Dennis Anderson: Drifting for smallies along the St. Croix

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 6, 2014 - 9:19 AM

A river and the urge to fish provide the starting point. The right company and the right boat make it a “great day.”

hide

As guide Wendy Williamson steadied her drift boat in the currents of the Upper St. Croix River, angler Bob Nasby of St. Paul cast a fly near shore, looking for smallmouth bass.

Photo: Photos by DENNIS ANDERSON • danderson@startribune.com,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

DANBURY, WIS. — The wind was up, gusting all day, and sometimes Wendy Williamson’s drift boat blew upstream, against the current. This was a few days back, on the upper reaches of the St. Croix River, above its confluence with the Namekagon, and Wendy, Bob Nasby and I were looking for smallmouth bass.

In this summer of high water, fishing can be had. But the Mississippi, St. Croix and Minnesota rivers near the Twin Cities are too flush with water to locate fish consistently, and also sometimes dangerous.

On the St. Croix, fairly normal river levels exist farther upstream, and a day’s angling there can pass with reasonable expectations that fish will be found, a smallmouth bass here, maybe a muskie, northern pike or walleye there.

Mostly, Bob, Wendy and I wanted smallies, while hoping for the odd poke at a muskie. The latter are river fish, after all, and while midsummer isn’t the best time to catch them in moving water — a swirl, a tail flash and the gobbling of a big fly — it can be done.

“This looks like great water,” Bob said, rolling his line over in a tight loop and directing a finger-length fly toward shore.

A half-hour or so earlier, we had dropped Wendy’s drift boat into the St. Croix, and now, not far from shore, the three of us slid silently downriver, joined by a common interest in rivers, fish and fishing.

“Cast just over there,” Wendy said, urging Bob and me to land our flies as close to shore as possible.

Blue as the sky above, the St. Croix is wider in these parts than some might imagine, and fishy looking. Occasional riffles highlight its slight declinations, while deadfalls and lily pads lie in small bays, offering cover and still water for fish, bass in particular.

Such is the beauty — not just the St. Croix’s, but that of the Flambeau and Chippewa rivers, also — that inspired Wendy and her husband, Larry Mann, to stay in this country after moving here from Colorado in the late 1990s.

Wendy had grown up in Hayward, and years ago had migrated to the mountainous West, drawn there by its blue-ribbon streams and plentiful trout. In Colorado, she met Larry while the two guided fly anglers, and when Wendy’s father died and her mother needed help, they packed up, leaving the West and bringing with them to Wisconsin the drift boat with which they had plied so many mountain rivers.

“We were coming back to lake country, and there were a lot of guides around Hayward who would take clients for muskies and walleyes,” Wendy said. “But river fishing at the time wasn’t so popular.”

Long a haven for interlopers looking to make a living off the land, northern Wisconsin has over the years withstood influxes of loggers, trappers, hunters, fishing guides and even mobsters.

Some saw this big, forested country and went for broke — ultimately leaving the same way.

Others stayed and thrived.

The latter would describe Wendy and Larry’s excellent adventure over the past decade or so.

“About the time we arrived, interest was growing in fly fishing for warm-water species, such as smallmouth bass and muskies,” Wendy said, noting that the late Tom Helgeson of Minneapolis was publishing his Midwest Fly Fishing magazine at the time and also promoting a fly-fishing show in the Twin Cities each spring (the show, Tom Helgeson’s Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo, continues under the auspices of his children).

Taking note, and not a little risk, Wendy and Larry opened a shop — Hayward Fly Fishing Co. — and started guiding fly anglers on area rivers.

Comfortable as they long had been at the oars of drift boats, they soon found that local fly anglers, as well as those from the Twin Cities, Duluth, Milwaukee, Chicago and beyond, were eager to fish with them, one in the bow, one astern, on daylong drifts through big country.

Most times, smallmouth bass are the target. But muskies also remain a main attraction, particularly in October and November.

  • related content

  • State parks seek to change with the times

    Saturday July 5, 2014

    Involving more young people and minority members is the goal.

  • High water, heavy rain slow boating across Minnesota

    Sunday July 6, 2014

    Fewer boaters are spending the holiday weekend afloat, but for some, no-wake rules are a blessing.

  • Great Lakes welcome rising water levels

    Sunday July 6, 2014

    Great Lakes are rising, and the tourism and shipping industries are celebrating.

  • A smallmouth bass caught by Dennis Anderson (not pictured) measured 19 inches long.

  • Smallmouth bass caught in rivers with strong currents can put up quite a fight. Their bronze coloring, blended with dark shades and plump shapes, lend them unique identities among freshwater fish.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Cleveland - WP: C. Allen 4 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: G. Holland 3
Baltimore - LP: W. Chen 0 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Pineda 5
Kansas City - WP: D. Duffy 2 FINAL
Cleveland - LP: C. Carrasco 0
Seattle - LP: J. Paxton 4 FINAL
Toronto - WP: J. Happ 14
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Bassitt 2 FINAL
Detroit - LP: K. Lobstein 0
Pittsburgh - WP: F. Liriano 1 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: A. Harang 0
Houston - LP: N. Tropeano 3 FINAL
Texas - WP: D. Holland 4
St. Louis - WP: A. Wainwright 8 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - LP: T. Wood 0
Arizona - WP: J. Collmenter 6 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: R. Nolasco 2
LA Angels - LP: C. Wilson 4 FINAL
Oakland - WP: J. Samardzija 8
San Francisco - WP: S. Casilla 5 FINAL
Los Angeles - LP: K. Correia 2
Colorado - LP: T. Matzek 0 FINAL
San Diego - WP: E. Stults 1
Chicago 27 FINAL
NY Jets 19
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Buffalo 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Green Bay 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Tennessee 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Carolina 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Detroit 9/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
Tampa Bay 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Miami 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Oakland
Jacksonville 9/28/14 3:05 PM
San Diego
Atlanta 9/28/14 3:25 PM
Minnesota
Philadelphia 9/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
New Orleans 9/28/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
Ottawa 2 FINAL
NY Islanders 3
Ottawa 2 FINAL
NY Islanders 2
New Jersey 5 FINAL
NY Rangers 4
Detroit 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Toronto 3 FINAL
Philadelphia 2
Washington 4 FINAL
Philadelphia 5
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Winnipeg 2
St. Louis 3 FINAL
Dallas 4
Anaheim 5 FINAL
Colorado 2
Colorado 0 FINAL
Anaheim 4
Los Angeles 4 FINAL
Arizona 5
Arizona 3 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(24) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(11) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(25) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(12) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(9) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(22) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(13) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
North Carolina 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Clemson
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(17) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(8) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(21) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(18) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Montreal 9/26/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 9/26/14 9:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/27/14 5:30 PM
Winnipeg
Brt Columbia 9/27/14 8:30 PM
Calgary
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close