I first stepped foot in this creek in 2004. The creek has undergone significant natural change throughout the past nine seasons however the fact that this creek still bears runs of large Brown Trout is apparent.
I started my morning with another 60-mile one and a half hour commute to the creek. I picked up my commuter friend, Justin, on the way. As we traveled from ridge top to ridge top we planned our expectations for the day. I appreciate that this creek has two accesses at either end of the winter border. We expected to hike the one and a half miles downstream without touching the water with our lines. We expected that we would get to the southern winter border before noon and before the sun comes over the bluff.
We completed the hike in less than 45-minutes however with incident. We were eventually able to overcome the challenges of sticks in our path and arrive at our destination alone on the creek. We set-up up shop at one of our favorite plunge pools, filled our coffee cups, and began to make our first few casts right at about the time that a local angler made his way to the head of the pool.
I am unsure as to how most people approach trout lies however I know that I prefer to approach from the most downstream side of the flow. I then make adjustments to my leader according to the depth and flow of the run I intend to angle fish out of. I expect to cast in a way that allows my fly to go in front of my target whilst the seamless fly line leader connection lands behind the fish. I attempt to not spook the fish with fly line slap using this method. My experience has afforded me the opportunity to understand that standing at the head of a pool or riffle is the antithesis of my described method. An angler who approaches at the headfirst will undoubtedly catch less than 10% of the catchable fish holding in the lie. Regardless, it was time to head upstream.
I like to engage anglers. The lil guy that was angling here was no exception. I understand that my opportunity to catch fish out of this series of runs was now gone however in attempt to salvage I asked the angler where the big ones are and what are they biting on. I received a mouthful of valuable information, thanked him and wished him luck and headed back upstream and away from the gravel road that crosses this creek. Deep into the valley we lurked, looked, and searched for fish that would put a bend in our rod.
We found the fish in their usual holds. This creek is very predictable in the winter. We spotted a few midges flying about and the wind had died down by the time we made it back to the upper part of the valley. We caught dozens of fish on #20 miracle nymphs that were fished both deep and with split shot and high in the foam. At the rock pool I watched a fish over 25-inches slam a 6-inch fish and disappear under a rock. We noted an “eel” like Brown in one hold. We were amazed by its size of nearly 20-inches and by its disfigurement. We watched this trout lazily swim at the bottom of a deep pool trying to determine what was wrong with it. After 20-minutes of watching we were satisfied that a bird had done this to the trout.
One of our favorite sections of this creek is the pasture section. After winding through the forest and bluff for nearly 1.25 miles the valley opens up into a pasture that is host to a pool with good flow, depth, cover and a significant biomass of trout. This pool was adorned with thick watercress nine seasons ago. Today it is nearly void of watercress. I suspect that it is a nearly 98% reduction in the watercress biomass. Regardless, this pool still makes great fish watching and good catching. I worked my way up the pool using the scrub of cocklebur for cover and by being mindful of the way that my shadow cast on the water to be careful to not spook the separated pods of fish in this section. I reserved my casts for fish over 15-inches.
I spotted a largish fish move from under a rock into the belly of the pool where other fish were feeding. I could tell they were feeding because I could see their mouths working. I was angling with a 10-foot leader with 7x-tippet tied to a #20 bead head purple dubbing pheasant tail. I understand the sink rate of this fly. Using my fly in front and line in back presentation I made one heart felt cast at this fish. Intensely I watched the fly line drift on the surface of the water. Then I notice the trout's mouth open. With the fly in the fish’s mouth I tightened the line. The fish dodged downstream. I called for Justin to help me net the fish. Justin was 80-feet downstream of me and catching fish. We have angled together enough times to know that when we need the net it means that we really need the net. He hurried to me as the fish darted downstream toward him. The net was in my pack. He arrived just in time to have the fish turn back upstream and run at me. I can only pick-up so much line with my Ross reel and this fish was coming fast. I had to run upstream to keep pressure on the hook and on the fish.
The fish ran through the remnant of watercress that remained on this pool and then under the bank. I took the time to put my fly line on me reel and to jiggle the fish out of her hiding spot. She made a break for it however the clump of watercress wrapped on my fly line slowed and tired her. Justin netted the fish.
We taped the fish. 20-inches of female Brown Trout on a #20 fly. The fish took significant reviving after the epic battle of nearly 5-minutes with my Winston LT three weight and me. We both got into the creek and took turns running water through her mouth and over her gills. Fish typically fade in colour when exhausted. The fish looks marvelous in the photos due to its lemony colour however her colours were even more exaggerated once she filled back up with water and swam back to her favorite undercut bank hiding spot on her own volition.
This was the hook in the hat for me. The one fish that makes the whole day worth it. I relaxed in the sun on the creek bank thanking Mother Nature for her wonders. Essentially, this was the last fish of the day for me. I had already received more than I expected. A great hike with a great friend through a great valley on a great creek and a wonderful specimen of a Brown Trout sight fished on a #20 fly on a sunny and warm snowless winter day.
Rest assured I will be adding more #20 pbhpt’s to my midge box. I suspect that I will fish them in other counties on other creeks for other trouts successfully. I also suspect that I will return to this creek to chase the half a dozen other fish over 20-inches. I know where they live so why not? Really, an hour and a half drive, one way, works out to be really cheap entertainment.
We, typically, catch more Rainbows here than anything else. I tied up some #18 bead head pheasant tails with purple flash dubbing over the course of the last week. I wanted to try these flies today. I understand that the fish in this section of creek get conditioned to the flies I present to them. I know that, with this knowledge, the first day of the season is a day when the fish are not conditioned to flies. They will in fact take almost anything that is presented to them properly.
I fished a two fly rig. My #18 PBHPT trailed by a #20 miracle nymph. Justin had his opportunity with the fish first. We found that our honey hole was in typical form with rising fish slurping on the invisible hatch. I had my opportunity to make my first cast after about ten minutes of Justin getting the kinks out of his cast and coming up empty.
I prefer deep nymph-ing with no split shot. I know weightless casting well. I find it necessary to be cognizant of the cast's requirement of feeding line, through my guides, with two hands. I have become to know this cast as mechanical. I have fished in this spot for over 25 seasons and could catch fish here in my sleep. Cast, plunk, drift, fish. One cast one fish. I made another cast, plunk, drift, fish. This time a Brown about a foot long took the #18 PBHPT. Two casts two fish. I fished with this minimal effort until I became cold.
Personally, in the cold winter months I typically don't pound the water to catch heaps of fish. With the fatigue of the elements playing into the factor I prefer to be close to my car and to angle creeks where putting fish in my hand is easy. Starting out with two fish on two casts is a good way to start the year.
Dual angling - Angling the same hole with a friend in tandem.Term use. Heath landed the fish and and removed the #20 hook from the trout's mouth. He then released the fish. Justin now had his opportunity to try and catch a fish with is fly rod. He made a handful of casts and ended up with a wind knot in his line. Dual angling ethics afford the other angler to cast his line while the other is unable to cast. Whether it be due to being hooked in a tree, wind knot, break-off, or to unhook a fish.
We fished the honey hole for another hour or so. We caught numerous fish on #20 miracle nymphs and #18 PBHPT before getting cold and stiff and submitting to wanderlust. We hiked downstream to the edge of the pasture where the wind was a staunch factor in casting and comfort however we faced it in order to share fish on a plunge pool that we know is deep regardless of its history of non-performace. Maybe, just maybe, this year would be different.
We landed numerous Bows from this pool today. Most of the bows were over 13-inches. We had an epic "double" were Justin hooked into a 15-ish-inch Bow and while going for the net I hooked into a 16-inch class Bow. Justin netted his fish in my net. He was kind enough to net mine as well. He didn't bother to take his fish out of the net before netting mine. We had two fish, nearly four-pounds of trout in the net at that point. This was a neat memorable experience.
Two fish in one net. I have experienced this before however not with trout. In 2003 while angling a plunge pool, with my father in eastern Wisconsin, for King Salmon we ended up with a double. A buck and a hen King on the line. We ended up fighting the fish for several minutes before netting them both in the same net.
Regardless, a memorable experience indeed. The air temp and barometer was fairly steady through the course of today's adventure. Upper 20s and a 29.00 isobar reading made fishing consistent at this altitude. We headed up stream, after the double, in search of Brookies. We climbed nearly 300-feet of altitude over the two mile hike on the creek as it winds up the bluffside. This upper section of creek was more out of the wind than the lower section. Funny that there was snow on the ground in the lower valley however there were no traces in this upper valley. We fished a bit for Brookies but decided to head back downstream for some jerky snack and willing Rainbows. It was nearly 2pm. It is typical, in the winter, that the fish slow down at 2pm as the sun's pitch in the sky reaches a point where is no longer warms the ground below. The wind had picked up and the fish had slowed down.
The day was a great one. We left winter on the ridge top to find spring in the valley. We caught over 50 willing trouts on hand tied flies over the course of about four hours on two miles of creek. We stayed out of the wind, suffered no frost bite, and successfully logged another epic experience with the double Bow plunge pool.
Key factors in today's success included; staying out of the wind, moving when we got cold, understanding where the fish will be and how they behave, fly selection, and presentation.
I am a bit wet behind my ears from this experience. Migrating swans are common place living in the Mississippi River Valley. I can hear their massive flocks migrating over my house throughout the night. The din of their call is very pronounced.
I have experienced an odd Sandhill Crane in the marsh here and there however never before have I seen over 75 of these birds congregated.
Thanks for watching this short video that I grabbed on my to work at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, MN.
Few people consider 21 degrees an ideal time to hunt for bugs deep within a valley in southeast Minnesota. See what you are missing here.
Winter trout angling successes come in numerous forms. Today I found those successes during a three mile hike with my good friend Justin Carroll, winonaflyfactory.com. I have spend countless days on the water with Justin and have watched his fly angling addiction grow into a wholesome goodness that is unique to him.
The drive took nearly an hour and a half to get to the creek deep in a valley in the southeastern most county in the state. Steam was rising from the crystal clear flows and the trees lining the banks were covered in hoard frost. To me, the landscape was inviting, I understand that many would consider it daunting.
The temperature on the dash thermometer read -4 degrees. I was dressed in my typical arctic weather layers however was motivated by the temperature to put hand warmers in between my two pairs of merino wool socks and inside my 2000g thinsulate hiking boots. I suffered serious frost bite in 1994 of which has plagued me ever since with a nearly annual occurrence of a "black toe" by winter's end.
As we hiked downstream through the valley we were teased by rising trout in runs however the temptation of finding out what was around the next river bend or below the next bluff was greater than that of rising 20-inch Brown Trout. It was nearly noon and we found ourselves snow shoeing across the creek and through the entirety of the fishable winter section of creek.
We fished back upstream. Justin could not resist fishing in the shade on the north side of bluffs. I resisted and stuck with angling holes that were casted in sun. The temperature disparity between angling in the shade versus the sun was nearly 20 degrees. We both fished with olive #8 streamers and we both caught fish. The fish were rising before noon, after noon not so much. We not see any midge or stoneflies crawling on the snowy bank edges today.
This is a creek that I hope to return to as I passed up casting to many fish that I would like to get photos of due to the brutality of their overall length and size. Something compelled me to pass on them and to simply watch as they held deep and tight near the bottom.
We noted that active fish were nearer to the tails of pools and in shallow water. Further, the fish that were holding in the riffles of runs were held deep.