Noah’s Minnow

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.

 

 

It Pays To Get Up Early

This weekend we trekked up to Ely, MN to get another canoe. If you are not familiar with the area, Ely sits on the border of the famed Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, known for its pristine crystal clear lakes and amazing fishing (smallmouth bass, northern, lake trout, and the list goes on). It is a no motor zone with back country campsites and portages to endless lakes, most filled with fish, some reaching trophy sizes. Ely is a true canoeing and fishing town in the middle of the woods. We camped on a little brook trout lake on the edge of the BWCAW. While it wasn’t actually in the Boundary Waters, it still had a paddle in site and solitude, perfect for one night. It was walleye opener there, so we saw nobody on our little trout lake. Everybody fishes walleye up there and seems to mostly ignore the trout, at least when the walleye are biting.

Brats on the open fire. Hard to beat after a long day paddling

It was a small lake, only about six acres, fringed with cedars and birch. Big rock faces dropped sharply into the water, and a few deadfall-filled bays broke the contour. Camp went up pretty quickly, and after Andoullie bratwurst over the fire, I headed out in the canoe. The first spot I tried was a point with a steep dropoff right off our campsite. I dredged a Noah’s Minnow for a few minutes before deciding to explore a little. The lake was glass calm, and the trees reflected in the evening sun. I spotted a rise and threw my minnow in there. Second cast and bang, a good trout broke me off. Bad knot. Not a great way to start the evening, but it was a fish. A few smaller trout started “rising” (jumping out of the water) so I tied on a royal coachman. I got a small brookie to take the fly, but he jumped and my six weight was just too heavy to keep tension on the barbless hook.

The next morning found me on the water by 5. The paddle across the lake to a woody bay was easy in the calm breeze. Nothing seemed to be happening anywhere. I fished streamers for an hour without as much as a bump, and nothing was rising. Finally I spotted a rise on the far side of the lake, so I paddled over and anchored. A dozen casts later I got jolted. This was a heavy fish. He did some headshakes and dove for around three minutes, taking line multiple times before I brought him to the net. He ran about fourteen inches, and FAT from sitting on the bottom eating minnows and leaches. Silver-gray with flecks of yellow, blue, and red, with stunningly red fins and a nice dark head. It pays to get up early.

Closer look

This fish was about three years old. Not too many fish reach this size in these small northern lakes. A pair of loons and a single offspring will eat 1,500 trout in a single year, very close to the trout stocking number. Angler harvest and natural causes take more trout, but amazingly there are still quite a few bruisers measured in pounds, not inches. The rest of the morning passed uneventfully. One trout kept jumping on the far shore, but nothing else wanted to eat. All the activity ended by eight o’clock, and we were packed and out before lunch. We should be headed back later this summer for a longer trip deeper into the interior. Bass opener is in a couple weeks, and a trip to the Kinnicinic or warmwater fishing in Wisconsin is in short order, so things should stay lively around here.

Best flies and tactics: #12 olive Noah’s Minnow with some krystal flash, or other similar weighted minnow or leech patterns. I fished a floating line, but a sink tip or full sinking line would be a good choice here for fishing streamers deep. Cast to steep dropoffs near weeds, wood, and deeper water. A long, slow strip for leech patterns or short tugs for minnows works best. A small wulff or attractor pattern works well when fish are rising.

Area fly shops: The Great Lakes Fly Shop

Tight Lines,

Conner

Day Two-Last Cast Rainbow

The day started with rain. Quite a bit of rain. Thankfully, it cleared up later in the morning and we were able to fish for a few hours. Noah set out with a goal of catching one of the recently stocked rainbows he had seen in the cliff pool. While he was busy casting to the rainbows, I tried to pick off a few trout that were barely breaking the surface eating something minuscule, but they were not in the mood to eat. Noah had one of his Noah’s Minnows on and was moving a few fish. He even had a take, but in the excitement set the hook a little too soon. After fishing the pool for a good half hour with no results, Braden asked if he could try a few casts with Noah’s streamer. Noah, being a very nice fellow,

The cliff pool

hesitantly handed the rod to his older brother with the instructions of, “Three casts!”.  On the third cast, at the end of the retrieve just as Noah put a hand on the rod to take it back, bang, a rainbow inhaled the fly. Braden flew into action, and set the hook. The trout did a few headshakes and runs. The boys shouted with hapiness as the rainbow went into the net. It measured an honest 16″, which turned out to be the biggest fish of the trip! It rained on and off throughout the rest of the day. In the breaks, Grandpa joined us to check out a small feeder creek that holds wild brookies and browns. It was a gorgeous piece of water. The stream was small, but had some great holes and runs. I was fishing an undercut, and a 15″ brown swam through, a big trout for such a small stream. Unfortunately, we couldn’t tempt any trout to take our dries, so we returned to camp. The evening dry fly fishing was again really good. Braden and I fished the same run, this time with headlamps. I rose four browns, up to ten inches, on the same Quill Gordon that I used last night. Braden caught one nine incher, but then his line got in a really bad tangle that he could not fix in the dark. Bummer. As it would turn out, we were lucky to get two nights of quality dry fly fishing in because of all the rain. Another great day on the Whitewater!

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