Category Archives: Stories

Walleye

Iowa Walleye On The Fly

As summer putters out with the occasional warm day, thoughts of fall fishing is almost constantly on my mind.  In Iowa’s driftless region, fall fishing is one of the best all-around times of the year to fly fish. Warm sun and cool temps give way to some of the most comfortable fishing all year. Cozy layers allow the angler to stay warm, yet adequately move. I relish a day on the stream with a nice cool breeze and warm sun on my back. Lying in the dried grasses near the stream, knowing that the snow that will soon cover the landscape is on the way, is a treat. Even the drive to the stream is a simple pleasure, looking upon the changing colors of the leaves, wildlife, and the farmers harvesting their crop.

Trout fishing can be phenomenal this time of year in the driftless. Baetis hatches are frequent, and nymphing becomes an effective tactic to land big browns as the season wears on and temperatures cool.

While I love to fish for trout in the fall weather, unfortunately my schedule doesn’t always afford me the ability to pick up and go. When pressed for time, I have found some of the best all-around fly fishing can be found within a mile of home. During the fall, Walleye begin their run up our local rivers, and smallmouth are still to be found. These heavy, hard-fighting fish can provide some of the best fight on a fly rod.  Walleye seem to begin to eat as the sun sets in the fall. The fish become aggressively predatory, and much like when a trout takes a fly, the feel of the fight is addictive.  Walleye fishing gives me the chance to cast my 8wt and does a great job getting that fly out there, but when I want to have a little fun, I’ll bring along my 6wt. There’s nothing like wrapping your rod over on a warmwater fish- and walleye can feel like hooking into a unhappy log. Do be careful fishing as the sun sets. Casting a weighted fly requires you take your surroundings into account (as well as yourself-ears, eyes, etc.) Find a spot that affords you and others some safety.

Depending on water conditions, a weighted or sinking leader might be useful to get that fly down into a feeding zone for the fish. You’ll want to try various water depths dependent upon temperature. The end of a pool or a run in the river seem to be practical places to find walleye.  As far as flies, clousers, buggers, and zonkers stripped in at varying speeds can produce some great fish. I’ve found baitfish patterns work best in the river I fish. These are patterns that readily available for purchase and/or are easy to tie.

I use a non-slip mono loop connection for my tippet or leader to fly connection. This simple knot gives the fly a lot of play in the water and is durable as well. You may have to experiment in your own water to determine what strategy works best to hook into your fish. I cast upstream, pause to allow the fly to sink, and then use short strips to give the fly movement as the current swings the fly downstream. I vary this of course, on river conditions and structure.

I feel one of the best aspects of fishing for walleye or smallmouth is the simplicity. For me, it’s a short drive that allows me to be casting in a matter of minutes, which I consider therapy. I can take along minimal gear- a puck of flies, my mitten scissors or nippers, some tippet, and I am fishing.

We all dream of fishing on these beautiful days in fall, though it’s is a very busy time for almost everyone. Next time the fly fishing fever hits this fall, take a quick trip to the river. A short outing can provide an exciting and inexpensive experience.

Terrain

Charring The Bucket List

(Arctic sushi, arctic trekking, arctic plane reservations, arctic wildlife deterrent, and arctic char…)

The outfitter told me there were lake trout, arctic grayling AND arctic char at one of his camps and that sealed the deal.  Most people don’t get the chance to fish for arctic char in their lifetime and the allure of the exotic was overpowering.  So a few months later my Dad and I landed in Rankin Inlet on the shore of Hudson Bay.

The plan was to be helicoptered from there to a plywood shack in polar bear country on the Nunavut tundra.  However, Hudson Bay is a large body of water and Rankin Inlet is very cool in the summer – this combination leads to a lot of fog.  We actually spent two days in Rankin Inlet waiting for the fog to lift.

The outfitter put us up in his own house. For two days, we walked around town, taking pictures of sled dogs in their kennels and watching the locals bomb along the streets on quads.  We also sampled the local cheeseburgers, which were tasty but worth about $12 each due to the fact that all the ingredients arrived by plane.  And we joined in a family dinner where the appetizer was a traditional Inuit food – raw beluga whale. It had a mild taste and a chewy texture.  Being the rookies in the crowd, Dad and I were given plenty of teriyaki sauce and hot sauce as condiments.

Eventually the fog lifted and a15 minute helicopter ride took us to an area known as Corbett’s Inlet.  Up there, the lake trout stay shallow all summer and they like the rivers as much as any lake.  If you can navigate to the base of some rapids, you are pretty much guaranteed lake trout. (For a closer look at this type of fishing look at my  “Tundra Trout” article elsewhere in this blog.)

The outfitter had pointed out a particularly delectable set of rapids on our map. Being about ten miles from the ocean, these rapids held both lake trout and the sea-run holy grail of this trip – arctic char.  We immediately hopped in the boat and set off.

To get to the rapids, the map said we had to pass through a narrowing of the river; however, this narrowing turned out to be a boiling cauldron of whitewater.  Being self-guided in the middle of nowhere, we turned around and the Arctic char remained unattainable .

That night, by lantern, in the comfort of our plywood shack, we checked the map and noted the rapids were about ten miles away by boat. But they were only 2 miles away by land. In most wilderness on this continent, overland travel means crashing through dense bush with about the same penetrability as a brick wall.

However, we were on the tundra. There would be no bush, only rocks and spongy moss. I think the light bulb went off in Dad’s head first.  “We can walk it,” he said.  Brilliant!

So the next day we set off. In consideration of my Dad’s seventy years, I carried the tackle, the lunch, and the polar bear repellant – a rifle and three shells supplied by the outfitter.

Sidebar #1: Three shells are not a lot of ammunition but, according to our outfitter, if you are about to fire your fourth round, you are likely polar bear hors d’oeuvres anyway.

Sidebar #2: I later find out the rifle was a .308.  I know next to nothing about guns and hunting, but is that enough artillery for large Arctic predators? I still haven’t brought myself to Google it.

The hike to the rapids was just like the map said – we aimed between the two ponds visible from camp and just kept going. It took about an hour and we did not see any polar bears.

I’d like to say that hyper-aggressive char were stacked below the rapids. We fished hard all day and landed two.  They had beautiful, big white spots and were amazingly chunky.  Their heads, in fact, were tiny compared to the rest of their body – a likely testament to the feeding they did in the ocean. They fought strong and deep. We left the rapids satisfied with our catch.

The rest of the trip was typical tundra fishing for lake trout and arctic grayling. The day we were ready to leave, we piled up our gear and waited for the helicopter. And waited. And waited. And then we remembered that the outfitter had given us a satellite phone.  A quick call told us that our helicopter was down for repair and would pick us tomorrow. Another phone call and we had our outbound flights from Rankin Inlet rearranged. That far north, even the largest airlines become quite flexible and accommodating.  We had previously lost a couple days fishing to the fog and just gained one back!  Instead of sitting around waiting for the helicopter, we hopped in the boat and headed for a grayling hotspot.  Thank God for satellite phones…

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The next day, comfortably on board a commercial jet, flying out of Rankin Inlet, all I could think about was our tundra trek to the arctic char.  I kept replaying that day over and over in my mind. And I kept hatching schemes to somehow catch a few more.  I haven’t yet…  But I will….  :)

There Are A Few Things That Really Rattle Me

There are few things that really rattle me.  I have found myself in a standoff against a Yellowstone Black Bear, been bumped by a shark, went headfirst into a sweeper on a raging river.  Part and parcel of the sport I suppose.  All those things happened so fast that I really had no time to be afraid…I just reacted.  While all of those events made for interesting adventures, panic filled memories, and a good story or two, nothing…and I do mean nothing, creeped me out more than an occurrence in The Great Smoky Mountains a couple of weeks ago.

I am standing on the bank, little more than the toes of my boots in the water, roll casting flies into a seam that had trout stacked up in an amazing feeding line.  They moved very little and I could see the yawn of their mouths, food was plentiful and it appeared that they were not being very particular as to what they would eat which was good for me.

I rolled out a tandem rig. Neversink Caddis and below it I had on a Green Weenie.  Without a doubt, these two flies are the top producers for me.  Tons of trout, flies you trust, no one in sight…yep, I was in the zone.  The cast rolled out much better than usual and landed upstream from the aquatic congregation, just far enough for the GW to sink down into the feeding land.  It was a slow motion display in front of me as I watched the fly twirl in the current; the slightest of movement from a willing rainbow, the take…fish on.

He wasn’t particularly large by most standards, maybe ten inches, which is a pretty good size for a mountain bow.  I pulled him away quickly from his friends so that they would miss the fact that one of their kindred had been attacked by a bug puppet and was losing.  I had him maybe ten feet from where I stood, when out of the corner of my eye I saw something move from underneath a rock just to the right of where I stood.  Most of the rock was under water so I quickly determined that it was perhaps a brown trout that I had spooked away from its lie.  Then the line went crazy.  The trout began to struggle in a way that just didn’t seem right…then all I felt was the weight of the fish.

Confused, I reeled in the line, my rod tip dipping with each turn as it pulled against the weight of the fish.  Finally the head of the trout came into view.  Its eyes were stark white; the color you would associate with a wild rainbow had grown ashen.  And, just above its tail, holding for all its worth was a snake; the one common creature in God’s vast zoo that absolutely freaks me out.

The snake was maybe three feet in length with a dark cream colored body with deep rust colored bands which is the coloration of our local low country viper…the copperhead.   This snake had sunk its teeth deep into this trout and would not let go.  The trouble was…I couldn’t let go either…until I cut the leader, which I did with a swiftness that would have impressed Zorro as I pulled my knife from its sheath and with one pass cut through the mono.  It should also be noted that I did not cut until I was absolutely certain that the distance of my hand from the snake was safe.

Having rescued what remained of my leader, I expected to see my Neversink moving across the water to some remote location for this vile serpent to devour its/my catch.  However, in a manner reserved for only slapstick anglers such as myself, I saw that my lovely Neversink was floating inches from my right foot…and two feet beyond that lay the snake and the trout.  Perhaps in a moment of mutual clarity, both the snake and I decided that being exposed on the riverbank was not the best of ideas.  I left for higher ground and he took his lunch elsewhere.

Before swiftly extricating myself from the scene, I managed two photos.  Sadly these pictures turned out much like those of a Bigfoot sighting or perhaps the Zapruder film.  Shaky and dark.  I will leave it to the folks at Fishwest to determine if the evidence captured in a digital format are worthy of print.

It wasn’t until a couple of days later as I relayed the story to a friend that I learned the truth about the snake.  A copperhead it was not.  The fish met its demise at the mouth of a Northern Water Snake, which was no more comforting than being shot with hollow points instead of buckshot.  A snake is a snake and though I was twice his size and outweighed him by a multitude of pounds, he was the clear winner in this one.

 

The Gunnison River Gorge

My Fishing Roots

When I was about 9 years old, my family moved to the outer edge of Alexandria, Louisiana. The area was unique in that it was built just before the sub-division era, yet the area was not a part of the old town either. Luckily, for me and my older brother Chuck, there was a nice sized lake just behind our house. All we had to do was cut through the neighbor’s backyard, cross one street, go through another neighbor’s yard and bingo, we were at the lake.

When we moved into our new home, dad forbid us to go to the lake.  We were sternly told, if we were caught at the lake, we would be dealt a serious whipping. Keep in mind, this was in the day of liberal use of a belt or other disciplinarian  instruments. Being typical boys, we couldn’t wait for Dad to go to work so we could check out our new digs at the lake.

From the moment we laid eyes on her clear water and huge bass cruising the shorelines, we were hooked. I lost count of the “ass-whippings” we received as a result of our hard headed defiance. Our love for the lake and fishing was so powerful we could not pull ourselves away, even knowing a serious whipping was a certainty.

Most days, we would fish with the best intentions of being home before dooms hour, that being Dad’s punctual arrival home at 5:30.  By 5:00 our casting became frantic….”gotta catch one more bass.”  At 5:30 sharp, Dads whistle rang through the air with the dread of an air-raid siren.  I would look at Chuck, he would look at me, and we both would say, “Oh crap.”  We quickly gathered our gear and headed home with much trepidation.

Each time, we took our licks like men, knowing full well, tomorrow we would go back. Dad should have seen the light. Hell, there was a clear path beaten through the yards heading off toward the lake.

I can’t remember exactly when dad surrendered.  I think we were about thirteen or fourteen. After one particularly serious “ass-whooping,” I stood tall before my dad and said, “You might as well give us permission to go because we are going anyway.” By then it was obvious I could take the best of what he could dish out and would gladly do so for a good fishing trip….He finally saw the light. He had two incurable anglers for sons ….he relented.

From that day on we fished without worry. We even managed to persuade him to let us night fish and frog hunt on the lake. He quickly became keen on the frog legs as well as an abundant supply of large bream and bass fillets.

We “generally” respected his request to be home before dark. We weren’t disobedient children, we simply could not help ourselves.  We had to fish….it was in our blood and some sixty some odd years later, it still is.

I’ll see you on the water Chuck….I love you brother!

 

TetonRange

Yellowstone’s Little Sister

Much has been written – and deservedly so – about Yellowstone National Park and its fisheries.  (Take a look at Marc’s articles elsewhere in this blog for some very interesting samples.) What about the Tetons just south of Yellowstone?

The Grand TetonsSince the Tetons don’t bother with foothills, the view from the road is incredible.   Rugged peaks simply erupt from sage-covered flats.  And all kinds of trails lead right into these eye-popping mountains.  Naturally, what makes it a complete destination – at least for the typical Pisciphilia reader – is the nearby fishing.

It’s all about the cutthroats in this part of the world.  Other trout seem to be merely incidental catches.  No need for any size 20 Tricos. Large, attractor dries are the usual fly shop recommendation.

I’m no expert; in fact, I’ve merely sampled the rivers around Grand Teton National Park on a couple of different trips.  Nevertheless, I hope my impressions might spike your curiosity and even help you plan out a possible trip…

The Snake River: This is the one you’ve probably heard about.  It’s a big, wide river with a relentless, pushy current. Don’t even think about wading across!  It parallels the Tetons and then runs south. Common wisdom dictates that a drift boat is the best way to fish it. Nevertheless, it is quite possible to walk along and pick at some very juicy-looking pockets along the bank.   Better yet, if you find some braids, crossing a side channel or two will lead to enough water to keep you busy all afternoon.  You can even feel a little bit smug, knowing you’ll cover those enticing seams more thoroughly than the guy who zipped by in the drift boat.

Fishing The SnakeThe Wilson bridge access, just outside the town of Jackson, leads to a path that runs up and down the river in both directions.   Locals walk their dogs there and you might have to relinquish your spot to an exuberant black Lab.  Despite that, the Tetons form an impressive backdrop and you can definitely find some nice braids.  I have to admit that although the numbers were okay; my biggest fish from the area was perhaps eight inches.  Maybe my technique wasn’t quite dialed in?

There are other places, like boat ramps and the Moose Bridge, to access the Snake River for wading.  Further researching the resources at the end of this article will likely reveal even more.   Although wading is thoroughly enjoyable, the Snake offers a lot of river and a lot of scenery. On my next visit I will seriously look into the guided drift boat option.

The Hoback River: The medium-sized Hoback River follows Highway 191 and pours into the Snake south of Jackson.  There are many access points along the highway and the river has a little bit of everything – shallow riffles, rocky runs, pocket water, and deep glides.  The good water is much more obvious than on the Snake.  It is far more wader-friendly as well and you can cross some sections quite easily. Although the holding spots might be a fair hike apart, there are definitely 8 to 14 inch trout to be had.

The Gros Ventre River: This stream is a little smaller than the Hoback and just as easy to read.  It seems to follow a well-defined pattern of riffles and runs. Crossing it to optimize your drift is possible in most areas.

Despite all this, my catch rate on the Gros Ventre was almost nil. Nevertheless, I know the fish are in there and I’ll be Moose Crossingback. In the meantime, I’ll blame my lack of success on the bull moose that wandered into the stream and forced me to detour around a couple of prime runs.

Speaking of wildlife, the Gros Ventre River runs right by Gros Ventre campground on the road to Kelly. The river is easily reachable from the road and the sage flats in this region are like an American Serengeti. On more than one occasion, bison delayed traffic as they crossed the road.

Granite Creek

Granite Creek is a small stream that is paralleled by a good gravel road as it tumbles toward the Hoback River.  It alternates between pocket water in forested sections and a classic meadow stream in picturesque valleys.  (Think Soda Butte Creek with far fewer fishermen).

The meadow sections were perhaps my favorite places to fish in the entire region.  Although the water looked impossibly skinny from high up on the road, there were actually all kinds of places where the bottom slipped out of sight – undercut banks, around boulders, and just below riffles – where the bottom slipped out of sight.  It seemed like most of these places held fish that were extremely adept at quickly spitting out a dry fly.

Cutties Love HoppersHowever, a few actually came to hand. They were solid, gorgeous cutthroats up to 14 inches. Given the size of the water they came from, they seemed like true lunkers,

Granite Creek also had a couple of bonus features built into it.   One was a spectacular waterfall near the end of the road – a great place to simply admire, or cool off by splashing around.  And if you cooled off too much, there were some hot springs right at the end of the road.

Miscellaneous Notes: A standard 9 foot 5 weight worked great on all the above rivers except for Granite Creek, which was more suited to an 8 foot 4 weight.  When large attractors like Chernobyl Ants and Turk’s Tarantulas did not get eaten, smaller patterns like Trudes, Humpies, Irresistibles, and Goddard Caddis filled the gap. Drifting the odd nymph or swinging the odd sculpin pattern also worked.

Resources:

Book: Flyfisher’s Guide to Yellowstone National Park by Ken Retallic.  (It includes a chapter on the Tetons!)

Fly Shops in Jackson, Wyoming: High Country Flies and also the Snake River Angler. (Be sure to check out their websites.)

 

Marina Flags

Teasing In Cabo

(A sample of the fishing and – the non-fishing – in Cabo San Lucas.)

To me, a “non-fishing” vacation involves fishing – just not the majority of the time.  So even for a “non-fishing” vacation, I research the fishing possibilities well before any flights get booked.  And I’m sure you can imagine why my girlfriend and I wound up in Cabo San Lucas this past March…

Halfway through the trip, I had a full day charter booked with Baja Anglers. At about 7 AM that morning, I hopped on a very fishable 26 foot Glacier Bay catamaran with my captain and mate. Our first stop was getting the bait part of “baiting and switching” from a local pangero; $20 got me a half dozen, 8 inch goggle eyes.

We started fishing almost as soon as we left the marina.   The mate ran the boat slowly along likely beaches and rock outcroppings while the captain bombed out long casts with a spinning rod and a hookless surface plug – the teaser. My job, with a 9 weight and 350 grains of sinking line, was to land a Clouser just beyond the teaser as the captain skipped it back into range.   And then strip like crazy.  Sounds simple, right?

The persistent swell, which was likely great for surfing, was not terribly noticeable when just sitting in the boat.  However, it felt like a mechanical bull was out to get me while  casting.   I have to admit that for the first 15 minutes I was pretty sure that my entire day would be stumbling around the stern of  boat while trying to avoid “clousering” myself and the crew.  Eventually, however, my casting smoothed out.

I actually found it helpful to throw my fly on alternate casts of the teaser.  Every other cast of the teaser, I would merely watch, ready to throw if a fish showed behind it.  The whole routine was a bit hypnotic, even zen-like…

Cabo JacksUntil fish crashed the party.   About every third spot we tried, a gang of jacks assaulted the teaser.  It was very visual – sometimes they were a dark, swarming mass and sometimes they churned the surface.   Regardless, before they could touch the surface plug, the captain jerked it away and I replaced it with a fly.

The jacks were hyper-aggressive.  The first struck so violently, I seriously thought my rod was going to break; I froze and the fish shook off.  A second jack was well into the backing before it came unbuttoned.  I finally landed jack number three and was shocked by its lack of size.  The way it tested my backing knot and bore under the boat, it felt much larger than its 6 or 7 pounds.

When the action slowed down for jacks, the captain harnessed a goggle eye to the spinning rod and slow trolled along the shore, hoping to attract a roosterfish within casting range.  Unfortunately, the roosters did not make themselves available and we changed gears again.

This time we headed about a half mile offshore, towards a loose gathering of other charter boats.   I should point out, that up to this point, we weren’t exactly fishing in the wilderness .  One of the jacks was taken with a construction site as a backdrop; many of the other spots were just off major resorts.  So heading into a pack of boats seemed like no big deal.

“Spanish mackerel and maybe some yellowtail,” said the captain as we took our place in the formation over about one hundred feet of water. Fishing this depth was VERY relaxing.  I believe I polished off a sandwich as my fly sank toward the bottom.

However, once more, the fish interrupted. Something pulled my rod into a deep bend and kept pulling until the backing knot was deep in the water.   I thought it was a big yellowtail, but it turned out to be a 5 or 6 pound Sierra mackerel.

And so it went…  Another half dozen sierras reluctantly came to the boat and a couple were kept for delivery to our resort’s kitchen later.   As strange as it may same in that deep water, the sierras occasionally boiled on the surface and offered a visual target.

With an hour left in the charter, the captain still wanted me to experience a roosterfish, so we went back inshore to a couple more beaches.  However, the roosters played shy and we were soon heading back to the dock, escorted by a squadron of low-flying gulls.

As I left the marina, a few locals filleted my catch for a few dollars.  That night, with the wizardry of our resort’s kitchen, the sierras provided our best meal of the trip.  Sierra mackerel definitely are definitely too tasty for their own good..

Overall, it was a great part of a non-fishing vacation.  But what about the truly non-fishing aspects?  Here’s a few things both my girlfriend and I would recommend:

  • Rent a car and drive out of town. Visit Todos Santos, a picturesque village with quaint shops and galleries.  On your way, pull down a side road and look at the giant cacti. Maybe even find the beach at the end of the road….
  • Take a guided hike to a waterfall in Baja’s interior mountains.  The scenery is incredibly unique. And the water is incredibly refreshing (icy?) if you decide to take a dip.
  • Stay at a resort that is off on its own with a quiet stretch of beach.  Pueblo Bonita Pacifica is one such place. Watch the surf roll up. Watch for whales in the distance. Stroll down the sand to the rocks at either end of the beach.

A kayak tour and some snorkeling – those are a couple things we didn’t do  in Cabo San Lucas.  Someday, I’d like to get back there and try’em.  Maybe in November, ‘cause I heard that’s a good time for striped marlin…

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(P.S. For non-fly fishing significant others and family, Baja Anglers is adept with ALL types of light tackle.)

Bahamas: Wild Kingdom Style

In June last year, Dustin Carlson sent my wife, LeeAnn, and I an invitation to join him and other Fishwest customers for a week of bonefishing at Deneki’s Andros South Lodge in March 2013.  LeeAnn got real excited about the prospect of going to the Bahamas and we immediately committed.  We are both freshwater fisherpeople with saltwater experience limited to surf fishing, we really didn’t know what to expect.

With nine months to prepare, Dustin and the Fishwest staff gave us all of information, advice and guidance we needed, from tackle selection (they found an 8wt rod that Lee could throw all day and not get worn out) and casting lessons to advice on packing lists.

After much anticipation we finally arrived at the lodge and we received the warmest welcome from the Andros South staff (see the post from JC about his sage advice on international travel) Now I am not the kind of guy that likes the white table cloths, fancy furnishings and swanky cuisine, I like the simple approach with a local flair and this place really fit the bill, it exceeded our expectations.  The trip was all inclusive and cooks and staff were local residents that treat the guests like family.  The food was AWESOME, fresh spiny lobster (crawfish), fresh conch in both fritters and fried, grilled grouper that was swimming 2 hours before it hit the home made BBQ, ribs and fried chicken, fried plantains, kasava root boiled in jelly coconut milk, made to order sandwiches for lunch, and coconut macaroons made with shredded coconut that Lee just had to get the recipe for, the best beer (Kalik) that has crossed my palate in a long, long time.  The beach that was postcard perfect and not a soul on it judging from no footprints was just a few feet away from the lodge’s self serve Sack Tide Bar (a tiki hut) and the ocean that’s the most beautiful shade of blue.  The Slack Tide has an interesting piece of memorabilia, a broken poling pole, but more on that later.  We found the guides just wonderful, all of them have their personalities, and are willing to coach and help with casting and catching as long as you listen and you may have to ask for it, depending on the guide as they don’t want to intrude or be pretentious.  Each one of them expressed a genuine concern for being stewards of the environment and only take from the sea what they need, never more and they protect those bonefish like they are their kin.

We got there the day we were supposed to start fishing, on Sunday at 1030 as we were delayed over night in Florida due to weather on the island and the plane could not land (the international airport in Congo Town is very small) and the lodge staff swooped down on us and rigged everything up so we went fishing on our travel clothes and our guide, Freddie, got us on fish within an hour.  There is an old defunct Navy Sub base on an island not far from the lodge that we fished around the early part of the first day and it reaffirmed why I don’t scuba dive, we had a gianormous bull shark that looked bigger than the 17 foot skiff we were in swim past us.  Believe it or not, when I saw the shark I immediately, actually said to the guide without any thought, “We need a bigger boat!”.   Freddie said not to worry, he has seen and dealt with bigger sharks than that “small” one.

The rest of the week we fished the west side as the weather was good, just a little cool, it took an hour boat ride to get there through a tidal creek system, sometimes having to get out and push the skiffs through skinny water.  It was like being at an aquarium.  We saw hundreds of sharks, alot of stingrays, multiple species of fish, sea turtles, various types of crabs, 5 dolphins herding the bonefish on the shore to eat them.

On Monday we were fishing along in the morning, with our guide named Ellie and he said “Good ‘cuda 9 o’clock, 90 feet”.  The locals eat them so I threw a tube lure over it and the barracuda followed the lure to five feet from the boat.  Then I saw a blender, the size of a five gallon bucket, full of razor blades open up and all hell broke loose!  I looked back at Ellie who was on the poling platform and he looked like this may have been a mistake judging by the look on his face.  The barracuda tried to jump out of the water through the fight but it could only get a third of its body out of the water.  A half hour later, I got it alongside the boat so Ellie could get it unhooked as he wanted to let it go, he said it was at least 15 years old and full of eggs.  He really didn’t want to bring it in the boat but had to in order get the hook out of it.  It was five and a half feet long and at least 40 lbs, Ellie said probably 45.  Ellie said it was the biggest barracuda he had seen or landed in 18 years of guiding and they work 6 days a week, October thru June.  We got a picture of him holding it, he (I) didn’t want me to hang on to 45 pounds of real bad attitude that could take my hand, arm or head off.  That fish was the talk of the day in the bar in town and at the resort.  Other guides that saw the photo could not believe the size of the ‘cuda.

On Tuesday we fished with Sparkles, a guide who has a passion for big bonefish and seeing his anglers catch them.  He wanted Lee to show him what she could do with a fly rod, so she threw a cast for distance, he then told her to cast to a small mangrove so she nailed it first cast.  He then did not question her abilities the rest of the trip.  Most of the fish we missed, we couldn’t see but Sparkles could, so we were blind casting at his direction.  Later in the day, we were motoring out of a mangrove creek when Sparkles pointed in front of us and shut the motor down and got the pole out.  He was pointing to a land point that was a convergence between two creeks and there was a great commotion going on in the water against the bank.  Three adult and two juvenile porpoises were knocking schools of bonefish against the bank and swimming almost out of the water to get them.  He poled us to the point as the dolphins went up the other creek and we watched them feed, breech and frolic in the water.  They are loud when they click and sing, we could hear them in the boat.  Sparkles said that they knock the bonefish against the bank to knock the scales off them so they cannot swim then they gorge on the fish.

On Wednesday, between me and Lee we caught over 25 bonefish, all thanks to Ellie and his keen sense of fish habits and eyesight that would make a hawk jealous.   He took a great deal of pride in our accomplishments that day. Most other days it was between 15-20 bonefish with too many blown casts, mostly because of the wind, but we had some good coaching and mentoring from all of the guides.

On Thursday Lee and I fished with apart with friends from the fly shop, she with Dustin, I with J.C.  Dustin is a superior photographer and wanted pictures of Lee to post on his fly shop website.  And he got some good ones during the week.  In the afternoon, Lee caught a bonefish and was bringing it in when a good sized lemon shark decided to try and eat it.  As Dustin reached over the edge to get the fish for Lee, the shark circled around the boat, came underneath it to get the bonefish.  Lee kept telling Dustin “get your hands out of the water!”  When the shark came out from under the boat, the guide, Charlie, jumped down from the poling platform cursing the shark and hit the shark in the head with the pole and scared it away.  Back to the pole at the Slack Tide, if you YouTube “Hammerhead Hammers Boat”, you will see an incident like what happened to Lee and Dustin.  The guide in the video is Sparkles.   When I was with J.C., he got his first barracuda that our guide, Norman gave a headache too.  JC gave me a lesson in casting unintentionally and showed me that he can sing too.  We caught numerous barracuda over the week and I lost count of how many we hooked.

On Friday it was slow for bonefish because of a cold front, but great for barracuda, we got into schools of them and Lee caught her first one, a nice 3 footer that fed the locals.  But we did catch identical bonefish on two different islands within an hour of each other and have good video of it, both of the bonefish were 26” long and just over 10lbs, which are considered trophies.  I hooked mine first and thought it was big, and when Ellie got excited, I knew it was a good one.  He was jumping around the boat to get a tape measure and the scales to weigh it.  There was a shark that Ellie thought might take it and it got a little intense playing the fish away from the shark.  Lee caught hers when we moved to another island and again Ellie got real excited grabbing the scales and tape.  He was surprised that it was within 1 oz of the one I caught earlier and gave Lee accolades for her angling skills.  He took us over to Leaf Key and I swear we were so far out that I thought I saw Florida.  That’s where we got into a school of barracuda and had a heyday casting and catching them.

Saturday we traveled home, a close to a trip of a lifetime that LeeAnn referred to as “Bahamas Wild Kingdom style”.  This is a trip that I would recommend to anyone, the lodge was clean, comfortable, and with a staff that displayed hospitality unrivaled anywhere we have ever been.    There were fishermen while we were there brought their wives who didn’t fish, but based on our conversations with them, they thoroughly enjoyed relaxing on the beach and shopping in town while their husbands were on the boats.

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 I had been tying flies for months prior to going on this trip and one of goals I had set was to catch fish on every style of fly that I had tied.  That goal was met within the first day and a half and I am already starting to tie for our next visit.  In case any of you go, I am taking orders for custom flies.

Grayling Beached

Tundra Trout

Editors Note: To catch lake trout in the summer, you generally need very deep water and very heavy jigs – maybe even down riggers.  But not necessarily..

Myself, Dad, and our friend Ben squeezed into what used to be a 10 seater Cessna.  Today it was a 5 seater with a lot of gear and supplies.  Even though there was no flight attendant, the food service promised to be superb; a big cooler sat in the middle of the plane – full of sandwiches, chips, cookies, soda pop, and maybe even the odd beer.

We were flying from Thompson, in northern Manitoba, to Keith Sharp’s Arctic Outposts in southern Nunavut.  The word southern is a relative term because the Canadian territory of Nunavut stretches to the north pole.  There were no trees at our destination, just Arctic tundra.  And even though it was mid-August, the water would be frigid and the lake trout would be shallow.  Did I mention that the lakers would also be ravenous? They only enjoy about 3 ice-free months each year.

I thought the cooler stuffed full of food would be the highlight of the flight but it turned out to be the caribou.  Shortly after crossing the treeline, the pilot was scheduled to land at an old air strip at an abandoned fishing lodge.  There was a fuel cache there; he needed to top up and maintain his emergency reserve.

However, a herd of caribou was lounging on the gravel air strip.  “No problem,” said the pilot.  He had obviously dealt with this before.  “We’ll just give’em a bit of a buzz.”  He lowered the plane to about one hundred feet and roared past.  Lazily, the caribou ignored us.

With the next pass, I’m pretty sure I heard an antler the plane’s underbelly.  The caribou bolted onto the tundra and the pilot landed.  He filled up the plane and the rest of us cracked open a beer and toasted the caribou.

Caribou SwimmingWe also got our first look at the tundra. The bareness of the landscape actually shocked me.  Pictures and video didn’t prepare me for the reality of all that nothingness.  As far as the eye could see, there were no trees – not even shrubs.  Nothing, except for the odd boulder  – and that herd of lazy caribou – was higher than your ankle.

In another hour, we landed on a gravel air strip built by Keith Sharp, our outfitter for the trip. Again, there was nothing higher than your ankle all the way out to the horizon.  The air strip serviced his main facility, Ferguson Lake Lodge.  Although Ferguson Lake had top notch fishing, we transferred our gear over to a float plane destined for a much smaller outpost on the Kazan River near Yathkyed Lake

After twenty minutes in the air, the plane drifted into the dock at our home base for the next 6 days.  It looked like a big, ugly plywood box but it held bunks, a fridge, and a propane stove.  Most importantly, it was right on the Kazan River and there was a boat with an outboard parked at the dock.

The fishing for the next six days was amazing.   The Kazan River at that particular place is more like a narrow lake.  Our box – or cabin – sat right on a severely necked down portion, where the current quickened and swirled.  A few miles downstream, there was a large set of rapids.  We didn’t have a guide; there was absolutely no need.  The rapids held fish, and so did the eddies and riffles beside the cabin.   Both lake trout and arctic grayling…

Lake trout smashed streamers at the base of the rapids and in the deeper eddies beside the cabin.  As long as it was at least 5 inches long, the lakers liked it.  My favourite patterns were purple or grey Deceivers.  I liked to think that purple imitated a grayling and grey imitated a sucker but the lakers were likely more starving than cerebral.  A floating line was all that was needed.

Since three guys in a fishing boat can be a bit of a disaster, we generally just waded.  And there was no bush to crash through alongside the river!  The boat was mostly for transportation.

Regardless, we put on neoprene waders right after breakfast and didn’t take’em off until supper.   There was a good reason for the lakers being so shallow, and a layer of neoprene felt good in the water and out.   Forget about breathability! When it rained, out came the old-fashioned yellow rubber rain suits.

Wading along the shallow riffles beside the cabin, or beside glides and pockets within the rapids, was prime for Arctic grayling. They gobbled down any dry fly or nymph.

A few lakers terrorized these spots and several unfortunate grayling linked angler and trout in tugs-of-war.  Sometimes the trout won; sometimes they didn’t.

The trout that lost these tugs-of-war were not good losers. They were definitely fired up; we learned pretty quick to have a big streamer handy so they could vent their frustration.

The sheer size of the lake trout made them fun to catch.   Most were 6 to 10 pounds but a few heavyweights were closer to 20.   All of them put a saltwater size bend in a beefy 10 weight and a few even exposed the backing. They were thugs that smashed your fly and brawled among the boulders on the bottom. They definitely didn’t like skinny water; just before landing they invariably flew into a thrashing, twisting rage.

The grayling were just as fun to catch, but for different reasons. Although most topped out 14 to 18 inches, their big dorsal fin, purple hue, and aerial tendency made them consummate entertainers on the end of a 6 weight.

In many ways the tundra is fly fishing utopia; there are no backcast-hungry trees, for example.  But the wind tends to howl with no respite from it.  Truth be told, we sometimes used conventional gear to cut through the wind and reach juicy holding water far from the bank.   Any thigh-high boulder became prime real estate during lunch breaks, and all three of us would try to tuck in behind it.

The wildlife was another reason to brave the wind. We saw cranes, geese, article fox, caribou – even a muskox and a grizzly. The caribou were pretty camera friendly but the muskox and grizzly looked way too grumpy to stalk with a camera.

If you’re looking for a technical, match-the-hatch experience, the tundra might not be your place. But the fun factor is huge and so is the adventure quotient.  It’s the kind of place that makes you think you’re first person to walk on it. I think it should be on everyone’s bucket list.

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Note:  This article is based on a trip to the Yathkyed Lake camp of Keith Sharpe’s Arctic Outposts. However, in the accompanying photos, there are shots from different trips to Keith’s Kaminuriak South and Corbett Inlet camps.  Unfortunately, Keith is no longer in the fishing trip business but a quick search of the web yielded one lodge which would likely offer a similar experience:  Tukto Lodge (www.arcticfishing.com).   There are also outfitters who offer guided wilderness canoe trips down the Kazan River.  One of these is Wanapitei Canoe (www.wanapiteicanoe.com/trips.asp?ID=19).

Green Grass and Dry Flies

Fly Fishing the Driftless

Over the past two years, it’s been fun to see the increasing interest in fly fishing the spring creeks of the Driftless region of the Midwest. Those of us who live here and regularly fish this area have known of its natural beauty and incredible angling for years, but as the allure of small stream fishing has taken off around the country, media has helped uncover this rich fishery in the agricultural Midwest.

The Driftless region is an area of land that encompasses Southeast Minnesota, Northeast Iowa, Southwest Wisconsin, and Northwest Illinois. It’s named for an area of land that millions of years ago, avoided a glacial drift, flattening the surrounding landscapes into fertile cropland that is stereotypically thought of when you think of the area.  The result is a pocket of land that geologists refer to as karst topography- land that is characterized by sinkholes, towering limestone bluffs, ridges, deep valleys, caves, and coldwater springs. The region is a stark contrast to the area that surrounds it, the landscape changing abruptly as one travels into the area from the flat farmland to the rolling hills then deep bluffs as you near the Mississippi River valley. Historically a farming region, the area has given way to a host of “locally-grown” tourism options, recreational opportunities, cultural and art events, organic farms, wineries and microbreweries, and unique businesses.  The cold water springs, numbering easily in the thousands throughout the region, feed streams that maintain temperatures in the low 50s, supporting a healthy environment for trout, making it a year-round destination trip for those who love fishing spring creeks.

Throughout most of the Driftless region, 3 major species (brook, brown, and rainbow) of trout are to be found. Iowa has over 50 streams in the Driftless region that sustain trout and many other “put and grow” streams where stream-raised fish grow and mature. This makes for a variety of fishing options dependent on location, physical ability, and skill level. Many of these streams rely on a stocking program with the hard work of the DNR, with an increasing number of them sustaining wild populations of trout. Groups like Trout Unlimited and other conservation organizations work to increase public awareness of these fisheries, help with project workdays, and promote conservation education. The result is world-class fishing in our own backyard.  It’s been said that skill-wise, if you can effectively fish spring creeks, you can effectively trout fish anywhere using techniques that allow the angler to break-down water, cast to difficult areas, and get a fly to where a fish is feeding on the surface or below.

Fishing spring creeks during spring in Iowa means some interesting water conditions and new opportunities. Like waters in other places, snow melt, run-off, and rains mean varying water levels and clarity. This can be a challenge sometimes, but carrying streamers, bwo patterns, hendricksons, adams, and some attractor nymphs is almost always the answer. Streamer fishing almost anytime the water is off-color can bring up big fish, and the flashes of yellow or silver through the cloudy water is nothing short of exciting.  Easier walking and wading without the lush grasses that make casting and negotiating streams in the summer a little more difficult makes up for the uncertainty of weather in the spring.

Summer and fall are one the best times of the year to fish due to a variety of different hatches and bugs on the water. Caddis are a staple of trout diet here throughout the summer, but as the season rolls along, terrestrials like beetles, ants, crickets, and hoppers offer some of the most exciting fishing of the year. These are sometimes simple patterns but offered in the right environment and time can mean explosive takes and beautiful fish. A personal favorite is a foam cricket pattern skittered across pocket water on some of our wooded streams. A dark seam of water comes alive when a brown trout keys in on a well-drifted terrestrial. Even mouse patterns, a fly that swept the fly fishing world after the epic fly fishing film Eastern Rises was released, fished at dusk in late summer can produce some hungry brown trout. Be warned: big fish on quiet water in near darkness is not for the faint of heart when a fish decides to eat.

Because the streams remain a constant temperature and flow, fly fishing the Driftless (in states that permit it) is possible and fruitful through the winter. Granted, telling folks that you are going fishing on an 18 degree day with windchill takes some explaining and maybe some convincing. However, fishing the streams in the winter has been some of our most productive time on the water, with brilliantly colored, eager to eat fish. During this time, nymph fishing is the way to go, with small midge nymphs and attractor patterns. When the sun pops out and temperatures warm to the 20s and 30s, some risers can be taken on small dry patterns with accurate casts and light leaders. Even on a bad day, and we’ve all had them, winter fishing with the cold and breaking ice out of the guides if for nothing else makes you appreciate the warmer weather that is inevitably ahead.

What makes fishing these places in the Driftless special isn’t always the fishing, but the scenery and sometimes journey to get there. The local charm of out-of-the-way restaurants, casting beneath towering bluffs, watching the fog roll off a cool stream or through a valley during a humid day in summer, or fishing under the watchful eye of a Holstein cow adds to the experience as much as catching fish

Bonefish Ain’t No Brook Trout

It is never a comfortable feeling to be totally new at something while surrounded by those who already know the score.  To be the only newbie is much like the dream where you wear your pajamas to school.  It feels like every eye is on you and you have to act as if you are in complete control when inside you are just praying that you don’t look as foolish as you feel.

That would sum up my trip to the Bahamas in a nutshell.  Almost everything I knew about fly fishing was put into question.  I am a trout guy.  I fish trout streams.  And here I stood on a sand flat, in the middle of the Bahamas looking for bonefish.

Our hosts for the trip was Long Island Bonefishing Lodge, and they do something called DIY bonefishing.  They load you up on a boat, take you out to the flats, hand you a radio to communicate and then they leave.  It is then up to you.  That didn’t seem like such a good idea for me…at first.  To catch a bonefish, you first have to SEE a bonefish.  If you have never done this before, let me try to explain.  A bonefish is so shiny and clean that they are a mirror of the bottom which means that when you are looking for them, you might think you see sand when in truth you are looking at the fish.  What you have to look for are shadows, tails, unusual movement.  And all of this is going on while you try to move as quietly as possible while also dealing with a wind that at times pushes you around.

So there I stood on the flat.  My nearest fishing buddy was maybe five hundred yards away.  I looked out at the water and the shimmer from the relentless sun, staring into the flat wondering if I will ever see anything at all.  The whole flat looked empty.  This is the first battle you have to face in that the place itself is so foreign to a trout angler.  No riffles, no plunge pools, no risers.  Maddening!

Then I see something that looks different, just a flash of a shape.  I think it is a fish but I cannot really tell because every time I try to lock in on it, the shape vanishes.  Then I see a tail jut up out of the water and I see the fish.  It isn’t an easy spot.  You actually are looking for a part of a fish.  Then I spot another…and another.  Maybe five or six bones are feeding thirty feet from me at maybe ten o’clock.  The wind is whipping across my left shoulder.

I feed out twelve good strips of line and make a cast.  The aforementioned wind grabs my fly line and pushes it to my right, well out of the path of the fish.  I strip in some line and try again; only this time I move my cast to compensate for the breeze.  This time I get it close.  Not spot on…but close.

Then as the fish move in my direction I begin stripping in line.  Feeling the take I set the hook and feel pretty good about the fact that I didn’t trout set.  Hook up.  I feel the frantic shake and raise my rod.  As soon as the rod is in the air, I look down at my reel.  In seconds, I am already into the backing and the spool is generating some serious RPMs.  Then…nothing.

I start to reel the line in thinking that I have lost the fish when it runs again.  More backing races out the rod tip.  I reel.  It runs.  I reel.  It runs.  Then finally, the fish tires and is close enough to grab.  I pull the bone out of the water and it is maybe two feet long and solid muscle.  This fish is built for speed.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I had drawn a crowd.  Setting the fish free, I get high fives and hand shakes.  I am now part of the club.  The club of the adrenaline fueled sport of bonefishing with a fly rod. And I still have no idea what I am doing.

A mountain trout angler. Out of my place. Out of my element.  Using a rod that is more than double the rod I usually use. And I am having a ball.