brown trout

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.

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.)

Freezing on Taneycomo

March 18, 2014

Taneycomo rainbow

Warm, temperate, Missouri-springweather was hardly what we got on our day on Taneycomo. Really, it was more like hand-numbing, shivering, freeze-your-waders-off kind of weather. But it sure beats snow and negative fifty-something like we’ve had back home.

We stopped in Branson on the way back from Texas and hit Taneycomo. Braden and I stuck it out for most of the day despite rain and temps in the 40’s. I figured the miserable weather would discourage most anglers from fishing today, but I failed to calculate the horrible affects that cabin fever has on a fly fisher’s restless mind – there were still plenty of anglers plying the frigid waters with flies.

We followed the typical ritual that we perform each time we hit Taneycomo. Grab a few layers of clothes (which happened to be quite a bit this time around), stop at River Run Outfitters for licenses (an awesome shop right by the river), muse on the generation (didn’t exist today!!), find a likely spot (pretty close to anywhere on Taneycomo), and toss a midge at some trout.

The fishing wasn’t spectacular, but Braden and I each put some fish in the net. I managed to stick a nice rainbow (pictured above) on a tan #20 thread midge. He taped somewhere around eighteen to twenty inches and FAT, a good fish and definitely one of the bigger ‘bows I’ve caught on a fly. It was far too cold to take pictures, so the grip-n-grin will have to do for this trip. Fish were eating the typical stuff – midges, scuds, worms at high generation, and streamers (you can check out a few of our favorite flies for Taneycomo here). A few fish were even rising somewhat consistently to little midges, which was a beautiful sight for a few fly fishers that have looked at frozen lakes and snow for the past few months. Despite the rain, it was an awesome day on the water. Taneycomo is always a fun place to fish, and it was a good bridge to spring trout fishing in Minnesota. 

Tight lines,

Conner

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

Colorado Fly Fishing

In the middle of October the crew took a trip out to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The Yampa River, known for its big rainbows and browns, flowed right through town. Our first stop was Steamboat Flyfisher to grab a few flies and some gear. The guys in the shop were super helpful and pointed us toward some great spots on the river. If you’re ever in the area, definitely stop in and give them a visit, they run an awesome shop.

We started fishing a stretch on the Yampa right in town. The water was a bit high and stained, so we rigged some nymphs and started hitting the pockets and runs behind the many boulders. Noah stuck a nice brown swinging a white conehead wooly bugger, but he popped off right at the net. After a few minutes of tossing flies without any results, we decided to move to a more familiar stretch.

braden's colorado rainbow trout

One of Braden’s fat rainbows

Next we hit a piece of water where I actually caught my first trout on a fly. The river split into a side channel and flowed past a big pond that held plenty of stocked rainbows. Braden pulled a few fat stockers from the pond on a dry, and I busted off couple strong rainbows in the river dredging an indicator nymph rig. My 6X tippet was no match for the hefty rainbows and heavy current, and more than a few fish shot off downstream and shredded my line. The 6X was the only tippet I had, so unfortunately none of the bigger trout made it to the net. I ended the day with two little ‘bows on a #16 Frenchie.

Dry fly rainbow

Dry fly rainbow

Monday brought snow and some nasty conditions on the river, but I hit the water anyway. The fishing was pretty slow, and I honestly wasn’t fishing very well. I briefly connected on a few good trout before they popped off.

We fished a new stretch a ways upstream from town on Tuesday. A slow meandering river and rising trout greeted me as I strung up my rod. The trout were steadily sipping olives in the slow water and riffles. I made a few casts with a BWO parachute, but quickly got refusals. A fly change later, I stuck a rainbow on a #20 CDC BWO Comparadun, but he popped off after a decent fight. I pricked a few more fish before discovering the hook was bent out. Braden put a fat 17 incher in the net before we called it a night.

Elk River

The snowmelt made some trouble for us on Thursday. A habitat improvement project blew out the river, so after an hour of flogging the chocolate milk we wandered up to the Elk River hoping to pull some rainbows from the icy water. The frigid water temps from the recent snowmelt made things tough, and I only managed one rainbow on a #12 Mercer’s Micro May. The river was gorgeous, though, with mountains and pines towering above the rushing water.

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.

The three of us hit the Elk again on Friday morning for the last day of the trip. Snow fell softly as we dredged the pocketwater with nymphs and split shot. Again, the fishing was pretty slow, but Noah stuck a nice mountain whitefish on a midge, his first on a fly. Later in the afternoon we hiked and fished a small lake up in the mountains that supposedly held cutthroats and a few grayling. The other two only fished a few minutes before deciding to hike in the thin layer of snow that blanketed the bank. I trekked over to the dam and pulled a gorgeous 17 inch cutthroat from the crystal clear water on a #12 Chickabou Bugger. A few casts later I hooked into another good fish. After a short fight, I put a grayling in the net! I was pumped! Cutthroats have been on my dream list for a long time, but I never imagined I’d catch a grayling, not to mention getting both within a few minutes! I released it back into the icy waters and decided to call it a day.mountain lake in colorado

cutthroat

Awful pic, but a beautiful fish

SAMSUNGIt was an awesome trip, and though the trout could have cooperated a bit better, it was great to fish out west! Winter is officially here in Minnesota, and its time to tie some flies or hit the ice for a few panfish…

Tight Lines,

Conner

Dry Flies and Driftless Tricos

The past few days have been a little chilly, but it was downright cold this morning when I hit the river before sunrise. I was freezing by the time I had waded a few yards upstream in my shorts, but the crisp morning air got me excited for the cooler fall days ahead. Fishing was a little tough this morning. I fished for about an hour and only pricked a fish, tangling a few rigs and losing a few flies in the process. I got my first trout of the morning indicator nymphing with a #20 pheasant tail in a sweet hole that brushed right up into a big logjam. Once I landed that first trout, things started to pick up. I managed a few nice browns in the riffles before coming upon a good run that flowed against the rip-rapped bank, very similar to the pool we found tricos in yesterday morning.101_5403

A few fish started rising against the bank and I spotted a few tricos floating downstream. The trico spinner fall was on again! I switched to a dry-dropper rig with a #20 trico spinner. I had a blast casting to selective trout in the run. Again, there were fish taking flies in the faster water along with slower eddies on the bank. It was a fun challenge to get the perfect drift through tough currents and hook the fish on the tiny dry when he finally ate it. I took half a dozen on the trico before the fish slowed down. Once the trout stopped rising, I tied on my dry-dropper nymph rig with the big orange stimmy as my dry, a #14 squirrel and copper, and a #20 CDC trico trailing a few inches behind the nymph.driftless brown on a trico

wild brown tailThe drowned CDC trico proved to be deadly. I kept hiking upstream and pulled wild trout from the riffles and seams. I think I’ve found the ultimate rig for this time of year in the Driftless. A small, dark mayfly nymph is always a good choice, and the fish get so accustomed to seeing tricos over the summer they eagerly sip the sunk trico, even late in the day. A big terrestrial dry for the indicator rounds out the rig and covers the other major food source in a trout’s diet during the late summer, terrestrials. Most fish ate the trico, but a few took the squirrel and copper in the fast water.

Wild brown with a trico stuck right in the corner of his mouth

Wild brown with a trico stuck right in the corner of his mouth

A few awesome pools flowed through the open stretch I fished.

log jam pool in the Driftless AreaI hiked way upstream to the confluence with a small spring creek where I found a sweet pool where the currents swirled together. I took a few trout in the big confluence pool on the nymphs. I ended up losing the nymphs and just fished the Stimmy. A feisty brown surprised me by smashing the big dry right in the riffle, a great way to end the morning.

The confluence pool

The confluence pool

This weekend was amazing. It was great to finally hit the Root and sample some of the excellent trout fishing it offers, especially the legendary trico hatch. There’s nothing like a solid weekend of relaxing and trout fishing in the Driftless.

Fall and hunting season is coming up quickly…should be a great season!

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