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.
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!