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...


off for the fourth

Enjoying a few days off for the 4th weekend.  A couple more shots from last week.  Mother Nature has thwarted my carp fishing plans with 20+ mph winds out of the south.  Have a great weekend!



June is closing on a high-note... While most of the state has more water than they know what to do with, we're actually in need of a little precipitation.  We're sitting at typical July water levels right now, with temps just slightly below average.  Fish are eating on top... Poppers, terrestrials and the frog have all done their jobs.  Here's a quick recap (visually) of the past couple weeks...



$20 for a card reader and voila... No more cords and carrying the camera in and out of the house. Here's a few from last week.


5/25 smallmouth report

Weird, to say the least.  That about sums it up.  Our rivers here in NE Wisconsin have warmed enough to get the smallmouth dispersed and active.  That's the good news.  The bad news is that every day has been different than the previous.  Not by a drastic amount, but just enough to keep a guide on his toes. For the most part, our rivers are dropping (in volume) and warming nicely.  It's been a slow process, as slow as we've ever seen around here.  The fishing has been good, but flexibility and mobility have been the keys to success.  One day we caught almost a dozen smallmouth in an hour on a deer-hair frog diver.  The next day (in the same spots) we caught two small fish with a Murdich Minnow and couldn't raise a fish on the frog.  There was another stretch that we crushed fish over deep water with a suspending minnow pattern and the next day they either weren't there or they weren't buying what we were selling.  The key has been to not get caught up on one specific structure or fly pattern, because it's been changing from day to day.  Cover water like crazy and when you find a pattern, work it hard and make mental notes... Just don't count on it working the next day.  By the third week of June, most of the fish will be recovered from spawning and settling into their normal summer holding water and feeding patterns.  Of course those will change (slightly) from day to day, but it's much more reliable than the first month of the season.  Just the changing water levels alone right now is enough to dictate where the fish will be and what type of flies they'll eat.

Pictures will be up soon... I've been old school with my DSLR and have always uploaded via a USB cable.  Either the cable itself or that port on my camera is acting funky.  Looks like I'll have to go find a card reader to upload pictures, which I've been told is faster anyways.  Once I get the issue resolved, I'll do a post with a bunch of pictures from the past couple weeks.

Check out smallmouthflyshop.com or swing into the shop for some of the new smallmouth patterns, including the Game Changer, the Dirty Hippy, the new Murdich colors and Dave Whitlock's new ultralight foam poppers!


about time...

After months of speculation as to what the first week of the fishing season would bring us, the people that had a generally negative feel about it were correct... It stunk.  Cold "high temps", melting snow, cool rain and a lack of sunshine did not warm up our smallmouth rivers to the extent that we'd hoped for.  In fact, we ended up canceling and rescheduling our entire first week of pre-spawn smallmouth trips that we were scheduled to guide.  Instead of putting in a solid week of work on the big river, I found myself continuing to chase steelhead, which was as late into May as I can ever remember doing.

One week from the opener, we found ourselves slowly becoming more and more optimistic.  The rivers were finally beginning to drop and warm up, both of which were happening at a maddeningly slow pace.  Tim and I spent a few days on the river with our newest guide, Drew, and were pleasantly surprised at what we found - Fish that were generally willing to eat and starting to disperse throughout the system.  We started our trips on Monday, which was nine days later than we'd originally planned. The fishing has been very typical for pre-spawn conditions... Big fish, big water, soft eats and crappy weather.  Deeper minnow patterns and Mud Bugs have been solid, fished low and slow with longer fluorocarbon tippets.  Most of the takes have been nothing more than weight on the end of the line. Hardly different than hanging a rock, although with a different outcome.  This time of the year I like fly lines with a brightly colored tip or just bright all around.  The loud colors won't spook the fish when there's this much water and it's nice to be able to see that line straighten or curl when a fish picks up a deep fly.  It's been great the past few days and I'm sure it will only get better.

As rotten as the weather's been this spring, the fishing has been shockingly great.  Trout fishing in the Driftless Area is great (as it usually is this time of the year), although they've had their share of water issues with the repeated rain storms that have been moving through the area.  Believe it or not, there are still some steelhead around in the smaller rivers to the north.  Most all of them are done spawning, but the dropback fish have been comfortable as the river temps haven't gotten too warm yet.  Look for deeper pools and runs that will have the coolest water and use your stealth techniques (long leaders, drab clothing, etc) as most of the rivers are on the low and clear side.  The warmwater fishing is picking up and before we know it, flip flops and sunburn season will be upon us.


may deuce report

Yeah, it's been a while since my last post.  Fishing has been phenomenal, which has kept me from the computer and away from photo uploading and editing.  Blame it on the fish...

This weather has kept the steelhead happy and in the rivers.  Most of the river temps in the area are ranging between 39 and 45 degrees, which gives those fish no reason to head back to the big pond. The fish that I've seen thus far this spring have, for the most part, been clean and bright.  I haven't seen many of those olive, beat up post-spawn fish that we normally do and this is due to those cooler water temps.

As good as this weather is for steelhead, it's also created a slow start to spring, which has meant moving back some smallmouth trips.  We're now scheduled to begin next Friday as opposed to tomorrow. Hopefully this week will give us a few more degrees (water temp) and the fish will be hungry and happy when we get back up north.  I'm stoked to get back on the big rivers and chasing smallmouth, as I'm sure my clients are as well.  We'll be there soon fellas!

Enough words, time for pictures.  Because of the rainy, crappy weather, these were shot on my iPhone. I've been leaving the DSLR in the truck on those days.  The bottom picture is of a couple redds that I found way up a small tributary (which dumps into a larger river) that has cold enough water to sustain natural reproduction.  Most years there isn't enough water for the fish to make it up this far, but this year we've had plenty.  Another reason to let spring steelhead swim...


hold y'er britches...

Most of eastern Wisconsin got measurable rain yesterday and through the night last night.  Having talked to a couple guys that were out and about this morning and looking at the USGS gauges, things will be unfishable for a couple days.  Thankfully most of our snow is gone, so this most recent dumping won't cool the rivers down much.  If anything, it will bring fresh fish in.  Look for the smaller rivers to clear first and fish bigger flies/heavier tippet than you normally might.  Large streamers with a dark silhouette (black & purple) will work well along the edges of the rivers, as will large egg and nymph patterns.

Give it a couple days and try to hit the rivers just as they're starting to clear.  Fish will be less spooky and you can get away with using larger tippet.  Be prepared for a tussle, as there will be fresh fish in most systems.  Good luck!


4/9 update & report

As is evident by the lack of posts over the past week or so, it's spring (finally) and I've been out fishing a fair amount.  While I do enjoy writing and editing/uploading photos, I fish when I can.  My fly rods trump my electronics... Anytime.  Thus far I've made two trips to the Driftless Area and two back to the River Falls area.  The fishing has been amazing in the southwest part of the state.  Each time we've been down there we've had our choice of nymph, dry or streamer fishing, depending on the time of the day.  Most of the snow is gone now except for a couple of the deepest trenches in the north-facing hillsides.  Runoff shouldn't be an issue unless we get a good rain.  It's always a relief when the snow finally goes away as those afternoon melts and consequent cooling of the rivers can really shut the fish down.  It's been one of those springs where I've heard nothing but positive reports coming back from the Driftless Area, which is a great sign.

On the steelhead front, things are mostly just getting started on the rivers north of Manitowoc.  To the south, I've heard of fish being landed on the Menomonee River and the Sheboygan River.  The ice is gone there and water temps are in that 36-40 degree range already.  Shoto and Mishicot are also giving up fish, if you don't mind the elbow-to-elbow angling.  Up north, we still have a decent amount of snow and ice left in the deep cedars and hillsides, which is keeping things a little behind schedule.  Most of the rivers are, however, clear of ice by now.  By the end of the week here, I'd imagine things should be stable, starting to warm and also starting to fish well.  If the water temps are below 40 degrees, just remember to concentrate on the slightly slower water and work your flies down in the zone nice and slow.  The fish are around, we just need the water to stabilize and warm up a bit.  A dark leech swung through holding water or a nymph/egg combo on the edges of the current will produce fish this time of the year.  Good luck!

**Remember that your 2013 fishing licenses have expired**


march 22nd report

A few days ago it was almost fifty degrees out... Robins and red-winged blackbirds were all over the place, singing their springtime choruses, and we started to see some grass on the edges of the yard. Right now it's twenty degrees out and there are snow flurries forecasted for later today.  So goes life in the upper-midwest in the spring.

As far as fishing goes, things are just getting started.  Myself and others that have ventured down to the Driftless Area have experienced very good fishing.  The fish seemed to have made it through the long winter just fine and are fat, happy and ready to eat.  As usual, the warmer days are yielding fish sipping midges and BWOs on the surface.  When fish aren't on the surface, go below... I've heard of a lot of different nymphs and streamers working well this season.  I think the bottom line is that when the fish are hungry, they'll eat.  The streams across the Driftless Area are in a wide variety of conditions, as is usual in March and April.  While one is high, dirty and 35 degrees, the next is low, clear and 41 degrees.  Don't get too hung up on stream reports (from the internet or other anglers), because you sometimes don't know where they're coming from.  Just go fish.  Remember, the streams that are low and clear often have fish grouped together this time of the year.  Approach with caution.  Spooking even one fish can often stir up the pod and cause all the fish to become cautious.  In the spring, it's not uncommon for me to use 3X on one stream while tossing streamers and then use 6X fluorocarbon on the next stream while casting a size 22 midge.  Be flexible and don't get too fixated on one technique or one water type.

The tributaries are just starting to break out of their wintery grip.  Most of the rivers to the north of Green Bay are still frozen over, but some of the rivers south of Sheboygan are starting to open and some are even ice-free.  Water temps will be in the 30s for the next week or more until we get closer to next weekend.  Towards the end of next week, it looks like temps (statewide) will be in the 50s or warmer.  Couple that with some warm rain and things will open up and get rolling.  Unfortunately, most fish at these temps will be in the slower pools, which will also be the last places to lose their ice. Concentrate on the slowest water you can find and work low and slow.  Nymphs and eggs paired together under an indicator will work well in the spring, and my best advice is to set the hook on even the slightest movement of the indicator.  When the water temps are 37 or colder, strikes can be very subtle.  Once the temps get close to 40 (and above), the takes will be much more obvious as the fish will become more active and aggressive.  Also, try to keep the fish out of the water as little as possible when the air temps are cold (or at any time, for that matter).  Cold temps are tough on a fish's delicate gill structure and exposing them to cold air can damage them.  Keep pliers out and handy, have your camera (if you use one) easily accessible and use a landing net.  I started using a landing net for steelhead about five years ago and think it makes a world of difference, especially when fishing solo.  I can net the fish and keep it in the water while I grab my camera, pliers, etc.  Nets with a rubber bag or soft cloth are gentle on the fish and keeping them in the water will keep the fish relaxed until you're ready to take a picture or remove the hook.

We leave for the Driftless Area on Thursday and we'll be down there for five days.  I should have lots of pictures when I get back... Temps look like they'll be very comfortable, hanging in the upper-40s and maybe even the 50s.  There's not nearly as much snow down there as there is here, so hopefully the runoff monster doesn't get us too bad.


one last reminder...

This weekend, Tight Lines is hosting it's Second Annual Brule River Day.  The event is Saturday at Tight Lines Fly Fishing Company and runs from 10AM-4PM.  For full details on what's going on and who will be there, follow this link for more information.

Additionally, I have gotten some feedback from a couple people that this blog loads slowly for them... I'm not sure what to say.  It may be a browser issue or an issue with the device.  I've only heard this from 2-3 people.  I emailed about 20 people and asked them to go to this page and they all said it loaded very fast and without incident.  If anyone else is having this problem, shoot me a message... I'd be curious to know what browser you're using.  Thanks ~ Nate



Mother Nature blessed us with some warm weather and I was finally able to break out of possibly my longest stretch without fishing in open water in a long time.  Temps were in the upper-20s on Saturday and I didn't make it out to fish.  Sunday was in the upper-30s when we got to the river and low-40s when we left.  I haven't seen that many fishermen on the river in a long time.  With the long winter and last week's opener being so cold, it's no surprise that there were a lot of people out.  We actually struggled to find a spot along the river that didn't have a half-dozen vehicles parked there.  We finally did find a spot where there was just one truck and the anglers from said truck were just finishing up. We parked, rigged up and decided to head downstream and fish back up to the bridge.  As we sat in the snow tying flies on and enjoying a beer in the warm sunshine, I glanced upriver and there was another angler sitting on the bank just 15 yards upstream from us.  He apparently had parked and walked down without us noticing.  Plan... thwarted.  There wasn't mush we could do and we fished the run that we were sitting near, landing one small brown and missing a few others.  We later passed above that angler and headed upstream from the bridge, fishing a couple spots along the way.  It seemed that each spot had a couple really hungry, aggressive fish in it and then, nothing.  We did not come across one of those runs that you can park in and catch 10-12 fish in a short period.  It seemed that you were best served to fish the run well, take a couple fish and then move on.  A tungsten scud paired with a midge larvae (Zebra Midge or JuJu Midge) worked well, as did a #20 red Copper John.  The warm sunshine and cold beer was much needed.  By the time we left, there was definitely a touch of color added to the river by the runoff that was occurring.  Although the air temps were warm, I have seen the river temps drop on these kinds of afternoons as much of the runoff that's entering the rivers is just a touch above freezing.  As the snow melts and runs down to the river, most of it's journey is over and through ice laden gullies and banks, cooling it as it flows.  These areas that have lots of runoff pumping into them can easily drop in temperature when there's still this much snow on the ground.  It didn't matter to us, I was just happy to be out.



a noble cause

A very well done site, a very noble cause and something we should all pay attention to.  I've heard of this movement being called "extreme" or "radical" and I don't think that's the intent.  Most of these dams are literally serving no purpose anymore and are costing taxpayers more money for upkeep than they're worth.  Hydropower is a great idea, but when the generators are old and the structure is failing, the cost vs. worth scale starts to tip into the unfavorable.  In the interest of the fish, the wildlife and all who enjoy both, I'm all for seeing some of these come down.  They've even started removing some small dams on some of our little Lake Michigan tributaries in the past couple years, allowing steelhead and their smolt to travel upriver to areas that just might be cool enough to harbor those fish and allow natural reproduction to complete the cycle.  It also makes it easier on the fish all around by dispersing them when they run so that they're not so vulnerable to anglers and predators.  I'm proud that we're realizing that without our tinkering, wild fish can rebound and Mother Nature will prevail.


wish i was there...

A small compilation of opening weekend photos from the past...