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?