I stood around for quite some time until I realized that the nicknack section was abuzz with ladies shopping their brains out, but the fly section was empty and unmanned. Your loss Toads. I left the store mumbling “WTF” and proceeded to take my business next door to CJ’s. As I walked in I was greeted with a healthy cache of conventional tackle and yarn. Not yarn in the steelhead sense, but sewing machines and shit. Yep, CJ’s is a strange mix of fishing and stitching. It mattered little to me as they had a surprisingly broad mix of goods and an absolute pro manning the register. I had an in depth exchange with Carl. He offered up an “atta boy” on my morning haul down in the canyon, and mentioned that most people have been avoiding the lower Gunnison due to the dirty water. I really didn’t need any flies, but bought some out of obligation nevertheless. He was a true throwback salesman, and succeeded in convincing me in trying my hand at the big Cutts that unnaturally inhabit the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk State park on the Uncompaghre River. This was a tough call. I typically do not like exploring overly HI sections, nor do I love the golf course like ease of peak summertime state park bliss, but I was smitten with notion of completing my 20inch slam in the first 24 hours.

The decision was made to head south and spend the evening on the Uncompaghre, but not before filling my stomach and my cooler. As I stepped out into the scorching heat and was drawn in by the graphically bold pizzeria across the street. I slinked into Colorado Boy Pizza looking exactly like the guy that had just slept in his car, but didn’t hesitate to order up a pie nevertheless. It felt good to inhale a sturdy round of wood-fired bliss as the thing disappeared faster than you can say “dry-dropper.” After filling my stomach I decided to fall off the wagon by grabbing a cold sixer, to celebrate in camp later that evening.

 


The road to Pa-Co-Chu-Puk State park  reintroduced me to my favorite peaks in Colorado.  The San Juans probably aren’t the greatest fishing range in Colorado, but what they lack in prime trouting they more than make up for in scenery. Upon the first glimpse of Mt. Sneffels I practically kicked the Ford Focus into high gear and sped my way down the million dollar highway down to the gold medal section of the Animas in Durango. It’s one of the finest drives in all of the west, but deemed it foolhardy to head that far south. It was tough to stop short of the scenic stuff, but I still had fishing on the brain and hit the Billy Creek SWA section of the Uncompaghre. In short order I whipped up some nice looking Bows on a nymph rig, but didn’t deem any worthy of photographing. It was late afternoon at this point and the heat of the Western Slope was intense. I moseyed down to the state park tailwater, admittedly a little fearful of what I might find. Visions of golf course fishing and hoards of tourists danced in my head. The ranger at the entrance informed me that the campground was full, which threw a monkey wrench into my plan of warm campfires and cold beverages. I fished nevertheless. My evening was spent blanketing theme park with a variety of offerings. The good news is that I had the stream to myself as the Friday evening crowd must have been busy socializing. The bad news is that there were very few fish in the river willing to take chase.  I brought a few nice fish to hand, and managed to roll two large Cutts, but couldn’t connect. I trudged back to the car mentally fatigued from the day and no place to sleep. I grabbed some dry clothes and wandered up to the campground bathroom to change. A large family in traditional Mormon dress gave me the stink eye as they circled around the parking lot on their cheap mountain bikes. It reminded me that I was perilously close to Utah, and that not everyone is accustomed to the man in the plastic pants. You have many wives, I have many flies. Why can’t we all just get along? Looking at myself in the mirror forced me to question what this was all about anyway? Through the haze of cliff bars, sweaty waders and stale car smell I decided to head north.

 

 

 

I was fatigued, but the fire still burned brightly from within. The choice to head towards the infamous Frying Pan was an easy one. The strategy was to drive until I got too tired, then find a place to camp for the night. As luck would not have it there was virtually no campgrounds along this almost 3 hour journey. If I thought the late night drop in on the Black Canyon was tough the night before, this was excruciating. By the time I reached McClure Pass I felt as if I was stuck in a game of Candyland or had inadvertently switched my water bottle with healthy dose of Purple Drank. The idea was to get the first shot of the morning at the overly-hyped Toilet Bowl. Like the Hog Trough from the day before these spots pretty much make up the Red Light District of Colorado, and that was the point. Every angler near and far has stuck their fly into these seams from time to time. I wanted to see some of the big reputation spots and a few of the nameless, faceless beats. I rolled into the parking lot at the Toilet Bowl just after 1:00 AM. (I didn’t bother to photograph the familiar pinkish rock formations of the Frying Pan valley at night, so these photos were shot during my escape plan the next day). Earlier in the day I had grandiose plans of enjoying a cold one in the San Juans after slaying some monster Cutts. As it turns out I rolled into the Frying Pan’s finest an absolute zombie. The eerily familiar alien abduction thing reared its ugly head, but for some reason this time it had a more earthly tone. I stepped outside to take a piss and just listened to dam consistently working its magic. Brief thoughts of a late night raid entered my mind in a predictable fashion, but I wisely decided to get a little intra car shut eye instead. Wild animal noises a plenty were heard on the perimeter of the lot with one mid-sized animal making a brief appearance, but I was no worse for the wear.

I awoke at the first glimmer of light, just as I had the morning before. Stepping out of my car and beginning my early morning ritual. I grabbed a quick donut while I put on my soggy waders. As I was tying my shoes, the vision of an SUV filled with bandits emerged from the unkept gravel road. It quickly parked, blocking my access to the much anticipated Toilet Bowl.  I naively assumed that this was a first come first serve situation. Before I could grab my rod I saw three guys bolting towards the epicenter, while another disingenuously ran interference. Holy shit, these guys were professionals! By the time I arrived at the sweet spot of the Toilet Bowl, with my tidy whities around legs, they were pulling an unremarkable Brown Trout from the heart of “my” run on an array of Rapalas. I walked right up to the best spot and stood about 5 feet away from the nearest offender. I knew this spot was bullshit, but I wanted my half hour before I moved downstream to more natural locations. I arrived at 1:00 AM, and I wasn’t going to be cockblocked by a gang of chumbolones. After several minutes I hit the boiling point and verbally confronted the group. I was clearly outnumbered, but was surprised that they actually relented. They reluctantly hightailed it back to their chariot and chose to drive around to the far side of the bowl. If look closely at the pic above you’ll see them perpetually casting into the drink. Fortunately for them I have little patience for standing in the same spot casting ad nauseum. I rigged up a specialty deep running two nymph mysis rig and caught one of the smallest Browns in recent memory. I was too sour to capture the 6 inch beast on film, but enjoyed watching the trout cycle through the bowl nevertheless. My opponents across the way managed a few more 16″ Browns, just to show me who’s boss, but it mattered little as I was done with this three ring circus.

 

I wasn’t in the mood for combat fishing, and quite frankly I was running on fumes, but still interested in making a point. How could I not throw on a monster streamer and swing my way downstream through the flats? A ghost-like graybeard appeared at the bend pool as I eagerly anticipated my assault. It was an episode right out of Scooby Doo. I chose to bypass the prime hole out of fear and respect while I continued on my merry way. To my surprise, I hooked up with a handful of chunky Browns to about 16″, and the hits were aggressive. For some reason this 24 hour period is largely undocumented with pictorial reinforcements. Let’s just imagine this post with a bunch of typical handheld fish shots, shall we?  After catching much larger fish on the Gunnison, the average inhabitants of the Upper Pan just didn’t float my boat. The water was gin clear and loaded with smallish Bows, none of which showed any interest in my meaty offering. At this point in my tour I noticed a distinct lack of insect activity. Outside of the Taylor I hadn’t seen many noteworthy risers. I found this odd given that I was fishing during the peak of summer. I chatted with few guides back at the car, who were appalled with my behavior. My giant streamer adorning 10lb. test was tantamount to gillnetting. It mattered little as I drove downstream to another put-in and picked up a few of the smallish Bows on the prototypical puny nymph rig. I grew bored with the task at hand, but the reality is that I had pushed things too far the night before, and I was paying the price.

 

 

I was disappointed with my morning on the Pan. Good, bad or otherwise, in its natural state it’s sort of the Kinnickinnic of Colorado, and I’ll just leave it at that. The mysis-infused tailwater frankenfish are much more accessible in the colder months, but I didn’t let the facts dissuade my efforts. Stumbling downstream to Basalt, I was The Walking Dead. Milling around the Frying Pan Anglers shop didn’t help me get my bearings. I asked the dude behind the counter if there were any good hatches recently. He proclaimed that there had been an unexplainable shortage of insect activity for reasons unknown. This enigma seems to be supported by a recent Moldy Chum post on the subject. I sat and just soaked up the sun in front of the shop. After decompressing for a few minutes, I decided a call to my kids was in order. It’s always a surreal experience when you get the reality check from back home. Mrs. Adrift said I sounded “tired,” and she was right. I texted this strangely low res iphone pic back to the Adrift headquarters. The exhaustion was written all over my pixelized face.

Once again I questioned what to do next. I should have checked into a swanky Aspen resort and spa, but that’s not how I roll. There is so much more of Colorado to explore. My unquenchable desire to investigate the unknown supersedes my physical ability to follow suit. Some may wonder why I choose to fish in such a pseudo no holds barred manor, and it’s a fair question. To be brutally honest it’s a personal thing. My father was stricken with Parkinson’s Disease at the rare age of 30 (see Michael J. Fox). Throughout my childhood I watched the people and things that were nearest to him be taken away, one by one. Until there was none. This process helped me realize that there’s no time like the present. Every season my knee hurts just a little bit more, the bushwhacking wipeouts carry more consequences, and I’m reminded of my own mortality. So fish it now, and fish it hard, ’cause you never know when it will be taken from you. Hit it like there’s no tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

Can’t Hardly Wait

Just thought I’d throw down a quick, “how do you do?” The good news is that there’s a lengthy wrap up on my Colorado excursion sitting in the queue. The bad news is that I’ve neglected finishing the writing. I’ve been too busy logging stream miles, and made a recent pilgrimage to see the new/old look Replacements with the other middle-aged lemmings. I’m shifting my focus to warmwater, but I’ll furnish you some more Rocky Mountain highs, and a treasure trove of midwest trouting soon enough.  I can’t hardly wait.

 

 


 

 

 

 

Leaving on a Jet Plane

All my bags are packed I’m ready to go. I’m standing here outside your door. I hate to lose my temper and say f-ing goodbye…

“I should be soaking in ice cold rocky mountain waters by now,” I reassured myself. Instead I stood in a hornet’s nest of malcontents where expletives and claims of highway robbery were commonplace. I couldn’t help but concentrate on the metal F-R-O-N-T-I-E-R letters adorned with low rent tinsel holiday decor. Does the airline actually think that a little sparkle makes a difference, and what’s the statute of limitations on corporate flair anyway?  It’s like an episode of The Office. The pedestrian confines of Frontier’s lost baggage center at Denver International Airport isn’t exactly what I was looking for in my solo tour of the Centennial State. Perhaps the mistake was mine? I stupidly decided to bring an older two-piece rod which forced me to carry my longer travel tube, as opposed to the convenience of a shorter four-piece tube. I combed through Frontier’s policy regarding carry on’s which clearly stated that you can bring one personal item up to 49″ in length. I learned the hard way not to trust what you read on an airline website as they forced me to reluctantly check my rod tube, and have since changed the policy listed on their site.

I sat at the baggage claim for the better part of an hour waiting for my rod tube, as staff cycled through. Each one more miffed than the last at the loss of my most prized possession. The benefit of my early morning arrival was slowly evaporating. Eventually I was ushered to the lost baggage office to duke it out with the airlines representative mono y mono. A series of phone calls and radio conversations continued to attempt to decipher what happened between Minneapolis and Colorado. Eventually I was left alone in the office to stew in my misfortune, as all of the other angry travelers had been sent packing. The challenge in my case was that there was no forwarding address to deliver my rods to, as we both agreed it’s difficult to find a wandering angler on a backcountry tour. The opening salvo was an offer of $100 to cover the loss of my 3 fly rods. The airline has a policy of reimbursing for rental as opposed to replacement in this instance. One would think that this stipulation is more inline with skiing than fly fishing. I know first hand that long skinny objects can easily be lost in airplanes cargo holds, given that I had a similar battle with skis a few years back in Oregon. I strongly rebuffed their assertion that $100 was just compensation, and I began to plot a number in my head that would allow me to get on the water later that afternoon. For $350 I figured I could hit up a fly shop in route and pickup a cheap rod or two and be back in business. It was time to speak to the management as the customer service representative shuffled away into the abyss. As I sat fuming a baggage handler wandered into the office with my rod tube in tow. It turns out that it had been sitting in the cart the entire time, the staff had simply overlooked it many times over. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I exclaimed as I grabbed my rods and stormed out of the office en route to my rental car. I had no interest in even discussing it further with management as time was my most precious commodity.

 

 

I reacquainted myself with the Denver metro by grabbing some provisions in preparation for the next 4 days of fishing and eating. This was the last stop prior to making my run into the rockies. I had considered this trip for a few years, but hadn’t found the opportunity until now. Actually it was a father’s day gift from “the Mrs.” and the Adrifters. This escapade would be a departure from my last few visits out west. Typically it’s been more of a social affair. The fishing piece of the equation is only equally as important as the tomfoolery and skullduggery. I decided that I’d make it a more sober “fishcentric” tour. There would be no concrete plan, though I loosely plotted out a lap around the state. I would hit some shops on the way to gain a little intelligence, and hopefully a spot or two that I hadn’t considered given my midwest status.

I hightailed it out of my urban confines bemoaning the lost hours at DIA. I set my course in a southwesterly direction flying across South Park as fast as I could muster in my newly minted Ford Focus. I’d considered popping in on Antero or the Dream Stream, but quickly dismissed the notion as wasteful, given that it was the off season for lake run fish. As I drove through Buena Vista I decided some fly discussion was in order at Ark Anglers. This choice was a little like going to McDonald’s to order a Whopper, since I had no plans to fish the Arkansas River. As a matter of fact Braden, from Ark Anglers asked me why I was skipping the Arkansas. To which I replied, “I’ve got Rainbow on the brain,” and that, “the average-sized Browns that inhabit the stream are a dime a dozen on my home waters.” He seemed like a good guy who set me up with a few local patterns and sent me on my way.

 

 

A blast from the past was in order as I opted to scoot over Cottonwood Pass in route to the Taylor River. I hadn’t been to the Taylor in 20 years, and quite frankly I considered it “the scene of the crime” more than a great fishing destination. In college a buddy of mine suggested we do a little back country snowboarding near the infamous “Hog Trough” below the Taylor Dam. One section we rode was a great makeshift halfpipe but was “off limits” and strictly enforced. Our pea-sized brains didn’t conform to reason and we inevitably got citations for trespassing from the fuzz. The highlight was a courtroom appearance where upon sentencing the judge remarked to the bailiff, “I’m pretty sure I skied down that section of the Taylor Park when I was 18,” and subsequently let us off with a slap on the wrist.

It’s no secret that the Taylor C/R section is one of the best spots in the west for finicky, yet mammoth-sized Rainbows. The impetus for hitting the Taylor, beyond reopening old wounds and chasing monsters, was set in motion many years earlier. I was on a family fishing trip in Colorado as a wee lad. The vacation was going great as my brother and I had caught a reasonable number of typical Rainbows. To take a break from mountain camping we went into Montrose to visit some friends and attend the county fair. Like most fairs an impressive display of livestock and wildlife were featured for all to behold. I was transfixed by the tank that held giant Rainbows. I couldn’t quite comprehend the size of these fish. Were these fish actually the same species that so gracefully adorned the end of my line, or mutants from another planet? From that day forward I became interested in the pursuit of big Rainbows, but didn’t indulge with any regularity often due to the inadequacies of my home waters. On this trip I set the bar a little lower. I decided I’d try to see if I could muster a Rainbow, Cut and Brown above the 20″ mark and hopefully harass a few feisty Brook Trout if the mood should strike.

As I descended into Taylor Park I was greeted with the tell tale hum of ATV bliss. I knew that my first destination would be an exercise in civility as combat fishing is par for the course on the Upper Taylor. Angler traffic below the dam was at an expected clip as participants sucked up slop by jockeying for position in typical hog fashion. I hadn’t planned to fish in the Hog Trough, but I suited up anyway, like a 16-year old kid putting on a condom for his first time. It was fast, loose and full of anticipation. A closer inspection revealed a pack of anglers lining the main part of the run down to the “Avalanche Hole”, but nobody was plying the faster technical water downstream. The plan was to walk the bank, snap a few pics and just get a lay of the land since I was now in sight fishing mecca. Within a few minutes of walking, I’d had enough, I’m just too impatient by nature. I waded in the water and was immediately reminded  how icy cold mountain streams are compared to their Midwestern brethren. It took me a few minutes, like it always does, to acclimate the the velocity of this high mountain tailwater game. In short order I spotted a fine looking Rainbow undulating in the relief behind a midstream boulder. This fish would fit the bill, as I had reassured myself that anything over the mythical 20″ mark would complete the journey. Further upstream I had spied a number of fish, mostly in the mid to upper teens range with one pushing 20, but looking like death warmed over due to incessant angler intervention.

I  had an interesting conversation with Scott and Mike at the Fly Angler prior to my departure. I mentioned that I found it interesting that most tailwater hardcores in Colorado are obsessed with notion of tiny flies on tiny tippets. #20 flies and smaller on a maximum of 6x are the norm. And for good reason, you’ll fool more fish. The most telling piece of the equation in my mind is that you’ll see things like, “12 takes, 6 hookups, 4 break-offs and 2 fish landed,” in many trip reports. For me the “break-off” is more of an unfortunate and hopefully rare occurrence than a stat worth tracking. Scott offered a bit sage advice that got me thinking. It was something to the effect of, “when you travel to other places you can play their game or just do your own thing.” It’s the bucking conventional wisdom bit that I tend to gravitate to. In the context of the Taylor River I tied a treasure trove of micro Colorado patterns in preparation for this moment.

 

 

I decided to start the trip by playing “their game” by sight fishing micro nymphs on the dead drift. I spent the better part of an hour trying to get my fly down to the spot where this big Rainbow was clearly feeding. After great effort I finally got a take on a #20 Rainbow Warrior. I managed to move the beast away from the heavy flow near the boulder, but the merriment was short lived. The fish porpoised to the surface and shook the hook. Clearly I missed my opportunity to seal the deal. With my tail between my legs I walked upstream towards the bridge to access the situation. To my surprise the Avalanche Hole was devoid of anglers, and there were active risers to boot. I slid into the deep slower water and admired the massive number of fish loaded in the heavily traveled corner pool. I spied a variety of insects, including a Green Drake, but couldn’t quite get a handle on what they were keying on. I switched to a PMD dry with a Zebra Midge dropper. Probably not the wisest selection, but I immediately had a rise to the dry, but clearly was too atrophied to get a hookup. I worked towards the far bank where I managed a second hit, but also failed to seal the deal. I continued to work the hole for some time switching flies with regularity, but never really gaining any ground. The ice cold water began to take it’s toll as I actually began shivering in my breathable waders. It was hot outside, but this deep pool was doing a number on me. Eventually the evening crowd began to pack into mix. I finally managed a reasonable mid-teens Brown on an Elk Hair Caddis, but you could tell that these fish had seen it all. The monsters that made this place famous were on hiatus. Only two other guys I saw that evening caught a fish, and they were similar in size to my hog. I opted to pull up stakes and head back to the car to put on a pair of pants under my waders and grab a bite to eat. There’s a sucker born every minute. The allure of this place had sucked me in despite my best intentions to fish further downstream in a more traditional location.

 

Thoughts of running down to Gunnison to stir up old memories began to materialize. I decided to take one last stroll up to the dam swinging streamers on the way just for good measure. I surprisingly found the run devoid of anglers, as the sunset began to paint the canyon with a remarkable pinkish hue. It’s the first time I really took my brain off of cruise control and soaked in the surroundings. No more fish were brought to hand as I exchanged a few “what’s up bros” with a few boys from Cali. They were piling in the parking lot for a covert plan to subdue some monsters on their size #32 Micron Mysis. This is typically my kind of operation I relish, but something compelled me to move onto the next chapter of my saga.

I began to drive South out of the canyon. Road construction forced me to detour into the darkness on Jack’s cabin cutoff. It’s at this point that I really began to feel the full brunt of my travels. Navigating this small mountain road in the looming darkness was a challenge to say the least. By the time I reached Gunnison I was almost too tired to appreciate my homecoming. The dusty little town of Gunnison is one of those inbetween kind of places that dot the landscape in the Colorado Rockies. Whenever I mention to people that I attended Western State it’s almost always followed by a blank stare. I was too tired to do a grandiose tour, but I did go look at my old dorm and circle the campus to see how things had changed since my last visit. I considered grabbing a late night meal at a local eatery, but chose to tackle the next leg of my tour in preparation for a dawn raid on the crown jewel of my excursion. The wasted afternoon on the Hog Trough was eating away at my psyche, and I was determined to make amends.

 

 

I underestimated the challenge of late night mountain driving. This journey was never meant to be comfortable. It’s a style of travel that’s not for everyone. I actually enjoy the pain living out of the trunk of my car for a few days, it’s part of the allure. I think of it as car camping meets Easy Rider. Sure I cheated by skipping Nebraska by flying to Denver, but Colorado flights are just too cheap to not avoid Huskerland. I knew in advance that my nomadic ways would put many miles on the road, and that was the point. The plan was to make the run to the East Portal of the Black Canyon. I was too tired to photograph any portion of the trek, including the East Portal road itself, which is a breathtaking little jaunt east of the National Park. It’s full of killer vistas, sheer cliffs, hairpin turns and perpetual rock slides. None of which I could see as I blearily dropped in at midnight.

I’d been to the Black Canyon many times, but had never been down to the East Portal campground. Navigating this section of the “Gunny” in the middle of the night was the kind of experience that you can’t get sitting on your couch at home. I almost felt like an alien abduction was imminent. Even at night you’re struck with the claustrophobic feeling of being tucked into this scar in the earth’s crust. Eventually I was able to get my bearings and found the campground which was largely barren of other campers. There was only one other tent neatly positioned in the back  of the campground. I decided to be respectful the the others by not dragging my tent out in the middle of the night. I simply parked my car, reclined the shockingly comfortable seat and closed my eyes.

 

 

There was no need to set an alarm clock. I let nature take it’s course. At the first glimmer of daylight I awoke and exited my tomb. I scanned the area and found myself perched at the waters edge. The river in this stretch alternates between deep emerald pools and faster shallower sections dotted with massive boulders. As it turns out my parking spot sat just above one of the deep pools. Upon first sight I was concerned with the lack of clarity. The river was running just above 600 cfs and I knew that heavy rains had wreaked havoc further upstream a few days earlier. The Cimmaron was spewing chocolate milk into the mix, but ultimately this played to my strengths. It’s always a double edged sword when you put on your damp waders the morning after fishing. It takes a second to acclimate discomfort of wearing a wet rubber suit, but the distraction is short lived as I turned my attention to the task at hand. I pulled my 8-weight from its tube and didn’t fuck around with complicated little nymph rigs. An 8-weight might seem like overkill to most, but I was going to swing heavily weighted 4 1/2″ T.B.E.s and wanted a rod that could cover from bank to bank on one comfortable swing. I hightailed it upstream to the diversion dam and began to work it like a full-time job. For some reason I was initially intimidated by the velocity and depth of the stream. I guess I’ve had too much tiny spring creek action lately, but was able to get past it in short order. After a few short strikes I was able to get on the board within a half hour or so. I picked up a gorgeous heavily spotted Brown and solid Rainbow, which felt pretty good after a slow evening on the Taylor. The real treat was that I had the entire stream to myself, most likely due to the subpar water conditions by traditional standings. This wouldn’t have been a good day to attempt micro nymphing, but a fine day indeed to play my game.

 

 

From most accounts the far bank can be inaccessible most of the time at the East Portal. Some diehards bring rafts to get to the other side. To my surprise I found a spot just downstream of the dam that I could tiptoe across without too much endangerment. I proceeded to get a few more misses that are commonplace in streamer fishing. For me it’s a batting average kind of technique, and on a good day you should eclipse the .500 mark. Not to be dissuaded, I fired another cast to a dandy looking edge seam. My line tightened as I felt the head shakes of a decent fish. I quickly saw the silver flash of a good Rainbow. Quite frankly it was a short and unremarkable fight as I netted the sardine shaped specimen. Payback’s a bitch, as I exclaimed “hell yeah,” and crossed the Bow off of my trip’s to do list. The fish taped out at the 21″ mark for those who are counting at home, and things were just beginning to heat up.

 

 

I continued to boulder my way downstream putting my fly into any available holding lie. The canyon in this section isn’t nearly as dramatic as further downstream, but you’ll still find yourself backcasting into some fairly steep cliffs and rock slides. At one point I snagged a branch and climbed up to untangle it when I noticed that I wasn’t the first to encounter this particular conundrum. I was struck with the contrast between my grossly oversized fly and the miniscule bead-headed nymph that someone else left behind. It illustrated to me yet again that there are many ways to skin the cat, and that’s what makes this such a great endeavor. I came upon the tailout of a pool that was flanked on both sizes by protruding rock formations. The run below these rocks looked phenomenal. Prior to casting into the heavier flow I somewhat haphazardly flipped my T.B.E. in front of the rock only a foot or two off of the bank. A fish emerged from the geologic undercut, but I didn’t hookup. I dapped the fly right back into the toilet-sized spot, and this time a big Brown emerged from the bowl. The second time is the charm as I managed to pull the beast out of his rocky confines and down into the heart of the run. I wonder how many anglers have walked right by this fish due to only fishing the driftable main part of the run? After a few minutes worth of tussle I netted the second big fish of the morning as the sun worked its way down the canyon wall.

 

 

I couldn’t decide which photo to post of this fish, so I just included them all. This post is already a mile long, a few redundant pics aren’t going to do too much damage are they? This Brown bested his pinkish cousin from minutes earlier by a good inch or two. These fish certainly don’t fall into the obese category, but I’ll just chalk up their torpedo like disposition to the angry flows of the Lower Gunnison. At this point I was in the groove and feeling really good about how the morning was shaping up. While these fish weren’t the real trophies I was after, I was satisfied with the results. Within an hour of fishing I was able to cross the Rainbow and Brown off my list.

I picked up a few more decent Browns, but didn’t bother to photograph them. At one point a swung my offering down into the tongue of a promising run and was stripping it back up the distinct current seam. About 15 feet from my rod tip an absolute whale emerged from the depths. He was a dark colored Brown that dwarfed the big fish I’d just caught. He charged the fly from behind and tried to murder my “Big Easy”. I prematurely ejaculated the lure from his mouth in amateur hour fashion. One has to put an awful lot of time on the water to get these kinds of bites, and even then they’re rare. If you throw big flies on big water that holds big fish, I guess you’re occasionally going to agitate a monster. For the second time this summer I missed the mark on a real trophy. It’s been the recurring theme in 2013, so by now I’m used to it and it didn’t rain on my parade. As the morning progressed I had one other sizable Rainbow swing and miss, but once the sun hit the water the bite shut down. I bypassed a few deep pools containing dink risers, and indicator nymphed a few runs, but it proved to be ineffective. My water bottle was running low and the heat was bearing down. I found a spot downstream that appeared to be crossable, but barely. I inched across at a snail’s pace trying to not do a Brad Pitt down the Gunny. I was only partially successful, as I took a dunk in the river nevertheless. It ended up being more refreshing than concerning once I got past the shock of the cold water running down my legs.

 

I hiked back upstream to my car having completed the majority of the East Portal loop. The river becomes largely inaccessible further downstream unless you’re up for some serious rock climbing and even then things can get a little hairy. I peeled my wet clothes off and made a makeshift clothesline in an attempt to dry out. I sat on the bumper of my car eating lunch and exchanging pleasantries with a fella from Tennessee who was spending the summer traversing the wild west. We said our goodbyes as I sat watching the river go by. It really was the first time 36 hours that I had stopped to take a breath. While the morning’s fishing wasn’t the greatest outing I’d ever had, it was very gratifying. Prior to my arrival in Colorado I’d considered spending the entire trip on the Gunnison. It is more than worthy of investigation as one of the great rivers of the west, and should be on every angler’s bucket list. I didn’t really know what to do. Should I stay or should I go? Should I fish the evening bite to see what I can muster? The fishaholic in me wanted another shot at the big fish. I was convinced that I could blow this thing wide open since conditions were perfect and not another angler in sight. It was the antithesis of the Taylor River experience from the night before. Solitude and big, willing fish. What more could I ask for?

I sat eating my apple, both content and unsure of where I was going or what I was doing. There was certainly a sense of gratitude that my parents drilled John Denver songs into my head on the Colorado trips of my youth. And a renewed sense of giving thanks that I left on a jet plane yet again.

 

 

 

Go On Take the Money and Run

As I pressed my nose up against the glass I couldn’t help but contemplate another urban angling assault. Unfortunately I don’t own an “Urbanist” fly fishing pack, so I felt rather ill prepared for the task at hand. Rather than another Manhattan raid, the subject of this contemplation was the all too familiar “Windy City” skyline. “It’s gotta have a few spots similar to Milwaukee,” I almost convinced myself. My rumination quickly went by the wayside as the flashes of lightening and claps of thunder were a bit too close for comfort at the apex of this skyscraper. Little did I know that the storms sweeping through Chicago had taken their toll in the Twin Cities the night before. This disturbance was just the beginning of historic damage in South Minneapolis, including a massive 100 year old tree that almost pancaked Mrs. Adrift’s car. The reality of my past 36 hours had begun to take it’s toll anyway. Sleep depravation and general soreness had lingered into our day trip into the city as I struggled to keep my sanity.

 

 

It all started a few days earlier. In standard fanatical fashion I had concocted a hairbrained scheme to bypass the mediocre confines of Dane County and make the deeper run into the “Heart of the Driftless.” The North-South Driftless divide is palpable, though not to the extent as the shameful chapter in our nation’s history. Twin Cities “Yankees” tend to go on at great length about the finer points of Western Wisconsin and Southeast Minnesota, while the Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago “Rebels” proclaim the newly minted “Heart” region as the cat’s ass. Leaving my beloved Iowa with “innocent bystander” status, often unjustly relegated to sideshow designation. There’s a similar East Coast/West Coast rap war parallel to made for Minneapolis and St. Paul, but that’s a story for another day.

I’d exchanged a few messages with notorious big trout junkie and Southwest Wisconsin expert Len Harris  in preparation for my forray into the “Heart.” We informally planned to meet up and fish an early morning on prime Richland County water. My timing proved to be unfortunate as Len hit the water hard the day before my arrival on another monster quest and was unable to go. He offered up a few suggestions via the information superhighway, wished me good luck, and sent me on my way.

This is the time of year that sunrise is obscenely early. To many the notion of fishing just before dawn is out of the question. For me it’s just standard operating procedure. I’m not inherently a morning person, but I’ve grown to really enjoy early morning road trips. The anticipation of what lies ahead generally wards off any notion of how tired you actually are. Return trips on the other hand can be a chore. If you’ve had a killer outing often the post conquering glow will carry you to the finish line.

 

 

GPS can be one of man’s best friend when wandering the backroads, but I never travel without my old school Gazetter. You never know when you’ll lose your signal. Navigation in the dark, bleary conditions were challenging, but I managed to find my first destination without too much fanfare. I popped into the cool waters under the veil of darkness and began my journey. It’s difficult to get your bearings when arriving on new water at predawn. It’s unwise to make any dramatic movements, so I often move at a snail’s pace and just pick apart the available cover. I opted to throw my T.B.E. fly in search of big browns (big surprise). In the first promising pool I managed to roll what appeared to be a mid-teens fish. Clearly I was on the right track. I continued my trek upstream for another 100 yards or so as the sun began to give me a better idea of my surroundings. I presented the fly straight upstream and stripped it back to me which produced a handful of average-sized browns in the first half hour. Upon arrival at the largest and deepest pool yet, I had high hopes that it would produce a bigger fish than I had seen thus far. I carefully slid into position and fired the T.B.E. to the upper portion of the hole. No strikes, but I faintly could make out the silhouette of a sizable fish in pursuit. I quickly put the fly right back into the heart of the run, only to be dissed a second time. A downsizing was in order. I went to the old faithful Sloppy Joe that has been so successful on many other streams. Retie, knot check, cast, connect. I hooked up with what I could tell was a good, but not giant fish. I slowly walked the fish downstream to an optimum landing spot and scooped her up with my trusty net, revealing a good but not great fish. It mattered little as I was on the board. A few quick pics and I sent her on her way.

I saddled up again hoping I didn’t spoil the upper portion of this prime looking pool. I meticulously baby stepped my way back into position, double-hauling a pinpoint cast to the top of the spot. I was immediately met with a rude awakening as a second and much more substantial fish took the bait. Like other tanks I’ve hooked in the past this behemoth shot to the surface, thrashing with reckless abandon to undue my stranglehold. After visual confirmation, this was for sure the biggest brown I’d tangled with this season. Some may deem “Mason Dixon” trout of 20″ be  real trophies, but my pulse typically remains unchanged for anything under the 23ish neighborhood, and this fish was well in excess of that mark. The early rounds of the bout scored in my favor as I once again backed the fish down into the slower water downstream. My heart was beating like a drum as I reached behind to prepare my net for landing duties. At this point in the fight I’m usually gripping my 6-weight and holding on for dear life as fish in this weight class aren’t moved easily. I worked him to within about 4 feet, just outside of netting range, when the beast gave me another surge. Unexpectedly, he made a beeline for as the Brits say my “John Thomas.” I quickly closed my legs as to not allow him to thread the needle. In a split second the extreme angle of my fly rod caused the streamer to sling shot from the fish’s mouth into the early morning air leaving me to sulk in defeat. “Rookie mistake,” I bemoaned. I felt as if I’d been disqualified from Olympic competition after years of preparation.

 

I moved on from the scene of the crime, trying not to dwell on my shortcomings. One of many reasons to do this dance is to intrinsically feel something. If you’re cut from this cloth you can be moved to giddiness with child-like enthusiasm. You’ll have some of the highest highs, but you’ll pay for it tenfold with the lowest lows. This was one of those moments. Nevertheless I continued to take my craft to any nook and cranny, vowing to get vengeance on the stream that just humbled me. I began to rack up an impressive number of fish on my #4 Sloppy Joe. I didn’t bother to photograph anything as it was a medley of the usual suspects. After an hour or two I connected with another good fish. This “redemption” catch was a quality specimen a couple of clicks north of the Mason-Dixon line. I was pleased to at least walk away with a solid consolation prize in typical 2013 fashion. I snapped a few “insurance policy” closeup shots of the fish in the net for proof of purchase. This is the first thing I do when I catch a photo worthy fish. They’re not always well composed pics, but I take a few before going for the risky hand held shots that can allow the fish slip away. For the second time this summer a Big Brown slipped from my grip before I really got any respectable shots, but for some reason I didn’t really care. My apologies to those of you that look to Adrift for a light session of midwestern fish porn. I’ll endeavor to do better next time.

 

 

As the morning was heating up I began to contemplate my next move. I managed one more quality Brown before I opted for the great escape. “At least the drive was worth it,” I told myself. Next up on the agenda was a move to put some quality Brookies into the done pile. I exchanged pleasantries with a local farmer’s elderly wife while I knocked back some fluids and food items. A quick review of my maps was in order and I continued my drift through the heart.

 

 

My wayfinding skills in this neck of the woods left a little to be desired. Multiple times I wandered off course. Through the kindness of strangers I managed to find this little gem, as two different dairy farmer’s gave me directions. It’s reputation proceeded itself as I’d heard through multiple sources that it was a fine Brookie stream. The first landowner that I approached wasn’t home, so I tried the next property downstream. Sure enough an extremely friendly woman allowed my to fish on her property. She proclaimed that her son “catches some big ones.” All the folks that I encountered on this journey couldn’t have been friendlier, a welcome addition to any trip. I only had an hour or two to chase Brookies until I had to head for home. The first thing that stood out to me was the shallow water conditions. You had to trek in between quality holes. Once you found a good pool it would be loaded with fish. I decided to throw a Shirley Temple. This little fly caused the schools of Brook Trout to pirhana-style frenzy, attempting to inhale my offering. After catching a number of fish, I’d actually strip the fly faster as to not hook the smaller Brookies. It was like swatting at flies. A few good fish were brought to hand, but not the big Brook I’d hoped for. This high population stream fished comparably to many of the quality streams in Western Wisconsin, but not any better. I was mildly disappointed that I didn’t see any monsters, but quite frankly I’m like a spoiled little kid.

 

 

The trip back wasn’t as painful as I feared. It was fairly uneventful outside of being stuck behind this tractor for the better part of a half hour. I’m pretty patient when it comes to this as we’re playing on their turf. There was a few opportunities for the woman driving the John Deere to allow cars to pass but she would have none of it. I didn’t let this minor inconvenience rain on my parade.

While I’m an ardent Yankee at heart and firmly believe that my waters are the best of the midwest, you’d be hard pressed to find any ill words to describe the Rebel portion of the Southern Driftless. It’s a classic you say potato, I say potato conundrum. If you get the chance to bask in the finest waters that the Heart has to offer, don’t hesitate. Go on take the money and run.

 

 

 

 

Honorable Mention

There was an inordinate amount of chatter last week about the subject of “winning,” at the Adrift™ worldwide headquarters. To most practitioners of the angling arts, winning is measured in inches and pounds. To the youngest inhabitants of my domicile, winning was measured in red, white and blue. It’s the time of year that we look  for macroinvertebrates to pop like a hot batch of kettle corn, but more importantly, it’s track and field day at elementary schools far and wide. My clan has a spotty track record in this event at best. If memory serves I pocketed a coveted third place ribbon one or two times, but little more. For the record,  I am a sports fan, but like most of us I’ve been blessed with an average athletic skill set. I was an okay soccer player in my day, dabbled as a point guard, and still trudge around the ice touting my corn-powered hockey game from time to time. I had the misfortune of being born 3 months premature. From an efficiency standpoint, I like to say, what took you 9 months I managed in 6. Unfortunately this meant I started out as a beefy 3 pound baby boy and never really caught up until I was 17 years old, topping out at 6’1″ and being tabbed a “late bloomer.” While my dreams of quarterbacking the Dallas Cowboys may have been dashed early in my flag football career, the truth of the matter is that I’ve always been drawn to more individual pursuits. Skateboards, bikes, skis, snowboards, and the fishing rod has always been my vice. I put ten times more effort into my design work and things like “bump skiing” than I ever did at team sports. For people like me, the insurance policy for track and field day is the infamous green “participation” ribbon. It insures that every kid can leave with his or her coddled ego in tact. There was a handful of preparatory conversations with my kids that generally revolved around the concept of, “win or lose, it’s okay, let’s just have fun.” You know a canned “Olympic Spirit” sort of speech.

 

 

What the hell does all this “dear diary” have to do with fishing anyway? We’ll get to that soon enough since I’ve found some time to fling the feathers over the last few weeks. I must confess that after I racked up a good “numbers day” chasing Brookies I figured I’d tempt fate and poke around on some lower numbers turf. I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d find on this stream, since I don’t recall fishing it in late May, but I assumed there may be some level of caddis activity. The minute I dipped my toes into the drink, the caddis were readily available, but there was no evidence of rising trout. I strung up a Shirley Temple with the notion that I’d dupe a wily Brook Trout into my clutches. I casually flipped it into the first good set of logjams and was met with a solid take. To my dismay, it wasn’t a stout Brook Trout at all, but a garden variety Brown that was doing the damage. Not what I was after, but it felt good to be on the board. I worked my way up to the first deep corner bend, practically drooling over the promise of this pool. I fired off a few casts with nothing to show for my effort. A quick sidearm cast to the heart of the run did the trick, as another fish had taken the bait. After a brief tussle I scooped up my second respectable, but still not photo worthy Brown. I was in search of Brookies, but clearly a trend had begun. Over the next hour I managed a few more Browns, and only had one good looking Brookie take a swing and miss. My self-diagnosed A.D.D. kicked into high gear, as I mentally prepared for the switch to Plan B.

 

 

I made the drive to my second destination with the Lewis and Clark factor in full effect. While Plan A hadn’t gone to plan at all, I didn’t let that rain on my parade. Visions of sugar plum fairies still danced in my head, and I was dead set on righting the ship. What transpired next was somewhat unexpected. It was one of the most grueling treks in recent memory. Apparently the massive snowstorm that blasted the region earlier this month downed many new trees into the stream. The exploration of this creek was borderline insanity, though I found that I couldn’t turn back. There were just too many brushy deep pools that I knew must hold bruisers, but there was a catch. I’d only seen a few smaller fish with only one bite, to show for my efforts. Did this creek hold the holy grail? Who knows? About an mile into the journey I finally had a good take by stripping a Strawberry Twizzlers downstream. Not a classic presentation to say the least, but the fish missed the fly anyway. I took a few steps upstream so I could get a better angle and put my offering back into the run. Like a dog in heat, a second and much more sizable fish stepped into the batter’s box, only to miss my fly as well. Fuck. Third time’s a charm, right? Wrong. On my third cast, the smaller fish grabbed hold and didn’t let go. A shabby-looking little char with a mysterious injury wasn’t much of a consolation prize considering what had just transpired. At this point in the season I feel like a broken record, words like “viscosity” or phrases like, “the big one that got away” just don’t cut it in the excuse department. After another hour of exploration I came to grips with my failure. This creek is a really low numbers affair. I can personally attest to only about 10 trout per mile, but no more. I didn’t even bother photographing much of the day to this point. Most of my time is spent in fishing cruise control, with little mental capacity for things like good blog content. A few blurry shots from a wet lens must serve to tell the tale of what could have been.

 

 

 

The backup plan if things were to go awry was to make a play for some sizable Browns on the way home. A quickie dusk tour of bigger water proved to heal my wounds in short order. Dead drifting Twizzler rigs and a new prototype streamer served to move some good fish, though my batting average/hooking percentage was still consistent with typical slump levels. The flows were heavy from recent rains, though this stream still had good clarity. As I worked my way upstream through some ultra shallow riffles I haphazardly cast my fly while looking upstream to the next good pool, in typical multi-functioning fashion . I was stopped in my tracks by what I can only describe as someone throwing a big chunk of concrete into the water. Only it wasn’t concrete, it was a big dude beginning his evening prowl for a late night snack, and he chose my streamer for his first assault. This riffle had a whitewater vibe to it and looked to be 6-18″ deep. The fish darted to the side then began sort of a dashing, death roll type maneuver that caught me completely off guard and allowed the fish to come unbuttoned about 10 feet away. Let’s just call a spade a spade in this instance and state that the big one did get away. My opinion (however clouded by eager angler embellishments) is that this fish was north of what I call the “Mason Dixon Line.”

Like I said in the beginning of this post, many anglers attribute success of an outing to the exact size of the fish caught, and I am certainly not immune to this disease. I just don’t get hung up on the details with any regularity. For a number of years I didn’t carry a camera or tape measure, and I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t even know what my “personal best” fish exactly was for a number of species. I could make an educated guess, but I didn’t know the answer in microns. Furthermore, I rarely count exactly how many fish I catch. Sure if I only catch single digits of fish I can easily recount the tally, but if I get to ten fish  there’s a good chance I may quit paying attention. This somewhat explains why I rarely recall my experiences in terms of mathematics. I know many use the mythical standard for a big Brown Trout at 20″. Don’t expect me to always produce a statistically accurate report, but I’m trying to get better at reporting results, I get asked size questions all the time. As a means of convenience to the readership I’ll occasionally use the Mason Dixon Line to designate a 20 incher. Heck, I might even set the standard Mason Dixon line of Brook Trout to be 14″.

Back to the task at hand. This shallow riffle assassin straight up rolled me, and was in my opinion, well north of the Mason Dixon Line. I caught some other decent fish, but all were unfortunately south of the Mason Dixon line. Complicated? Perhaps, and thus concludes today’s math assignment.

 

 

My misery continues as I mourn the loss of the latest big one that got away. It almost feels like one big excuse, but the truth is what it is. I don’t really care about the numbers, I just find that big fish are often more exciting than little ones. Why do we think in these terms anyway? I’ve been in a rut lately and I’m solidly bringing home the fateful green “participation” ribbon. Yep that’s right, I’m simply participating, and that’s all that really matters. We can’t all stand at the top of the podium. My children on the other hand, showed me up by bring home a cache of multi-colored track day booty (there’s a joke in there somewhere).

Mrs. Adrift was insistent that we do some spring cleaning this weekend, and I found this vintage picture of my mom cira 198o. It got me thinking about Memorial Day and doing my part to honor those who have served. I’m dutifully awarding my red, white and blue ribbons to those who have lost their lives in service, but I’m reserving the green ones for my mom and dad. I remember fishing this Colorado stream, but my mom wasn’t an angler by any stretch of the imagination. She would drive me anywhere to fish when I was a kid, and usually just sat and read a book. If you look closely she’s holding her new “Sage ONE” upside down on a not-so prime looking run. The shot was clearly was staged by my parents. You wouldn’t be reading this post right now if it wasn’t for their endless support and commitment to showing me the value of truly being outdoors. Take pride in your green ribbons mom and dad, you are my honorable mention.

 

 

 

 

 

From Zero to Hero

Hey let’s look at a bunch of fish pics, shall we? What is it with us anyway? This baby reads like a dysfunctional issue of Playboy. Don’t hesitate to bask in this voyeuristic medley of pint-sized aquatic pin ups. Regular folks must wonder why someone would be drawn to such banter. After a recent Brookie outing, I completed the task by uploading the trip photos onto my mainframe for review. It’s at that point that I usually determine if the results warrant a full blog entry. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t put all of my fishing exploits on the world wide web. If it’s just another garden variety session of cast, jerk, caress, rinse and repeat, it may not make the cut. I’m typically looking for a yarn to spin, and if there’s no yarn, there’s no spin.

Let’s just set the record straight. If I find out who originally coined the phrase “from zero to hero” I might punch them in the face. Historically speaking, I’m not not prone to violent outbreaks (outside of a few alcohol-fueled skirmishes in my disillusioned youth). Really I’m as tame as an innocent little pussy cat, it’s just my lengthy attempt to show my disdain for this blog title. But there’s a method to my madness. It’s time to get this season back on track. My comedy of errors must come to an end, and one way to right the ship is a solid round of easy fishin’. Pounding out a session filled with eager Brook Trout is just what the doctor ordered.

 

 

Let’s just say things didn’t start off quite as well as I’d planned. I’m not sure why, but I chose to fish a cheap little 7-foot 4-weight fly rod that seems to collect dust in my garage. A number of years ago I picked up the rod as part of a combo package from Cabela’s. I had no interest in the rod per se, but Cabela’s always does an admirable job with the upsell. Somehow I walked out with a cheap flyline and rod to match the reel I was purchasing. If memory serves, my reasoning was that it would be a good rod for the kids to destroy or serve as a backup. As it turns out it rarely has seen the light of day. For no particular reason I threw it in the truck and vowed to put it through it’s paces.

As one might imagine, a rod of this caliber is somewhat of an throwback soft-flexing noodle rod. I managed a few feisty fish while I worked my way through the casting motion “adjustment period.” Much to my chagrin, a soft roll cast caused my reel to plummet into the creek. Initially I thought that I hadn’t cinched down the reel tight enough, but quickly realized that the reel seat hardware had come unglued. The rod, like the corresponding Cabela’s flyline turned out to be a real piece of shit. I fished the flyline once right after I purchased it, and hated every minute of it. Thankfully these subpar products didn’t break the bank. I’m sort of a mixed bag when it comes to product loyalty. I’ve got a healthy dose of skepticism stemming from my experience doing design and branding work for a wide range of manufacturers. Mix that with a practicality learned at an early age from my engineering father, and a lot of time hanging out on a friend’s used car lot. Where does that leave me? I believe in some brands, but never blindly buy the marketing BS behind the latest and greatest claims of many. I’m willing to dole out the cash for some high end items, while others times I’m looking for reasonable quality at a good price. On this morning I was treated to the old adage, you get what you pay for. Fortunately I slipped my workhorse small stream Sage into the car as a backup.

 

 

Speaking of product loyalty and easy fishin’. I had my sights set on some dry fly action to test drive an upstart Iowa-based floatant that I did the design, naming and branding work for. Finally, a fly dressing for the most discriminating of anglers. The floatant category is inundated with a brand attitude and product assortment on par with wart removers. HighHorse Fly is a client of mine but I haven’t had the pleasure of using their products yet. They offer a few ideas in floatant that are new to the industry. HighHorse is available in Naked/Original, UV/Infused and Scent/Infused. This ain’t your grandpa’s fly dressing, and I had a hankering to try out these new “flavors.” While this stream isn’t blessed with a killer “Mother’s Day” caddis hatch, I had reason to believe that the fish might be looking up. I loaded up a fat PMX with some UV/Infused HighHorse with a dropper nymph and began to dissect the patient. The rig, along with the floatant performed well. It’s a little to early in my scientific method to conclusively report my findings on the merits of UV or scent infused floatant, but from a risk/reward standpoint I’d fully endorse test driving a bottle or two of HighHorse. A few bucks will get you a bottle, and why not support an upstart local supplier as opposed to sending your dollars out into the stratospheric Ginks of the world? So step on up to the HighHorse and earn your “elitist” merit badge!

This stream generally puts out average-sized Brookies, but occasionally will produce a reasonable specimen. The concept of readily duping trout with ease seemed somewhat foreign to my fragile angling psyche. The the icing on the cake was nabbing them on the surface. Every little fish served as baby steps towards redemption. It’s as if I was relearning the mastery of our aquatic friends. Everyone is prone to a slump, and Mrs. Adrift™ will be the first to tell you that it affects my mood. She can tell before asking, whether or not I had a good day on the water. To be honest with you, she doesn’t even ask that often, she just knows. If something is worth mentioning I’ll give her a play by play, but for the most part it remains unspoken. Keep in mind while she’s not wise in the angling arts, she worked for a fishing magazine when I met her, so she’s wise in the ways of our kind.

 

 

Give me an inch and I’ll take a mile. After declaring victory via the dry/dropper rig, I couldn’t help turn my attention to more R&D with a Shirley Temple micro streamer. I’m a staunch believer in tying with whatever you have on hand. The latest batch of Shirley Temples were tied on blue Gamakatsu hooks because I had some. Did it matter? Nope. Fly fishermen tend to be obsessively anal about details, but the pursuit can also be as simple as you choose to make it. Many focus their angling efforts on the finicky fish that reject your latest offering, but for every selective sonuvabitch trout there’s three willing to submit to an attractor. I’m eager to dole out the opinions with the slightest inkling of success on this easy track I suppose. Even the smallest of Brookies chased down these things with reckless abandon, just like my last outing throwing a Shirley Temple. Upstream, downstream, strip, dead drift, it didn’t matter.

 

 

It felt damn good to be fishing devoid of snow and cold, a strange statement indeed for mid-May. You gotta appreciate this brand of fishing, it’s like a stroll in the park. Tall weeds, ticks, mosquitos and fly eating trees are at a minimum. Casually hopping from hole to hole in ultimate golf course fashion. I’m not a big fan of man-made golf course fishing, but I enjoy a nice round of spring angling on a more natural section before the weeds take over. No particularly big fish were brought to hand, but that isn’t the point anyway. This nice looking fella greeted me with his presence before my time was up. A fitting end to the day.
 

 

I’ve been rocking a pair of “antique” Hodgman wading boots the last few weeks since my Korkers Metalheads are in for warranty replacement. I have a soft spot for these wading boots since they’re over 15 years old. I don’t wear them often, but everytime I do I appreciate the advancements in boot design even more. Upon departure one of the felt soles finally came off. A solid run by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps this is the ying to the Cabela’s fly rod yang? It matters little since I’ve already Shoe Goo’d the sole back on and am looking forward to another 15 years of faithful service. I’ll put them back on the shelf tomorrow when my new Korkers KGB’s arrive and will be next up on the Adrift™ wading boot throwdown. Can any footwear really stand the test of time?

I have a nasty habit of occasionally torturing myself on some questionable water choices. I just get a little uneasy with the same old same old. When I have a run of bad luck and worse fishing conditions, I need a little shot of redemption. A healthy cache of Brook trouting provides me a false sense of accomplishment and is a one way ticket to go from zero to hero.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up Shit Creek

In standard annual rite of passage fashion I strapped on the boots and donned the waders for celebratory purposes. It was birthday week here at the worldwide headquarters, and the gift that keeps on giving is a hearty round of chasing tail. For a second year in a row I was snubbed in the steelhead category of this event. The once annual tradition of trekking to the eastside for Lake Michigan chrome has gone by the wayside yet again. It rubs me the wrong way that I was unable to get back to lake run bliss, but I’m more than happy to concoct an alternative plan of attack. I’ve plotted and planned many new tours this season, and I had the best intentions of crossing another one off the bucket list. But for some reason I couldn’t leave things undone. I felt driven to go back to the first creek I explored for my Wisconsin opener.

This would not be an early morning affair like my previous review of the place I now lovingly refer to as Shit Creek. I took care of a few work-related issues, gave the mini-Adrifters™ a few hugs, filled my belly with foodstuffs and hit the road for a late morning arrival. The last time I set eyes on this stream I found it uncomfortably low. When I did find deeper holes they were covered in a thin layer of surface ice. It was a brief tour, the cold temps and poor conditions forced me to look elsewhere. Many anglers may chose move on to another watershed and never look back, but I’m a glutton for punishment. I’m not looking for the quick fix, but more of a long term engagement.

I pulled up to the bridge and immediately recognized an increase in flow from the ultra skinny water on my last visit. I got an extra shot of adrenaline from the thought of working more seasonal conditions. The positivity was short lived. Upon closer inspection Shit Creek sealed it’s nomenclature with a water clarity evocative of a frothy glass of ovaltine. Fuck. I stood in brief contempation as to my next move. Should I move on to greener pastures I asked myself? I’d set my sights on a particular set of spots about a mile upstream from the access and I just couldn’t shake the notion. In an instant I chose to forgo grandiose plans of victory. I would grind it out by tempting the skunk on Shit Creek.

 

 

I thought of a half dozen other places I could be catching fish in better conditions, but quickly put such nonsense to rest and concentrated on the task at hand. The mission was multifaceted. It wasn’t just about the Lewis and Clark factor. I enjoy testing my ability to catch fish in murky water, but I wasn’t convinced I could muster a bite in this mudslick. It’s not like this creek was blown out or running particularly high, it was just muddy as hell. This was one of the first truly warm days this spring with overnight temps still holding below freezing. It mattered little as I had misjudged this stream and it was mucked up in short order. I didn’t care. I was determined to go down swinging. Some may enjoy plucking dinks on micro dries, or majestically swinging their regal offerings, I enjoy testing my limits of what’s possible. I’m not stupid (debatable), I actually chose to slog through this muddy mess. As I worked my way methodically up the Milky Way, I began to change out flies at a rapid pace. I cycled through big streamers and smaller nymphs. Heavily weighted offerings and lighter attractors, dark, light, the kitchen sink. No stone was left unturned, and no fly served as the magic bullet. Shit Creek is an absolute fly monster intent on devouring my offering at a moment’s notice. The abundant woody debris wreaked havoc in true Poltergeist tree fashion. I probably lost more flies on this outing, than all of last year combined. Ouch.

 

 


I scoured the stream looking for the tiniest margin of clearer water. About three-quarters of the way to my curvy, spring fed target, I practically stepped on a quality Brookie in skinny water. This served to bolster my morale and convince me that what I was doing wasn’t complete madness, or was it? To be honest with you this was largely a fact finding mission. This journey served to confirm two things in my mind. Shit Creek held quality Brook Trout and a healthy roster of deeper, yet challenging holding lies. At one point I slipped a Shirley Temple into a laydown and was met with a solid take. I set the hook almost in disbelief. A stout Brook trout that I estimate to be in the fourteen inch category porpoised to the surface. The gorgeous coloration of the fish pierced the shitty mess that surrounded him. As I attempted to work the fish out of it’s evil abode it gave me a few headshakes and plunged back into the depths. A fitting conclusion. I continued upstream, but couldn’t manage any more participants. Eventually I decided to retreat in defeat and turn back towards the truck. As I trudged back down I must admit that an eagerness to take this place at face value and fish it under normal conditions grew from within. There are no immediate plans for a rematch, but never say never.

 

 

As I’ve mentioned previously, I never go fishing without a Plan B, and usually it goes much deeper than that. I earmarked the lower section of a stream that was a half hour drive from Shit Creek for second fiddle Brook Trout duties. I hopped in the car and ingested my makeshift dinner with hopes of better things ahead. It wasn’t realistic to think that this watershed was free and clear of runoff issues, but I’d hoped that the clarity would be marginally improved, and it was. I was renewed with the possibilities that clearer water presented and proceeded to work it like a part-time job. For the second time this week I was fishing one of the most promising spots of the early season. I probed and prodded every nook and cranny, and in a cruel twist of fate it seemed devoid of life. To add insult to injury the creek had muddied as I fished into dusk. At this point it was an exercise in futility. I put on a meaty streamer and began to blanket the area, but really I was just enjoying the surroundings. Every once in awhile I can mentally detach myself from the cruise control of everyday fishing. I had the luxury of reflecting on the day’s events, and by almost any measurable standard getting skunked is something to bemoan. But for me it only serves to fan the flames.  If I was to do it all over again I wouldn’t change a thing. Sometimes you have to get back to the basics. I often quote my kids elementary school principal in these instances, “if it isn’t hard, you’re not learning.”  The reality is that my mission is complete, and I know what’s up Shit Creek.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve Only Just Begun

Are you tired of looking at my windshield yet? I should retire this photo from the usual assortment of flotsom, but I seem to keep snapping the pic and subsequently feel the need to post it. I think it may be a subconscious reaction to Phil Monahan after he posted one of my videos on the Orvis news blog last spring and proceeded to rip it for “too much driving time.”  The reality is that if you’re an urbanite like myself, large portions of the angling experience are spent on the road, and I’m just too stubborn when told not to do something. There’s a fair chance I’ll just do it more. Furthermore it just feels good to be on the road again after winter hibernation. The good news is that I snuck out for a few hours yesterday, and can attest that the stranglehold of winter hasn’t fully lost it’s grip. The light at the end of the icy tunnel is ever so close with a major league warmup just on the horizon. The astute angler might wait for the warmer temps later this week. But as any veteran Adrifter™ would tell you, I’m an ardent student in the “fish when you can” school of medicine. The “when I can” in this instance was a sunny, yet cool Monday afternoon in dairyland.

My apologies to any “The Carpenters” haters. The nod stems from my dad’s incessant ability to rock The Carpenters at ultra high decibels, amongst other seventies classics, from his bad ass set of Klipsch corner horns. If you didn’t care for The Carpenters, The Beach Boys or John Denver, and you lived on 27th Ave in the seventies and eighties, it was tough sledding.

 

 

Have I mentioned that I have Brookie on the brain? My last round of R&D on a number of crapshoot creeks left me unprepared for spring creek fisticuffs. I felt compelled to flex the muscle a bit with a more generous choice of water. I arrived midday at a somewhat familiar stream to bluebird skies and a light wind that added just enough chill to remind me of my mere mortality. While this creek has a steady population of fish, there’s just enough respectably-sized fish to keep things interesting.

The switching of gears to Driftless Brook Trout is always an adjustment to my “rewards system.” I’ve found that mine is significantly out of whack following my run-in with the Thanksgiving “Milwaukee’s Best” brown. I was perusing the trout section on the Minnesota DNR’s site recently and noticed the state records for trout. I have never paid much attention to the records, as I have virtually no shot at ever eclipsing any of them, but was struck with the fact that the Thanksgiving fish was bigger than current Minnesota Brown Trout state record. Obviously it’s not an apples to apples comparison, since the Lake Superior and Lake Michigan fisheries are very different in their size structures. It did however serve as a catalyst for change. I need to switch gears for a few outings to kick off the season. It’s time to do a little spring cleaning. To clear out the cobwebs of winter so to speak. I’m attempting to get back to the basics. Back to fishing small where every footlong trout is considered a quality fish. There will be plenty of time in the prime of spring and summer to chase the big boys, but for now they’re just innocent bystanders in my quest for cheeseland char.

 

 

I stood under the bridge and was confounded by the conundrum that has plagued man since the beginning of time. Upstream or downstream? Sure everyone knows that upstream is the wise choice since these things point their noses in that direction. But I caught a glimpse of a juicy-looking downstream run that taunted me in traditional peep show fashion. Fuck convention, I’m going downstream for awhile, then I’ll circle back and work my way up. I crept downstream at a snails pace attempting to not stir up a hornet’s nest of silt. This was private property and I was forced to keep my feet wet, compounding the difficulty. I fired a few casts to the heart of the bottomless pool and was greeted with a righteous specimen. All was right with the world again. 

I continued downstream to a few reasonable looking spots, but none produced. The further I walked the more shallow it became. My multitasking mind inevitably wandered to thoughts of the deep pool just upstream of the bridge that I knew must hold fish. I hightailed it back upstream and approached the spot with care as to not spook any of the inhabitants. This was one of the best looking holding lies in the county and I was determined to not mess it up. I put a good half dozen cast into the belly of the beast, with nothing to show for it but doubt. I worked my way closer to the gut for further inspection. After a few more casts straight upstream I saw the infamous pirouette of a trout chasing my streamer downstream. This all too familiar arcing motion had a golden coloration to it. A German invader had taken up residence in my Brook Trout stream and he was hellbent on world domination. After a brief tussle I put the decent, but not large Brown Trout into the net for further inspection. A few quick pics and I sent him on his way.

Without further adieu, introducing the “Shirley Temple” Brook Trout micro-streamer. When I bellied up to the bar a decade or two before I  was of legal age I knocked back my fair share of these delicious drinks, “to warm up for the real thing”. You may be more of a Roy Rogers fan, but for my money the Shirley Temple is where it’s at. More to the point, I tied a cache of these things on green-anodized Gamakatzu walleye hooks. I wanted to create a very small attractor/streamer in a “baby” Brook Trout pattern. You certainly can dead drift or “Frankenymph” (for those who read my AA article) this fly, but it proved deadly to actively strip retrieve the fly yesterday afternoon. Even the smallest of Brookies were suckers for syrupy goodness of the Shirley Temple. I proceeded to pound out another hour or two on the creek, producing a decent roster of Brookies. The Shirley Temple experiment was complete, and it worked as good, if not better than I would have imagined.

 

 

I hoofed it back to the car and refueled with a quick PB&J and other caloric accoutrements. As I sat in the hatch of my car and considered my next play I was reminded of the mishap at Hay Creek back in January. I set my GoPro on the rear hatch of my car and I fear it must have fallen into the snow. I was removing my gear before departing for home, and I haven’t seen it since that outing. If anyone has found a GoPro at Hay Creek this winter, I’ll tell you that the small scratch on the lens is going to bug the shit out of you.

 

 

I decided to hit a bigger stretch of water on a stream that contained both Brooks and Browns. I’d never fished this section before, but it had been on the hit list for some time. I slinked into the clear water and was struck with the quality of the creek. The first couple holes were deep with the emerald green hue that is indicative of good turf. I switched gears and tied on a meaty #4 Bugger and added an extra split for good measure. In short order a medium-sized Brookie took a swipe, but couldn’t consumate the relationship. Over the next hour I blanketed the prime looking water with no success. I even switched over to a deep probing nymph rig containing a Pink Squirrel, just to “test the waters” in greater detail. The cruel irony is that this was the best looking water I’d seen all season and it didn’t produce squat. My time was running short, so I decided I’d pop in on the next bridge downstream for a twenty-minute tour.

 

I looked down from the bridge and saw and absolute chunk of a Brown Trout leisurely loitering in typical bridge pool fashion. That was the only cue I needed for further investigation. This stretch was curvy but shallow and silty as hell. One huge corner bend had to be 100 feet wide and no more than 6 inches deep, no shit. It was the kind of water that most anglers would avoid altogether. One lesson I learned many moons ago is to not judge a book by it’s cover. If you’re on a quality stream, you’ll eventually find fish. I had two things working against me at this point. The first was the clock and the second was that I was once again working downstream. I marched at a fevered pace swinging my big bugger to anything resembling a holding lie. The challenge to outrun my mud trail became paramount, as I was spewing silt down into my fishing lane as if it was liquid hot magma. I wasn’t deterred and I continued my sprint. I looked at my iphone to check the time and ignored the overstuffed inbox of client requests. 10 minutes more then I have to be on the road I told myself. I spied some faster water downstream and made a mad dash to investigate. It was by no means a great looking hole, but it was the best I’d seen in this god forsaken place. I launched the lanky Bugger down into the run and stripped it straight back to me. As I lifted it out of the water a small fish erupted on my offering. A few more casts, no dice. I walked down to the next section and immediately connected with stout 13″ caliber fish. I released him and made one more forray  into some faster water. I opened up a long distance dedication that was rudely greeted with the cannibalistic behavior of a frenzied predator. Upon hookset I was treated to an aerial display of Brown Trout love. What was even more impressive was that there was a second, much larger, fish vying for my lure. This isn’t a “the one that got” away story as my fish had beat him to the punch. This is the type of behavior that is commonplace in Smallmouth fishing. One gets the feeling that these fish don’t see quality forage all that often, and when they do, they pounce. I proceeded to snap a few pics and make a mad dash back to the truck as I’d overstayed my welcome.

 

 

The goal was to get after some Brook Trout and put a new creation through its paces, which was successfully achieved.  As it turns out the Browns had a few ideas of their own, and I’m certainly not one to kick them out of bed for eating crackers. There was something special about the pirouetting take of the fly, or the aerobatic display in the final chapter. Strangely familiar, yet altogether new. It had a “we meet again old friend” vibe to it, and the good news is that we’ve only just begun.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Sorry Folks Park’s Closed

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Better Late Than Never?

One of my favorite stops on the information superhighway is the “blog apology”. If you’re not personally indentured to a blog you may not realize the effort it takes to keep it fresh. Since I’m in the business of advising actual folks on things like their “web strategy” I find myself discussing such things with some regularity. Strangely enough I can be my own worst enemy when it come to practicing what I preach and my sites can languish with the best of them. As I surf through the blogosphere I’ll occasionally cross paths with others feeble attempt at the ever entertaining blog apology. It essentially amounts to some sort of half-assed apology to the readership for being unable to provide fresh content. In the context of winter fly fishing blogs the best defense against the blog apology is to flaunt one’s vise time. “Hey world here’s the shit I tie since I haven’t actually been fishing,” is the order of the day. Perhaps I should go that route with this post. I’ve been tying at a fevered clip in preparation for today’s Wisconsin early season trout opener. I decided my new flies will have to earn their way on to the blog by producing results. I hope to furnish the aforementioned flies tucked neatly into the corner of a trout’s mouth in the coming months.

 

 


Like most people, February has been a grind for me. All work and not enough play makes Jack a dull boy. February always has that “blessing and a curse” vibe going on. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel as the sun angle increases and the thaw begins, but we’re still trudging through the last stronghold of a Minnesota winter. To add insult to injury, the fishing was few and far between for me. I made a few exploits down to the Mississippi to check things out. It’s become a rite of passage for me, as my fishing clock tends to be well ahead of mother nature’s. I make a few casts here or there on the big river, but it’s as much about getting out and stretching the legs as it is about fishing. Nothing cures the February doldrums like a Wisconsin opener. While I haven’t fished an opener morning the last few years, you can bet your ass I’ll be out there soon enough. I’ve set my sights on some new water for the early season and I’m foaming at the mouth to give it a go.

 


I made a run to the North Shore last week to make a few turns. My buddy was in the driver’s seat for the haul which afforded me the prime seat to rubberneck the many trout streams and surf spots that dot the landscape. Is there anything better than getting a quick eyeful of trout stream as you go down the road? Sure it would be nice to wet a line, but these things were locked up like a fresh bag of Quickcrete. Damn I wish there was a viable winter fishery on the North Shore. It’s all uphill from here and I’m pretty stoked that this will be our last year of closed trout fishing in Minnesota. It looks like next year we’ll have an expanded fall and winter season with Whitewater and other state parks remaining open year around. Can I get an Amen?

 

While I traversed the Poplar River numerous times on my board and skis I couldn’t help but daydream about a steady round of Brook trouting. I’m not really sure where the issue of Lutsen over pumping excessive amounts of water from the stream for snowmaking landed? I do however know that the evidence littered the landscape. Snowmaking was in full swing, gracing the slopes with it’s rock hard icy goodness. Late February has left the North Shore light on the natural stuff. It reminded me that while Lutsen may be the finest the midwest has to offer, it still pales in comparison to it’s western counterparts.

 

 

Good luck to those of you who are out and about for opener this weekend. Fishing in March can be a hit or miss affair for me. The smart play would be to hit a few “old faithful” spots early in the season to insure that I’ll get into some decent fish. Too bad I liked Kenny Rogers Gambler just a little too much as a youngster. Against my better judgement I’ll probably swing for the fences on some new turf and let the chips fall where they may. I’ll furnish the play by play in the coming days.

The gas tank is filled, the oil has been changed and I’m back on the road. Better late than never.