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?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Tenkara, here I come...

So I did it.  I took the leap.  I bought a Tenkara Rod.

It was an easy jump really. Tenkara has proven itself to be less of a fad than originally anticipated (by many) and is taking root in the fly fishing world.   For those of you who read this but maybe aren't familiar with all things fishing...Tenkara is ultra light, reel-less fly fishing.  There is of course much more to it, but that is the simple definition.

I'll admit, at one time (maybe not so long ago) I figured Tenkara to be a bit of an oddball offshoot. Raise your hand if you too thought it was ultra purists taking the cane pole idea and making it trendy. In my mind, it was hipsters, wearing skinny jeans and loafers, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and wandering the waterfront running paths acting like they were fishing, but were really just trying to "out cool" each other.

Laugh if you must, but I live in the Madison (WI) area and downtown, this is not entirely out of the realm of possibility.

But as time wore on, more and more of the fly fishing blogs started to pick up on the idea.  Still...I wasn't sold even though the simplicity of Tenkara kept my interest piqued.  More and more articles about Tenkara popped up, and more and more people were apparently giving it a go and deciding that it is fun.  Anyone who reads Troutrageous knows that Michael Agneta is now a full blown Tenkara aficionado.   I've been a fan of T! for a few years and watched quietly from the sideline as he dove further and further into the world of Tenkara.  Via a conversation with Mr. Troutrageous about getting started in Tenkara...he even offered to send me one of his rods to "try out".  Thanks man! But read on and you'll be glad we didn't go that route.  :)

http://www.badgertenkara.com/
It all started this past February, when I went to the annual Badger Fly Fisher's Spring Opener in Madison.  It was their biggest venue ever and they had more vendors on hand than I had ever seen before.  Among those vendors was a local company called Badger Tenkara.  I spent quite a lot of time talking to one of the co founders of Badger Tenkara, Matt Sment.  He was patient, clearly full of passion for not only his rods, but teaching people about Tenkara fishing in general.  The more he explained, the more interested I became and while I did leave the show without a Tenkara Rod in hand, I knew it wouldn't be long before I had my own.  That day, I decided that I was not only going to try Tenkara, but Badger Tenkara would definitely be my rod of choice.

Somewhere in the mix, I also learned about an upcoming event called Midwest Tenkara Fest.  Now I was hooked (pun intended).  Tenkara fishing is finally sort of breaking through here in the driftless and it is time for me to be a part of it.  Plans are currently being worked out to attend the inaugural Midwest Tenkara Fest, if even for just one day.  

Midwest Tenkara Fest
So when the family budget finally found that opening to pick up a Bad Axe rod from Badger Tenkara, I jumped.  A look at my schedule and I realized that in a couple of days, my shift swing at work would offer a chance to do some fishing.  I also realized that it would be great to do that fishing on a Tenkara rod, but I didn't think I had enough time to order it online and have it delivered, so I took a long shot and called Badger Tenkara.  Within minutes of leaving him a voicemail, Matt Smet had called me back, understood my sense of urgency and was willing to meet me in Madison later in the evening to get a rod into my hands.

The rod made it home unscathed and I was a (very) happy little camper.  Then, the following morning, like the dumbass I can occasionally be...I promptly broke the last section of the rod while learning to set it up.  I can be moody anyway...but after this bonehead move, I was an ugly, ugly man for quite a while.  I did contact Matt right away, tucked my tail between my legs and explained that I needed to order a new tip section.

Matt's calm and understanding approach was WAY above and beyond what was necessary.  He immediately set to work trying to get a new tip section to me so that I could still fish it on my upcoming days off.  We set up a time later that day and he offered to meet me near where I work because I only had a small window of time between end of shift and meetings.  Again, this is a guy who did not have to be so helpful in the first place, but is so passionate about his product and fishing that he didn't even think twice about any of this.  Because in my world when things start to go wrong...they go horribly wrong, I had to call Matt (who was likely already en route to meet me) and cancel again.  This time, work was getting in the way.

I was starting to think that maybe God didn't want me to learn Tenkara.

Without blinking an eye, Matt said it wasn't a problem and launched the part via mail.  I didn't get to fish it on the days I had planned, but it certainly wasn't for lack of effort on Badger Tenkara's part.
The rod section arrived exactly when Matt said it would, and after another couple of days full of crazy scheduling, I finally put it together today.  I'm proud to say that my Bad Axe Rod is ready to rock!

As I was putting thoughts together for this post, I was thinking about how many times I have gone to the grocery store, department store, a restaurant, or wherever, and was treated by the employees like they HATED me for being there.  I was starting to believe that true customer service and satisfaction was dead.

Matt Sment and Badger Tenkara have absolutely restored my faith that there are still people out there who not only want to sell a quality product, but back it up with superior service.  And really, in a sport with as great of a brotherhood as fly fishing has...I sure am glad to have people like Matt Sment out there supporting us, and will be Badger Tenkara's biggest fan and cheerleader.

Now...to start figuring out where to fish this bad boy on its inaugural trip.  (after all of this...I feel I owe it to Badger Tenkara to make sure I do the rod justice...)

Til later,

-M

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Crazy Is As Crazy Does (or...an installment of: Winter and its associated mental health issues)

Today is March 1st.

In less than one week, the 2015 Wisconsin Early Trout Season opens, and its about f#@*king time. Opening day is coming at a critical time.  Not a second too soon.  My mental health is starting to suffer, and this past February's never ending cold spells haven't helped matters at all.

I'll admit, aside from the cold snap that is currently vexing the upper midwest, this winter hasn't been terrible with regards to weather.  Maybe even a little bit on the low end for snow cover.  However, in terms of the cosmic tumblers all lining up to make life unnecessarily miserable; this off-season has been awful.

As I type, my wife's van sits in our garage...unmovable until I limp it over to the repair shop (where I am quickly earning the customer of the year award) later today for somewhere between $600 and $1000 worth of parts and labor.  Again.  This time, a new power steering rack is on the menu, and is just is just the latest in a string of ugly little surprises for the MacLoosh clan.

(Surely you'll understand as I find a plastic spoon to slit my wrists with...)

The sum total of financial set-backs, cold weather, never ending workplace drama, and a dangerous lack of fresh air leaves a fella with a severe case of cabin fever that sometimes manifests itself in weird, and possibly unhealthy ways.  Couple that with an always ready internet connection, and you end up watching a video like this and saying to yourself  "I wonder if I am related to this odd, wonderful, and talented dancing queen":


And then there is all that time spent playing Boom Beach.  A truly addicting game, whose tagline should be:  If I have to explain it to you, you wouldn't understand anyway.


Fortunately, the New Glarus Brewery seems to implicitly understand the mental health dangers associated with winter, and has an offering that is among the things that are helping to keep me as close to "balanced" as I get.

So in-between the manic mood swings, internet distractions and financial head scratching that accompany such joyous times, I have managed to ready all of the necessary gear for the upcoming fishing season.  Flies are tied, boxes full and organized, gear cleaned, reels lubed, and everything seems to be prepped. I think I am actually in pretty good shape.  Despite the shit sandwich I've been chewing on all winter, I feel like a tipping point might be coming. Things just HAVE to get better eventually...right?  Why shouldn't that happen during fishing season?

(Foolish optimism is sign of madness)

Usually at this time of year, I start thinking of getting some of the latest greatest new gear for the upcoming fishing season. But, due to the above...that leap I was thinking of taking into the world of Tenkara is just going to be put on hold.  Sorry Badger Tenkara, that BAD AXE rod and starter kit is just going to have to wait.  There is also a brand new Cabela's set to open next month, a scant 10 miles from my front door.  (...uh oh...) Both were a factor in all that drunken spending I had planned to do, but have been squashed by the car repairs.  Retail therapy just isn't in the cards.  For now.

Instead, I have turned inward, and employed a little redneck engineering to settle that new gear fix. With the help of Pinterest, YouTube, manic blog reading, and several other social media websites, along with scrounging spare parts from around the house (with an occasional trip to Hobby Lobby for things like a $2 roll of 1/4" elastic)...I have been busy in the Do It Yourself  category and I'm kinda proud of my efforts.

Here is a little peak at some of my "new" 2015 gear:

A re-purposed (and modified) "Bucket Boss" beats buying a $80 Umpqua Tailgater Every.Single.Time.
Bombproof PVC Rod case (approx $7) vs. store bought storage tubes.  Yes Please.
Tippet spool minders? Approx. $.25/ea to make.  Foggedaboutitt.
Tippet Caddy.  Sorry Orvis...free garage scraps will work just fine.
I have, of course, also done some stream scouting and have a list of places that I've added to my hit list.  Included among them are several streams that have been the beneficiaries of improvement. Added bonus:  At least one of those improved streams is very close to the MacLoosh World Headquarters.

To the winter of my discontent, I heartily say: Piss off.

To the start of a new fishing season, and hopefully getting past a slump...I enthusiastically say: GAME.FREAKING.ON.

Til Later,

-M

Monday, January 26, 2015

Easy like Monday morning

I remember as a kid, reading the Sunday cartoons and always thinking it was funny that Garfield hated Mondays.  I’m not sure if I was influenced by the sentiment, or learned the hard way through my professional experience (yeah….smirk all you want….), Mondays definitely suck.


Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.  I'm talking about the smart kid in the back who skews the curve because he aced the test that everyone else bombed.  The short dude on the basketball team who ends up going pro.  The Monday morning where everything seems to be OK instead of turning into a shit sandwich.   You know, Outliers.  In the same way you have to admire nature’s way throwing a wrench into the usual patterns, I am forced to admit that this Monday isn't shaping up too badly.

As I grab my first cup of coffee, Charlie (the local weather guy) keeps interrupting the Today Show with updates about “a low pressure system that is sweeping across Wisconsin and likely to drop approximately 1” of snow that will make the morning commute slippery”.   It’s clearly been a while since Charlie has had any fun weather to report because he seems uncharacteristically geeked up for such a weak storm.  Lucky for me, there will be no commute today thanks to a rotating shift schedule.  Today is my Saturday.  Let it snow!

Take *THAT*, Monday!  BAM!

The kids have left for school, and my wife is at work.  The house is deliciously quiet, so a cup or two (maybe more) of coffee, a couple of eggs and I set to the task of figuring exactly how I should best enjoy this snowy day.  Hell, I’m in such a good mood even the kickmeanklebiter dog gets an egg.  Not one of the organic eggs though, I still have a few store bought eggs, and those are the ones he gets.  He is, after all, just a dog.

Methinks that today, some quality time at the vise is in order.  I have been slowly getting everything together and ready to go for opening of the upcoming season.  My sling pack has been cleaned and re-organized, reels cleaned and lubed.  Fly lines have been wiped down and line conditioner applied.  Hell, I even found a DIY tippet spool tender while surfing Pinterest (go ahead…make fun. And NO, I didn't pet my mangina while on Pinterest). They work like a charm, so I made enough to cover me for the next to couple of seasons.  Of course, I've been filling the flyboxes in a slow, methodical manner.  It can be a big task just making sure the basics are covered: A bunch of my new scud pattern (that I have unrealistically high hopes for), a batch of back-up pink squirrels, and enough bead head pheasant tails to help offset my poor casting and risky placement habits. 

Today, I’ll be working on hoppers.  I smell a foam hatch in the air.  And coffee.  The irony of tying hoppers as the snow flies pleases me. I’m tying flies in January that I am guaranteed not to fish until at least July, Probably August.  That doesn't stop me from picturing one of these bad boys on a slow float along an overhanging weed line.  Then, all hell breaks loose as a wiley brown trout suddenly realizes that this "easy" meal has a price.  

Good stuff man, goooood stuff.   


Another sip of coffee and as the dog settles up next to my fly tying desk, it occurs to me that I’m not sure if this morning could be any better.  Big, chunky flakes are falling outside the window, the house is still silent and I’m lost in the peace of mind that only comes from immersing yourself into a task. 


Yeah, this definitely feels like the kind of Monday even Garfield could wrap his arms around.

Til Later, 

-M