12/15 report

Last week's warm temps and precipitation did exactly what I'd hoped they'd do... Open up frozen rivers and pump some water through the systems.  Charlie and I made it out on Sunday and although the rivers were open, the clarity was lacking due to the amount of runoff in such a short window. Visibility was maybe 10" on the edges of the river... Not great, but I've caught fish in worse conditions.  We strung rods and fished hard, the river unwilling to reciprocate our efforts.  Tough fishing aside, it was great to be fishing open water and not having to wear gloves or deal with frozen guides and lines.  Give me 40 degrees to fish in any day of the week.  My general positive attitude and great mood from the day of fishing was quickly squashed when, upon returning to my truck, I realized that someone had forced my tailgate open (even though the topper window was locked) and helped themselves to my coveted seven weight Sage XP and Sage reel... In broad daylight... On a weekday.  Damn.


go pack

Let's do this!  Hoping to see a Packers/Seahawks rematch at Lambeau Field this season...


weekend warmup

Warmup in the forecast this weekend... Bart, Charlie and I are heading out Sunday to attempt to bend the sticks.


ice galore and a brief warmup

I got out the other day to scout the local rivers for the first time since the stretch of brutally cold weather started.  What I found was not a shock...

For the first time in nearly a week, the daytime temps actually crept over the freezing mark.  I wadered up at my house and strung my switch rod up, even throwing on a sink-tip and fly, so that when I arrived at the river I could hop in and start fishing right away.  The first stretch of river below the local dam always stays open because of the speed and turbulence of the water.  I knew that I could fish there, but it wasn't my first choice because of the depth of that particular stretch of river. Most of the fish that we find when the water drops below 36 degrees are holding in deeper, slower pools where they don't have to exert much energy.  There's always food in the deep pools in the form of baitfish, crayfish, sculpins, etc.  It makes sense that that's where most of our browns and steelhead spend the winter.  The downside is that those slow pools and slower runs are also the first to freeze over, making fly presentations difficult.  Knowing this, I headed downstream to some runs and pools that have great depth and slower currents.  Upon arriving at the first run, I was semi-optimistic to see that it was 40% open... Just enough to sneak out there and swing a fly for 40 yards or so.  The tough part there would be what to do in the event of hooking a fish.  With all the shelf ice around and the speed of the water, any decent fish would have you downstream and under the ice in no time.  I continued downstream, driving one of my favorite roads in the state that runs along the majority of the lower river.  The next spot was a 100% no-go... Not only was there ice, but there wasn't even a hint of an opening.  Anywhere.  Same thing at the next spot below there.  Well, back up to the dam I went.  The water was high from the unusual amount of precipitation we've had this fall, but clear and wadeable.  I opted for an un-weighted Hickman pattern and a light sink-tip, just enough to put me about midway down in the water column.  Step, swing.  Step, swing.  Step, swing.  I fished hard from the dam back down to where I'd parked my truck with not so much as a bump.  It felt really good to cast though, and my toes reminded me that the water was a touch under the freezing mark.

It's amazing what a quick 45 minute session in open water can do for the fly angler's soul.  Even though most of the river was locked and had me disheartened, there was just enough hope and optimism in the fast and shallow water to keep me going.  I'm not sure what this weekend did to the river and with Thanksgiving coming up, I'll be out of town for a handful of days and unable to check on it.  We had temps at nearly 50 degrees and two days of rain, but I'm not sure that was enough to open up much.  The USGS gauges are still reading "Ice", but I wouldn't go completely off of those.


a different version: ac/dc

Different versions of an AC/DC classic...


too cold for november

Driving home last night from our chapter's (Trout Unlimited) meeting, I glanced up at my rearview mirror and noticed that it was a whopping five degrees out.  Ouch.  I mean, we're used to getting cold weather in Wisconsin in November... It's part of the drill.  But, the fact that we just set a record for consecutive number of days below freezing (meaning that at no point did it ever get above freezing throughout the day) is just, well, shitty.  Sorry for the language, but my brain could not find an adjective that was more befitting of describing said weather conditions.  Now, at least we're not dealing with the snow like they have in Buffalo (or for that matter in the northern UP), but I think most anglers would agree when I say that I'd rather have the snow than the brutal cold.  It looks like we are going to get some respite this weekend in the form of a couple 40 degree days, but now they're saying that we're going to get "measurable rain" with that system.  Sure... great.  Why not?

Other than ice fishing, I haven't been on the water in the past week.  I'm going to try my best to get out this weekend in the warmer weather, hoping that the rain holds off and allows safe travel to and from the river.  It will be interesting to see how much shelf-ice has formed in the past week and whether or not most of the runs are even accessible.  The shelf ice makes walking along the river very easy and quick.  It is treacherous in spots and I'd never recommend walking shelf-ice that's over deeper water.  Most of the stuff we're walking is only over 12" of water or so.  Falling is commonplace.  It usually involves some sort of flapping (as if to attempt to take flight), a quick thought to the fly rod's wellbeing, more flapping, some curse words and then, BOOM.  The following morning, there is inevitably soreness... Most commonly in the wrist, knee, elbow or rearend region(s). When solo, there's always a quick look around, as if to see if anyone else saw that.  Only the chickadees, a gray squirrel and the sculpins under the ice shelf noticed... You're safe.  When you're with buddies, the laughter carries through the woods for several minutes.  Tears are shed, pictures are shot and an arm is extended to help you up.  Don't take it too hard, we've all been there.  It's just one of the many joys of winter fishing, which this year just happened to start almost a month and-a-half earlier than it normally does.

I'll report if anything exciting happens.  Mostly, I'm looking forward to getting a couple new two-handers out of the tubes and stretching some line with them.  Fish or not, it's just nice to take advantage of the warmer weather and cast a bit.



Line Cutterz

Check out this video and help get this idea off the ground!  Vance and I went to the same high school and it was a surprise to see his name when I watched this video earlier today.    Line Cutterz


last float of '14?

It makes me sick to admit it, but my float last week with Todd may very well have been my last time in the drift boat for 2014.  With temps each day ranging from lows in the single digits to highs not even to the freezing mark, ice is slowly going to begin to choke the rivers down to little more than a black, winding snake slithering down what used to be a free-flowing river.  This is the second year in a row that we've lost our November and December to freakishly cold temps... Temps that feel more like January than November.

Todd and I launched a little after noon and had roughly four hours to cover six miles of river.  We fished fairly hard, but mostly enjoyed the weather and freshly fallen snow.  We managed to hook one fish that was laying in a calm, sunny bay.  Just what I'd be doing on a cold winter day if I was a fish. Beers were drank, but not for the refreshment factor.  It just felt right, knowing that it may be our last time on the water for the season.  It's funny how in the summer you use a can cooler to keep your beverage cold and in thirty-degree weather, you use it to keep your hand warm.  Yes, I fear that I may have seen my last musky of 2014.

I'm heading out tomorrow before the Packer game to see if I can catch a brown or steelhead.  I think the sun may actually be out, which will feel great for a change.  Below is a few pics from last Sunday with Todd.  Not the greatest quality as I took them on my iPhone...


way to go scott!!

My client Scott just sent me this via email... This was a fish that he caught with me in September during the high water.  It was unusual, but we had a couple weeks of really high water in September that resulted in a lot of big fish pushing up tight to the banks.  Creek mouths in particular were really hot.  Minnow patterns, crayfish patterns... It didn't matter.  Just get it near the bank and get it moving! Congrats again Scott!


teeth and frost

The musky fishing has been great the past week.  Between Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we moved roughly two dozen muskies and landed seven of those.  The biggest was a 47" toad that ate out of a creepy, foam-covered eddy... The kind of place that you look at and just know that something big and mean lives in there.  We've got roughly a month of musky fishing left before it closes and with the forecast towards the end of the week dropping dramatically, who knows how long it will hold.  Flies may have to be downsized and presentations slowed down a bit, but I'm convinced they'll eat... It's what they do.

The tributaries have been up and down over the past month.  We've got the water this year, making a lot of areas great to fish swung flies through.  The lakeside rivers have been producing more fish than the bayside rivers, but that's been true for quite a while now.  I'm planning on getting out on Wednesday or Thursday for a bit before the cold weather hits, I'll report what I see.  I'm hoping that this is just a little cold front and that it warms back up next week.  I remember all those years of deer hunting in t-shirts and warm November days.  Can we get some of that back?



simms wading room blog

Head over to the Simms Wading Room Blog for the latest gear reviews on goods fresh from the Simms showroom.  Up now is the Kinetic Jacket, which I was asked to help review.  Sweet jacket! I've worn this jacket a bunch lately and have found absolutely nothing that I'd change about it.  Hood. Zippered pockets.  Primaloft insulation.  Polartec fleece.  This thing wears like a layering piece and keeps you warm like an outerlayer.  This is right up there with the Slick Jacket as one of my favorite Simms jackets of all time!


TU Movie Night

Join us at the De Pere Cinema on Thursday, November 13th for a "best of" version of the Fly Fishing Film Tour.  For those of you that have joined us at the F3T in the past, this will be similar... But with all the best movie clips from the past handful of years.  100% of the proceeds will be going to local Trout Unlimited work crews for habitat restoration and stream work.  Contact Tight Lines Fly Fishing Company in De Pere (920-336-4106) for more info on the tickets.  As we've done in the past, we'll be hanging out at Caliente (just a few doors down) beforehand for appetizers and drinks.  Be sure to be back over to the theater by 6:15ish so you can get in on the bucket raffles and door prizes!


chasing dragons

It's been less than a month since the busy smallmouth season left us and my mind (and body) are still in "full function, don't stop" mode.  Heading into the latter parts of the summer, I simply couldn't wait for fall hunting, football season, Oktoberfests and a little "kick my feet up" time.  Nice weather and hungry fish have kept me from slowing down much.  When I haven't been with the kids or at their school events, I've been on the water.  Across much of the state the musky fishing has been absolutely great.  The Lake Michigan tributaries have fish in them and (believe it or not), we actually have an abundance of water this fall.  I haven't heard of many browns being caught, but the steelhead and salmon seem to be around in great numbers.  For the past couple years the browns have been entering the rivers later and later.  The water temps and levels have been good, but the fish have simply been later than usual.  I would not be shocked if that were the case again this year.  Some of the lakeside tribs have seen good numbers of early browns, but the bayside rivers have been slow to get going.  Couple that with the ultra-cold Novembers we've been having and it makes for a small window.  It's a great window when it's open, but she's closed quickly when the rivers start to lock up.

Because of this short window the past couple years on the tributaries, I've switched gears a bit this fall and have been spending more time chasing muskies.  Yes, I realize I'm going from one difficult fish to another, but it's been a blast exploring new (to me) waters and tying flies as long as my daughter's arm.  Side Note:  Most of the fish we've caught have actually been on flies in that 6-8" range, but it IS fun to tie the really big ones!  I've cast flies to river muskies for a long time now, but this fall has been about as good as I ever remember.  We've been moving, on average, 4-6 fish per day.  Some days we've moved a dozen fish and hooked half of those.  Some days we've only seen a few fish and none of them even made an attempt to eat.  That's musky fishing.  However, the beauty of it all is that it only takes that one cast.  Just to move a big fish is reason for celebration.  Michael and Bart joined me last weekend for a float and about halfway through the day, Michael had a decent fish shoot up and rock him just off the back of the boat.  Fish and steel did not meet, but I loved Michael's reaction afterwards... After a bit of yelling came the big wide grin and the comment that his knees were shaking.  Yes!  That's what it's all about.  It's the only freshwater fishing that I've personally done where sightings, follows, chases and a "swing & a miss" actually mean a damn thing. It's exciting, terrifying, nerve wracking, heart-breaking and rewarding... All at the same time.

I'll have more pictures and reports in the next handful of days so check back!  I'm still uploading and editing a gob of pictures from the last month of the smallmouth season and I'll probably do a photo montage here soon of a pile of those shots.  I also have some new toys/gear reviews that I'll be getting to very soon!


monsters of fall

After an unusually cool summer, I'm not shocked to have a high-water fall.  That just seems to be fitting of a year marked with strange weather trends.  Through most of the spring and summer months we couldn't buy a measurable amount of rain.  Now, just in the past two weeks, we've gotten upwards of nine inches.  The rivers nearly quadrupled their volumes, started to recede, and are now on the rise again.  If you would've asked me two weeks ago what that would do to the fishing, my answer would have surely been less than optimistic.  The fish, however, haven't seemed to mind... Not in the least.  As a matter of fact, we've gotten some of the biggest fish of the season in the past couple weeks in the high water.  Everything has been tight to the banks, slinging big baitfish patterns and retrieving them all the way back to the boat.  Creek and stream mouths have been epic, with fish congregating there to gorge on minnows and worms.  Some of the fish we've landed have had gobs of worms coming our of their mouths.  Based on the size of the average fish, they're eating well and putting on fall weight.  I love this time of the year for smallmouth fishing and to have this much water makes it all the sweeter.

Below are some recent shots, including some of Scott's massive 24 1/16" fish that we landed on Monday.  It was the biggest river fish that I've ever personally seen and truly a different beast.  She weighed just over six pounds... Not the fattest smallmouth in the river, but definitely lean and in great shape.  Someone once asked me if I'd ever see a legit two-foot fish come out of a river and my answer was no... Unless it was a fish that had migrated out of Lake Michigan or the Bay.  I know they exist, but based on the percentages of fish that we see that are 20, 21 and 22 inches, I just didn't think that I'd tape one that was a full twenty-four inches in length.  Congrats Scott... Truly the fish of a lifetime!

There's a few great weeks of smallmouth fishing left before I'll make the switch over to muskies and migratory fish.  Fall is definitely in the air with the current temp at a chilly 46 degrees.  All this rain will definitely slow down the color change in the trees, but it's surely around the corner.  Enjoy it while you can... It will be over before you know it!


not much more to say

These shots about sum it up... The past couple weeks have been super fun.  Lots of big fish, great customers, mean topwater eats and amazing weather.  Keep it coming...



A few more from the past week - The old homestead is a cool place, it reminds me of the ones you see so much of out west.  They really trigger thought... What went on there?  How long ago?  Who lived there?  Places like that are neat and the setting for this particular one is beautiful.  I'll get some shots of it this fall when the leaves match the color of the lichen and wood on the roof.  The dragonfly picture is just a great illustration of how big some of those fellas get.  He landed right on my fish measuring stick and actually sat still long enough for me to get a picture.  I don't like the angle, but if I'd moved, he'd have left.  They're amazing predators and I'll often see them catch deer flies, damsel flies and even small moths out of the air.


Low Water, Small Flies and Smallmouth Treats

The smallmouth fishing has been solid over the past month.  Again, strange weather has been the norm with cooler than average temps.  We've had a good number of nightime lows in the forties and the daytime temps have been unseasonably low.  Typically we hope for hot, muggy weather, but the fish have adjusted and after all, they have to eat.  Most fish lately have been taken on the surface with terrestrials and small poppers.  Little deer-hair divers have also been productive on the drop-offs and around sunken timbers.  Mid-rivers flats and areas above riffles have seen a lot of activity from damsel and dragonfly eaters throughout the day.  Longer casts and longer leaders help when the water is low. I've been fishing a leader/tippet section in the 9 to 11 foot length and dropped from ten pound Maxima Chameleon to eight pound Maxima Ultragreen.  Long drifts with flies with just a little bit of movement have taken a lot of fish.  Be prepared for even the largest fish to eat very subtly... Keep an eye on the bug!  Some of the fish are pulling the old Houdini trick and making the fly disappear with not so much as a ripple or boil.

A quick recap of the second half of July in pictures...