Monday, August 10, 2015

Mecan....Schmeecan

In my family, we are all separated by long distances.  We try to keep in touch, but it can be tough. Life gets busy, time slips by and suddenly it has been way too long since a simple phone call has been made.

As such, we have unofficially adopted the motto "If you haven't heard from me, I'm OK".

I suppose the same falls true with this page.  It isn't that I haven't thought about writing, because I have.  Unfortunately work, life, and everything else seems to always take precedence or more likely...straight up derails any chances I might have had to put some thoughts down.

Rather than bore you with the mundane details of a day in this glamorous life...I would like to share a few pictures from our recent vacation.  No, I wont show you any of the obligatory pictures of my feet propped up with the lake in the background and a drink suspiciously in view.  (You're welcome).  But yes, I relaxed the required amount. Yes, it was wonderful.  And yes...I tried to drink my liver right out of my body.

But along with the typical vacation stuff, something out of the ordinary took place.

You see, the Macloosh Clan vacations at a cabin a little over an hour north of the UnForest and dangerously close to the Mecan River.  The cabin itself sits on a beautiful and peaceful little lake, but for the last few years, my vacation fishing energy has been devoted to the Mecan River rather than the lake itself.

Spurred on by stories about how "the old timers used to take stringers full of HUGE trout out of the Mecan" and rumors of a hex hatch of biblical proportions. I have fished it hard.  For YEARS.  Without much luck.  

At this point, I'm so fucking tired of those stories and rumors that I am immediately turned off when I hear them.  In my efforts, I have used every trick and fly I know to catch trout, and to date...the amount of fish that river has given up to me is embarrassingly low.  In fact, I have decided that the Mecan hates me.  I'm starting to hate it back.


Realizing that I was starting to hate this river was an awakening.  I was suddenly free to explore other fishing opportunities.  So this year I concentrated my efforts on the lake that was 50ft from the door of our cabin.  You know, the fishing opportunity that was right in front of me the whole time, that I overlooked by fixating on the Mecan.

"The truth knocks on the door, and we say 'Go Away,  I'm looking for the truth'.  And it does, puzzling"  -Zen And the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pursig

Beating up on the bluegills has always been an amusing pastime, something to kill time after dinner, but before the campfire really gets seated into the logs.  But seriously chasing big fish??  On this lake?? Yeah, never really concentrated on it.

Until this year.

With the help of the neighboring cabin's canoe (which happen to be good friends of ours who also vacation during the same week), I set off for the cove with the lillypads.  The kids had gone the other direction in their paddleboats so I seized an opportunity for some alone time.

I have, in the back of my mind, developed a "bucket list" of sorts.  On that list, was a good sized large-mouth bass.  The problem has been that when I do have time to fish, I instinctively head to the cold water streams and  have never concentrated on really working a lake or pond.  Anyway, in my mind, I would be stripping a popper made by M-Works Custom Flies (Shameless Plug...sorry) across the edge of the Lilly pads or a weed bed, and a good sized large-mouth would smash it, then jump like a tarpon as I fought it heroically while a few people looked on in disbelief and amazement.  I could almost hear them saying "Holy cow, look at the size of that fish!  Is he using a fly rod?  Whoa..."

Well to my surprise, most of the above fairy tale came true.  Asside from a little technical difficulty exiting the canoe, and minus the crowd of amazed onlookers...or my Go-Pro running in full HD video.  None the less, it was a hoot and lived up to the picture in my minds eye.  There were others, but the fish below is the one that I will replay in my mind...


From there, I turned my attention to Pike.  A toothy fish that has somehow completely eluded my efforts for years.  Granted, I hadn't really focused on catching a northern...just thought it would be fun, so I had it on my unofficial list of things to catch on a fly rod.  I ended up catching several, the largest of which might have hit 24" (not quite legal on this lake...).  They too were a hoot, and what they lacked in high jumps or thrashing fight, they made up with in blistering top-water attacks on a popper.  The surface hits were the most fun, but the subsurface hits were also undoubtedly pure predatory instinct.  Either way. it's hard not to grin like Cheshire Cat when the bite is on.


And finally, on the brag board (because lets face it...bragging is all I am REALLY doing in this post...) is the smallmouth.

To be honest, all the press that smallmouth bass have gotten lately in the flyfishing media, blogs, magazines, etc... has piqued my interest.  At the same time, it has kind of turned me off.  It looked fun, but I viewed it the same way Carp were suddenly called "the superfish" and there were perfectly good filmmakers wasting their (and my) time on making videos about carp fishing at the flyfising film tour.

I figured smallmouth to just be the the next trendy thing.  Until last week.  The truth, as I have learned in the last few days: I honestly still don't understand the carp thing...but smallmouth??  DAYAMN...is all I gotta say.  The fight with a smallie is so good it could almost convince a confirmed cold water disciple to switch to the dark side and take up warm water fishing for good.

I did have to travel off of the lake to get into the smallies, but I am here to freely admit that I am hooked.  I was wildly unprepared for my first smallmouth encounter.  It was fairly small (10 inches or so), but hit like a bullet, then gave a pretty good wrestling match to get it to hand. Fun.  From there, I started to approach them like I would if I were on to a big trout.

A quote from the film "Off the Grid" or some other movie I have on DVD stuck in my mind.




"The smallmouth bass is like that big wiley brown trout that hides in the shadows and eats meat.  So we chuck meat into cover and look for a player".

That is exactly what I did.  I upped my tippet size (to 8lb mono), tied on one of those big as flies that I tied last winter in hopes of catching a big fish and threw it into dark places.  The payoff was a strike that was so hard, and so fast that it spooked me.  It took very little time to realize that I had just picked a fight with a VERY mean fish.  The wrestling match that ensued was sheer, unadulterated joy. 


Once I had it dialed in, I managed another 3 smallies like the one above and I figured I had found all of the good hiding spots for nice fish in this small creek.  Not quite ready to be done. I tossed the same fly into the eddies just below a small hydro electric dam and had a brief encounter with that northern that I was looking for earlier.  My son also saw the strike and we both had the pike at about 36".  I got two good looks at him before he spit the lure.  Just enough to whet my appetite for a big northern or musky...

Other activities for the week were pretty laid back.  Of note, my boy and I worked with my daughter and their buddies on their fly fishing techniques. I was damn proud to have a been able to help them out.



I stumbled on the drama below on the banks of the Mecan. No,I didn't kill the spider and neither did I save the monarch caterpillar.  


And finally, to wrap up....a couple pix of the MacLooshkins on our nightly pontoon boat cruise out to the "drop off" in the middle of the lake. 






Til later,

-M

Monday, May 25, 2015

Gratitude

The reason I am able to enjoy the the right to blog about fishing (and everything else), is because of the brave men and women who have served, and to those who continue to protect our freedoms.

A very special Thank You goes out to the men and women out there on the front line keeping us safe each and every day and of course, to the families of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Tenkara: I'm in.

Tenkara.  If you read this goofy blog even semi regularly, you have noticed lately that I have been dipping my toe into fixed line fishing.  Until last weekend that is. I can now say I've officially jumped in...cannonball style.



Not coincidentally, the inaugural Midwest Tenkara Fest took place last weekend  in Coon Valley Wisconsin, and as if that weren't enough....I also had the absolute honor to fish with a guy I have steadily stalked followed online for the last few years.  Michael Agneta from Troutrageous.

The Midwest Tenkara Fest was organized, and put on by the guys from Badger Tenkara.  Yeah, that's right...the same guys who went out of their way to help me get my start in Tenkara.   Matt, once again your passion for this sport has shined brightly.  Thank you for all the work that was put into making the fest a raging success.   

Oh...yeah...and it all went down in an area so rich in trout, stream access and beautiful country that some could almost consider the driftless a "Theme Park".  Actually, now also seems like an appropriate time to mention that the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources and Trout Unlimited have teamed up and done a world class job of managing these amazing resources.  It seems they have done such a wonderful job that all but the most negative of people can enjoy it to the fullest.  That, all by itself is GREAT for the sport of trout fishing.

(...and....exhale.  Yep.  I gotta admit...that just felt damn good to put in writing.....)

Getting back to Tenkara for a moment...it has taken a little time for me to really digest where I'm at with it.  Here it is:  I dig it.  A LOT.  I like pretty much everything about it.  In fact, over the last few days, social media and blog posts have literally blown up with posts from people who were involved with the fest. The community around Tenkara and specifically Tenkara in this corner of the world has proven to be one of the most fun, positive and close knit groups I've ever met in the fly fishing world. That alone is enough to draw me into Tenkara, but the simple fact that it is a ton of fun is what will sustain.

Troutrageous teaching me Tenkara without even realizing it...all while cracking the code on Timber Coulee
As for fishing with Mr.Agneta, I had a freaking blast.  Mike taught me more about Tenkara than I thought was possible.  He was also very patient with me as I asked stupid Tenkara fishing questions like "so....exactly what am I supposed to do with my left hand when I'm casting??" The answer, by the way, was dangerously simple--which I appreciated.  "Put it in your pocket".  Of course, I was tempted to follow up with "But...what should I do if my waders don't have pockets?"  But I quickly bit my tongue out of respect.  

One really dumb question was quite enough.  After all, he had traveled halfway across the continent to be there, on this stream with me and I didn't really want him to be left wondering if I was the kind of guy who eats cereal with a fork...    

As we fished, I recognized that while I really enjoy Tenkara, there are still several reasons and situations to warrant not to giving up my western setup completely.  In fact, I split my time between Tenkara and Western setup (4wt).  After using a fixed line, it felt a lot like cheating to strip off as much line as needed to make that hero cast upstream to that seam where a fish was happily slurping caddis...but that all went away when it was rewarded with a tight line attached to some sweet driftless brown.


The only real disappointment I had over the course of the weekend was a camera that was dropped in the stream even before I had wet a line on Monday.  As a result, the number of pictures I had planned to take was quickly curtailed.  Luckily the camera eventually dried out and works again  but it took a couple of days.  Thankfully Mike took plenty of his own and does a great job of telling the story at Troutrageous.com.  

After it is all said and done, I can honestly say it was a stellar fishing trip and I am fully sold on Tenkara fishing.  Mike, from me to you--thank you!  I hope you enjoyed the fishing as much as I did.  I will be keeping a close eye out for opportunities to make my way south...

To everyone who attended the Midwest Tenkara Fest...it was a great time, and I can't wait to see y'all again next year!

Til later,

-M

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Things that go bump

The conversation went something like this:

Wife:  I'm tired and going to bed.  You coming to bed soon?
Me:  (Carefully trying to evaluate if there was an implied hint of possible romance...) Yeah, soon.  I just want to finish reading this article.
Wife:  OK.  Goodnight
Me: (Confirming my gut feeling that this was NOT an unspoken invitation...)  Goodnight.  I love you.

--10 minutes later--

Me: (Sticking my head in the door and pulling a sweatshirt over my head)  You sleeping?
Wife: (Hint of agitation in her voice) Well, I was almost asleep...but not now...  Why?
Me:  Um...I'm going fishing.
Wife:  Fishing??  It's 10:00 at night!! I thought you were coming to bed?
Me: (Trying to sound as convincing as possible)  Well...yeah.  I just read an article about night fishing with mouse patterns.  And...well...you know I have made a bunch of mouse flies this winter....besides...I'm not really tired.
Wife:  You're crazy...but whatever...goodbye.  Have fun.
Me:  Goodnight.   I luuvv yoooooou...

I had been fishing earlier in the day, and my rods were still strung up.  I quickly toss them in my truck and head out for the home-water.

I90/94 westbound was all settled into its night rhythms.  At 10pm on a Wednesday night, the interstate is filled with semi's heading to their destinations.  They are probably for scheduled deliveries in the morning in either La Crosse or the Twin Cities.  The Chicago crowd heading to Wisconsin Dells for the weekend won't hit for another 2 nights, so right now the traffic is light.  The drive is easy and enjoyable.  I jump off at Hwy 60 and watch for deer on the last couple of miles to the stream.

The look on my wife's face when I left that told me she thought I had lost my marbles. It had stuck with me and I was starting to question my sanity.

On arrival, the stream is in perfect shape with a blanket of stars above that stops me in my tracks. As I am getting my gear out of the truck I see a shooting star.  Silently, I make a wish (that has nothing to do with fishing...) and think to myself: "with this kind of start, I'm pretty sure fishing tonight was a good idea".

Once In the pasture, I realize quickly that the cow-patties are REALLY hard to avoid in the dark.  At least the cattle aren't on this field tonight.  Bulls and brown swiss cows are enough of a challenge in the daylight. I can't think of a good way a confrontation with either would end well for me if they were here tonight, so I'm relieved.

I start a cast and work out what I think will be enough line to cover the pool.  The cast lands with a slight splash and I start to strip the fly in.  I'm holding on tight.   To be honest, I don't think I have EVER caught a fish on the first cast, but endless optimism prevents me from taking it for granted.

Nothing.

For nearly an hour, I cast without a single strike or even the sound of movement in the water.  Hell, even the stars appear to be fading, and my short attention span starts to work on me.  Once my attention starts to fade, it is a slippery slope and I typically start to throw flies that make absolutely zero sense.  I do it just because it breaks the monotony. And...because I am not unlike a slot machine gambler who hopes against hope that this one pull will win the jackpot.  Tonight, however, I have determined that there are no fish in this section of the stream so I hop in my truck and head in the general direction of home.

As I drive through town, I decide that an urban fishing adventure is in order.  Since I'm already not catching anything, at least I wont be squandering quality fishing time. Besides, I am way too awake to go home yet. Under the glow of street lights in deserted parking lots, the town has a funky feel to it that I like. The mix of concrete, power poles and general city grit gives me a little giggle as I juxtapose it against the solitude and quiet beauty of the pasture section downstream.

I pull into a parking lot behind main street and park next to a dumpster.  I get out and rig up again, keeping a watchful eye out for rats or racoons.  I don't like either and if I were to imagine a good place for both...this is it.  The parking lot borders the stream so it is short trip from the asphalt to water's edge.


The only traffic is the local police officer (who has already taken note of my presence and manages to find multiple ways to keep an eye on me as he drives past on a regular beat).  The sounds of a few revelers at the local watering hole down the street is the only noise. It sounds fun, but nothing too rowdy.

At this spot, this creek happens to run directly underneath of the main street and even under buildings before it makes a hard (man made) left and eventually flows out towards the pastures.  The banks haven't been natural in this area for probably over a hundred years.  It has the look of an urban aquifer more than a spring fed creek


I decide that mice patterns are no longer on the menu.  I'm bored with them.  It's streamer time.  I tie on a big ass streamer that roughly matches a crayfish and set to the task of covering the water.  After a few casts, I get the signature "bump bump" of a trout that has taken a short strike at my offering, but failed to commit.  I'm back on pins and needles just like when I started in the pasture.  I can feel that even my body language has changed and I am on point with each cast.  I must look like some sort of freakish blue heron wannabe.  I cast more, and am rewarded with more bumps.

The constable also seems to have also taken notice of my posture change.  With lights off, he has crept into a parking lot on the opposite side of the creek and into a dark parking space.  His cruiser is pointed directly at me.  He is obviously watching me, but with fish biting...I couldn't really give two shits.

A few more casts and another "bump", then my line goes tight.  I pause for half a second, forcing myself to not jerk the fly rod up.  After that agonizing half second, I set the hook.   I'm fishing a (relatively) new 6wt rod, that feels more like a 7wt.  I bought it last year to throw streamers and/or poppers for bass so it isn't terribly sensitive.  The rod bends hard towards the water and the calm of the night erupts into splashy chaos as the rod bounces in time with the movements of the fish.  I swallow hard and realize that the fish is shaking it's head.  Head shaking is that wonderful hallmark of a trout that has outgrown fear and is big enough to be angry about having been hooked.

I'm tight to a very nice fish and my heart rate is all sorts of jacked up. I look up briefly to notice that Barney Fife has come out of hiding and is sitting on the bridge...he is now blatantly watching me from a better vantage point than the dark parking lot.   After wrestling the fish to the water's edge, its a mad scramble to take an acceptable photo and then release the fish in as little amount of time and handling as possible.


I expected a brown trout, but am floored to see that it is a brook trout.  About 15" of the most wonderfully colored fish in the world.  I love brookies, but this isn't a stream known for them.  IN fact, I have only seen one other in all my years fishing this creek. I've heard stories of large brookies in the headwaters of this stream, up near all the springs, but the water usually isn't clean or cold enough for them down stream.  I suddenly feel honored.

The cop seems to be satisfied.  Both with the free show and (I speculate) the fact that I released the fish.  It must seem logical that anybody who releases a nice trout like that can't be too dangerous, and he moves on.

I take a few more casts (just to settle down) and decide that sometimes a fella needs to know when to pull the plug.  After a decent brookie in such an unlikely place, I figure my luck has met its limits. Besides, I am suddenly very tired and still have a bit of a drive to get home.

I stop at the local Kwik Trip for a celebratory bottle of chocolate milk, and the police officer is inside talking to the clerk.  He and I make brief eye contact and he gives me an approving nod.  I smile and nod back.  Life is good indeed.  He can now also cross off whether or not I was a drunk or troublemaker, and I can walk away knowing that for a nice a change of pace...someone was actually there to witness me pull a rabbit out of my hat.

Turns out, that shooting star was a good omen indeed.

Til later,

-M





Sunday, April 12, 2015

(Re) Learning to fish

Looking back on my last post and the comments, it appears that both of my readers are interested in how this Tenkara thing is working out for me.  I'll try not to disappoint...

I found myself feeling pretty cocky going into it.  (This *might* be a re-occurring theme in my life...) Anyway, I figured that I do fairly well with a traditional fly rod, so how much different (harder) can it be?  Fewer moving parts, the simplicity of the fly connecting almost directly to my hand without a reel or line strewn through guides...   Clean and simple.  Right?


.....Right.

Out of the gate, its harder than I though it would be.  A LOT harder.  I have had to revisit some of the basic tenants of flyfishing in order make a go of this.

Lets start with the whole idea of a fixed line.  On my usual equipment, I can (occasionally) compensate for a lack of stealth by extending my cast.  Low clear flows that have been the prevailing conditions this spring have the fish on edge.  Add to that my usual lack of delicacy when approaching a stream, and things can be very tough indeed.  The inability to stretch the cast out has caused me some serious consternation as the shadows in the water dart away from me at lightening speed.

Then there is the wind.  Tenkara is ultra-light, almost by definition, so the idea of picking a heavier line weight to help compensate for breezy conditions is thrown out the window.  In fact, dead calm would be nice but doesn't seem to mesh with my reality.  Dry flies (my preferred way to fish) have the feeling of a piece of lint tied to a strand of silk.  As such, line control is an illusion (delusion?) that is relentlessly pursued.  Weighted nymphs seem to offer a little more in the accuracy department and as usual, what they lack in aesthetically pleasing strikes is made up for in actual productivity.

Thank god for Bethke's Pink Squirrrel.

The wind, and my fear of breaking the rod (again) have conspired to drive me f%!king mad when the inevitable happens and I hang up in the only bush, branch or overhanging weed that keeps an otherwise acceptable cast from giving me a good drift.  After a few of these, I've had to exert a lot of extra energy into controlling a natural tendency to have a complete and total temper tantrum.


On those few occasions where I HAVE been able to hook up with a fish, the play of a tenkara rod is nothing short of awesome!  As was pointed out to me, even little fish feel like wall-hangers...but get a moderate sized fish on the line and holy crap!  (Just don't be like me and forget your net...)

All of that said, what is my "first-in" report on Tenkara?  The simple fact that it is challenging me in ways I hadn't considered, has me drawn in like an addict.

I hate it.  No, I love it.  No, I.....well.....maybe I better spend some more time tenkara fishing to find out exactly how I feel about all of this...

Til later,

-M

**Note: the fish in the above pictures were caught within 10 minutes of each other and less that 30ft from one another.  Amazing how a single stream can produce such variations of the same species, eh?