Spin Fishing

Secrets of the North Shore with North Shore Troutdoors Guide Service

Steelhead tactics, brookies, and thoughts on Lake Superior coldwater from guides Ken Petersen and Rob Storrar…

Rob and Ken from North Shore Troutdoors

Photo courtesy of North Shore Troutdoors If you’re thinking about hitting the North Shore, be sure to check out northshoretroutdoors.com and check out their trip options for a day of exploring the Shore and learning solid steelhead techniques

Minnesota’s North Shore is perhaps one of the most overlooked fisheries in the Upper Midwest, though there are boundless opportunities for epic fishing and adventure. While it does get a fair amount of attention for steelhead runs and its rugged trout streams, the Shore is often overshadowed by places like Wisconsin’s Brule River and the Upper Peninsula, not to mention all the walleyes in Minnesota. And that’s kind of a shame.

Ken Petersen and Rob Storrar, the two young, innovative anglers that own and operate North Shore Troutdoors guide service, are on a mission to share what the Shore truly has to offer and to kill the notion that Minnesota’s north country is only the land of walleye and bass. Though relatively new on the North Shore guiding scene, there’s no lack of experience and skill in this crew of anglers. Ken has been fishing for nearly as long as he’s been able to walk and is constantly pushing the limits with innovative steelhead fly tactics on the North Shore (he recently started swinging streamers (and catching fish) on switch rods and fluorescent chartreuse and blue line, much to the bewilderment of local anglers). Most of the thoughts below are his, but Rob adds a few as well. Rob is on the Phenix Rods prostaff (along with a few other companies), fishes bass tournaments throughout the summer, and recently worked the Bassmaster Classic Expo. More importantly, they have a deep passion for the fishery on the Shore and genuinely care about introducing new anglers to the outdoors and sharing innovative fishing techniques. Not to mention they’re just good guys.

I was pumped when they graciously agreed to share some of their favorite strategies and tactics for steelhead and some insights on the epic coldwater fishing in northern Minnesota. There’s certainly no shortage of spirited discussion on the state of the fisheries and the North Shore steelhead scene, and mostly for good reason, but there’s also lots of profound fishing wisdom mixed in. It’s a vibrant interview with great fishing tactics and insights on a wild, fascinating fishery with many undiscovered frontiers and plenty of epic fishing adventure.

 

 

1) 3 Brothers Flies (3BF): Before we get into steelhead tactics and the North Shore fisheries, tell us a bit about North Shore Troutdoors…

North Shore Troutdoors: The reason we started North Shore Troutdoors is because we wanted to see a change on the shore. We are always hearing the “old guys” talking about when they fished during the 70’s and 80’s how there were so many fish around you could walk across their backs. Since that time the Lake Superior fisheries have taken a huge hit and have fallen on the back burner of the Minnesota DNR. We aren’t in the guiding business for the money, we are in the guiding business so we can introduce more anglers to the north shore of Lake Superior in hopes that we can gain more support in building these suffering fisheries back up.

As for the fly fishing, to make a long story short it is the closest thing I can get to fighting a blue water fish. I have always liked the ocean and catching fish. It is common sense that those fish pull twice as hard as anything we would see in the Midwest so using a fly rod is as close to the ocean as I can get without being there. I also use a fly rod, or switch rod, because I want a challenge. It is really easy to take a spinning rod and go catch steelhead or trout and I am not about that. Fly fishing is along the same lines as bow hunting. I want to get up close and personal with the fish. For me I am not in a hurry to go and catch fish and leave. I like being outside and observing the fish. I like to see what they are eating and where they are moving. It the best feeling in the world when you can take a fly that you made and trick a fish over 20 inches into eating it.

 

2) 3BF: Steelhead Alley and Michigan’s UP tribs seem to get lots of attention when guys start talking about steelhead in this corner of the Midwest. Why fish Minnesota’s North Shore and what makes it so special?

North Shore Troutdoors: Minnesota is neglected in the Great Lakes Steelhead scene because of the runs. Our runs do not last as long as the runs in Michigan and the Erie Tribs. We also do not have the variety of fish coming through like you see out east of us. At one time we did have the same runs, and during that time Minnesota’s North Shore was just as big as the UP. The runs would start in the spring and different fish would be found entering the rivers almost all the way until winter. Since that time the fishery has been neglected to Steelhead in the spring and Pink Salmon, along with a few coastal brook trout and cohos, in the fall. The reasoning behind this is because Lake Superior is said to be at its capacity. The lake trout, one of the two native game fish in the lake, have rebounded and their population has recovered to above normal levels. With this a lot of the stocking of exotic species, salmon and steelhead, have been removed from the north shore. The French River Hatchery does stock Kamloops throughout the summer to keep the “meat hunters” happy but it does not do a lot of good for the fishery as a whole. (Editor’s note – The MN DNR also shares some info on the “band-aid”  approach, stream conservation, and the anadromous rainbow population on the Hatchery Fact Sheet – Duluth Area” under the “North Shore Steelhead and Kamloops Management” section. It can be found here)

The North Shore Fisheries also suffer with stocking because of the lack of funding. There are so many people in the state of Minnesota that are walleye hounds so that is where you see most of the money going. It is incredible to see how bad the Michigan stream stocking programs surpass the north shore. We have one hatchery on the shore that tries to raise cold-water fish but it is falling apart, and it is up in the air on what is going to happen with the stocking. Recently part of our cold-water hatchery was used to raise sucker minnows for muskie rearing ponds which was later suspended, we were told, because of the VHS outbreaks in the Great Lakes. It is insane to think that our fishery’s only life line was being used for muskie bait instead of it’s intended purpose. (Editor’s note – TheHatchery Fact Sheet – Duluth Areapage from the MN DNR notes this sucker minnow discontinuation under the “History” section. It can be found here)

Rob with a nice North Shore chromer

Rob with a nice North Shore chromer. Photo by North Shore Troutdoors

The reason Minnesota’s north shore should be considered with the other greats is because if the access. We have around 60 Tributaries from Duluth to Canada that hold fish in the spring and fall, and for the most part they are all accessible. There is not a lot of private property along the north shore which makes fishing for anadromous fish fairly easy. A lot of our rivers are also a bit narrow and are not really navigable by boat. Anglers are able to walk into almost every section of the rivers on foot which is also another huge plus for the north shore rivers. To top it off, if one river is not producing fish anglers are able to hop in their car and take a five minute drive to the next river. It is truly a unique area to fish for lake run fish.

 

3) 3BF: Favorite North Shore fish to target with a fly rod?

North Shore Troutdoors: Steelhead is the obvious choice. Fishing for this species of fish is like big game hunting. If you want to be successful in catching these fish you cannot just grab a rod and reel and head into the water. We do a lot of research throughout the winter learning different fly patterns and techniques to try and get the upper hand come spring. There have been a lot of times where we can see the fish and they will not take anything we are throwing at them. This fishery takes practice and a lot of trial and error in order to be successful and that is why I think that steelhead are the best fish to target on the fly.

 

 

4) 3BF:  N. Shore streams are quite rugged and often have a pretty good gradient. Are there any notable presentation strategies you use on the Shore that differ from Lake Michigan tribs or other classic steelheading venues?

North Shore Troutdoors: I think this is one of the most important questions in the interview. Yes, our streams are rugged and there are a few that are down-right dangerous, but in the end we are all fishing for the same type of fish. Steelhead alley and other Michigan tributaries hold bigger fish because of the difference in water temps and genes, but in Minnesota we still have plenty of fish at or over thirty inches. Part of North Shore Troutdoors is learning about the steelhead in other great lakes and on the west coast during the winter. We have developed new fishing styles and have learned different techniques in order to prove that these fish will react the same as they do everywhere else in the United States and Canada.

When we first started fishing on the north shore we found that there were a few older anglers using a “different” technique. We call it the “Lester Twitch”, it is similar to the Kenai Twitch except for equipment. In order to participate in the Lester Twitch an angler needs to get a fly rod and reel, take all the fly line off of it, and replace the line with Maxima Chameleon. You then need to overweight your line with heavy split shot and an egg fly. Once you are all rigged up you lob your rig up stream and bounce it through a run making sure your bounces are abrupt. At the end of the swing you want to give your egg one more good yank just in case there are any steelhead mouths near your hook. If you don’t end up snagging, excusing me, “CATCHING” one the first time just keep lobbing it….

Hopefully you have caught onto the sarcasm. We would never use this method of steelhead fishing on the north shore, and we are trying to show people different ways to catch these fish so eventually this style of fishing dies out with the generation. This style of something, I can’t call it fishing, was developed years ago for meat hunting. It is an effective way to hook a fish by the mouth or face so it can be taken home to eat. This technique out west is referred to as “flossing” and is used to hook fish who are struggling with a case of lock-jaw. Since steelhead do not have a case of lock jaw, and  we haven’t kept steelhead on the north shore for quite some time, there is really no need to use this style any longer. We have seen way too many fish banged up in the process and it is not worth it. There are PLENTY of new, very productive methods that can be found on the internet where an old style of fishing like this should be on its way out. We are very fortunate to have social media and a wealth of knowledge at our finger tips and so we should be using these resources to help learn and protect our fishery.

As for our presentations, it’s a simple, complicated system. If we are fishing on our own we do not care about the number of fish we catch; we only care about how we catch them. During the winter we research and tie up different patterns to test once the rivers thaw. For me personally, I do not care about how many fish I catch, I want to outsmart them. The only fly I do not use on the shore are egg flies because there are better techniques at catching these fish, and there are more and more studies coming out that say that these types of flies do more harm than good to the fish. When the fish are in the rivers and they are eating eggs they destroy them. When an angler throws an egg pattern through a run on a fly line they inhale them which makes it harder to remove the fly once the fish is landed, which usually does more harm than good to the fish. We focus on quick landing, photo, and releases. We also do not use egg flies because that is what the majority of anglers use on the rest of the shore. These fish are not stupid. We have found that if we change up the presentation we are more successful on catching fish. Plus, if we went out and only used an egg fly every time we fished we would not learn anything different.

I started experimenting with different styles of fishing on the north shore because I was told I couldn’t do it. When I first moved here I had bright yellow supra fly line from SA and I was told that there was no way on earth I could catch a steelhead on fly line, let alone bright yellow. That fish was checked off the list that same morning. I was then told I couldn’t use a switch rod in our rivers because it was too big so I sold my 8 wt and only fished with a switch rod.

My latest encounter with a steelhead was this spring on the Brule (north shore was still frozen) on the switch fishing a style I was told I couldn’t do. I was swinging a fly on a Senyo shank with Royal Wulff Ambush Line (line is florescent chartreuse and blue). I was told that “our steelhead” do not react the same way as their cousins in the great lakes and out west, and, that they would never eat a fly swung through a run on chartreuse line. The angler was wrong and I believe the photo is still on greatlakesflyshop.com if you’re curious. (Editor’s note: see pic above). For us it is all about the challenge and progression. Rob and I compete with one another while we are fishing together because we want to get better. We take criticism on certain styles of fishing as a challenge. We want to see how far we can push our fishing capabilities so we can better understand how these fish respond during different times of the year.

It’s a lot of rambling in this question but to make a long story short if you can present a well placed fly through a run on the north shore you will have success just like anywhere else in the world. Every time we start to put our gear on it is like getting ready to go hunting, and I think any guide will tell you that. Before you can start to fish you need to be able to observe, and if you cannot observe your fishing will lack.

 

5) 3BF: What are absolute perfect water conditions for steelhead?

Massive steelhead and rugged country...Photo by North Shore Troutdoors

Massive steelhead and rugged country…Photo by North Shore Troutdoors

North Shore Troutdoors: If its spring time and the rivers are running there will be steelhead. Our favorite times are when the rivers have a bit of color but we can still see the fish moving around. The first major drop in water speed and rise in temperature generally signals a major push of steelhead in the spring so we anxiously await the days leading up to this initial drop. Once ample amounts of fish have made it into the river, the water will tend to fluctuate based on run-off and spring rains. Even in high, fast waters, fish will still be in the river, but they will be much harder to catch and to present a bait to. Because of this we prefer falling water speeds that are coupled with slightly rising water temperatures and some coloration to the water. The only reason we prefer the color is because fish will be less spooky and generally won’t get as good of a look at your presentation so therefore will not be as fussy. If we had to pick an ideal day for steelhead fishing we would hope for a warm night that broke into an overcast, but humid day featuring water that had just stabilized after its initial rapid fall following ice out.

We also like it in the fall when the rivers are clear because it doesn’t get much better than sight fishing for big fish. At this time period the fish tend to be more aggressive due to the warmer temperatures, and flows tend not to matter as much because we are not coming off of the winter thaw.

 

6) 3BF: What steelhead setup are you guys fishing on a daily basis? 

Ken: I use a switch rod during the spring and fall fisheries. It’s a 11’ 3” two handed fly rod that I can use for a few different types of fishing situations. If I am going to swing a fly through a run I will use a running line, Skagit head, versi leader (sink tip), and type of streamer. I can also switch the line to a switch line which allows me to run an indicator with flies underneath.

Rob: For me I will use a combination of tactics depending on the day. My favorite way to fish is with a medium heavy bait caster made by Phenix Rods. On this setup I spool 30 pound braid onto a high speed Lews bait casting reel, and attach a 10 pound fluorocarbon leader on a barrel swivel. From there I put a clear center pinning float on the line followed by staggered weights. At the end is our homemade pink worm or plastic spawn imitation. The rod I used last year was a 7’2” M1 Phenix that had ample back bone but a very sensitive tip that allowed for accurate casts yet didn’t pull hooks out of a fishes’ mouths. This fall and next spring I may be experimenting with an even longer Phenix Rod as well to get a better high sticking presentation.

If I’m not fishing the bait caster I will be experimenting with an 8wt fly rod, and presenting a bead or a nymph below an indicator. Also, in order to stay fresh on all tactics, I will bring a Phenix spinning rod and fish it when the conditions are right or when we have clients coming up that will not be fly fishing.

 

7) 3BF: What’s the biggest/most common mistake you see anglers make when targeting steelhead?

North Shore Troutdoors: There are three “mistakes” we see new anglers making on the north shore, the first being a lack of knowledge. What I mean by this is that anglers new to the area are not reading the regulations and do not know exactly what type of fish they are catching. Because of this, new anglers are handling the wrong species of fish incorrectly, and in turn, it is hurting the fishery.

Another mistake new anglers seem to make when targeting steelhead is crowding other anglers. Growing up in Minnesota I would venture to say that the majority of people grew up fishing lakes or ponds. Docks, boats, and shoreline have always been easily accessible and so that is how most of us cut our teeth with the rods and reels. When an angler switches to river fishing for the first time it is like a deer in the head lights. The water is constantly moving and switching directions, and it is hard to tell where a fish could be holding. We see quite a few anglers that just wait to see a fish landed then run right up next to the person and start fishing instead of reading, watching videos, and observing other anglers’ techniques to learn the best ways to catch fish. It is understandable because in steelhead fishing there are very few teachers on the water. In Minnesota we all grew up with teachers whether it be our grandparents, our parents, or our siblings teaching us different techniques at catching warm water species. Never the less it is quite annoying when an angler runs up next to you when you are battling a fish. All it does is screw up the fishing for both people because usually these “runners” take the shortest path to the nearest angler, which is usually right down the center of a run.

The last major mistake we see anglers make on the North Shore is not keeping an open mind when it comes to their angling techniques. Steelhead, stream trout, and salmon are just like any other fish; what worked today may not work tomorrow, and vice versa. Especially during the steelhead season we see so many anglers relying on one technique and closing their mind to other techniques that may be more productive at that particular time. For example there are times that steelhead are on the bottom, suspended, or even riding high in the rivers, and that same old technique that is being used may not be the best presentation at the time being. We experiment day in and day out to learn what the fish prefer on that certain day or during that time span in order to capitalize on fish behavior and preferences. Bringing an open mind to the rivers can really help anglers capitalize when the fishing seems to be tough.

 

8) 3BF: It seems like steelhead and trout above the barriers get lots of (well-deserved) glory, but they can’t be the only worthy pursuits in the Lake Superior system. What’s the most overlooked fish(ery) on the shore?

North Shore Troutdoors: The most overlooked fishery on the north shore is pink salmon. Most anglers overlook this fall fishery because the fish are small and a lot of guys do not like the taste of them. We call pink salmon “steelhead training wheels” because it is the best way to learn how to target steelhead. When the pinks are in, the water is clear, and they are everywhere! For the most part you can target the pinks by sight fishing. Anglers are able to walk right up to the fish and see their fly as it floats past. They are able to see how the fish react to the fly based on how it is presented. The fish will let an angler know if the fly is coming too slow or if there is something about it they don’t like. An angler can then take the techniques they have learned while fishing for pinks and apply them to steelhead in the spring. This greatly increases the chances of success while fishing for steelhead. Fishing rivers is all about learning. A river is always changing and the fish are always moving. If you aren’t learning every time you are out in the water you cannot increase your fish-catching-productivity rate.

pink salmon North Shore Troutdoors

Photo courtesy of North Shore Troutdoors

 

 

 

9) 3BF: The brookies up there and the rugged, mountainous creeks have always intrigued me. What’s up with the brook trout fishery and what are your favorite strategies? 

Coaster brookie on the swing

Coaster brookie on the swing. Inland creeks above the barriers offer some sweet brook trout fishing and good adventure. Photo courtesy of North Shore Troutdoors

North Shore Troutdoors: The brook trout are everywhere up here but there are certain areas where the big ones hang out. They usually are the smaller of the species of trout found on the north shore but we have battled with a few pushing 20” (native stream trout, not coasters). The best way to find good brook trout is to start walking. Our rule up here is the rule of One. This rule states that the majority of anglers/tourists on the north shore only walk one mile into the river, and because of this, those areas get fished the hardest (this isn’t a written rule we just made it up). If you take the time to look at satellite photos and plan a route into the woods before-hand it is a lot easier to find the bigger fish. Our rivers are rugged but there are also deep pools scattered throughout all the way to their headwaters. The best time to catch these brook trout is in the fall when they are feeding and getting ready to spawn. During this time they are at their most photogenic state with their spawning coloration. The brook trout fisheries are a very over looked fishery on the north shore, and we are really working on bringing more people out into our northern scenic rivers to catch these beautiful fish.

As far as tactics go for these fish, nothing really beats a dry fly when the fish are really putting on the feedbag. When the fishing is more difficult, standard nymphs work great. Generally when it comes to brook trout here, the first step is finding the right area that is holding many good sized fish. Then from there it is a matter of matching the hatch and experimenting until you find out what is working best for the day.

 

10) 3BF: Top 3 steelhead presentations?

Stones, Intruders, and beads. And we can’t forget the all powerful pink worm!

 

3BF: Where can people learn more about your guiding or set up a day of fishing on the Shore?

We can be contacted at www.northshoretroutdoors.com for booking information and fishing reports. We are also on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter which we update daily so you can always see what we are doing.

 

Crappies On the Fly, Catfish, and Hot Dogs

 May 28

There’s an oddly satisfying charm to the simplicity of catfishing. It’s about as far as you can get from the clean elegance and complexity of fly fishing for trout, but for some reason it has captivated me since the moment I first encountered it, probably striking some young boyhood chord rooted deep inside that still likes to play with worms and run around barefoot in the mud. The anticipation of watching a freshly-baited pole is nearly unbearable, and you never quite know what’ll end up eating your bait, which is a large part of the intrigue. Rivers and catfish haunts have a habit of holding all sorts of crazy fish, and, at least when fishing casually, there’s no particular skill or reason involved in hooking big catfish, though landing them can be a different story. It takes a good bit of skill to entice a big brown trout, but it’s just as probable that a ten pound catfish will take your bait as a ten incher will when soaking worms. While fishing worms on the bottom might sound a bit like treason for a die-hard fly fisherman, it’s a good way to kick back and relax on the water, not to mention it’s just plain fun.

But none of us had any idea that we’d get into big cats this weekend.

Noah and I started the weekend at the lake by poking around a few flooded marshes looking for some carp. The fish were spawning and not interested in flies, though we did find one that was happily slurping bugs from the weeds but didn’t like my poor presentation. I’d bet we saw around fifty fish, with an occasional tank that made nearly any other freshwater fish pale in comparison.

I tried a few casts at the river mouth with the fly rod but couldn’t interest any bass. The water was quite a bit higher and dirtier this weekend, adding to the already unstable pattern we’ve had this spring. I’ve never seen the water so brown on the lake, and so far it hasn’t been great for the bass fishing. I’m sure there are a few less obvious variables that are affecting the fishing, but the brown water at the river mouth just hasn’t been producing like it should.

Partly out of curiosity and partly out of boredom, Noah and I set up with a “river rig” (simply a big chunk of worm with a sinker a foot or two up the line) at the mouth of the river just as the sun was dropping behind the trees. It’s a good way to relax after paddling all afternoon, and there’s a good chance you’ll tie into a bigger fish – maybe a bass or carp or the odd walleye that prowls the shallows after dark. The first few fish were potbellied yellow bullheads – a very normal occurrence for night fishing and not terribly exciting. After a half-dozen fish I got a strong thump and set into a good fish. I figured it was a carp, but a good, dirty fight revealed a respectable catfish of 22″!

While I never realistically expected to catch a catfish in the lake, it was never completely out of the picture. A few years ago, the DNR stocked a bunch of channel catfish in a connected lake system a ways downstream. Much to the delight of some anglers and the dismay of others, the cats flourished and moved into nearly all the connected waterways. The lake we’re on is separated by nearly a half-dozen lakes and a few dams upstream from the original stocking site, but somehow the catfish must’ve made their way through on the seasonal spurts of high water. I’m glad they did.noahs catfish

A few more bullheads (and a bit of disappointment at each quiver of the rod that produced one) broke the silence of the darkness before Noah stuck a good 24″ cat. It’s a blast to just hang out in the lantern light and goof around. We stuck it out till around midnight and lost one more big catfish before ending the madness and calling it a night.

May 29

The river mouth was dead again this morning. I tossed the jig fly from Opening weekend and the crankbait but didn’t get a single bite. There wasn’t much else happening, so I tied a few flies before Noah and I hopped in the rowboat to chase some panfish.

For some reason crappies just can't resist pink...

For some reason crappies just can’t resist pink…

The ‘gills and crappies were in the shallows and ravenous. It took a bit of sorting to get to the bigger fish, but we landed a few good ones on the Pink Punch and a Noah’s Minnow variation.

Ice dub veil on the Pink Punch did a nice job imitating the tiny minnows these guys were eating...

Ice dub veil on the Pink Punch did a nice job imitating the tiny minnows these guys were eating…

super noahs minnow crappie

Lots of fun on a four weight

 

I planned to chase some bass in the evening, but there was a league bass tournament and the little 300-acre lake was hopping. It was a good night at the river mouth, though. The odd chorus of skeeters and coons and frogs filled the night air, only broken occasionally by the thrashing of a catfish exploding through the shallows somewhere in the distant darkness.

26"

26″

We turned in sometime around midnight, weary yet satisfied with the evening’s fish count.

The bass bite never happened on the last morning, despite a decent effort of pitching and flipping and casting at docks in hopes of finding a “pattern” worthy of the fly rod. One feisty largemouth – the only one of the weekend – spit the tube after going airborne beside a dock. I’m sure there were still a few hungry fish hanging around in the morning sun, but we just couldn’t find them.

June 15

I’m afraid that catfish are becoming somewhat of an addiction. Most fly anglers might not understand the bait-fishing pursuit that has stolen our attention (and a good bit of sleep), but I guess you have to experience it to appreciate it. It’s hard to argue with the thrill of strong, beefy fish in the dead of night.

The weeds have really started to come in. A crankbait was worthless in the shallows of the river mouth. Besides a few casts with the jig fly and the “stupid tube,” there wasn’t much time to bass fish before darkness crept over the water – and the catfish moved into the shallows. I had foolishly left the worms in the garage the week before, so we were in a bit of a predicament for bait. A quick run through the pantry looked grim. A bread crust. Crackers. Butter. Marshmallows(!).

Yeah, we were desperate.

Ended up tossing hot dogs (all-natural, mind you) tipped with marshmallows, which the catfish apparently didn’t mind.Bradens catfish

I rolled out of bed a bit before five the next morning. The sting of the early alarm was eased a bit by coffee and a 17″ bucketmouth. early morning fishing

Got him on a white spinnerbait (with a hand-tied bucktail/feather hook) on the inside of the weedline. Poor fish had a nasty sore on his chest...

Got him on a white spinnerbait (with a hand-tied bucktail/feather hook) on the inside of the weedline. Poor fish had a nasty sore on his chest…

 

***Side note: While Noah was casting a tube for bass just before dark he hooked into a good catfish. Makes you wonder in they’re catchable on a fly rod. Maybe tie a big, heavy conehead with a rattle and plenty of silhouette to imitate a crayfish. Or a hot dog.

 

 

Bass Opener 2014

I don’t think there’s a more highly anticipated day in our fishing season than the bass Opener, though this year it nearly didn’t happen. The plan was to hit the North Shore in hopes of catching the early stages of the steelhead run, but, like any event in nature, it’s a fickle phenomena that depends on a dizzying number of variables that even the best of anglers still don’t quite understand. The fish hadn’t yet entered the rivers, so we ended up calling off the trip with no small amount of anguish. It was a bittersweet decision, but it meant that we got to hit the lake for bass Opener, which isn’t exactly a horrible consequence if you ask me.

I learned long ago to not form any serious expectations around fishing trips. Having a well-formed plan and high expectations (not to be confused with optimism, which is an entirely different and necessary animal) is as good a recipe for disappointment as I know, and the only way around it is to expect the unexpected, or just not care what happens, which in the the end is nearly the same thing anyways. Happiness is relative, and in some form or another, most people have the ability to at least partly enjoy themselves on a fishing trip.

Last spring was the best bass fishing we’ve ever experienced, and I honestly didn’t expect this year’s Opener to come anywhere close, though I was still quite optimistic. Bass Opener can be a lot like the first day of duck season – you fish it because it’s “Opening Day,” and not much else. Sometimes you might strike it lucky and a cold front will push some ducks down or the bass will still be prespawn and hungry, but most of the the time the action is only fair, although something usually happens.

There was still plenty of time left to chase some panfish when we rolled in to the cabin on Friday night. The crappies, still fat with eggs and still quite hungry before their spawning rituals began, were holding at the mouth of the river and feeding on tiny minnows. I coaxed a few to grab a small woolly bugger before switching to a #12 Pink Punch. That was a bit more to their liking, and I landed about a dozen nice fish in the nine inch range before calling it a night. I think the veil created by the ice dub did a nice job imitating the transparency of the little minnows the crappies were eating, though crappies just seem to have a hard time resisting anything pink.

I strung up a few rods – both fly rods armed with the trusty Meat Whistle and a Murdich Minnow and spin rods rigged with a crankbait and llama fur jig – in the dim light of the lamp with a good dose of excitement for the morning. Insomnia is a very real concern on the nights before big fishing trips, but fortunately I dozed off in time to get a solid five hours of sleep before my 5:00 alarm hit.opening day sunrise

The sun hadn’t yet reached the tips of the giant old oak trees on the opposite shore when I started casting my Meat Whistle. There was a touch of crimson in the sky, and every so often the eerie cry of a loon would echo over the lake. The only trouble was that the fish weren’t biting, though it was a gorgeous, picturesque scene, and it almost seemed greedy to expect to catch a fish in addition to the grace I’d already been given. I probed the mouth of the murky river for a few minutes before I tail-hooked a big carp (unintentionally, of course). I first thought I’d hooked a big bass, but after a minute or two of surging runs and hard bulldogging on the bottom it was evident that I’d gotten myself into a much tougher fight. He put a good bend in the six weight, and the hook popped free just after I realized he was pinned in the tail.morning on the bass lake

Prime predawn fishing time doesn’t last long, and the sun was just starting to peek over the trees, so I grabbed the spincasting rod rigged with the same crankbait that got my first largemouth on last year’s Opener (tradition, I guess). I’m no “fly or die” purist when it comes to bass fishing (I actually really enjoy gear fishing), and I guess I just like to catch fish, making a gear rod a fun and beautiful tool for efficiently covering water and finding the bass. But, like most anglers I know, I’ll almost always take them on a fly whenever I can get them.

I figured the crank would perform nicely in the murky water, and I was right. I stuck a feisty largemouth around one pound for the first bass of the season – not a monster, but a good start.

The obligatory picture of the first largemouth of the season.

The obligatory “first fish of the season” pic

I got one more bass before taking a hint from the bold, aggressive action of the crankbait and switching to a bigger articulated streamer that created a bit more commotion than the Meat Whistle. The bolder presentation and meatier profile turned out to be key in the dirty water, and I soon landed my first fly-rod bucketmouth of the season.

Bucketmouth on the fly rod

Bucketmouth on the fly rod

 

I stopped for a coffee break and Grandpa came out and got his first largemouth of the year on the crankbait. Noah and I fished for a few more hours and picked up a small bass here and there, but the morning bite never really materialized. I’m not sure if it was the weather or unstable water conditions, but something just wasn’t quite right.

Grandpa's first of the year

Grandpa’s first of the year

 

Braden was sidelined for most of the day with a baseball injury and a cast that couldn’t get wet (he managed to fracture his wrist in the outfield and ended up getting it cast – hardly a good combination for a solid day of bass fishing). It was nearly a very tragic misfortune, but after much searching he found a giant green rubber glove that protected his arm from the water. And it’s a good thing he did, because within his first few (fly) casts of the evening he hooked a monster largemouth…

8wt and an olive/brown rabbit conehead

8wt and an olive/brown rabbit conehead

It was a gorgeous fish, real fat and nearly over 20″, and it turned out to be Braden’s personal best largemouth on a fly rod. Not a bad start to his bass season (quite awesome, actually), though it makes you wonder how he caught it on his third cast when you’ve dutifully put in your time and tossed flies for hours on end. Fishing has an odd way of keeping score.

The rest of the evening slipped by quite uneventfully, though Grandpa hit a good crankbait bite and put half a dozen fish in the net in very short order. Noah and I got a few more small bass, but nothing worth mentioning. I felt a hint of disappointment as the sun slipped behind the trees and another bass Opener came to a close.

I spent quite a while thinking about the Opener and wondering what was different. Yes, the fishing wasn’t nearly as good as last year’s Opener, but there was no real reason to be disappointed. The fly rods produced some fish, the weather was beautiful, and Braden landed a spectacular fish (if you don’t get excited for a bass like that one you clearly don’t have any business fishing) that’ll likely be one of the best of the year. We caught some great fish and had a good time on the water, and for that I’m extremely grateful. But something was still missing, though after a while I realized it wasn’t the fishing at all.

I guess I just haven’t mastered the fine art of managing expectations.

 

 

2013 Year In Review

2013 was an awesome year for us, and looking back I think we can say it has been our best year of fishing yet. The bass fishing was on fire this spring up at the cabin, and each of us added personal bests for multiple species. We fished quite a bit with both fly and spin gear, and were truly blessed to have the opportunity to catch some great fish in awesome places. A huge thanks to everyone who reads our adventures and tight lines in 2014! Here are a few of the highlights, in no specific order…

Driftless Trout

We didn’t make it down to the Driftless many times this year, but we did bushwack into an awesome creek deep in the remote “backcountry”.

Rugged country in the Driftless "backcountry"

Rugged country in the Driftless “backcountry”

Driftless brown trout on a frenchie ptn

A small spring that gurgled out from the bluffs

A small spring that gurgled out from the bluffs

September found us on the South Branch of the Root river for our annual Driftless fall camping trip. This trip is one of our favorites, and this year we hit a good trico hatch and caught plenty of wild browns.

South Branch Root River wild brown with some great colors

South Branch Root River wild brown with some great colors

Another wild brown Braden got on the MTMN

Another wild brown Braden got on the Trout Snatcher

Braden got this Driftless brown on a micro tubing mayfly nymph

Colorado

I caught my first few trout on a fly in Colorado, so I was excited to go back in 2013. High, cold water and snow made things a little tough, but we managed to scrape out a few fish, including some fat rainbows, a cutthroat, and a grayling

mountain lake in coloradobraden's colorado rainbow troutcutthroatSAMSUNG

Mountain Whitefish! Noah stuck this whitey on a midge that he tied while fishing the Elk River.

Mountain Whitefish! Noah stuck this whitey on a midge that he tied while fishing the Elk River.

Florida

In January I added a few new species to my list and reached a big goal in my fly fishing ventures, catching a fish in saltwater on a fly rod! I caught a few little seatrout on Sanibel Island on a Schminnow while wading a grassy flat. They weren’t monsters, but they were fish! Braden also hooked a few, but they unfortunately popped off before he could land them.

Small spotted seatrout that ate Norm's Crystal Schminnow

First fish in the salt!!

Sanibel Island spotted seatrout on the fly

A pod of three dolphins swam over and checked us out while boating in a bay.

A pod of three dolphins swam over and checked us out while boating in a bay.

sunset on the GulfOne of the more memorable (and crazy) catches of the year also came in Florida on a small citrus grove pond, where we got chased out by a gator!

Don't harass the gatorsgator staring us down in FLIMG_3765

Bass Opener

2013 was easily the best year of bass fishing we’ve ever had. With the late spring and colder, cloudy weather, Opening Weekend here in Minnesota was just awesome. The fish were in the shallows and hungry, still fat with eggs. Noah put three fish over 4.5 lbs on the board in the first afternoon of fishing, beating his personal best on almost three consecutive fish! The fishing was amazing, and we caught lots of fish on both fly and spin tackle.

Noah stuck this nice 18 incher on a "Stupid Tube" rig

Noah stuck this nice 18 incher on a “Stupid Tube” rig

Five pounder

Five pounder

Another pig!

Another pig!

Hungry little guy

Hungry little guy

3 pounds 11 ounce bass on a fly rod in Minnesota on meat whistleBraden's bass up at the lakesunrise on the bass lake 3

 

The walleyes were also in the shallows searching for a meal around low light. I landed my first walleye on a fly rod and my personal best, a 23 incher that hit a Meat Whistle right after dark….

First walleye on the fly! A nice 23 " fish that slammed a Meat Whistle up in the shallows.

First walleye on the fly! A nice 23 ” fish that slammed a Meat Whistle up in the shallows.

We also did some trolling in deeper water and Noah launched floating Rapalas on a shallow flat after dark. Both methods produced some gold...

Grandpa's walleye

walleye after dark on a Minnesota lake tossing floating rapalas100_4779

Toothy critter

Toothy critter

Boundary Waters

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on the MN/Canada border is one of the best fisheries in the Midwest. We trekked up there at the end of July for a week of canoeing, camping, and fishing in the rugged wilderness. To put it lightly, the weather was less than ideal, with record low temps approaching freezing, heavy wind up to 20 mph, and a constant cold drizzle all week. Whitecaps hammered the lake we were on, leaving us shorebound for most of the trip. We toughed it out, however, and caught some awesome fish. Noah landed a MONSTER of a 36 inch pike that will probably go down as the best fish of 2013….Noah's monster Boundary Waters pikeNoah's 36 inch pike on Basswood LakePike!

Boundary Waters bronzeback on the fly

Boundary Waters bronzeback on the fly

Lake Fishin’

We fished up at the cabin a few times this summer…

27 incher

27 incher

 

Nailed this largemouth on a chartruese meat whistle at the culvert

Nailed this largemouth on a chartruese meat whistle at the culvert

 

Grandpa caught this nice crappie while trolling for walleyes

Grandpa caught this nice crappie while trolling for walleyes

A Flash Bugger streamer fooled this nice bluegill

A Flash Bugger streamer fooled this nice bluegill

Braden stuck this huge 20" largemouth right up in the shallows! Definitely one of the best fish of the year and his personal best bucketmouth.

Braden stuck this huge 20″ largemouth right up in the shallows! Definitely one of the best fish of the year and his personal best bucketmouth!

 

Lake Pepin

In the spring we made the trip down to Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River to chase some walleyes. It was a great day of fishing, and we boated lots of fish, including some white bass, plenty of walleye and sauger, and a few smallmouth…

100_4913100_4906100_4918

Hunting

We did quite a bit of duck hunting this year. Braden and I also got into bowhunting and hunted a few times this fall….morning in the duck blindoctober goose mn

Ice Fishing

We ended the year with some hardwater fishing on the “crappie hole”, a small local lake that has produced some slabs for us in the past…

bluegill and crappie dinner icefishing sunset on the ice bass through the ice

Fooled this crappie with a TUNGSTEN Slab Spike ice fly

Fooled this crappie with a TUNGSTEN Slab Spike ice fly

bradens crappie in the dark

On the fly tying side of things, our flies are now available on Fishinggear.com. We’re offering hand-tied flies and ice flies including some signature patterns that we tie and fish.

2013 was a great year for us. We all learned lots as anglers and spent plenty of time in God’s awesome outdoors. A few personal records were broken, and we caught some great fish. Thanks for the support and tight lines in 2014!

3 Brothers Flies

Merry Christmas from 3 Brothers Flies!

Pike!Merry Christmas from all of us here at 3 Brothers Flies!

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8).

Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” “(John 18:37)

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger’. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’ ” (Luke 2:27).

Tight lines and thanks so much for reading! Have a great Christmas!

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