pheasant tail

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!

Secret Waters: Fly Fishing the Driftless Backcountry

As we started the hot, demanding hike down the steep canyon walls, I wondered if it would be worth it. I’d been here only once before, and caught brown trout, but that was in the cool weather of September when the trout were quite active, not the smothering heat of a July afternoon. Other rivers around here shut down in the midsummer heat, and I was worried I might find a similar situation down in the valley. But the thought of having a beautiful stretch of water all to ourselves was enough to make up my mind.

Most people don’t think of the Driftless Area having a “backcountry”. It’s certainly not the vast tracts of unbroken wilderness you’d find out West, but there are definitely remote, unpressured waters deep in the Driftless wilderness that seldom see a fly or a fisherman. A few have trails, but most require an often difficult bushwack down steep bluffs and through fields of stinging nettles. The best trout streams (the ones that are full of fish but void of fisherman) seem to guard themselves with their natural surrounding. Driftless creeks are protected by sizzling nettles and limestone cliffs and arduous hikes. Which is fine by me. Keeps out the gunnysackers and the casual fisherman, leaving it only to the dedicated angler that respects the waters.

Rugged country

Rugged country

The goal of our mission today was to further explore a stretch of backcountry creek and hopefully find a bunch of eager wild brown trout. Busting through the thick brush, we started our descent into the canyon and soon found ourselves on a small feeder creek studded with beaver ponds. Some spots looked very trouty for a small stream, especially for a creek way back in the sticks, but a quick stream temp read 68 degrees, a bit warm for shaded water in the morning. Further downstream the creek looked more promising as a few small springs poured into the stream, but I was hungry for the main river, so I decided to keep the rod in the pack. We pressed on through the valley, and after an hour emerged around the ridge to find the main river. It was gorgeous, one of the prettiest pieces of water I’ve ever laid my eyes on. The stream, about twenty feet wide, flowed turquoise blue with just enough stain to create the perfect conditions for fishing. It rushed through riffles and over boulders, carving its way through the rugged valley, occasionally forming the deep, dark cliff pools found mostly in a trout fisherman’s dreams. A few trout were gently rising in the big cliff pool. The best part was we had it all to ourselves. There wasn’t even a sign of other fisherman in the pristine valley. It was a trout fisherman’s heaven!

Cliff pool on a feeder creek

Cliff pool on a feeder creek

Braden and Noah chased the risers while I headed downstream. I rounded the bend to find a long, slow pool and a few trout dimpling the surface. I chopped off my nymph and grabbed a #20 black cdc comparadun from my pack. The fish were rising sporadically, but just steadily enough to float a dry over them. After repeatedly drifting the fly over the trout with what I thought was a good presentation, I didn’t get a response from the fish, so I tied on another nymph rig. The water was perfect for nymphing. The creek was just high and stained enough to give the trout some security and lose their typically stingy wariness, but clear enough to prevent the need for huge, flashy nymphs. The water was more reminiscent of a freestone stream than the average spring creek. Fast, riffled water plunged over boulders into little pools and runs for as far as you could see. The canyon had a wildness to it, not like the overwhelming awesomeness of the Rocky Mountain high country, but more of a gentle, intimate wilderness begging to be explored.

Honestly, the first hour of my fishing was pretty frustrating. I busted off a good half-dozen nymphs in the brush (must’ve been my casting the wind), and lost more trout than I care to remember. Fly fishing can be quite humbling. But then things started to pick up. I settled on a #14 hare and copper with a #16 frenchie ptn eighteen inches below, all under an indicator. I found a nice little pool with a riffle and a few midstream boulders and pockets, and tossed my nymphs into the whitewater. A few mends, a short drift, and my indicator dipped slightly. I set the hook and brought my first trout of the season to hand, a pretty little wild brown.

The fishing was quite good for the next couple of hours. I kept working my way downstream through the seemingly endless series of awesome riffles and pools and runs, hooking a trout in almost every fishy spot. I found the most productive technique by accident. The nymphs were starting to drag at the tail of the pool, and as I was preparing to recast a trout came flying out of nowhere and slammed my fly, but I missed him. Wondering if it was just a fluke, I dropped my nymphs near the head of the pool and just as they reached the middle, I allowed them to drag and swing in the current. Sure enough, another brown charged out from the depths and took my fly.

A small spring pouring ice-cold water into the creek

A small spring pouring ice-cold water from the hillside

I picked up plenty of browns (sixteen total), including a nice fifteen incher that took me a few pools downstream on my 6x tippet, but most averaged eight inches. A good chunk of the trout were taken with a twitch or slight swing of the flies over the deep holes and runs. I hiked back upstream to find the rest of the guys. Braden and Noah had camped out on the cliff pool and took a handful of wild browns mostly on dry flies. The little browns slashed aggressively at their #12 black ant, with only one coming on a pink squirrel nymph.fifteen inch Driftless Area backcountry trout fly fishing se MN

“Blue lining” and exploring new water is one of my absolute favorite parts of fly fishing. There’s just something about the adventure of finding a creek on a map, dreaming about it all winter, and then finally hiking in to find it full of trout that gets my adrenaline going. The Driftless Area is an awesome place that has a bunch of different experiences for the fly fisher, but the “backcountry” can be truly amazing if you’re willing to do some serious bushwacking (usually into a state forest or wildlife management area). So grab a map and your hiking boots, find a blue line, and you might just find your fly fishing heaven!

Next we’re headed up to the lake for some summer bassin, which should be pretty good with the late spring we had.

Tight Lines,

Conner

11-3…October Caddis, A Small Stream, and Dry Flies

Whenever I think of fly fishing in the Smokies, I think of dry flies. Beautiful, pure wild trout eagerly grabbing a small, well-tied dry in some pocket water. I, like most fly fishers, find dry flies to be one of the most exciting aspects of the game. The thrill of watching a trout rise up to the surface and eat your fly just never gets old. As I looked at it more and more, I realized that the places more cherished, talked about, and dream-inspiring than any other fishing destinations revolve around dry flies. For me, the Smokies have always been a fly fishing dream, and maybe that is why.

On the last day of the trip, we experienced some dry fly action. The target was a small rainbow trout stream with some awesome plunge pools. The weather had warmed up enough to bring out a small hatch of giant October caddisflies. If we were going to get any dry fly action, this was going to be the day. Braden and I got in at a small stone bridge and started the climb downstream over the rugged terrain. Almost immediately, Braden tied into a small rainbow on a #20 pheasant tail.

As I waded downstream, I spotted a pool on the opposite bank that just screamed trout. A plunge pool flowed under some overhanging brush and rubbed against a large boulder, creating a nice dark hole. I got into position downstream and carefully placed my orange stimulator at the head of the pool. As the stimmy drifted through, a flash of silver rose from the depths, but the trout missed my fly. The next cast produced a violent slash, and a beautiful six inch wild rainbow was soon in the net.

Braden and I continued to pick up fish in almost every pool. A few trout took our pheasant tail or Greedo BWO droppers, but most crashed the dry flies. We could have gone forever. Around each bend, a seemingly-endless series of plunge pools full of good trout lies cascaded down the mountain. Casting was difficult in the canopy of rhododendrons that crowded the creek, but a well-placed cast was usually rewarded with a wild rainbow.

We moved on to another spot further downstream. A lot of the trout were a bit too small to take down my #12 stimulator, so I switched to a #16 tellico-style dry, which quickly got a splashy rise from a 4″ rainbow. The bows were wild and ruggedly beautiful, kinda like the streams they live in. Braden’s Adams Wulff variation got some attention, too. He caught around seven more in the last hour of the day, all wild rainbow trout ranging from four to ten inches. Braden found one particularly good pool at the bottom of a four foot waterfall, where he pulled out a few rainbows from the current seams.

It was a great end to an awesome trip. Winter is here in Minnesota. It’s time to tie some flies and restock the boxes. Ice fishing will be here soon, and hopefully we will get some solid ice this year.

Tight Lines,

Conner

 

 

 

September Trout-Back to Whitewater

Dad and I left the house at six in the morning to do a little small game hunting and trout fishing. A breakfast stop and two hours later we were at the parking lot. The river was a good hour’s hike away through steep ravines, bluffs, and thick brush. We hunted our way there. The river ran through a canyon with steep cliffs on one side and woods on the other. Trout were rising occasionally in a deep, slow pool next to a cliff. I tried catching them with an ant, but they were frustratingly selective. I only had one small trout rise to my ant after an hour of fishing, and I missed it. I got the thought that nymphing would be much more productive than dry flies. Sure enough, a few minutes after I switched, I caught a small brown on a Hare and Copper.

This guy fell for a hare's ear

This stretch had a lot of fast water, with lots of rocks and boulders, perfect for nymphing. Unfortunately, Dad’s spool had fallen out of his reel during the hike, so he didn’t fish much. We decided to pack up and hike back to the car and scout and fish some more land. By the time we got back to the car, it was three o’clock. The next branch we hit was sandy with a few deep pools and some faster runs. It was really easy to wade with my rubber boots in the cooler weather. Just two weeks ago we were wet wading in shorts. I immediately caught a decent brown in a deep run…

Fat, healthy brown

 I hiked a little ways upstream and fished a few more runs before I caught another smaller brown. It was feeding in the middle of a run.I got the idea of catching a fish in all three branches just for fun, so back to the car we went. The third branch had a mud bottom in the pools and lots of small rocks in the riffles. I spotted some larger trout in a pool from the bridge. However, after repeated casts right over them I could not get a strike. I moved on to find some hungry fish. I threw my pheasant tail next to a boulder in the middle of a run. On about the third cast, my indicator stopped. I gently set the hook, and the trout shot into the faster current and tried to spit the hook. My pheseant tail held, and I gently slid the trout into the net. It was about twelve inches, one of the bigger fish of the day.We left right after I caught that trout because I needed to make a material stop. An awesome nine hour day of trout fishing and hunting!

Tight Lines!                                                                                                                 Conner

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