November 10, 2011 § Leave a comment
There are few things that ground me, that tie me to my surroundings, like fly fishing. Even more than fishing out West or dreaming of fishing in exotic destinations, fishing in western Wisconsin is holy. It is beautifully habitual… ritual I guess. One of my favorite things about being home is having great fishing so close. Sometimes fishing almost seems like a job, and I mean that in the best way. I get in the car and I’m determined to get out there – like its some project I’m working on. I gotta get out there, get inspired, and I’m probably going to be a better person when I return home three hours later. It’s that daily renewal and the constant search.
For me, the definition or equation of a successful fishing season is asking myself two questions:
1. Did I explore? Did I find new streams and new stretches of streams and new favorite holes?
2. Did I lose less flies than the year before?
Obviously there’s an immense amount of factors that go into every time you take to the stream, but for me, success can be boiled down to these questions and answers.
Did I explore? Heck yeah I explored. I fished my ass off this year. I fished new stretches of stream and a lot of times, in that exploratory time, I had the best fishing. Its an amazing idea, when you take chances, when you put yourself out there, good things come to you. Ben and I fished some new streams this year. We started to venture down into the Driftless (Ben, more than me). I started to learn that certain stretches of certain creeks were good for certain times of year or even certain types of weather. The exploration is what keeps me going. I love to take out the gazetteer and sit and wonder about different spots. “I wonder if that stretch is any good? I wonder if there are big browns in that lower stretch that nobody really fishes?” There’s too many places. At the beginning of the year, I started a little list of ideas of new spots I wanted to try, new creeks I’ve never fished. I only got a tiny part of that list accomplished.. but that doesn’t really matter, I explored and caught a lot of fish.
As for question #2, did I lose less flies than the year before- Yes. To me, this tells me that I was a more accurate caster, I was more aware of my surroundings, I tied my flies on better, and I was all around more calm and focused. As fellow fly-fisherman know, the calm, precise, focused, hyper-aware fisherman is an artist, and he/she will catch fish. This is something I worked on this year. I get excited. I get rushed. Staying controlled is really difficult. The more calm and collected and patient I could be on the stream, the more fish I caught and the more I stayed connected to my surroundings, to the backyard beauty that is just a short walk up from the bridge.
This season, I saw some great brook trout fishing. I caught two of my nicest brooks this summer: the first was on a creek in Chippewa county in an unsuspecting spot. I was having a pretty rough day. It took me a while to get going. It was hot. I was trudging through thick woods with little pay off. But as I started fishing into a patch of pines, the holes starting looking better. My only competitor was the sun, which was fading. I started to get some fish, but it was getting dark. Finally I reached a very narrow stretch just beyond the next bridge. The Creek was only 5 feet across and not even terribly deep, but the brooks started going crazy for my leggy-bugger. One after the other, until a big hookjaw brookie hit my line. It was exhilirating. It was dark by the time I got back to the car, but it goes to show how important the twilight hours are in the middle of summer. The best brook trout fishing I’ve ever had was on a stream near Westby. My brother and I drove down to the Driftless and this was the first spot we hit. The first hour was slow, but the stream curved and entered a cornfield. There was a long, deep pool and the fishing was on fire. My brother’s nightcrawler couldn’t compete with the way the sizable brooks were hitting my stripped bugger. I caught a huge mama that came out aggressively from behind a log. Joyous. Colin caught his fair share of trout too including a nice brown.
Oh what a season. Next year my brother’s going to take to the fly rod and Ben and I will guide him in our home waters.
November 7, 2011 § Leave a comment
It’s a rare treat to be able to be in my home town amidst a tour, but when it does happen it’s great! This morning I woke up extra early to get in a quick grouse hunt in Fall Creek before continuing on to Madison. Despite Max being an almost perfect pheasant dog, that does not always translate to being a good grouse dog. So I walked around and decided just to enjoy the morning sunshine and being in the middle of the woods while Max aimlessly circled around me.
I got into the woods and searched for a couple corridors in between pine tree rows and prickly ash figuring there would be grouse either just coming out from the roost or somewhere nearby. No grouse. I turned around in search for a patch of thick young oak trees, but not before getting extremely lost. Well, I wasn’t that lost, but I came upon unfamiliar woods, an atv trail that I had never seen and signs for no trespassing. Uh oh. My original though was to walk down the road, thinking it would lead me to the road I came in on…but I decided to keep the sun on my right and keep walking. I eventually made it to what I was looking for, and decided to call it a morning. I didn’t hear or see one grouse flush… Though I couldn’t ask for anything better than that kind of solitude in the middle of a tour where I am constantly surrounded by traffic, hotels and people.
Next hunt comes on Thanksgiving where we have a few days off before leaving for Europe. I’ll try to keep updated with fishing or hunting in the mean time.
November 3, 2011 § Leave a comment
Our annual pheasant hunting trip to McClusky, ND has always been about working a little harder to get the birds than the South Dakota pay to play ranch hunts that are shown frequently on the hunting networks. In the case of this year’s trek out west, we had to work a lot harder!
This was my 4th trip to North Dakota out west since 2006, which was considered the peak of the bird population. My first real taste of a dense pheasant population came when we heard from the locals that pheasants were constantly running into vehicle windows and breaking headlights. That same year I witnessed 150-200 birds fleeing a cattail patch half the size of a football field.
Fast forward 6 years later, McClusky was on its third winter with 100 inches of snow or more and had seen the pheasant population decrease 50-75% each year for three years. Despite being warned of the general lack of game by all the land owners that we have gotten to know over the years, we made the annual trek anyway.
The departure time has always been a contentious battle with Kalvin (Hogger). He never was too enthused with the idea of leaving too overly early, but I like having a full first day of hunting… I won the battle this year and we left at 12:30 am. I’ve always taken the first lag out there, this time I did that and then some. With Uncle Dale as my co-pilot I blew away the first 470 miles with one breakfast stop in Fargo. Hogger took over with one hour of driving to go and naturally took the glory upon completion of the journey… you win some, and you lose some.
For me describing the hunt is an exercise in futility because I am such a believer that the moment you pull the trigger is so minute in comparison to all the elements that encompass a full hunting experience. So I would like to leave you with a few undeniable truths which made ND 2011 such a success.
- Shooting a bird and it inevitably landing in the water is surely a function of Murphy’s Law unless Hogger is the one pulling the trigger- it is true, he was the only one that did not lose a bird(s) in the water. He is not only one heck of a wing shooter, but his shotgun loads seem to stop birds in their tracks. Ben had a chance at redemption when we came upon his bird that landed in the water three days earlier. After a short chase and a couple of shots at the wing shot bird, Ben had neither a bird in hand or one in the bush… it ran back into the water.
- Steak and potatoes after a long ass walk is rewarding- no further descriptions need.
- Sharptail grouse are difficult to knock out of the air except when owls are guarding where they are hanging out- For me, if the first two shots did not knock them out of the air, usually the 3rd, 4th and 5th shots flung from my Benelli didn’t do it either. Getting back to the owls, we came upon a row of trees that we kicked out three sharptailed grouse that were hold up by two owls that were no doubt trying to do what we did… we shot two of the three. Sorry owls.
- The absence of birds make walking those extra miles miserable- once again, no need for further explanation.
- Grainbelt Premium chasing down cheese buttons and fried chicken at the Confederate Bar is a reward in and of it’s self, but is not a substitution for a Lienies (or two) drank at the tailgate after a long day of hunting. There is something about bringing a piece of home with you when you are in a foreign land more tolerable, in this case more refreshing.
- Last but not least, when bird numbers are down, there is no sense in beating yourself up and getting down about it.