wooly bugger

Tricos on the Root

September 1, 2013

Day 2 – I persuaded Noah to hit the river with me early Sunday morning. It was another beautiful morning in the Driftless as we hiked down the trail and started fishing. This time we headed downstream and hit some of the deep, turbulent pools that brush against the limestone cliffs. Both of us fished dry-dropper rigs in hopes of picking off a few browns, but didn’t have any luck. After fishing nymphs for a while, I noticed a few sporadic risers feeding in a slow tailout. I checked the river for bugs, and sure enough a few tricos were floating downstream. I quickly chopped of the nymph and tied on a #12 Pass Lake dry with a big white calftail wing followed by a #20 trico spinner twelve inches behind. South Branch Root River fly fishing The trout were still rising inconsistently, and the first few browns I floated my trico over didn’t eat. Noah and I moved downstream to a long, choppy run ending in an even longer slow pool. The fish were rising steadily by now, but not the finicky, slow water sippers you’d expect from a trico hatch. These trout were set up in the riffles, snatching the tiny mayflies with a splashy rise. Though most of these trout were smaller, it was a treat to cast #20 tricos to fast water where the fish didn’t have a ton of time to inspect your flies. There were, of course, a few stubborn risers sitting right on the bank sipping bugs in swirling eddies.

Small clouds of tricos fluttered over the river as I carefully crept up to the riffle. A good dead drift resulted in a rise and the first wild brown of the morning in the net. Noah quickly got in on the action and caught another trout in the riffle while I tied up another trico rig. The trout were hard, but not impossible, and a good dead drift with a reasonable fly did the trick. The good fishing continued under clear skies, and we stayed in the same pool casting to rising trout all morning. I switched flies a few times when I started getting refusals. I fished a CDC trico spinner, Double Trico Spinner, and CDC Trico Comparadun, and all caught fish. Noah stuck a few awesome wild browns on the trico spinner, and I ended the morning with nine trout, all on trico dries. The browns were small but feisty, jumping a few times before coming to the net. The fish stopped rising around eleven o’clock, so we headed back to camp for some lunch.

Braden also had a productive morning. He hiked upstream and caught ten wild browns up to twelve inches on a dry-dropper rig. Most of his fish took a brown #14 Trout Snatcher Nymph, but a few ate his Ausable Bomber. Interestingly, he didn’t have any rising fish or a solid trico hatch. I did notice the hatch was quite sparse and isolated, with fish rising consistently only in one pool over the morning. I’m not sure if the trout key in on different types of water when the spinner fall is spotty, or what the deal was, but the trout were just as eager to eat a nymph in stretches of the river just a few hundred yards away.

A nice wild brown on a MTMN

A nice wild brown on a Trout Snatcher

After lunch we toured Mystery Cave, the longest cave in Minnesota with over 13 miles of passages. The cave is the life source of the Root, providing the cold water and nutrients that are vital to its existence as fertile trout water. Upstream from the cave area, the South Branch of the Root is a warmwater stream, but it literally disappears in the summer as it takes a shortcut underground through the cave. It emerges several miles later in a few springs, greatly enriched and cooled from its trip. It was pretty awesome to see some of the water in the cave that eventually ends up flowing in the section of stream we had fished earlier in the day.

Pool in the cave

Pool in the cave

"Turquoise Lake"

“Turquoise Lake”

Cave bacon and limestone

Cave bacon and limestone

The three of us fished a bit in the evening, working our way downstream and casting to likely spots. Braden picked up two more browns in a riffle on a Trout Snatcher, while Noah and I didn’t interest any fish. I ventured up the same small creek I hit yesterday and pulled out one trout on a sunk trico spinner.

The red tail and spots are amazing on this brown Braden caught

The red tail and spots are amazing on this brown Braden caught

The fish started rising again just before dark. I tied on a #16 CDC and Elk, and tossed it against the far bank. A brown gently rose and sipped it as the light was fading behind the bluffs. I set the hook, and after a short fight landed a beautiful ten inch brown. Once it got too dark to see the dry I tied on a chickabou Wooly Bugger and started swinging it through the fast water. A heavy trout slammed it, but he popped off after a few seconds, so I decided to call it a night. I hiked back to camp in the dark and ended another great day in the Driftless.

St. Croix Smallies

There is something special about fishing very early in the morning. The air is crisp and fresh, the sun is just coming over the trees, and the water is dead calm. Mist is still blanketed over the river, and somehow the sound of rushing water wakes you up. This is how the St. Croix River found us on Saturday morning. We camped over the weekend in St. Croix State Park in northeastern Minnesota with a big group of friends and managed to sneak a few hours of fishing in.

The St. Croix is known for its smallmouth, which none of us had ever caught on the fly. The river runs fairly clear here, only slightly stained by the tannin in the water. Around a hundred yards wide, it is not overwhelming, but is certainly larger than the trout streams we are accustomed to fishing. A few riffles break up the steady flow of the gentle water.Early morning mist on the St. Croix

Anyway, the three of us were up and on the water at sunrise. The mist hadn’t cleared yet, and added an almost surreal element to the river. Braden tied on a new crayfish pattern that he had been working on, and Noah fished his Persuader on a sink tip. Only five minutes into it Braden hooked up. To say that these smallies fight well is an understatement. Braden’s 5 weight was doubled over, and the smallmouth took line a few times. After a good three minute fight and a few spectacular jumps, Braden landed his first smallmouth on the fly, a nice 14 incher, pretty good for his first. That was all the action we had for the morning. A few fish were jumping around us, but no more took our flies.

Braden caught this smallmouth on his Braden's Crayfish fly

Braden's first smallmouth.

The mid-summer heat makes it tough, and you really have to be on the water really early and fish for a few hours around sunrise and sunset. I hiked down to the beach for an hour of fishing in the evening. I fished a black wooly bugger, swung in the current with a few strips mixed in. As my mind drifted over the river and the pines, my fly got hammered, and of course I missed it. So, thinking that maybe the fish would think it was stunned, I drifted the fly in the same spot. Again, the fly got hit, a little softer this time, but definitely hit, and again, I missed. This was getting frustrating. All I could do was cast there one more time hoping for the fish to miraculously eat. Sure enough, against all odds, he ate, this time just a little tap. I didn’t miss. He took off into the current and gave me a few hard runs before the fly slipped out just before I was going to land him. Great.

The next morning I slept in a bit, but was on the river at a respectable 7:30. I fished a rocky run between a midstream rockpile, just the place I imagined that a smallmouth would hang out. I had the black conehead wooly bugger on my new TFO 8 weight that I got for my birthday. Around fifteen minutes in I hooked a fish, just a little guy, but still a tenacious fighter, my first smallmouth on the fly. Unlike largemouth, these smallies just don’t give up. After that I fished the run hard, waded out to the rockpile, and hooked a few more fish, but none stuck. I swung my wooly bugger in the tail of the run, and hooked into another fish, this one a little better. Again, he was a great fighter, bulldogging around in the current and jumping. I slid him into the net, a respectable 12 inches. I freed him into the river and called it a morning, a great way to spend a few hours on a beautiful Sunday in Creation. I really like this style of fishing, wet wading with a chest or hip pack and minimal gear, although I tend to jam way to much stuff in my pack: ) The wide open river and bigger water was a nice change of pace from brushy trout streams.

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