Driftless Early Season Opening Day

It's crazy to think that it's already Opening Day for the Driftless.  It seems like it was only yesterday we were soaking in the last few weekends of hopper fishing and late summer afternoons.  

The new early season schedule opens a lot more fishing time, but also leaves us vulnerable to the elements.  Traditions of fishing Opening Day have been tested in years past for sure, but this year seems to be ready to set a new bar.  With sub zero temps overnight most of this recent week, and a high of six degrees for Saturday, only the toughest of fisherman will be braving the temps.  

Starting another trout season in freezing temps isn't new, and always brings me back to an early season day with Jonathan Marquardt of Bad Axe Designs, chasing browns on top, nymphs and streamers.  We fought through single digit temps, caught some fish, and enjoyed the start of what was a season to remember.  

To all those braving the temps, you're more hardcore than this author.  Best of luck to all, be safe and stay warm!

A Summer That Was

Looking in the rearview mirror, 2016 was a year to remember.  Some for good and some for bad. The family went through some serious health scares, new responsibilities and much greater work load at the office, and lots of household projects.  All this led to the blog taking a bit of a back seat.  So here, we take a look back at a trip from late summer.  

One benefit of some changes at the office, was getting to head out to our new office in Denver.  With this in mind, ownership planned our annual sales meeting to be held in Boulder, CO this year, allowing me to sneak away for a day or two to get on the water.

Heading out a few days early, I dropped a line to a few fly shops in the area, hoping to find a fishing buddy.  It's funny calling a fly shop and trying to explain that you want to take one of their employees fishing.  I truly wasn't looking for a guided day on the water.  I knew where to find fish and had the confidence I would, but knowing I was headed to Rocky Mountain National Park, all I could think about was the photographic opportunities.  I didn't think so many people would think I was crazy!  

I had some luck when I called Kirk's Fly Shop in Estes Park, and connected with one of the shop guys, Ben Liddle.  After a quick call with Ben to introduce myself through the shop, we exchanged phone numbers and began texting about patterns and came up with a plan to connect my first day out there for a few hours in the afternoon.  

I arrived at Kirk's a bit early and took stock of the whole place.  From the fly bins to the shirt rack, I was impressed, and there was a ton to check out.  The place was a buzz of activity - people meeting up with their guides, customers buying rods and reels and getting direction on where to do, and a few guys just bumming around, soaking it all in. 

The shop was impressive, with homemade fly bins stocked full of local favorites.  Walls of Kirk's Fly Shop t-shirts, fly fishing themed goods the kitchen, camping gear galore, and of course, plenty of hats.   

As Ben sent a text, letting me know he was on his way, I finished up buying a couple dozen local favorite flies, a few shirts, and of course my license.  I scurried out of the shop with my new goodies and headed to the car, where I'd meet Ben.  

Waiting for Ben, the parking lot was buzzing, with lots of people coming and going.  I stuck out like a sore thumb, changing clothes and rigging up a fly rod as every car passing hoped I'd be instead, pulling out of the valuable spot I occupied.  It wasn't too much longer before Ben arrived, and we were off to grab a quick sandwich and head off to the Big Thompson to chase some trout. 

Having never been to west of the Mississippi chasing trout, I wasn't sure what to expect, but was in awe as we rolled in to Rocky Mountain National Park.  I pinged Ben with questions, and was impressed with all he knew and his acumen in the outdoors.  Ben was studying to work in the outdoor industry, and spent a lot of time with his family growing up, developing a passion for all nature's wonders.  

As we made it down to the river, I let Ben take the lead and figured I'd pick up a few things watching him fish some of the pocket water.  This stretch was similar to some Driftless streams in it's width, and similar to the Pere Marquette and other MI rivers with it's pine tree lined banks.  The current however, was considerably different, and I quickly regretted leaving the felt sole boots at home.  I proceeded to test my balance and nerves as I played a real life game of Frogger, clumsily making my way across and upstream.  

We worked deep pools, runs and riffles and managed to a fool a few in to eating.  Landing a decent brown trout, I mentioned to Ben that maybe it was the "city guy" in me, but the clouds looming over the mountains didn't look too inviting.  I don't think it was fifteen minutes before we were running to the car as rain and hail pounded down, and lightening quickly approached.  As we made it back to the car, we debated heading out and calling it day, or sticking it out and giving it some time to blow over.  

And as quickly as the rain came, so too did the blue skies.  Hopping out of the car and making our way back to the river rays of sun poked through the trees and I had a sudden appreciation for patience.  I looked at my watch, and the rain storm hadn't cost us but an hour, and now we were heading back out to finish what had already been a great day.  We went back and forth catching fish until just before dusk.  As we rolled out of the park we came across a valley that perfectly framed the mountains and the beautiful, never ending sky that the West is famous for.  

A big thanks goes out to Ben who was crazy enough to be willing to hop in a car with me and be willing to show me around.  Looking back on the reactions I got when I called, I'm surprised he stuck with me.  So for that, Ben, I appreciate it, and hope we get another chance to fish again next year.  

North to Chasing Smallies aka Sancho's last stand

It started out as a possibility of chasing trout, when someone threw out the idea of heading to WI to chase bronze instead.  Everyone hopped on board quickly, and before we knew it, we had a few boats and began developing a plan.  

We'd head north and float a little piece of water known for it's smallies and the possibility of some toothy critters.  We'd heard it would be a popper game, thus the reason Du Page Fly Co. was out of Boogles for a small period of time earlier this summer - I'd swear we bought all they had.  But we also threw in a few streamers and figured it would be better to be prepared and have options.  

We launched Friday morning and headed north, chock full of excited nervousness.  Having checked in with some of the local guides, we had high hopes the bite would be on.  

With perfect temps and beautiful days, Friday and Saturday yielded some great fish on top and a few on streamers as well.  Overall it was a great trip, finding new friends and enjoying the benefits of having buddies with boats.  

 

Cozad's Driftless 1 Fly

As many of you know last year was a tough spring for me, nursing a broken ankle and then having the needed recovery period.  I don't like having to sit still and not being able to skate and play hockey, missing the Early Season opener, and especially missing Pete Cozad's First Annual Driftless 1 Fly tournament, drove me slightly insane.  Just ask my wife.  

So when Pete Cozad threw the details out and began to gather names for a team drawing, I didn't hesitate to get my name in there as a captain.  I was confident the rest would fall in to place.  

Our four anglers came together quickly.  Led by Jonathan Marquardt of BadAxe Designs and Yeti Cooler folk lore, he was joined by Bill Kazenberger of Skinny Water Culture and DuPage Fly Fishing, Jason Puls, the man, the myth, the legend, and myself, the dead weight.  

We began to develop our plan - where to fish, what fly to fish, what beer to bring along etc.  Everything seemed to be looking great.  Things got knocked off track on a trip up to Iowa County as Jason and I worked on solving all the worlds problems.  Turns out he finally got the call he was waiting for, and the job he was praying for finally opened up.  Unfortunately that meant he was moving to Portland in three weeks and the 1 Fly was out of the question.  Turns out he was destined to be a spey guy, I guess.  (Jay - can't wait to swing up some steel with ya bud!)  

With a spot open, I called my ace in the hole, Keith Webster, the Great White Ninja of Bettinardi lore.  I wasn't 100% sure he'd be off the IR, after recent reconstructive surgery to his ankle, but he was riddled with cabin fever and quickly said he'd find a way to make it happen.  

Back to a team of four, we tossed around all kinds of ideas in the days leading up.  But with a lack of direction from our team captain (I guess that was me), we decided a day of prefishing would do us all some good, and hopefully help us uncover some keys to finding fish.  

Our merry band of Anglers - (from left) Bill, Keith, Jonathan, and I'm the tall one on the end.  

We got up Friday morning, meeting up with Pete to do a bit of work with the drone, while Keith ran off with Zach and Jan, from Team Longshots to hit the water.  We all headed up to the Coulees and throughout the day, everyone found a few willing fish.  Well that is everyone but me.  Getting skunked on your prefishing day doesn't exactly leave your hopes high.  I didn't even get to test the flies I tied just for the tourney.  I was quite frustrated and unsure of what to do.  But I knew at the very least it was going to be fun and as we called an end to day at the Driftless Cafe, we laughed and drank our beers discussing the excitement that was to come.  

As we broke for bed, we made our decision on where to fish, and I tied on a new leader, some fresh tippet, and a fly I whipped up Thursday night - jig hook, black pheasant tail nymph with a big ol' bead.  

As we woke and packed up the truck, the parking lot came to life. Stream judges, competitors, fly shop reps, license plates from four different states - it seemed there were quite a few people heading to the Driftless Angler, HQ for the Driftless 1 Fly.  

We arrived at the shop to a whirl of activity and familiar faces.  It's always great when an event like this can bring people together from so many places to raise money for such a great cause.  As everyone milled about, chatting and sipping coffee out of their Yeti tumblers, Pete and his team worked quickly to catalog and interview the teams and gather everyone's flies to be donated to local teaching efforts for youths.  At eight am we'd have a shot gun start, with everyone leaving the shop and heading to their streams of choice.  

We got lucky and found our chosen spot empty.  Our stream judges were Curt Rees and John Porter, two local guys who were kind enough to volunteer, but were unlucky enough to pull our team.  (Curt and John were both great guys and excellent fisherman.  I got to spend some time with them after we broke off and hope to get to spend some more time on the water with them again.  It's guys like them that make events like this a real success.)  I'm sure they had no idea they were in for the craziness we had in store.  

We chose to break up, and fish in two man teams, with one group working upstream, and the other walking down and working back upstream.  Jonathan and I would go downstream and walk back up, while Keith and Bill started at the car and worked up.  When we scouted the night before, we saw two anglers working their way up, which led me to thinking it might be a bit challenging, but confident in both our skills to get things done.  

Laughing, busting some serious chops and joking all morning, Jonathan and I worked a few holes and were able to produce about thirty fish between us, with Bill and Keith coming up with around ten.  We got in to a rhythm that at one point had us catching fish every three or four casts.  As we laughed and kidded each other, it became apparent we were secretly trying to outfish each other, recasting after releasing a fish before the other could get a line wet.  As Jonathan played up his celebrity status, I could only relent and allow him to keep fishing.  His three consecutive fish over 14" made it pretty easy.  

We met back at the car and chowed down on some sandwiches and regrouped.  With lots of good water still to fish from the morning, it was agreed Keith and Jonathan would head upstream to a beaver dam and try to entice some players with his "meat", and Bill and I would head back down and see if we can find some more players and then finish working our way upstream.  

As Bill and I found a few more fish willing to eat, Keith and Jonathan did the same and then made their way down towards us.  As we each broke off, Jonathan found himself the last man standing, fishing what barely resembled a Slumpbuster, with pretty much only the rabbit strip tail remaining behind the bead.  We all watched intently as Jonathan continued to work different holes, as if we were all huddled around the 18th green of a major, watching someone putt out, not knowing how the scoring would work out.  

At the end of the day, for a team that just wanted to have fun, I couldn't be more proud.  We finished with 50 fish total as a team, finishing third as a team, and with Jonathan finishing sixth overall and myself in seventh overall individually.  

Pete ran an awesome tournament that brought in some great people, raised a lot of money for the local youth fishing efforts, and I had an absolute blast.  My hat goes of to Team AZN - Jerry Khang, Ger Moua, Jacob Khang and Mitchell Khang.  Their team managed to double the score of the second place team, and from what I heard, Jerry, the individual winner, caught something in the range of 75+ fish on the day.  That's truly impressive!  To all the new people I got to meet, fish with (Jan, we need to do it again ASAP!), and ran in to at the Driftless Angler, thanks for coming out and helping to make this a tremendous weekend.  

Thanks Pete for putting together a great event and I hope we can be a part of it, in some way, next year as well!

Austin Ties! - DuPage Fly Tying Class

I make no apologies for promoting Austin Adduci whenever and wherever possible. He is not only a good man but a hell of fisherman and fly tier. I do however like to bug him with my camera because he’s one of those honestly humble guys and isn’t big on being in the spotlight. Even though I like putting him in it.

He is doing a series of  tying sessions at DuPage Fly Co. and Brad and I went to visit (bug) him on the 17th of February.

Austin doesn’t do the “you sit and watch me tie then you tie” type of lecture. He hands out the materials and you tie as he ties. It fits in with my philosophy of tying, that is, if you tie while the instructor ties, you will learn faster. Muscle memory and small motor skills go hand in hand. Although if you’re tying a big stuffed animal fly-small motor skills aren’t a problem. He also ties more than one fly. Also a good thing.

Austin and the group tied up a couple of interesting and what I’d call guide flies: minimal materials, quick to tie, catch fish flies. So the first one was a damsel/dragon fly type of pattern. Tied on a streamer hook. X-large or large bead chain eyes, marabou tail, excess marabou wrapped up the shank and tied off behind the bead chain eyes, then a schlappen feather is wrapped like a collar behind the bead chain, tied off, add a whip finish and you’re done. About a size 6 hook, so you could tie it on a 4-8 sized 2x streamer hook and you could tie up a dozen in about an hour. Maybe more.

The second fly was quite unique and Austin was looking for a way to solve the problem of getting a weighted fly to sit horizontally on the bottom, weighted flies often sit up and there are times when you want the fly to sit flat and move along the bottom of the lake bed. The solution, tie on bead chain eyes in the front and x-small lead eyes above the hook point. Add a small amount of pearl crystal flash, Marabou tail, dubbing for the body, add a pinch of rabbit hair for a wing and a single strand of rubber for legs and you’re good to go.  Also tied on a 4-8 sized streamer hook. This makes for a small but bottom hugging fly with a lot of action from the rabbit hair and marabou.

These flies can be tied in olive, black, white, rusty brown, or brown and you’ll have effective patterns for smallmouth bass or your local carp.

Austin ties guide flies, he’ll go through a lot of them during the season, that is his clients will go through them and so when he designs or comes up with a fly his patterns remind of Bob Wyatt patterns, sparse, quick to tie and catch fish. So if you felt compelled to add a rib, sure, you could, or more flash, maybe or an extra rubber leg, but if you don’t need them, don’t add them as the more you add to the fly, the more time it takes to craft it and the more money you spend on it. Now if he’d just name the things.

Bob Wyatt said that he liked fishing more than fly tying so he’d made his flies as simple as possible. Austin loves to take people fishing, and so his job is to put you on fish. You do that by knowing the river, lake, the area, and the best places to fish. If you tie beautiful complicated flies, do you really want to fish them or think that the pea-sized brain of a fish is discerning about whether or not you have six versus eight hairs?

So check out DuPage Fly Co. at: http://www.dupagefly.com/

And check out Austin at: http://www.grabyourflycharters.com/

 

And then come and tie with Austin or any of the tiers coming to DuPage Fly Co.

 

 

Stuart Van Dorn

Hotspotting - The reason you didn't catch fish on your guided trip

According to Dictionary.com, the definition of "hot spotting" is "to stop a forest fire".  When used as a noun, it's a bit different, and maybe better related to fly fishing; "an area hotter than the surrounding surface, as on the shell of a furnace."  

In the fly fishing world, I've been told, it's not good to be labeled a "hot spotter".  From my understanding, "hot spotters" direct such an increase in angling pressure to a fishery, there's more than likely a chance that the influx of anglers will push all guides, non guides, and populations of stream side animals, off the water and possibly in to extinction.  So as you can see, this is a very serious issue.  

Luckily, over the years, no one has ever shared a fishing secret, towns that exude pride in their fisheries have never built monuments as big as factories of the secret fish that inhabit their waters, websites and DNR's around the country haven't published maps to show people where improvements have been made and fish may reside, and most importantly, it's so important, and critical, that no guide has ever published the waters they guide on.  These are all key actions to help ensure people stay out of OUR best fishing spots.  

Considering none of the above is true - there's more than a handful of fish sculptures as big as buildings, DNR's and private publishers have included maps of improved waters, valleys chock full of streams and stocking spots, and guides post photos and stream reports regularly, so their customers know they've got a good chance of connecting with a beast while out on the water.  

What completely boggles my mind, is how someone can accuse another fisherman of being the reason a guide doesn't have a days work, or why someone's customer didn't catch a fish, instead of the reason why, over a new season, thirty more people fished a river, spent $1000/each in town and discovered an amazing fishery that's been, and will continue to be, there for generations longer than any one person will guide or be able to fish it.  And even funnier is when they tell you that those people in town don't want that money, and they'll even go as far as threatening harming you, or your belongings, if you visit.  

With it being 2016 now, and the age of being offended, it seems that more and more people think they own a piece of water if they see it more than once a year or for a couple of weeks a year, and feel they can tell you what you're doing wrong on their water.  When this stretch of water is one of the most well known pieces of water in the world, for a specific species, isn't the fact that people are willing to pay $500/day a key indicator there might be fish there?

So as we venture further in to another year on the water, please keep a few things in mind - if you know about a spot, there a less than 50% chance at least three other people know about it.  If you google a type of fish, and a specific fishery comes up on the first page, it's not a secret, its the reason you guide on that piece of water.  If you see a photo of a fish on the ground, next to a rod and reel combo, offer some advice, not a public berating.  We've all been there at some point in our fishing lives, and in most cases made those same mistakes.  Give someone a helping hand, and grow the sport.  Don't be one of the d* bags that give our sport a black eye.   

The bonefish in the Key's are just awe inspiring!

Spey Journey - Part Three - Gandalf Goes Fishing with a Hobbit

Casting with an expert is intimidating. Casting with an expert who is over a foot taller than you is being a student banjo player who was just asked to do a duet with Bela Fleck, or now that’ve you got your first canvas and paints, painting with Picasso. You get the idea, right?

It’s been a bit since I've spent some time with Gandalf, i.e., Doug Taylor, casting a two handed rod. In fact it's been some time since I've spent any time with a two handed rod. Or fishing it seems. Although I did go out with Doug this summer a couple of times with either a switch rod or a single handed rod and we tangled with some smallmouth bass. 

But now, here we were, at the place where I believe two handed rods belonged, casting for big fish in bigger waters throwing sinking lines, making mends and drifting big flies. It started simply enough. 

"So mate, you want to go steelheading fishing on the St. Joe?"

I lied to the wife and work in order to go, the sign of true addiction. 

"Meet me at Cabela's at 6:30, you bring the sandwiches for lunch."

My normal day starts at 4:30am with a trip to the YMCA and so there was no change in the routine except for a trip to Indiana and a hop over to Walmart to get a license, trout stamp and lunch. By the way if you do fish with Doug, he likes chocolate bars and cookies as well as beef sandwiches. So don't forget to feed the guide.  I got everything we needed and headed for Cabela’s. 

So far, everything is going quite fine. I saw Doug and boat pull into Cabela's parking lot, we loaded gear and food and headed for South Bend and the St. Joe, about an hour away. 

Doug is a great traveling companion, we have similar shared experiences, both us having served time in the military and both carrying some of that aftermath that war brings but we deal with it with humor and stories. And perhaps cookies, it seems that we share similar addictions as well. 

For me fishing isn't always about the need to catch fish, nor make the perfect cast, it's about what happens on the trip. With Doug, there's always a walk, two guys gimping along, peering into the water trying to unlock its secrets while admiring its beauty. 

I had never fished the St. Joe before, and so a part of me thought it was probably a bit more industrial looking, but it’s none of that, it’s clean and clear with a very long walking path along side of it. Sections of it are quite wide and deep and there’s plenty of current breaks and pools where fish might or might not be found. 

There is a lot of nice things to say about the St. Joe but this is about Spey casting.

So we put the boat in at a well maintained boat launch and since I'm sworn to secrecy, we went up or down river. 

So far, I was having a great time till Doug handed me a rod. 

"Okay mate, here's the front of the boat cast,"  he said and brought the line upwards, like a snap T and then made a perfect roll cast that sailed exactly where he wanted it and then he did it several times in a row. "Now you cast.” 

If you were to call Doug, I'm certain that he'd say he was sorry he said those three words. So for the next half hour I struggled to make a decent cast and would continue to struggle for the rest of this trip and the next. So much so that Doug has suggested that perhaps I should bring a single handed rod along on our next trip. At least he’s brave enough to invite me back-it’s probably because of the cookies. 

But a journey without meeting obstacles isn't really a journey, it's a pleasure cruise.

So what caused my casting to fail? 

Good question...to which I know the answer. 

It's a number of things: failure to practice, a nasty sore shoulder (swim five miles a week and your shoulders tend to get a bit iffy at times), a bit of worrying about whacking the boat or Doug, a bit of memory failure (muscle and gray matter), and that first thing, intimidation. So put them all together, put them in a boat and watch my casting go right down the toilet. 

Failure is an option and a step towards learning. Even a simple overhead cast eluded me both trips. 

I was neither too tired nor too sore, I was simply frustrated and the more frustrated I got the worse my casting went. Once upon a time, I would simply close it all out, trust what I'd been taught, close out the clatter in my brain and let the muscles do their job and things would go in the right direction. Not this time, not the next time. Both times in the boat, nothing but one bad cast after another, after another. Blown anchors, bad line placement, and a complete inability to put the fly where it needed to go. Couldn't even mend the line. Tied bad knots, put a fly or three into trees and if I'd of fallen out of the boat, it would have completed my last two trips. 

And yet, both times, I caught and landed fish. 

So failure in casting was not a failure in fishing and I did hear these words, once or twice, "Good cast there mate, now repeat what you just did." Yep, like that was going to happen. My memory shorted out after every cast, and so after a good cast, a rare good cast came after a flurry of bad casts. 

There is something in two handed rods that makes them a challenge, the first is what to do with the left hand and the second is that while the action is slower, most of it occurs behind you but what's important is what's in front of you. Sound confusing, yep. Because the anchor-that part of the fly and line that has to be in the water to anchor the cast has to be in the right place to make a good cast. But the back cast, where the line has to form a "D" loop in order to make a good cast, is as much a feeling as loading the rod is in single handed casting. But it's trickier. If you think going ten to two was difficult, a Spey rod behaves far differently and you're moving two hands and trying to make a smooth transition so that the cast goes high and not crashing on the water and also, in the right direction-right down the tracks. 

Yep, frustrating. 

But you can't blame the instructor, oh sure, I’d like to say, "Hey Doug, let's cut both of your legs off, drug you and tie one hand behind your back, or how about a shorter line, shorter rod, something for a hobbit, you know, a single handed rod.” Doug is a good instructor, and at this moment, I’m a crappy student who hasn’t practiced.

All the good fly casters I know, practice. In the summer I've been known to go out at lunch and practice till whatever kink I have in my casting is worked out. 

I sort of have a set of rules for practice that I try to follow, and if you’re interested in reading further here they are:

1.) Duration: About an hour - after an hour you tend to lose focus, so do it for just an hour. After all, this should be fun, not tiring and frustrating. Try to practice at least three to four times a week, more if you have the time and inclination.

2.) Timing: When are you most awake, have the most energy? It’s best to practice when you’re at you’re best not when you’re already tired and feeling a bit run down. Do it when you’re feeling good. 

3.) Goals: Break the cast down, what do you want to practice, what part of the cast do you want to work on?  Write it down somewhere and set a goal such as keeping the anchor where it belongs, keeping the the left hand position, bringing the rod up vertically and so on. Break the cast down into parts and set a goal to learn each part and when you have the parts down, work on the whole cast. A Spey cast is a series of moves. Each cast be it a single Spey, double Spey, Snap T and so on are a series of moves that require precise timing. So don’t try and practice all the variations at a time. Pick one and work on it. Remember, you won’t master Spey casting in an hour, or fifty hours, it’s going to take a year or so before you’re making good clean casts. Doug has a lot of years in and a lot of practice.

4.) Smarter, not harder: It’s easy to over analyze the problem and then try over and over to make it work by practicing harder or throwing the rod harder. But the best thing to do is stop practicing, look at the problem and see if there is a different way to solve it, a different technique or approach. Don’t keep making the same bad cast over and over.

5.) Solve the problem: Define, analyze and come up with a solution. Test the ideas, monitor them to see what works and then implement them into your practice. 

Also, fishing is not the best time to practice your cast. Build a grass leader and head out to the back yard or park with the long rod and practice those elements of the Spey cast.  When you get on water, it might be best not to throw a long rod. But if you want to get some practice in, ask your guide to pull the boat into an area where you can make few casts and see what works. A simple roll cast might be the ticket. And if you get frustrated or tired or whatever, grab your single handed rod and cast away. 

Spey casting to me is difficult, not because of single handed casting but because it's not single handed. It's new, I’m not young, my muscles are not adapting like they should, and my reflexes aren't what they were and mostly because I haven't practiced. 

Doug practices, I bet Simon Gawesworth of Rio, practices, and so does Andy Murray and all good two handed casters. 

So part three of this journey is Gandalf talking to the hobbit and saying, "Look mate, it's time for you to pick it up, you know the rules, and I’ve seen you make good casts..." 

And my favorite, "It ain’t easy is it mate?"

Nope, learning something new never is, not practicing it makes it even worse. 

But if you catch a steelhead on a lousy cast and it beats the hell out of you then you have to thank the guide for getting you in good water. But if you catch one on a perfect cast with a perfect drift, then you can be glad that you put in the hours, and when Gandalf says, “Good job mate, really good job,” you feel like the Spey gods have smiled on you. 

 

Stuart Van Dorn

 





Work and Pleasure

For those of you that follow, you know I've posted about work in the past and can be a bit of a nerd.  When I decide to and put my mind to learning something new, I try to dive in head first.  So in my line of work, taking the time to learn about your customers can pay dividends, but also lead to some pretty cool stuff.

In this case, my customer, Bettinardi Putters, is also run by a friend of mine, who's also quite the trout fisherman.  He's the brains behind most of their custom line of putters, including some of the trout pattern putters I've featured in the past.  

Recently they expanded their facility for both their putter line, as well as what they do under their machining company Xcel Technologies.  I headed out to check things out and was impressed with all they had done.  A few days later, I saw a great write up on a recent event they had for their custom putters.  It featured some great photography, and some of the more Chicago based themes.  

Photo credit - GolfWRX

Photo credit - GolfWRX

The same website, Golf WRX, also featured another photo essay with some of their machining processes and behind the scenes during production.  I got a more in depth look at what they are doing than most people, but this really gives the casual fan an idea of how much work and metal actually goes in to creating something original.  It's awesome to see how a lot of similar applications go in to making our fly reels.  And a step further, is guys doing it by hand, requiring some amazing skills.

Photo credit - GolfWRX

Photo credit - GolfWRX

When is a Guide, Not a Guide?

Eugene Collins says he's not a guide. He then takes people out on the Rock River and puts them on fish. If you go to the smallmouth alliance Blowout you can bid on a guided trip with Gene. And this year, I know that I'm going to bid on every ticket that has his name on it. 

So it's time for a personal disclosure. I love the Rock River. He too shares this passion. I have fished a lot of it and lot of the tributaries that feed into it. Most of my fishing has been south of Oregon but not quite to Dixon and then north of Byron up to where it comes out of Lake Koshkonong. For a few years there was a problem after a chemical spill killed a lot of fish. But the river has recovered and the fishing is back to where it was before the spill. 

Eugene fishes a section that’s out of Dixon. He has fished most if not all of the Rock and this is the section that he knows best, be it for bass or walleye or even the giant cats that prowl the bottom. But like all good fishermen, if this section isn’t producing, he’ll move to where the fish are. 

You can wade Rock but it's mostly a boat river. The good thing is, there are no fly-fishing guides on the rock except for Gene, who’s not a guide. But he'll guide you, of course he's not a guide so he'll fish which is why I think he says he's not a guide. But if he says, "I want to see you catch fish," he's not lying. So what he's doing is using casting gear and a kick ass sonar unit, to find fish and then he puts you on them. (Because he's not a guide. So he says.)  

I'd been trying to fish with him for over a year and got an email from him asking, “Hey, you doing anything Sunday?”  So I had no plans and it was going to be a nice fall day. I met him at one of the prettiest parks I’ve been to, Lowell Park in Dixon. There’s a nice scenic drive to the boat launch, good parking and for a November day we couldn't have had asked for better weather.

Good guides know a river, really good guides know more than where to fish. They notice things. It's one of the reasons I like fishing with Austin Adduci, he has stories about the river, the history, and so on.  It’s why fishing with Eugene is more than just getting into a guy’s boat and going fishing. He knows where the eagles nest, where people write their names in the bluffs that line the river, and where the smallies and muskies can most likely be found. 

While Eugene isn’t a fly fishing guide, he’s not bad with the long rod and certainly knows what flies work and is learning more every time he goes out.  He doesn’t supply flies or tie them on, cuz he’s not a guide but he has an interesting selection of flies that I tried and one of them, a Craig Riendeau construction name the Sonic Boom worked well. I like Craig, and yes his flies catch fish, but tying them can be a pain. This one was like a roadrunner,  a weighted woolly bugger with a spinner. It got the fly down deep where it needed to be. I think next time I’ll use a 7wt and a small sink tip to get a minnow or crayfish pattern down near the bottom, unless they’re feeding on top. I did use a crawfish pattern and minnow patterns and caught fish on both. Nothing of size mostly 10-13 inch fish but enough to keep me interested and busy. 

Eugene’s boat handling and control are excellent. He uses a high powered trolling motor to position the boat and maintain a steady drift. His boat is quiet and the 50hp Evinrude that he affectionately calls Rudy, can run at top speed and you can carry on a conversation as you travel up or down river. 

The boat layout is better suited for spin and casting gear but I didn’t have much trouble casting from the back of the boat or front of the boat. You might bring a line tamer but I didn’t catch Rudy or Gene, so that was a good thing. Most of your casts will be relatively short so you don’t need a lot of line laying on the deck. 

At the end of the day, the fishing was okay. Eugene threw swim jigs,  a mix of plastics as well as hard baits. I stuck with minnow patterns and crayfish. I think if I’d of gone with a sink tip there would have been more fish but that’s why there is a next time. 

Gene is an excellent guide by the way, for someone who’s not a guide. 

But I bet if you called him and asked him to guide you on the Rock, you’d have an excellent time fishing, you’d see some eagles, a lot of unique landscapes, and oh yeah, catch some fish as well. I don’t think he’ll be tying your flies on for you but he’ll have a selection. You might want the following: clousers, craft fur minnows, a short sink tip, and some crawfish patterns. 

So can you book Gene for a guided trip?

Sure, drop him an email at efcfish@gmail.com.

 

Stuart Van Dorn








Salmon Watching

There are fall days where you look for spots where the sun is shining because the shade is full of cold. You wear wool socks and fleece pants under your waders. No long underwear yet because whileit's cold it’s not steelhead cold. There is no ice forming in the guides and the fly line is still soft and gentle in your ungloved hand. 

The rains fell and the river rose. The salmon start their run to reproduction and death. In areas of Michigan the water is clear, cold and free from the silt. The eggs are laid in small redds and fertilized. Male and female salmon throw themselves in the air. Leaves give up their grip and float like small kites into the flowing water. 

My fly line is still supple and easily shoots through the guides. A salmon jumps a few feet away from me. A small pod of fish swim upstream. A kingfisher makes a dive into the water and pops out with a small minnow wiggling in its beak. I move into a pool of warm sun. 

The salmon jumps. I cast above the growing rings and watch the line, waiting for any sign of a take, waiting, watching, and looking for a twitch in the line. It drifts and slides down the current and I cast again. I cast again and again covering water with each drift. 

The salmon jumps. 

I repeat the drill.

I reel up my line and find a sunny spot on the bank.

The salmon jumps.

The current carries gold and yellow leaves, like small boats, to the lake. They pile and crash into one another forming small marinas of color. 

The salmon jumps. 

The Kingfisher makes another dive and comes up with an empty beak. 

I step into the water and head downstream. 

There is a large pool just past the bend. The shadow of the railroad bridge bends across the pool, breaking into bits where the sun has driven past the leaves.  A salmon leaves the water and appears to fall back on itself. Then another jumps and another. 

I cast to indifferent fish. 

As if this were a dance, the fish jump as if in rhythm. One just out of reach, one within range. I watch and wonder about all of this, an ocean fish, now bred for the lake, a fish that created an industry of charter boats, downriggers and tinsel flies.  

I have fished for them in the ocean, along the pacific coast. They made your line sing out, smelled of the sea, and made you work for them. My mind wanders back to when I was young and lived in Seattle.  We’d keep the fish we caught, my father and I. When we got home we’d clean and plank them. When done, they’d taste of the ocean and a touch of lemon. 

I reel up my line and head for the car. I can hear them in the pool behind me. They splash and jump and I am reminded of the times I spent fishing with my father.  

A salmon clears the air. 

 

002 salmon.jpg

The blog post that got away - ISA Early Show

It's recently come to light that I've dropped the ball and had a few blog posts from Stuart that got lost in the mail.  My apologies to those who contributed to Stuart's adventures!  

The Early Show

The nice thing about the Early Show is, to state the obvious, it’s early. November is a good time to have a show. The weather is usually changing, bass fishing is coming to a close, and steelhead fishing is starting up. Tying clubs are in full swing and the shops are filling up with warm weather gear, tying materials and posting about warmer locations for you to choose from, be it Belize or the Amazon River. 

So is the show worth going to? Yes. 

Because it’s a regional show, you get to meet the local folks who sell stuff: DuPage Fly Shop, Orvis, Hawkeye fly tyer, the folks who bought Chris Helms business, Whitetail Fly Tieing, and many others who have traveled a distance to show and sell items for fly fishing. Matt from Driftless Angler who always has something interesting, from ceramics to t-shirts. Also there was Tightlines including Tim and the crew-always entertaining and if you’re looking to book a trip, they have a number you can choose from. And for those of you interested in Tenkara-Badger Tenkara was there. 

My buddy Austin Adduci and his guide service, Grab Your Fly Charters had a table, and the sign of a good show for guides is do they book any trips, and a couple of them, said,  “I’ve booked a couple of trips, so this is a good show for me.”  As usual, John Graham was there to talk about his first and perhaps only love, smallmouth Bass. Austin gave an excellent talk on fishing the Kankakee and he is now branching out for steelhead fishing on the St. Joe, which has been producing a decent run of steelhead these days. I talked with PJ for a while and watched a number of people tie a lot of Bucktail to hooks. Or as I like to call them, “Stuffed Animal Flies.” 

After wandering about a bit and visiting some of tying groups like Drift, Nifty and my buddies from Chi-Tie, I headed out to see what Doug Taylor was up to with the long rods. Doug is an instructor for all of you two handed fans and had set up a mock river to help those having trouble with river right, river left and what direction the cast should eventually go. 

Drift was teaching the single handed method out in front of the show, also out front - the root beer folks. Always a treat to get a hotdog or burger from them. Good root-beer floats by the way and you can talk to the knowledgeable guys at Rocktown Adventures if you’re interested in getting a kayak or setting one up for fishing. 

Brian Smith was set up and demonstrating Bamboo fly rod building and was demonstrating a platform he’d created to hold a planning form at a more comfortable angle. Brian is an excellent teacher for all things bamboo and I know of a number of people who have built good cane rods under his tutelage. 

I spent a bit of my time at Coren’s table, that is, when I wasn’t asking Rich McElligott about his patterns and materials or cruising over to Hawkeye Fly Tyer or Whitetail for materials. I host the Coren’s tying group and it’s always interesting to see what other groups are doing and how they’re run. 

Ilike the Early Show, it’s the only all fly fishing show in the Chicago Area. It’s hosted by local people and it’s a solid regional show. I’m going to chide the organizers of it for not having a website and doing a bit better job of promoting it. I would hope that in time some manufacturers would make it to the show. It’s at a good location, been there for a couple of years and its’ getting a decent draw. It also has good raffle drawings and the speakers are local guys who know the local waters. It is very easy to get to, has ample parking and from what vendors say, people come there to spend money. I know what I spent including a jungle cock neck, additional tying materials, a fly line and more hooks. 

But best of all, I got to catch up with the folks from the local fly shops and not so local fly shops and people that I either fish or tie with. 

So back to the line, is it worth going to? Yes it is. Is it like driving to Indianapolis for the Indianapolis Fly Fishing Expo? No, but it’s a show that in time, with a little more advanced promotion, a website, a bit more social media presence and so on might draw a bigger crowd and a few more vendors.