smallmouth bass

Boundary Waters Pike and Smallmouth

I slid the canoe into the lake and stared out at the white caps. Across the bay, the pines were bending and straining to stay upright in the 30 mph gusts of wind. A light rain started to fall as Braden and I shoved off and headed for the tiny island a hundred yards off the campsite. Canoeing, let alone fishing, seemed downright ridiculous in the fierce, heaving lake. For the past two days, we were stuck in our tents as the wind howled and rain pounded our tent as temps approached record lows (in the high 30’s), weather more conducive to curling up and reading a book rather than fishing. But it was the last day. I couldn’t handle it anymore.101_5259

At first, the wind seemed manageable as we started out from shore. But when we reached the open water it was obvious that it would be all I could do to paddle and keep Braden in position to make a few casts before we were swept to the opposite shore. I figured the pike would be patrolling the reeds off the windswept little island, gorging themselves on minnows blown in from the lake. Braden pulled his spinner from the hook holder as we blew over to the island. Fly fishing was impossible in the wind. A few casts produced nothing. We circled it, pounding the shoreline with spinners, crankbaits, and even jigs, but not a bite. Confused, I switched to a diving Rapala and paddled out to deeper water. Trolling out to a point, we dragged our Rapalas through the rocks. The rain was still falling sporadically and the wind kept pounding the canoe. Just as I was about to get discouraged, Braden’s rod bent over. The fight wasn’t very long, and he pulled in a little walleye, just big enough to fry over the fire. It was all of twelve inches, but at this point we didn’t care. It was a fish, and we were pumped to get out there overcome the challenges that the lake threw at us when our instinct told us to crawl back into the tent.

A few days earlier, we decided to make a last minute trip to the Boundary Waters. The BWCAW (Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness) is a huge canoe-only wilderness area in the northeast corner of Minnesota. The hundreds of lakes have some of the best warmwater fishing anywhere. Most are filled with smallmouth and pike and walleye that reach monstrous sizes in the large, clear lakes. Some have lakers and even stream trout. Besides a few of the entry lakes and motor routes, the pristine lakes are lightly fished and the fish can be quite aggressive. Canoes and your back are the only way of transportation in the BWCAW, so it tends to weed out the city slickers once you get a few portages in. It is one of my absolute favorite places to fish. The deep wilderness and the stunning solitude provokes a feeling of awe and reverence.

View from camp

View from camp

The only permit available (that didn’t require a 300 rod portage) the day before entry was the Fall Lake route. The unmistakable smell of damp pine forest greeted us as we reached the end of the road out of the canoeing town of Ely. Ely is a quiet little town, yet full of excitement and anticipation as it is the last stop before the wilderness. We launched our canoes from the Fall Lake landing on Wednesday and paddled across the lake and made a quick portage around the rapids. After paddling through Newton Lake, we portaged into Basswood Lake and set up camp.

Poor man's lobster

Poor man’s lobster

Rapids on the portage

Rapids on the portage

The three of us launched the canoe the next morning at a lazy ten o’clock after some scrambled eggs over the fire. The scenery was breathtaking. Pines and cedars and birches towered over the lake. A few stark rock faces jutted out from the clear, deep waters, rising steeply above the lake. To cover some ground quickly and get an idea where the fish were we tossed some hardware and started trolling for pike. It wasn’t long before my rod was bent over and I had a little pike in the canoe. He swallowed the spinner, so we kept him for a little shore lunch.

shore lunch in the bwcaw

A tiny island rose out of the middle of the bay, surrounded by reeds and cabbage. It wasn’t much more than a few rocks and scraggly bushes, stretching only a few canoe lengths long. But it was one of the most fishy spots I’ve ever seen. A light rain began falling on the quiet northwoods as I paddled closer to the shallows. Braden started casting his new eight weight toward the island, landing his Meat Whistle right up under the bushes. Only a few casts into the day, a pike came flying out from the rocks to intercept the fly, engulfing it as Braden started stripping.

Fighting a bwcaw pike on the fly

“Got him” he said as his line went tight. The pike, a decent fish of about twenty inches, bursted out to deeper water, but Braden pulled him up to the canoe after a short fight. Just before I could land him, he shot out of the water, severing the line with his sharp teeth, leaving us with a shredded leader and a grin on our faces. This was gonna be good.

I strung up my eight weight and tied on a llama fur clouser minnow. It only took a few casts to the edge of the weeds before I hooked up with a strong fish. At first I figured it was a big pike from the hard run it made when I hooked him, but the water flashed bronze and I landed a solid Boundary Waters smallmouth of about sixteen inches. It wasn’t a monster, but even the smaller bronzeback put up quite a battle and had my eight weight throbbing and took line a few times. This guy was very fat and muscular, obviously gorging himself on the abundant crayfish that are a staple food source for the fish up here.

Boundary Waters bronzeback on the fly

Boundary Waters bronzeback on the fly

I landed another smaller bass and Noah caught a little pike on the spin rod. Braden landed his first fish on the eight weight, a pike that smashed his Hog Snare. A thunderstorm started to roll in, so with one pike on the stringer we headed back to camp.

Pike!

The storm lasted for a few hours, and after dinner we hit the water again. A loon’s eerie laugh echoed over the calm lake as we paddled out to the island. Braden and I fly fished while Noah launched a spinner at the weeds. One small pike on the spinner was all we could manage after a full paddle around the island. The fish had seemingly turned off with the storm. But not completely.

Noah tossed his spinner up into the cabbage and it got nailed. He set the hook into what looked like a decent fish. The pike rolled on the surface, betraying its true size. It was a beast of a northern, at least ten pounds! Then all chaos broke loose. Noah’s little ultralight stick doubled over, his drag squealing almost as loud as he was as the monster pike shot off. Braden and I immediately calmed him down, and he fiddled with his drag until he got it right. It seemed like an eternity, but miraculously the six pound test held through the battle, enduring some powerful bursts and dives near the boat. I slid a hand under the monster and got her in the canoe for a quick hero shot. She taped at 36” and would’ve been close to twelve pounds according to a weight conversion. I revived her, and she slid back into the depths.

Noah's monster Boundary Waters pikeNoah's 36 inch pike on Basswood Lake

We fished a bit more before heading back to camp and crawling into a warm sleeping bag. The next two days were just miserable. The rain poured and the wind howled, gusting up to thirty mph. It was cold, too, more like weather you’d find in October than the end of July. I did brave the squal and tried a little shore fishing Friday night. My first cast into the surf I hooked another big pike on the spinner. I battled the fish, a few inches shorter than Noah’s, right up to the rocks, but it popped off before I could get a picture. I stuck a couple hammer handles in the shallows before the fishing shut off and I couldn’t buy another bite.101_5247

The walleye was the only fish we managed to catch on Saturday. The weather was just as bad as Friday, keeping us in our tents for practically the whole day. On the paddle out Braden and I trolled Rapalas in a last ditch attempt to pull in some fish. I caught a little bronzeback and a hammerhandle pike, and Braden LDR’d a big smallie. It looked like a salmon jumping way out on the horizon with all the line he had out. Despite all the rain it was a good trip and it was great to get up there again. There’s almost nothing better than a few days of camping and fishing up north.

Tight Lines,

Conner

Lake Pepin Walleyes

Pepin is a huge natural lake on the Mississippi that straddles the border of southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin. Revered for its prolific walleye and sauger fishery, the lake also produces lots of bass (both smallmouth and largemouth), big crappies, and plenty of catfish. This is big water – Lake Pepin is around 21 miles long and encompasses nearly thirty thousand acres of water. The influence of the Mississippi makes it very productive and brings in some interesting fish, like white and yellow bass, sheepshead, gar, and sturgeon.

We hit Pepin for the first time today. We launched late in the afternoon and hopped over to the Wisconsin side. Started trolling a little point with Lindy rigs, and it wasn’t too long before Noah hooked the first fish, a little walleye that popped off right at the net. Dad put the next fish in the boat, a sauger of about fifteen inches. Sauger rarely get much bigger than a few pounds (the average fish is around twelve inches), so it was a nice fish. We kept trolling the points and steep breaks, gradually moving shallower as we found more fish. The action was steady, but not crazy. We picked up lots of little walleye and sauger over the next few hours, but nothing too big.

The sauger were a new fish on our species list. These guys are closely related to walleye, but prefer murkier, shallower water and are usually smaller than their walleye cousins. (typically under eighteen inches).

Sauger

Walleye/sauger double!

 

Pepin is one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever fished. It sits right in the middle of the Driftless Area, bordered by towering bluffs. The lake rubs right up against the steep limestone cliffs, with creeks slicing through the valleys and spilling into the lake. Many of these little streams hold trout, and the cold water at the mouth creates a hotspot for all kinds of fish. The bluffs jut right out into the lake, producing lots of interesting points and bars to fish.

Baby sauger

We headed back to the MN side and grabbed a quick walleye sandwich from a lakeside restaurant. As we were waiting for our food, Noah and I pitched jigs and crankbaits into the shallows hoping for some bass. Nothing on the jig, but I did manage to pull out a walleye on the crankbait in only about six feet of water! After we downed our sandwiches, we took a drive downstream. We stopped and hit the shallows with lipless cranks and jigs. A creek poured into a shallow, weedy bay with lots of brush, a perfect spot for bass. Sure enough, Braden hooked into a feisty smallmouth that put up quite a battle, leaping straight out of the water four times before making it to the net! I was surprised to find a bronzeback in such a weedy spot, but you never really know what to expect on Pepin.

Just before the sun fell below the horizon, we ran into a school of fish crashing bait on the surface. We were motoring around another creek mouth when a fish jumped only about twenty feet from the boat. Braden was right on him, casting his Rattle Trap slightly beyond and to the side of the rings. His Trap got nailed, and after a short but exciting battle he landed his first white bass!

Braden’s first white bass

After that it was pure chaos. Fish were erupting on the calm surface and minnows were flying everywhere in the shallows. All of us were furiously throwing our baits into the fray. I switched up my crank for a Rattlin’ Rap in light blue to better match what might be shad swimming in the shallows. My Rap got nailed after I cast it to a wake, and I pulled in another smaller white bass, my first. The fish were still frantically pounding the minnows in the shallows. Noah’s rod bent over, and a big smallie thrashed on the surface. He played him perfectly and soon had him in the net, a nice bass around 17″!I kept casting my blue Rap into the brawl. Right in the middle of the retrieve my line stopped, a good fish on the other end. I played him for a minute before landing a nice walleye of 20 inches. All of a sudden, it was dead. Just as quickly as it started, it was over. A few fish sporadically jumped, and we kept tossing our Raps, but we didn’t get another bite. As we motored back to the launch, a spectacular sunset ended a great day of fishing.

Twenty incher in only about three feet of water!

The Bite:

Walleye and Sauger were anywhere from three to eighteen feet of water, but the most consistent depths were about twelve to fifteen feet. I would fish the shallows at first and last light, and hit the deeper water during the day. We got most our fish on Lindy rigs and crawlers.

Creek mouths were hot for bass and had some crazy action right at sunset.

 

Day 2 – Sunrise on the Bass Lake and More Walleye on the Fly

I was up at five again this morning. Unlike yesterday, the clouds had thinned a bit, so we actually had a sunrise – and it was awesome. Standing knee-deep in the shallows of a lake or stream at the break of dawn on a cool morning is one of my favorite times to be outdoors. The lake is usually dead calm, yet frantic with feeding fish. Trout are rising in the creeks, bass are jumping, and every fish in the lake seems to take advantage of the relative darkness to snatch an easy meal.

Unfortunately, along with the sun came slower fishing. Despite pounding the river mouth and surrounding shoreline, I managed only two fish on the fly the whole morning, a decent largemouth that ran about fourteen inches and a smaller “pounder”.

Later in the morning, we hopped in the old van and scouted a new spot on a lower stretch of a favorite smallmouth creek. All the recent rain we’ve had put the stream running high and muddy, so it was a little tougher to figure out where the fish were holding. We tossed a variety of flies, but came up empty. The river was quite a bit wider here and very close to the confluence with a large lake, so there were undoubtedly some fish hanging around, maybe some bigger bronzebacks and pike. We backtracked and hit a favorite spot farther upstream. The creek here was unrecognizable from the last time we were here when low summer flows reduced it to practically a trickle. I only fished for a few minutes before heading back.

August

 

Late May

Once we returned to the lake, we set up at the mouth of the river for the evening bite. I nailed a nice 3 pound, six ounce largemouth on the Meat Whistle, my largest fly-caught bass of the trip. Fishing was a bit slower tonight, but all of us got some fish, mostly bass around the twelve inch mark. I also caught another walleye on the fly rod, a baby eight incher that smoked my Meat Whistle.

About 17″ on the fly rod

Gold on the fly

Overall, it was another great day of fishing. Tomorrow we’ll pull out the old row boat and hit some deeper water looking for some ‘eyes.

Tight Lines,

Conner

 

2012 Year In Review

2012 was probably the best year we’ve had as fly fishermen. It was our first full season fly fishing southeastern Minnesota’s Driftless Area. We fished a ton, camped, and caught some great trout. Here are a few pics and highlights from the season.

Driftless Trout

80 degrees and wet wading in mid-March!

 

Noah with a nice brown trout

 

We found a great new brookie hole...

Fat brookie that crushed Braden's hopper

Another trout on the hopper

Camped on this awesome creek during the fall C&R season

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Smoky Mountains were amazing. We fished Great Smoky Mountains National Park for almost a week in late October. Endless miles of beautiful, trout-filled streams cascaded through the park. While the weather didn’t cooperate on the first few days, we still got some awesome small stream fishing. I landed a 17 ” rainbow, the biggest I’ve caught on the fly.

Lake Taneycomo

Warmwater

The warmwater fishing was great this year. We started throwing big, heavy flies for bass and it payed big. I caught my first pike on the fly, and Braden and I also caught our first smallmouth on a fly rod. Noah terrorized the local panfish population with his glass rod and some Noah’s Minnows. Highlights include a camping trip to the St. Croix River, lots of fishing at the cabin, and finding some small, quiet rivers loaded with fish.

First pike on the fly

Bucketmouth that slammed a big yellow deer hair bug way back in the weeds

Braden caught this smallmouth on his Braden's Crayfish fly

Braden's first smallmouth.

Bass-filled granite quarry

Early morning mist on the St. Croix River

Hunting

We duck hunted a few times in central MN with our cousin Andrew. It was a blast…

Ice Fishing

We brought in the new year with some hardwater fishing on Gull Lake.


Tight Lines in 2013 and thanks for reading!

Bronzebacks

Bronzebacks have become one of our favorite fish on a fly (at least mine and Braden’s), passed only by trout. Trips have been focused on these scrappy fighters to the neglect of other species. This was what happened this weekend up at the lake with Grandpa. Started off by day tripping on Thursday over to north western Wisconsin to check out some lakes. The water is crystal clear on these pristine northern lakes. We only fished for about half an hour, but managed to pull in a bunch of bluegills. The most excitement came when a huge bass came charging out from under the dock and tried to eat a little bluegill Braden had on. We got him to look at a few flies, but he wouldn’t eat under the bright sun.

On Friday, Braden and I fished the same section of the North Fork Crow River that we fished a couple of weeks ago. This spot is up in the headwaters a few miles before it empties into a couple of lakes, and is only ten to fifteen feet wide. The creek was starting to get pretty skinny and really needed some rain. The fish were stacked up in the deep holes, and they were hungry. I messed around with a few small nymphs for a while before I switched to a #6 black  Murray’s Strymph. A beast of a rock bass came up and  hammered it next to a log only a few casts in.

First rock bass on the fly

The smallies weren’t too hard to fool. Almost anything that looked alive got eaten by an aggressive bronzeback as long as it was around the right size. Just stick it in the hole, let it sink, a few twitches, and bang, a fish would usually hit it. A few casts after I released the rock bass, I tied into a decent smallmouth. As usual, he tried his best to break my 4X tippet and get me wrapped up in the logs. Finally, he got tired (if smallmouth can get tired) and I landed him. A great fish for this little creek, around twelve inches.

It needs some water, really bad.

I headed upstream and caught up with Braden, who was having similar luck. His little #12 “snack size” Braden’s Crayfish was getting attacked by the smallies, and he landed another good smallie around the same size along with a few smaller ones. By a lot of people’s standards, this isn’t a big smallmouth, but for the size of this little creek, its a good fish.

Braden's smallie

Braden fighting a pike

We hiked downstream into some more new water. I quickly hooked another twelve incher, but after a few jumps the fly popped out. Braden’s crayfish got sawed off by a little pike, and each of us caught a few more fish before the end of the afternoon.

Later that night we checked out another spot on the NFC a few miles below the lakes. The river was wider here, and had a lot of rocks and riffles and some deeper holding water. The water was crystal clear and it looked great for smallies. I tied on a black conehead bugger and was surprised by a nice crappie. The river was full of them. We found a honey hole next to a log jam and pulled them out on almost every cast, including some slabs. Noah rigged up his glass CGR 4 weight and caught a bunch on a new little fly he calls the “Pink Punch”. It was awesome. Surprisingly, there weren’t many smallmouth around at all. I only saw one little eight incher that gave a half hearted look at my fly. The river had a bunch of pike, too. My black bugger got chomped off, and I had a decent one on for maybe fifteen seconds.

The next morning we went back to the same spot. I started by catching a little hammer-handle pike on a chartreuse Meat Whistle. He flopped out of my hands before I could get a picture. The crappie action wasn’t as fast this morning, but we still managed to catch quite a few. The pink punch and snack size craw worked well again. I even hooked a little smallie, but he spit the hook pretty quickly. Grandpa tried fishing Rapala’s hoping for some pike. He had one on right up to the net, but it popped off. That’s fishing for you. Noah caught quite the variety of fish, including bluegills, crappie, a tiny smallmouth, and two suckers on the fly that put a big bend in his 4 weight, even though they were ten inchers.

Grandpa fishing. He caught a couple of nice sunfish.

Tight Lines,

Conner

Small Stream Bronzebacks

Fly fishing for smallmouth bass is really fun. Especially when you’re not sure what’s in the river and you hook into one. This was the case on a beautiful sunny Saturday morning up at the lake. We were fishing the North Crow River in Central Minnesota. I walked down to the stream and tied on a Braden’s Crayfish, but soon found out that it was much to big for the majority of the fish in that river. So, I quickly switched to a mini DNA clouser minnow. I waded up stream a ways with no luck. Then….bang, he was on! Only a few seconds later…..The river was very clear and great for wading. There were a bunch of riffles where the fish could hide, but the fish that we caught were in the deeper pools. Conner ended up with only one. He had a 10 incher on but with four jumps it threw the fly. I caught two, one so tiny that the fly barely fit in his mouth! It’s amazing how aggressive these fish are.

 Tight Lines,

Braden

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