Driftless Area

8 Tips for Summer Trout

The warmest day of trout fishing I’ve ever experienced also happened to be one of my best. It was one of those stifling hot, sticky July afternoons where you lament the fact that you have to wear long sleeves to avoid the nettles, but the Driftless, like many good trout destinations, guards it’s most precious creeks with a fierce wall of bluffs and thorns and more than one type of irritating weed, making long sleeves a necessity if you want to avoid plowing to the creek like a madman. The welts and rashes that these weeds leave are nearly as memorable as the spectacular valleys they grow in.

By late morning we’d hiked nearly a mile through narrow draws and thick brush and awful weeds, and the heat was beginning to get to us. The dense canopy of old-growth hardwoods that towered over the valley floor provided some relief and added a deeply majestic impression to the coulee, hiding the secrets of the valley with a lush blanket of green. This was rugged country, filled with deep coulees, sharp ridges, and dead-end draws that all look nearly alike. You cover lots of ground on this sort of trip, but the bluffs make you wonder if you’re actually getting anywhere. It wasn’t a particularly easy hike, especially in the heat, but the stream at the end of the journey was well worth it.

We rounded the corner of a tight ridge and paused. The valley opened up to a breathtaking canyon bordered by massive, towering limestone bluffs capped with ancient oaks and maples. The canyon floor was blanketed with a mix of wild raspberries and nettles and grass. Bluffs and old-growth forest made for a spectacular scene that I won’t soon forget. But the crown-jewel was the creek that carved it’s way through the fertile valley floor, rushing over boulders and brimming with trout.

The water ran a deep blue color and was stained just enough to hide an angler and get the trout excited. It was exactly what you hope for when you hike through stifling heat and nearly a mile of burnweed to toss some flies at trout, though seriously expecting this sort of thing can be quite dangerous for a fisherman’s fragile psyche. We jumped straight into the creek and cooled off a bit before stringing up the rods. I headed downstream armed with a nymphing setup and plowed through the head-high weeds.

The first stretch, a long, slow pool with a decent riffle at the head, failed to produce any trout in the bright overhead sun, though a few sporadic bankside risers hinted at some promising trout activity. The next piece of water was a sweet sight; a series of swift riffles and churning pocket water plunged into a half-dozen emerald pools. The water was quick enough to make it easy, and a few big boulders shaded part of the creek. In short, a perfect stretch of trout stream.

The fishing was good, too. I pulled over a dozen trout from the fastest spots and shaded pockets, mostly browns in the ten inch range, all wild and feisty despite the stifling heat. A thick-shouldered brown with deep, golden flanks and bold spots highlighted the afternoon.

fifteen inch Driftless Area backcountry trout fly fishing MN spring creek

 

Hot summer days on the streams aren’t always as good as that one. Anglers often battle scorching temps, oppressive humidity, lazy trout, and biting insects and weeds. But the hot summer months can also be a great time to hit the water. Hoppers bring big trout to the surface. Tricos give a challenging yet rewarding game of frustration, tiny dries, and sometimes triumph. And there’s always a flurry of activity at first and last light, along with the trout you’ll coax during the middle of the day.

Here are eight tips we’ve learned over the years for beating the heat and catching more trout during the summer months, in no particular order. They’re mostly aimed at the small trout streams of the Driftless, but they hold true for most trout streams around the Midwest…

#1: Get Stealthy

The low flows and ultra clear water of summer means ridiculously spooky trout in slow runs and pools. Stealth is an absolute necessity. Fortunately, bankside vegetation is at it’s peak, offering anglers a good way to conceal themselves from wary trout. I think good, dirty stealth is something that all truly good anglers have focused on and nearly mastered. It makes sense, really, because melting into the surroundings and approaching fish undetected only comes from a good understanding of where trout are going to be. It’s this sense of confidence and attention to detail that set the best anglers apart in the stealth game.

A stealthy approach is critical for chasing trout in skinny water

A stealthy approach is critical for chasing trout in skinny water

Trout sitting in low, clear water won’t tolerate a lazy, impatient fisherman, so be prepared to do some crawling and bushwacking for a few extra fish. It’s sweaty, muddy work, especially in the heat of summer, but it’s definitely worth the extra effort if you want to remain undetected.

You’ll learn quickly to walk softly and not wave your line over the fish, yet adding an extra element of stealth and thoughtfulness to your approach can really improve the catch rate. Think about casting angles, shadows, and any downstream trout that might bolt and spook the fish you’re working on. Wade if you must, but do it gently. Take the time to slow down, enjoy the creek, and plan your strategy of attack. Fish long, light leaders (as long as you can handle for small dries and nymphs, sometimes up to twelve or thirteen feet and 6X) and lighter rods. I’d guess that I spook more fish than I end up seeing on any particular outing, making stealth an awfully good and somewhat easy way to improve my angling.

 

#2: Find Cold Water

trout heaven in se mn

High in the headwaters….springs in the upper reaches offer colder water – and often happy trout

Spring brings cool, comfortable water, plenty of bugs, and happy trout, but once the dog days of summer hit, fishing can taper off rapidly as bright sun and warmer water put trout in a mood. Finding cold, comfortable water becomes key to finding happy summer trout, especially during those bright, scorching August afternoons when nothing seems to be moving.

There are a few good options for beating the heat and finding happy trout in the dog days of summer. First, try fishing higher up in the headwaters where cooler temps are more plentiful, particularly on spring creeks and tailwaters where springs and dams pump a consistent supply of icy water into the stream. Another good strategy is hitting the mouths of tributaries or venturing up the smaller creeks themselves. Tributary creeks are often quite a bit cooler than the main river and offer trout some thermal refuge, along with a good supply of food. Terrestrials can be deadly in these spots, and cold tributary mouths often surrender some big trout that nose up into the colder flow looking for a bit of relief from the heat. Fast water also holds more trout friendly temps (see tip #6) and can be very productive.

Note: Don’t accidentally kill trout! Watch water temps carefully and know when to give the coldwater fish a break. Hot water temps can put unnecessary and often lethal stress on trout when they’re caught. Most agree that 68 degree water temps is a good time to stop. For a more detailed look at safe summer trout temps, check out this piece from Hatch Magazine.

 

#3: Fish Smaller Flies

While trout will still occasionally snatch a #14 Hare’s Ear in faster riffles and runs, the combination of low, clear flows and tiny hatches makes micro nymphs and dries a good option for fooling trout consistently in the heat of summer.

Spring creek meadow...perfect water for terrestrials and small nymphs

Spring creek meadow…perfect water for terrestrials and small nymphs

Small bugs are particularly good for those torturously slow pools and runs where fussy trout float like gazelles on an African plain at hunting time, ready to bolt at the slightest sign of anything unnatural or risky. Besides requiring a great deal of stealth and even more patience, these trout can be fooled with tiny, lightweight nymphs floated under a small yarn indicator or an unobtrusive dry fly, preferably a terrestrial pattern.

But micro nymphs have also proven themselves in faster, more fisherman-friendly waters. I haven’t found many days when trout will turn down a tiny #20 Pheasant Tail or Sunk Trico Spinner rolled along the bottom behind another nymph. It’s a deadly tactic, and the extra finesse a tiny nymph offers is often enough to coax a trout to eat even during the middle of the day.

 

#4: Fish Bigger Flies

Fat late-summer brookie that crushed a big hopper

Fat late-summer brookie that crushed a big hopper

There’s nothing like watching a big trout smash a big dry on a hot summer afternoon. Once mid-July and August roll around, trout stop eating the perversely-tiny bugs of early and mid-summer and start attacking hoppers like smallmouth on steroids. It’s some of the most exciting dry-fly fishing of the season.

Cut banks and grassy meadow stretches are prime spots for tossing big terrestrials. Moths, hoppers, crickets, and all sorts of bigger bugs fall from the grass, and trout learn to watch for any big, lively critter hitting the surface. Big Stimulators in #6 to #12 are a good general match for a wide variety of terrestrials that end up in the creek. Hopper patterns in the same sizes are deadly. And if you mind your presentation and approach, leaders for bigger bugs don’t need to be quite as long and fine as those for tiny nymphs, bringing a nice change of pace from the tiny bugs.

#5: Fish Terrestrials

hopper fly rodTWThis one is obvious yet too important to leave out. Ants, beetles, hoppers, and attractor dries are some of the most consistent producers for summer trout. Drift them through pools, slap them near the bank, or toss them through meadow stretches (finding grassy sections or areas that are conducive to bugs falling into the stream is key). Trout love them. Don’t neglect to fish your terrestrials!

#6: Hit The Fast Water

Having spent the first few years of my fishing career on warmwater lakes where most fish retreat to the depths once summer hits, going shallow towards the fast water seemed a bit counterintuitive at first, but it can really hold great rewards. There are two primary reasons fast water holds plenty of trout: oxygen and cooler water temps. As water warms, its ability to hold good concentrations of dissolved oxygen – a critical aspect of a trout’s survival and comfort – suffers greatly, pushing trout out of areas with slower current and warmer water. Fast spots hold some of the most oxygenated water in the stream, acting as a natural aerator and providing cool, comfortable temps. This is particularly important on freestones and lower stretches of spring creeks that don’t receive a constant supply of good, cold water.

Black Beetle

Beetles are good producers in fast meadow runs and riffles

Faster riffles and runs that brush up against banks with brush or grass or undercuts that shade the water are particularly productive. They’re usually loaded with hoppers and ants and beetles, which is a good equation for producing eager trout.

Trout holding in fast water also tend to be less discriminating in their fly selection, so it’s naturally a good place to target fish during the summer months.

 

#7: Early and Late

Trico...

Tricos…real good early morning fun

Some of the best fishing of the summer can be found right at dawn or dusk. The lower light levels bring colder temps and plenty of bugs on most days, which usually means some good fishing. Tricos are notorious for blanketing streams at some uncivilly early hour of the morning, usually when air temps hit somewhere around 68*F. These tiny bugs can provide some of the most consistent, frustrating, and rewarding dry fly fishing in the Driftless starting around early July and running through late September (Also, check out  the post on 3 Tips for the Trico Spinner Fall and 4 top flies for the Trico hatch for recipes, Trico strategies, and a few good bugs).

The last hour of the day can also bring some good fishing. In the midwest, many species of caddis hatch in the evening, and there are usually a few trout rising to various bugs as the sun slips behind the trees. A CDC & Elk or a small parachute Adams is good for these sporadic risers.

Night fishing can also be a good bet in the summer. The legendary Hex hatch starts around late June and can provide great fishing when the giant bugs start popping a bit after dark. Mousing can also be pretty epic as bigger browns lose some of their wariness under the cover of darkness.

Mousin' after dark...

Mousin’ after dark…

(note:hoppers and terrestrials are one important exception – those bugs are more active in the heat, so midday can be quite good if the water stays cool enough).

 

#8: Sunken Bugs and Dry Dropper rigs

Sunken Trico Spinner

Sunken Trico Spinner – check out the recipe or try a few from the shop HERE

One of my absolute favorite tricks during the Trico hatch is hanging a sunken spinner off the bend of a terrestrial or nymph. While fishing sunken spinner patterns is nothing new in the fly fishing scene, the sunken spinner adds a bit of finesse that’s enough to fool plenty of stubborn trout, particularly when the hatch isn’t substantial enough to produce consistent risers. But sunken spinner fishing isn’t limited to the few hours of the day when Tricos are on the water. After seeing tons of these bugs wash downstream and get smashed in the current, trout have no problem eating a sunken spinner nearly all day long during the summer and early fall.

Sunken terrestrials can also be killer. Sunk beetles, ants, and even hopper imitations are great for drifting along grassy banks and will often catch trout that aren’t quite willing to grab a bug off the surface. The Black Wet Fly is a good example of an effective sunken terrestrial.

A Pink Squirrel on a dry-dropper fooled this wild brown on a small Kinnickinnic River trib.

A Pink Squirrel on a dry-dropper fooled this wild brown on a small Kinnickinnic River trib.

Dry-dropper rigs are perhaps the ultimate searching strategy. I often fish with a trio of flies to match a few different bugs that are around this time of year. Start with a big hopper or terrestrial like a Stimmy, drop a nymph or sunken terrestrial off the bend (scuds or pink squirrels are usually good in the Driftless), and trail a sunken trico or micro nymph behind the second fly where regulations allow. This rig very efficiently covers the three major bugs trout are eating in the summer – terrestrials, random nymphs/scuds/sunk terrestrials, and tricos/tiny nymphs.

 

Perhaps the best part of tossing three flies is the ability to fine tune your combination once you find what the trout are after on a particular day. It’s really a deadly and very efficient tactic.

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While not all ventures on the creek are quite as good as that day in the valley, summer is an awfully good time to be a trout fisherman. Terrestrials, tricos, and flurries of action at low light bring some of the most exciting and rewarding fly fishing of the season. Hopefully these tips will help you catch a few more trout in the summer months.

5 Tips for Summer Trout Fishing in the Midwest from Black Earth Angling Co

Local Wisconsin guides share strategies for beating the heat and catching more Driftless trout during high summer.

It’s been a peculiarly mild summer here in the Driftless. The oppressively humid days that usually plague August have been mostly absent, the past few nights have had a cool bite reminiscent of early duck season, and the trout have been mostly happy. But there are still plenty of challenges facing Midwestern spring creek trout anglers in the height of summer.

The guys at Black Earth Angling Co. have a ridiculous amount of experience chasing trout in the spring creeks of southwestern Wisconsin and the Driftless, and I was very, very excited when they kindly agreed to share some of their strategies for summer trout. I’ve been drawn to their operation ever since I stumbled upon it on Facebook a while back, and for good reason. There’s an authenticity in their fly fishing that acutely represents the Driftless experience. They run sweet smallmouth float trips on the Lower Wisconsin River that perhaps epitomize good, honest Midwestern warmwater fly fishing. But most importantly, they seem to focus on the indelible memories and experiences fly fishing creates – the people, the incredible places, the journey, and all that makes fly fishing truly meaningful.

Without further rambling, here are a few honest and insightful tips for Midwestern spring creek trout fishing during the height of summer….

Five Tips for Summer Trout Fishing in the Midwest.

By Black Earth Angling Co. 

 

1.  Don’t.

Why go trout fishing this time of year?  Combine the claustrophobic height of the valley grasses with abundant mosquitoes, biting flies, thistle, the phototoxic wild parsnip and giant hogweed, as well as the solid risk of turning an ankle in an animal den or getting stuck in a mucky seepage just trying to reach some tiny stream, with the likelihood that it is almost entirely draped over with grasses and presently some of the most unpleasant casting you will ever experience and there you have high summer Midwestern spring creek trout fishing to me, and I avoid it.

Go bass fishing.  The bass, especially the smallmouth, are slamming the fly just as the creek-side herbage is getting almost head high, and are twice the fun of trout anyway.  Strong fish, wet wading, big flies, river floats – that is summer fly fishing at its best. Also, bass bugging for largemouth during a Dog-day twilight on a local pond is the kind of good honest fun that everyone who has ever been 10 will recognize.

2. Go when and where you are comfortable.

If you do insist on trout fishing this time of year, do your best to be comfortable.  Ditch the gear and waders for a small pack, extra water, and quick dry pants.  Fish early and late because it is cooler and more comfortable – not just better fishing. Ditto overcast days.  Cool mornings mean slower mosquitoes too, so be extra motivated to get an early start and optimize those ideal mornings when they do occur.   Also, target some areas with tree cover, or in the shadow of a bluff or hill so as to stay cooler.   Be willing to hop from one spot to another, or to switch streams to stay in or get to the shade (but clean your feet!) Find those streams or stream sections that are more freestone-like or more open and wadeable and target them.  Summer is a time of focused trouting sessions.  And, if legitimately hot weather occurs, and has for days, do seriously just stay off the water.  If water temps are high, catching cold water species puts them at an even greater undue risk than normal.  Good conservation and ethics  demand you know when to cut them a break. (Editor’s Note: Most agree that water temps around 68-70 F are the upper fishing limits for browns and rainbows, and a bit lower for brookies. Seriously, just go bass fishing. If you want more info, here’s a good piece from Hatch Magazine on summer trout temps).

3. Follow the cows.

Grazing cows are great for midwestern trout and trout fishing.  There is an emerging body of science supporting this out there and the key is portable electric fencing and what is known as ‘rotational grazing.’  If managed well, these are win-win situations for farms, streams, fishers, and even cows.  Check it out, and buy meat and milk from people who use it.

I do agree however that crushed stream banks and doleful Holsteins watching you watch them dump pounds and pounds of feces into pretty little creeks is NOT ok. Nonetheless, grazed streams are going to be much, much more approachable this time of year because the grass will be of negotiable heights and many of the nasties like parsnip will be non-present.

4. Take a novice.

The first time I fished the renowned Mt. Vernon Creek I was ignorant of its reputation as a place where the trout can smell you coming.  Good thing. I did pretty well catching a bunch of little browns and brookies on small hopper patterns.  Which goes to show one of the joys of summer trout fishing: active fish looking up and non-selectively slapping at highly visible flies that land with a splat.  This strips trout fishing of much of its bravado and makes it more approachable and fun again.  So take a novice whose cast into and then off of the bushes and into the stream is in fact the perfect presentation.  They may be rewarded with bites from more than just the ‘skeets.

5. My favorite summer fly – the Poodle.

Just an ingenious fly from Japan that makes a killer ant imitation.  Note the Klinkhammer or emerger style hook that puts the abdomen below the water while the parachute hackle rides in the film.  Dress only the hackle and post when fishing.

The Poodle - Fly and Pic by Black Earth Angling Co.

The Poodle – Fly and Pic by Black Earth Angling Co.

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Black Earth Angling Co. runs guide trips for trout, smallmouth, and other warmwater species in southwestern Wisconsin. Also, be sure to check out their Facebook page for recent fishing reports and Driftless fly fishing.

2 Trout You’re Probably Missing

A few seasons ago I had an eye-opening moment. It was the last morning of a last-minute early spring camping trip along one of our favorite trout rivers. The creek was a popular spot, and the trout in those campground pools saw all kinds of poorly presented flies and spinners and worms throughout the course of a weekend.bluff country spring creek

I hit the water early in the morning and worked my way upstream from camp, fishing the pools and obvious spots, and catching a few trout here and there on a nymph. I had just finished drifting a gorgeous, deep pool without much luck and decided to cross the creek and hit a section of faster, shallow water. It didn’t look like much. In fact, most of the water was only about a foot or two deep, flowing swiftly over small rocks and boulders for about thirty yards before emptying into another breathtaking hole. It was tiny water, the type most fishermen walk by without giving a second thought. But I fished it anyway.

I’m not sure who was more surprised, myself or the fish, when the indicator darted under and a feisty little brown launched itself out of the riffle. Despite its small size, the trout put up a good little fight in the fast, tumbling waters. The catching was steady for the next half hour, with each little rock or depression yielding a trout. I went on to catch about eight or ten fish nymphing the shallow stretch, a great improvement from the two or three fish I had managed from the pools earlier in the morning.

Before that morning, I would have walked right by that piece of water, just like most of the other anglers that relentlessly pounded that stretch of creek. Lots of trout fishermen, especially those newer to the sport and often including myself, fall to the habit of fishing the same type of water each time they hit the stream. It’s a very natural thing to do – they fish it most because they catch most of their fish in it, and they catch most of their fish in it because they fish it most, and they fish it most because they are most comfortable with it. This results in a problematic pattern of fishing, causing many anglers to miss lots of trout simply because they get stuck in the habit of fishing the water they’re comfortable with.

Since that early spring morning on the campground stretch, I always look for “new” or overlooked water on the stream, and I’ve caught a few more trout because of it. I’m always amazed at the type of water that trout will sometimes hold in, and I constantly have to remind myself to never rule out different spots, especially when the fishing is tough. Here’s a rundown on a few of the trout I’ve learned to look for and the best flies and setups to fish them….

The Skinny Water Nympher

You’d be surprised at how many trout hold in the shallow riffles and the water in between the big pools. Trout usually frequent the shallows to feast on the many nymphs that live underneath the rocks, making skinny waters incredibly productive spots to drift a nymph. Fish sitting in this faster water only have a quick second to inspect the fly and decide to eat, so they’re often easier to catch than trout holding in slower pools and runs. As I learned that spring morning on the campground stretch, lots of fishermen bypass the shallow water between pools and fish only the obvious spots, providing some less-pressured trout to the versatile angler.

What to look for – Faster riffles and broken water from 10-24 inches without too much gradient are most productive. However, not all skinny water is created equal. Trout love current seams and depth transitions, so finding rocks, depressions, and any other structure that provides fish with some variety is key to successfully fishing the shallows. Flat bottoms with lots of sand or silt and few rocks or pockets rarely hold many fish, as there’s just not much cover or food. I like to look for runs and riffles with baseball-sized rocks at the smallest, but lots of varied structure typically equates to lots of trout. Boulders, logs, and deeper pockets make for especially productive spots.

It’s also important to find water that has a bit of current and chop. Don’t be afraid to toss a nymph into a churning riffle, as it only takes one rock or depression to hold a trout. However, runs and riffles that have a sudden, steep gradient rarely provide enough soft water for a trout to comfortably hold in.

Skinny waters can hold great surprises. This sweet wild brown was sitting in about 18" of water...

Skinny waters can hold great surprises. A stealthy approach and a brown #14 Trout Snatcher Nymph fooled this sweet wild brown in about 18″ of water.

 

How to tackle skinny water trout – A stealthy approach is the most important factor when targeting skinny-water trout. Shallow riffles and runs, particularly those with a more gentle flow, lack the sense of security that deep, turbulent waters give to trout, making them acutely aware of their surroundings and quite sensitive to overhead movement. Trout holding in skinny water require a careful, stealthy approach and won’t tolerate a lazy, bumbling fisherman stomping up to the water or waving a fly rod over their heads. Staying on the bank and slowly moving upstream, often on hands and knees, drastically increases your chances of catching fish. Be sure to avoid false-casting over the water you’re fishing or plopping fly line over the fish, as they associate overhead movement with herons and eagles. While trout holding in shallow water can be somewhat spooky, they’re far easier to approach than fish sitting in calm, slow pools and runs.

A stealthy approach is critical for chasing trout in skinny water

A stealthy approach is critical for chasing trout in skinny water

Though skinny water trout demand a somewhat tedious approach, presentation is another story. The shallow, faster waters that heighten their senses also provide only a moment for trout to scrutinize a fly, making skinny-water trout far easier to fool. You can often get away with tossing large, flashy flies on heavy tippet.

My favorite setup is a nine foot leader tapered down to 4 or 5X with a nymph under a yarn indicator. I really like the extra stealth and sensitivity a yarn indicator provides – something that’s critical for fishing skinny water and hard to achieve with other styles of indicators. The only downside is yarn’s tendency to sink in faster, turbulent stretches, which are better fished with a cork indicator or a Thingamabobber. I favor a longer rod (around eight or nine feet) for the extra line control, but a shorter stick is fine for fishing straight upstream.

Flies for skinny-water trout – Lighter nymphs with thin profiles are key to puncturing the choppy surface while avoiding snags in the shallow water. Trout are in the shallows to eat, so highly-imitative flies are usually not necessary. Many species of mayflies live under the rocks in swifter stretches of stream, making general mayfly patterns quite productive in skinny water. A bit of flash is often a great trigger, as flies drifting through shallow water only have a quick second to catch a trout’s attention. A few of my favorites include:

Mercer’s Micro May in #12 to 14

Trout Snatcher Nymphs in brown and olive, #12 to 16 (available for purchase here, check out the recipe here)

Beadhead Pheasant Tails in #12 to 18

Copper Johns in #12 to 16 and nearly any color (gold, red, and olive are good standards)

Micro tubing may

The Trout Snatcher Nymph – a great producer in skinny water

 

I’ve found that small brass beads give just enough weight to keep the fly in the strike zone without hanging up. Hanging a small, light dropper such as a tiny pheasant tail off the bend of a larger nymph can be a deadly tactic as well, especially in low, clear waters.

 

The Frog Water Trout – Catching fish during high, muddy flows

Many anglers cringe at the sight of high, muddy waters on their home river, but these conditions can still produce some good action. Noah and I were fishing a medium-sized river out in Colorado last fall when we experienced this first-hand. Rising temps and lots of melting snow brought an influx of high, cold, muddy water – not exactly the conditions you hope for on a trout river. We’d fished for most of the afternoon, tossing streamers into the deep, roaring holes and runs without any success. I was just about to pack things up when Noah hollered from upstream. After finding no fish in the main holes, he started jigging a rabbit leech nearly at his feet when a monster brown charged out and slashed at his streamer. A few more heart-pounding charges from multiple browns failed to produce a solid hookup, but the lesson was clear – when the high water hits, trout move to the edges and soft pockets.

What to look for – When the water muddies and rises, trout move out of the roaring main flow and often sit in surprisingly slow water on the edges of pools and runs. The brown that Noah encountered was sitting behind a boulder in water most fishermen would wade through – a shallow, slow pocket on the inside of a pool. This “frog water” often holds plenty of trout during high, muddy flows.

Finding soft pockets, usually along the bank or inside bends, is a good bet for finding trout. Anywhere that offers trout a break from the raging main current will hold some fish, with gentle water on the inside of pools or runs and soft pockets along the bank being the best producers. Bankside eddies along the backside of boulders are particularly good spots. Feeling secure from the extra protection the muddy water offers, trout will often move into shallow water and sit right on the edges of the river.

How to tackle high-water trout on the edges – High, dirty water is prime time for tossing  some meat, so leave the 6X and dainty dry flies at home. A bigger rod, usually of the five or six weight variety (or perhaps even larger), is a must for chucking the streamers and big bugs that muddy water demands. 2X to 4X tippet is good for pulling frisky trout out of raging current and helps to turn over the larger flies.

Stripping streamers through the soft water is usually the strategy of choice as it’s critical to catch a trout’s attention in the murky water. Trout lose most of their hesitancy to smack a big, bold streamer in muddy flows, making aggressive presentations most productive in the “frog water”. This is hand-to-hand combat – slap your streamer right in a trout’s face and make some commotion. I like to set up slightly downstream of the fish and pull the fly across the pocket with an aggressive strip-pause cadence. Wading can often be counterproductive since trout are sitting in such shallow water along the bank – make sure to toss a few casts through the bankside flows before stepping in the water. Slowly dredging the bottom with big, heavy coneheads is also a good strategy, particularly in deeper bankside eddies and pockets.

When fishing heavier streamers, a longer leader allows the flies to sink without getting ripped downstream by a dragging fly line. Casting performance is another important factor to think about. Big, heavy flies can be a pain to cast, so finding a leader that’s stout enough to turn over a streamer while still allowing plenty of room for controlling drag is very helpful. Something in the seven to nine foot range usually does the trick, but play around with it until you find something that fits the fishing conditions. A sink-tip with a shorter leader is also a good tactic for dragging streamers through runs and deeper soft spots.

Since most trout will be holding along the bottom, indicator rigs with larger nymphs are also a good option, especially when fishing those slow, deeper runs and pockets behind rocks. Don’t be afraid to add plenty of weight, as getting your flies to bounce the bottom is critical in high flows.

Flies For the Frog Water – Big streamers with a bold silhouette are critical for getting a trout’s attention in the muddy, high flows. Finding a fly with a good combination of profile and sink rate is key to pulling trout from the edges. You’ll want something that is heavy enough to get a good, erratic action in the water yet doesn’t get caught up on the bottom of soft pockets. A light bead or conehead works quite nicely, and any streamer with enough bulk to stand out in the dirty water usually triggers plenty of strikes.

Color is another important factor to the think about. Darker flies with a good chunk of flash offer a solid silhouette in the murky waters and really help a streamer stand out. Bright colors such as chartreuse are also good producers at times.

This is a perfect time to toss big, gnarly articulated streamers. Rich Strolis’s Hog Snare  comes to mind, but practically any modern articulated streamer without too much weight will do the trick. I favor bugs with a good meaty profile and bulky head as it’s critical to push some water and get a trout’s attention. Simple rabbit leeches and plain old beadhead Woolly Buggers in larger sizes (#4-8) are also good producers.

Flies with a meaty profile and a good swimming action are solid producers in the frog water

Flies with a meaty profile and a good swimming action are solid producers in the frog water

Break the Pattern

Since that morning on the campground stretch and Noah’s encounter with the big brown, I’ve started to fish waters that are outside my comfort zone, and I’ve become a better angler because of it. Trout fishing is a grand game of experimentation, so don’t be afraid to change things up and toss a nymph at some skinny-water trout or slap a streamer in the frog water. Fishing this “overlooked” water will often produce plenty of hungry trout, especially on pressured streams.

Next time you hit the water, break the pattern of fishing comfortable spots and explore some waters you’d normally neglect – you’ll become a better angler and catch more fish because of it!

Nighttime Browns on Frustration Creek

April 20, 2014

My eyes strained as I tried to focus on the blanket of smooth water flowing down through the pool. Darkness had not quite taken a firm grip on the evening, but I could hardly make out the riffle at the top of the hole. It was the time of day every fishermen dreams about – the magic hour at first and last light when the water comes alive.

The creek was still quite noisy with the honking of geese and whistle of duck wings, but the anticipation was deafening.

The silence broke with a brown trout leaping clear out of the water, smashing the calm blanket of creek into a thousand tiny ripples. My heart just about skipped a beat.

———-ο———-

Rivers are horribly deceptive, and spring creeks are perhaps the most illusive of all trout streams. When you’re alone on Frustration Creek, standing waist-deep on the edge of a mucky hole and trapped in an entangled jumble of brush, the complex nature of a trout stream is acutely apparent. Swirls of current and waving fronds of weeds hide the margins of the creek, barely perceptible and always misleading. The undercuts, carved deep into the banks, hide a few trout and lots of surprises – one of which I was about to experience in a very personal way.

———-ο———-

My fly line melted into the inky darkness, landing softly between the steep banks. The line, which was now my only connection to the creek, slowly slipped through my hands as I pulled the fly through the hole. The fly survived, unscathed by the energized waters. I tossed another cast upstream, and fly landed just a bit farther up. It didn’t last long.

The drift was slammed to a halt as a trout abruptly hammered the woolly bugger. The calm evening air exploded as the trout shot upstream, peeling line of the reel and leaving me to clench the rod and hope that my tippet would hold in the log-infested waters.

It was the first time I had ever genuinely feared for my leader on a trout stream.

Frustration Creek becomes an entirely different stream after dark. The calm, gentle flows become dark, bottomless holes brimming with the unknown. The soggy margins, eagerly waiting to swallow up the uncautious angler at the slightest misstep, deceptively hide the many undercuts. I cringe at the thought of taking a plunge in the dark, icy waters.

My trout charged upstream, and I stumbled along behind it, entirely at the mercy of the rugged streambank. The line strained as I tried desperately to pull the fish out of an undercut. Still full of energy, the trout headed back downstream towards one of the deepest holes on the creek, though it took me a moment to realize it in the inky darkness. He then buried himself in the muck.

I leaned precariously over the steep bank and fumbled with the net, putting as much pressure on the line as I dared in a vain attempt to crank the brown out of the weeds. For reasons unknown, the trout decided to abandon the weeds and head to the opposite bank. I jumped at the opportunity and pulled him to the surface, just hoping my tippet would hold as the brown flopped on the calm surface for what seemed like an eternity. In a move that was filled with far more serendipity than skill, I slipped him in the net just before he made it back to the weeds.

I was pumped. The brown stretched around seventeen inches – the first trout I’ve caught on Frustration Creek and the biggest I’ve fooled on a fly.

The picture doesn't do the fish justice...

The picture doesn’t do the fish justice…

The trout was far smaller than its tenacious fighting spirit portrayed. Even in revealing one of its secrets, Frustration Creek still hinted at deception, simply teasing with a glimpse of the mysteries still hidden beneath the undercuts.

Dark spots and buttery flanks flashed in the faint glow of my flashlight as trout slipped out of my hand and back into the undercut. The creek returned to normal, a gentle, black sheet of water weaving quietly through the marsh. Somehow, the accomplishment of catching and releasing a trout from the secretive waters did nothing to ease my curiosity and obsession with Frustration Creek. It only made it worse.

Top Flies for Driftless Area Trout: Guides, Fly Shop Owners, and Trout Bums Pick Their Favorite Patterns for Driftless Spring Creeks

 

Under-the-radar flies that will help you catch more fish in the spring creeks of the Driftless Area…

The Driftless is an amazing and unique fishery, and it arguably holds some of the most fascinating spring creeks in the world. Though standard trout flies catch their share of fish, a few unique patterns have sprung up from the special set of circumstances a spring creek brings a trout fisherman. A few guides, fly shop owners, and avid trout bums have graciously agreed to share some of their favorite trout patterns for the spring creeks of the Driftless Area. Some are standard trout patterns that have been tweaked for local waters, but most have been tied, tested, and developed specifically for the trout of the Driftless Area.Top flies for the Driftless bros small

Dave Anderson, On the Fly Guide Service

Dave Anderson is a veteran guide on the streams and creeks of southeastern Minnesota’s Driftless Area. After guiding on local Driftless streams for over a decade, he has great knowledge of the bug life and the most productive flies on the area’s unique streams….

Really, most guys do not need a ton of flies in the Driftless to be successful outside of hatch specific patterns. Right now (August), I’m still fishing scuds, but it is a #14 with a very specific dubbing: ice dub and corgi fur.

Another scud...Fly and pic from Dave Anderson, On the Fly Guiding, ontheflyguiding.com,

Another scud…Fly and pic from Dave Anderson, On the Fly Guide Service, ontheflyguiding.com

  • Hook: TMC2487 or TMC2457 #14-16
  • Thread: Orange 6/0 (8/0 on #16 and smaller)
  • Tail:  (optional) pearlescent or orange krystal flash strands, silver flashabou
  • Dubbing: Orange or sulphur orange, gray, olive, pink/ Ice Dub UV Pink Shrimp
  • Shell Back: Small piece of plastic to cover the dubbing  or twisted krystal flash strands
  • Ribbing: Fine copper wire
  • Weight: Turns of .15 or .20 weight
Black Wet Fly - Fly and pic by Dave Anderson, On the Fly Guide Service

Black Wet Fly – Fly and pic by Dave Anderson, On the Fly Guide Service, ontheflyguiding.com

The Black Wet Fly is a pattern that lots of local guys fish this time of year (August). It’s a local pattern and probably isn’t well-known outside of the area.

  • (Recipe by 3 Brothers Flies) Hook: #10-16 nymph
  • Thread: Black 8/0 UNI
  • Weight: A few wraps of lead free wire
  • Shellback: A few strands of Krystal Flash
  • Body: Black dubbing, dubbed to form a somewhat fat body
  • Hackle: Black dry fly hackle
PT’s are pretty standard fare, although with all of the flooding we have endured down here this past year, many of our rocks are stripped clean of the usual bugs one runs into. Tricos are going in places here, so really small black PT type nymphs would work if you weren’t fishing a dry. Most of the stuff I tie and fish isn’t real complicated, but it also has some very specific ingredients.
Dave also offers hand-tied flies specifically for the trout of southeastern Minnesota and the rest of the Driftless Area. Be sure to check out his site for stream reports and guide trips for the Minnesota Driftless.  

Driftless On the Fly

The guys over at Driftless On the Fly run a sweet operation guiding the waters of northeastern Iowa. Iowa is an often under-appreciated and overlooked fly fishing locale, but Jared Koenigsfeld and Ryan Rahmiller do an awesome job highlighting the great fly fishing opportunities found in Iowa on their website and blog. Here are a few of their best flies for the Driftless….

Fly and pic: Driftless on the Fly

Fly and pic by Driftless on the Fly

3$ Dip w/ UV Wing– The UV wing is what makes this guy special, almost any time of the day you can turn a fish with a midge and the added UV wing just gives it a little more flash like an air bubble on an emerging larva or wing. Top colors are Red, Rust, Black, and Olive and is sizes #16-22.

Fly and pic by Driftless on the Fly

Price of Darkness – Fly and pic by Driftless on the Fly

Prince of Darkness– We do have some stones in the Driftless of Iowa believe it or not, most of them are pretty small in the spring creeks. This fly just gives a new look to the standard Prince, black helps in dirty water situations. We use these especially in the Winter and Spring months, in sizes #14 & 16

 
Missing Link Caddis - Fly and pic by Driftless on the Fly

Missing Link Caddis – Fly and pic by Driftless on the Fly

Missing Link Caddis – Great searching fly through the Spring to Fall months. Perfect for that solo riser along your favorite stream that you just can’t see what he’s eating, this fly has it ALL! From its spent look to its upright wing there’s just something buggy about this fly that really gets the fish up to the surface. Our favorite colors are Olive and Brown in sizes #14-18

 
Indicator Beetle - Fly and pic by Driftless on the Fly

Indicator Beetle – Fly and pic by Driftless on the Fly

Indicator Beetle – Another great prospecting fly for the Summer and Fall months. Toss it along some high grassy banks in the peak heat of summer and you might be surprised to see the stream swallow your fly on impact. Works well as a dropper behind a hopper, solo, or even my favorite as a top fly with a real small nymph dropper, we prefer sizes #14 &16.

Hot Head Wooly Bugger - Fly and pic by Driftless on the Fly

Hot Head Wooly Bugger – Fly and pic by Driftless on the Fly

Hot-Bead Wooly Bugger – Its your standard Wooly Bugger but with a little twist, I never leave home with out these guys in my arsenal. In early Fall through late Spring, they can move some of your largest fish you have seen in your local water. Always vary your technique to key in on the action they are looking for, from low and slow to shallow and fast. Keep that a Florescent Orange bead and the body in black and brown, sizes #10-4.

 
Guide flies - Fly and pic by Driftless on the Fly

Guide flies – Fly and pic by Driftless on the Fly

Guide Flies – Of course we use many standardized flies from day to day, which of most are what we call “Guide Flies”. The point being we want flies that are- simple yet effective, and that your able to tie 2 dozen in an hour or two without any difficulty before the next days trip. Keeping the same design, but a change in color or size allows us to do just that. Pictured here are Barr’s Vis-A-Dun in a Baetis, and a Shop-Vac. 

Ben Carlson, Jolly Fly Fishing

An avid fly angler and trout bum, Ben Carlson has been fly fishing the streams of the Driftless Area since he was a young teen. He is the head guide at Jolly Fly Fishing, offering guided trips on his beloved home waters, the famous Rush and Kinnickinnic Rivers. His experience on these two popular western Wisconsin streams gives him a unique perspective on spring creek fly patterns, of which he shares a few thoughts and patterns here…

I am a big dry fly guy and being a spring creek fishermen I love and live for my mayfly hatches… so here are three of my favorites. They are all spin offs of generic patterns modified for my specific streams (primarily the Kinni and the Rush). A few notes about my flies in general… I never tie a traditional catskill style full hackle dry fly, it is always either a parachute or comparadun. In spring creeks there is not a lot of whitewater, which means that it it relatively flat and the trout can see pretty well (which makes our job hard). So tying a parachute or comparadun leaves the fly flush to the water and resembles a mayfly in its most vulnerable stage, fully emerged but unable to move yet as it’s wings still have to dry. One of my fly fishing mentors is a man by the name of David Halvorson, he is a retired Doctor and loves his BWOs, and his BWO pattern was featured in a fly tying magazine a few years ago… So the first pattern I’ll share is what I call Doc’s Parachute BWO.

Doc’s Parachute BWO

  • Hook- 18-22 dry fly hook 
  • Thread – Olive 
  • Tail- Dun Colored Hackle Fibers
  • Abdomen- Thread wraps (thicker near thorax)
  • Wing Post- Mix of Dun and White Enrico Pulgisi Fibers
  • Hackle- size 20 or 22 Dun or Grizzly Hackle

On flies this small, I do not dub them as it throws off the silhouette, instead I use thread wraps that get thicker near the thorax for the body. As with any dry, presentation and the right shape will outperform perfect colors. I love the BWO hatches because they can be quite prolific, especially if you hit the weather right. A cool, cloudy, and drizzly day makes these bugs come off with fury and the trout to rise to them, and this is usually the only pattern I throw to match this hatch. Another reason that the parachute works well is the trout are usually centered on the back eddies and slower moving parts of the pool, allowing this fly to sit perfectly on the water.

Granny Smith PMD - Fly and pic by Ben Carlson, Jolly Fly Fishing

Granny Smith PMD – Fly and pic by Ben Carlson, Jolly Fly Fishing

Granny Smith Comparadun PMD – My second fly is the Granny Smith Comparadun PMD

  • Hook 16-20 Dry Fly Hook
  • Thread – Chartreuse
  • Tail- Anrton or Poly Yarn
  • Body- Thread Wraps Thicker near Thorax 
  • Wing- Summer Deer Hair

I have heard them called PMDs, PEDs, Light Hendricksons, and Sulphurs, but they all fall under basically the same scientific classification. This hatch, which happens in the early evening in the earlier parts of the hatch but moves later and later with the season, can be absolutely crazy, as the color of the bugs can change. On the Kinni, the insects literally change color during the hatch starting out a light yellow and moving towards a light green (hence the name Granny Smith). The fish will be sensitive to this change and also to how it sits on the water. These comparduns are what the big fish in slow or flat water will take, so basically anything outside the main riffle. Be careful not to tie with too dark of a green and keep the wings a light color, anything too dark and it resembles a BWO and the fish won’t take it.

My last fly is a Trico pattern, and it’s really simple:

  • Hook- Size 20-24 dry fly hook
  • Thread- Black
  • Body- Thread Wraps
  • Wing Post- Poly Yarn
  • Wing- Poly Yarn
  • Tail- 2 or 3 Poly Yarn Fibers

This fly matches both the duns and spinners that you will find during a Trico hatch. Tie the wing post as you normally would but instead of tying hackle around it tie on another piece of poly yarn spinner wing style around the post. The tail is very minute, I have even left if off before and still caught fish. Starting in mid July, anytime the air temp hits 60 degrees these bugs come off and although tiny provide some great dry fly fishing if you are willing to wake up early enough!

Brian Smolinski (b smo), Lund’s Fly Shop

Brian J Smolinski (better known as b smo) is the owner of Lund’s Fly Shop, a full-service fly shop near the Rush and Kinnickinnic Rivers in River Falls, Wisconsin. He also ties some sweet streamers and tubes with materials from his fly tying company, Misfit fly co. As the owner of a local Driftless fly shop, Brian has a great pulse on the top-producing local fly patterns….

b smo's Pink Princess - Fly and pic by Brian Smolinski, Lund's Fly Shop

b smo’s Pink Princess – Fly and pic by Brian Smolinski, Lund’s Fly Shop

b smo’s Pink Princess – This fly was a custom order I got at the shop. This unnamed customer/friend asked me to come up with a fly that would be a combination of two very popular patterns that have been the most productive for them. The prince nymph and the hot pink squirrel. I decided that a dubbed body would be easier to create the desired profile, similar to the Lund’s Pink Squirrels. I love the peacock color of ice dub, but prefer to mix some rabbit hair in with all my ice dub to get a dubbing texture I like. 

One can hardly mention fly fishing in the Driftless without the infamous Pink Squirrel popping up. The Squirrel has attained a legendary, almost mythical status in the Driftless Area, spawning fish stories of ridiculous proportions and more than a few variations on the pattern. As Brian mentioned, Lund’s Pink Squirrel utilizes a curved scud hook, a short tail of Krystal Flash, and a two-toned dubbed body, notably using dubbing instead of chenille for the fly’s iconic pink hot spot. He also mentioned that Lund’s rendition appears to outsell the original three to one…

Lund's Pink Squirrel - Fly and pic by Brian Slominski, Lund's Fly Shop

Lund’s Pink Squirrel – Fly and pic by Brian Slominski, Lund’s Fly Shop

Lund’s Pink Squirrel – (Recipe by Brian J Smolinski)

Lund's HOT Pink Squirrel - Fly and pic by Brian J Smolinski - Lund's Fly Shop

Lund’s HOT Pink Squirrel – Fly and pic by Brian J Smolinski – Lund’s Fly Shop

Lund’s HOT Pink Squirrel (Recipe by Brian J Smolinski)

Lund’s Pink Squirrel – I have lost track of how many times anglers have come into the shop and told me that they were getting skunked out on their favorite stretch of trout water, until they pulled out one of these beauties. They consistently seem to produce trout of all sizes on the Rush, Kinni, Trimbelle, and many other streams right around this area. With hundreds of new patterns coming out every year, this is a pattern that always seems to be a staple in our customer’s fly boxes. For the Lund’s HOT Pink Squirrel, use black dubbing for the abdomen, UV Fluorescent hot pink Ice Dub for the thorax, and gold wire for the rib. This varies from the original pattern tied by John Bethke. We’ve had these two versions custom-tied for us for a few years now and sold thousands of them. They continue to be one of the most productive nymphs for many anglers.  

Nate and Jim Martin, Spirit Streams Fly Fishing

Focusing on the Driftless trout of Wisconsin, the Spirit Streams crew offers guided trips and some amazing posts on the Driftless over on their site and blog. Here are two of their most productive trout patterns…

Coulee Crusader Caddis - fly and pic by Spirit Streams Fly Fishing

Coulee Crusader Caddis – fly and pic by Spirit Streams Fly Fishing

Coulee Crusader Caddis – The Coulee Crusader is a prolific trout-producing pattern throughout the year, but excels in May and June and in the evenings the remainder of the year.  Adult Stonefly and Midge variants can be made with this pattern.  Very productive.

  • Hook: Mustad 94840 or equivalent, #16 and #18
  • Wing:  Coastal Deer, Natural
  • Hackle:  Barred Grizzly
  • Dubbing:  Brown, Green, Gray, Black


Notes:  Tie in hackle parachute style, 3 turns.  Dubbing pile at wing and direct hackles back toward hook bend.

Red Storm - fly and pic by Spirit Streams Fly Fishing

Red Storm – fly and pic by Spirit Streams Fly Fishing

Red Storm – The Red Storm is a year-round lethal trout enticer. The pattern is based on the traditional Woolly Bugger but with a few key additions including the red collar. The red collar is the hot spot which attracts trout to the point of irresistibility. It is one of our crème de la crème fly patterns.

  • Hook: Mustad 9672 or equivalent, #10 or #12
  • Bead: Tungsten cone, gold, small
  • Tail: Black Strung Marabou Feather
  • Body: Chenille, small, black (it should have a sparkle to it)
  • Hackle:  Black Saddle Hackle Feather
  • Collar: Red Crystal & Tri Lobal Fibers

 ———————————-

Standard nymphing and dry fly strategies are adequate for most creeks in the Driftless. Trailing a smaller, more imitative nymph (such as a Shop Vac or $3 Dip) behind a more gaudy attractor fly (Pink Squirrels, Black Wet Flies, scuds) is an especially deadly tactic. Dry-dropper rigs are another great strategy, particularly in the summer months when the terrestrials are out in force. We’ve also found that Driftless fish are particularly susceptible to some slight movement or jigging action worked into the drift.

This is a great selection of bugs that will serve an angler well throughout the entire season. All these patterns are well suited to the conditions that the small, fertile trout streams of the Driftless bring to the angler and will take plenty of trout on the local spring creeks.

Tie up a few of these bugs and toss them on the local trout streams this season. You won’t be disappointed!

So It Begins

April 14, 2014

Nearly all anglers have their opening day rituals, and we’re no different. Some involve early mornings, others involve dry flies, and all involve an unrealistically high dose of expectations and optimism. Though it’s hardly a “ritual,” Braden and I fished a small stream (we’ll call it Frustration Creek) on Minnesota Trout Opener for the second year in a row. It’s a torturous little creek, flowing deep, weedy, and horribly narrow, even in spring floods. A seemingly impenetrable wall of brush chokes the banks of the stream, intimidating even the most gifted of fly casters. If it didn’t scare off most anglers, I wouldn’t be surprised if a handful of innovative new casting maneuvers were invented from its soggy banks each year.

There's a trout stream in there somewhere...

There’s a trout stream in there somewhere…

 

The fish are another story if you can bear the brush. According to electroshocking surveys (a method I’ve been tempted to resort to on a few occasions), a decent number of browns prowl the crystal clear waters, including some real monsters. Like any good spring creek population, these fish have an attitude. Though you can hardly see past your hand once you’re in that jungle, the trout are quite skittish and spend most of their time buried in the weeds or sulking under one of the streams many undercuts. If you can somehow miraculously navigate the sticks and get a fly in front of a fish, it’s unlikely you’ll get any attention. Needless to say, the stream doesn’t see many fishermen.

Frustration Creek has seen its share of troubles. Before development crowded its banks and warmed its waters, the creek flowed free and pure and cold. Stocked browns and brookies, the favored sport fish of the era, haunted its waters and amused local anglers. But, like most streams in the Driftless, poor land management eventually caught up with the stream, and the trout disappeared. Just a few years ago, habitat improvements and renewed stocking, along with the fierce effort of local conservationists and anglers, managed to establish a small wild population of brown trout. The stream banks have since exploded, engulfing the stream in a veil of brush and thick grass and hiding its trout from all but the most dedicated of anglers.

I’m not sure what it is about the little creek, but for some reason we return each year. It’s certainly not for the number of trout to be caught, as we have never even hooked a fish, let alone caught one in that stretch. Perhaps its the challenge of overcoming the brush and cracking the code, though we have yet to be rewarded with a trout. The more I think about it, I realize that it’s not the challenge of the stream or the prospect of catching trout, but it’s the sense of hope embodied by the little creek that keeps pulling us back to its brushy banks – the hope of catching a trout in such an unlikely place, the hope of the small trout population’s survival, the hope of pulling a wild and wary brown from its cold waters. For all of fly fishing conveys a sense of hope that’s somewhat hard to find in the day-to-day grind, and that’s partly why I think it’s so captivating.

So late in the evening on Opening Day Braden and I wandered the brush-choked banks of Frustration Creek. The tree-to-successful cast ratio was unusually low, and the weather was surprisingly beautiful, so it was a good day to be on the water. We drifted nymphs and stripped streamers and bounced woolly buggers along the narrow channel, but nothing happened. Our Opening Day ritual – complete with a thorough skunking – was preserved.

101_5689

 

We returned the next evening, a bit earlier this time, with a renewed sense of hope. I’m honestly not sure what made us venture out in the awful weather, but we endured and scouted some new water. It was the kind of weather that you always hear is great for fishing – windy, cold, and plagued by a hard drizzle – but never really yields anything, leaving you with this weird feeling of disappointment and frustration and awe at your foolishness. Fortunately and much to our relief, it subsided in pretty short order, and it turned out to be a great day to take in the sights and smells of a trout stream on a cool spring evening.

We left a few flies in the bushes, scouted some new water, and actually had a bite while fishing the depths of a beaver pond, but the catching was not to be. Though my hands were numb by the end of the evening, it was amazing to actually fish a fly rod after the long, depressing depths of a Minnesota winter. The section of creek we fished is all of half a mile, though the beaver ponds and continuous windings of the currents add enough mysteries and secrets to last an entire season.

Mysteries and secrets that will only be uncovered through plenty of frustration. And a good dose of hope.

(Note: the challenges of Frustration Creek may have been slightly exaggerated due to the fishless nature of the trip. Interpret the stories of fly fishermen at your own discretion.)

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