"What day are you fishing this weekend", she asked.
"Don't know yet, depends on the weather", I replied gruffly.
A few days go by, "Have you figured out what day you're fishing yet?", she asks again.
"Probably Saturday, if it's not raining. Let me check the weather. Figures as much, rain on Saturday, rain on Monday, so I'll go Sunday. Don't worry, I won't be late." I said.
This happens a lot in our house. Mainly it's my inability to commit to a solo day trip, and my fear of telling my wife I'm going by myself. A trip to one of my favorite streams in Wisconsin is exactly 190.4 miles from driveway to pull off. Depending on traffic it's normally a hair over three hours.
Up at four, quick brushing of the teeth and a coffee, and I was on the road. This time the drive up seemed different. It's been almost two months since I've been up last, which is a long time for me. Not much had changed, but it all seemed different. Up in to Wisconsin the weather kept getting cooler, and the fog that much heavier. Before reaching Madison, I could barely see about twenty feet in front of car - completely enveloped in fog. It was eery and pretty cool at the same time. As the sun came up and began burning off the fog, the anticipation began to develop.
To me, late summer in Wisconsin means a couple of things - it's hopper time and closing weekend will be here before I know it. With a batch of freshly tied hoppers, I was pumped to get on the water and start tossing some foam.
This stretch is one I've become very familiar with over the years. I've invested the time to know where the fish are and gotten to know the twists and turns and where the log jams are. I daydream of this stretch of water at work and before bed. It's one of my favorites. But this was the first time I've seen this stretch this year. And after the winter we had, rumors whirled this stream might have been struck by a fish kill.
As I scouted from the bridge upon my arrival, I looked up to see a cloudless sky, and down to see a slight stain and good pace to the current. Figured we'd get the day started with a scud and brassie. Both have produced here for me late in the summer after a rain, so I thought the day was looking up.
The third riffle I came to looked good and didn't disappoint. On my third drift through, I hooked what is to this day, the smallest brown trout I've caught. I preface this with saying, most fisherman will always exaggerate, and this fish was all of four inches. But hey, it knocked the skunk off and had me on the board.
As the day progressed, the wind picked up and the clouds came out, I thought this would be shaping up to be a great hopper day. As I swapped out the nymphs and tied on a hopper I noted a few risers up in the next run. As I took my first cast, I quickly realized I was standing on my line, which in turn set off a thirty five minute birds nest, involving about thirteen large mint bushes, plenty of thistle and my day pack. This string of bad luck and frustration seemed to bounce from pool to pool with me as my good casts were rewarded with short strikes or last seconds turn downs, and the day slowly started to head south.
I'm not a numbers guy, or a size guy. I'm just a guy who likes being outside, enjoying the fresh air and chance to be chasing trout. If I judged all my trips on numbers and size, I would have quit fishing a long time ago. But days like these - frustrating, hot, humid and full of misses are rough. By noon I had hooked two fish, missed more than a handful, and lost about a half dozen flies. Within eyesight of the car I thought about just calling it a day, running to the Citgo and grabbing an iced tea and heading home. Not sure why, but I decided to finally sit down and try to relax. I wasn't "worked up" but just a bit frustrated. I had really looked forward to this trip and now I was going home with little to show for it. As I sat, sipping a bit of water, I looked under the bridge and noticed a few rings on the water and thought it must have been a rise.
"What's the harm in getting up there, tossing a few casts before likely losing my fly?" I thought. I mean the cast looked impossible - one foot in two feet of water, the other on a rock just off the edge, throw it under the bridge, without hooking the forest of weeds lining the bank. Oh, and it needed to go about forty feet to have any chance.
First cast was long enough, but wide right. As it floats back to me, to my shock a fish comes out of the depths and hammers it! I set the hook, and nothing. Missed him. The next two casts I'll never forget. I had the same thing happen. Two wide casts, two more blow ups, two more misses. I was about ready to dive in and swim after them. Three different fish, in different places and I missed 'em all! I was livid.
I took a few deep breaths, sat down on the bank and waited. I couldn't go without giving them a few more casts. But needed to give them a chance to forget and me a chance to get my legs to stop shaking.
The fact that not only did I get the casts in the right spots, but that I missed three fish were killing me as I waited. Not another rise, not another sign of life from the hole they from where they came. "Worth a few more casts" I thought, "at least to say I went down swinging."
The next five casts produced over fifty inches in fish from my estimation. 3 of the best brown trout I've ever pulled from this creek, from the same hole. Fish kill? Doubting it a little right now. They started small - about sixteen inches, another around nineteen and then another around eighteen inches. Mind you, our average fish size is about eight to ten inches and twelve inchers are considered wonderful.
This day will go down as one I won't quickly forget. From a rough fishing day, to one that will go down as one of my best, I'm glad I stuck it out and decided to take one more shot. As I loaded up the truck and headed home, I held a special feeling of pride. I made the most of what became a tough day. And I even kept the wife happy, I made it home in time for dinner!