Driftless Area

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.

 ——o——

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.

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.)

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

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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