I have learned numerous new winter angling skills in the last eight seasons which compliment my 22 previous winter trout seasons. These skills have afforded me the pleasure of successfully and comfortably angling for stream trout in freezing temperatures. I recall that my first try at winter stream trout angling found me in the creek, balls deep, wearing two pairs of jeans while casting a five-foot fiberglass ultralight tipped with a panther martin spinner.
I have come a long way since then.
Justin and I left Winona in temperatures that keep some of the best outdoor adventurers home. We had studied the weather pattern closely for the week. We planned to fish the warmest part of the day, to try and beat the cloud cover expected around noon, and to find active trout to fool with a fly.
I tied an 8-foot leader to match my 8'-3 weight Winston Rod. I tied a #14 tungsten bead head adams onto the leader to which I attached 6-inches of 5x-tippet and a #20 bead head miracle nymph.
We did not beat the clouds to the creek. We knew before looking that we would not be able to sight fish trout today due to the overcast. We hiked, in less than 10 degrees F, less 30-yards from the car and proceeded to catch fish immediately.
Justin and I are comfortable with the casting lane that angling the pipe provides. Further, we always expect to see at least a few midge about and rising trout.
By 3pm the sun had begun to slip behind the bluff to the west. The air temperature plummeted several degrees over several minutes. We each brought at least a half a dozen fish to hand. We released many fish without handling. By gently handling the trout in this creek we can expect to catch them numerous more times over the next few months.
The drive was 90 miles round trip. I fished for less than two hours. I counted three flying midge throughout the day.
The names Browns and Bows don't just refer to two of the three species of fish that are the predominate exotic biomass in southeast Minnesota's Driftless Areacreeks.
Shawn and I had such a wonderful time catching sturgeon in the shade yesterday that we were hopeful that we could find something similarly significant for today. Our target species were trout and we were in Fillmore County. We are much older now than the last time we fished this creek together. This was a creek that we both experienced for the first time nearly 30 seasons ago. We caught our first trout here, as did our young nephews, and we still fish it today.
Unlike fishing this creek in the 80s we did not have bait or spinning rods. We each carried a homemade custom built Winston rod with hand tied tippets. Our flies were crafted with our own hands, size 20 miracle nymph with a dark copper rib.
Further, we fish down stream further from our original spot. Our methods of catching salmonids have graduated to a fine activity that requires crawling on your hands and knees, hiding in the weeds, and sight fishing to the largest fish in the pool with a size 20. This is the antithesis of bobber fishing with a half-night crawler. We sat at the side of the creek drinking coffee. We had covered nearly every inch of our skin with the clothing that we could find to keep the swarm of size 20 mosquitoes from biting us as the morning dew lifted. We worked out our casting lanes patiently.
Eventually the 12-inch fish began to move out of their feeding lanes with a fervor as a predator Brown had moved out from the rock cover. We watched this fish for several minutes in order to gauge what it was going to eat. The smaller trout had stopped rising now. They had also grouped up in a shoal in the deepest part of the plunge pool. Inevitably the predator Brown took a strike at a 10-inch fish which scattered the shoal. This left the predator alone at the bottom of the deepest part of the pool. I casted.
The pool is several feet deep. I had my fly line tipped with about 6-feet of 6x tippet. I presented my fly in such a way that my fly landed upstream of the Brown and the knot that held my 10-foot leader landed downstream of the fish's tail. I had no weight on my fly simply a size 20 - lightly threaded Dai-Riki 135 with a few wraps of dark copper rib. This is a fly I fish often. The leader and tippet lengths are also something that I fish often.
I also try to make sure that when I present to German Brown Trout in Minnesota that I drift the fly on their right side. I do this because an old-time hatchery biologist told me that the wild Brown Trout stocks in the state have a dominate left eye. He suggested that you can catch more Brown Trout by drifting any fly with a good presentation past their right eye because they do not see as well out of the eye. Regardless of your interpretation of the description of my tactics I will leave you with this wonderful memory from the first drift.
As we began preparing for supper in Winona a severe thunderstorm blew through town. We decided to drive to the backwaters to a low spot where you can see three miles of Mississippi River land. We were greeted with a spectacular contrast of dark storm clouds, the sunset and a double rainbow all at the same time. It was a fantastic way to end the weekend.
The National Eagle Center (NEC), Wabasha, Minn., has been chosen to be a recipient of a $5000 2011 Take Me Fishing grant. The grant award was received through the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) in partnership with the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF).
“We are extremely pleased with the national scope and reach of our new education grantees,” said RBFF Education Task Force Chairman Charles Holmes. “The Education Task Force is thrilled about growing RBFF’s education grants program and getting kids and their families out on the water to experience all the wonderful hands-on opportunities that the new grant recipients are offering.”
Take Me Fishing is a national initiative to grow participation for recreational boating and fishing for youth ages 6-15. The program as presented by NRPA and RBFF allows local agencies an opportunity to reconnect kids with the outdoors, provide education on environmental conservation and highlight the benefits of angling and boating as a lifetime sport.
Grant award winners for the ‘Take Me Fishing’ program were selected based on criteria such as past program participation, demonstrated outcomes that engage youth in outdoor programs, demonstrated ability to provide an inclusive program, and ability to deliver resources to underserved populations within the community. Each agency that was selected will receive resources to benefit the program.
“I am very excited to introduce youth anglers to the Upper Mississippi River through fishing and canoeing,” said Heath Sershen, NEC’s eco-tourism planner. “With this grant we intend to make access to river based activity participation less difficult through community partnerships and programs.”
Sershen has previously worked as an independent trout guide in the Driftless Region and is seeking a Master’s degree in Outdoor Education from Winona State University. He is working closely with Bucky Flores, NEC’s Associate Director of Program Development, to administer the proper use of the grant award.
“Throughout my association with Heath, I have known him to be an avid fisherperson who has a passion for sharing his vast amount of knowledge about the subject,” says Dr. Lorene Olson, Winona State University Recreation, Tourism and Therapeutic Recreation Chair. “I believe all of Heath’s professors in the Recreation, Tourism and Therapeutic Recreation Department at Winona State University would concur with my assessment of Heath’s love of fishing and his desire to introduce others to this leisure pursuit. We sometimes lightheartedly joke with Heath that he can find a way to connect fishing with every class project and/or assignment. “
Sershen has developed and implemented programs that introduced hundreds of Winona State students to fly angling. He has also been a volunteer with Project Get Outdoors, which engages at risk and underprivileged youth with the outdoors. He says that one of his greatest accomplishments is providing canoes and paddle routes for over 100 paddlers in one day at Winona’s Prairie Island boat launch.
“What can I say? I have a passion for the outdoors and fishing that runs deep. I understand that there are barriers to the outdoors that limit participation to outdoors activities. This understanding allows me to identify those barriers in the community and to find ways to engage and include participants that may have otherwise never recognized the Mississippi River as a leisure resource,” says Sershen. “I love guiding strangers to nature based discoveries.”
Take me Fishing programs through the NEC will begin this fall. For more information contact Heath Sershen, firstname.lastname@example.org, 651-565-4989, or visit the NEC on the web, www.nationaleaglecenter.org.
]Today I went to a different piece of water for my lunch break. This was a place that was previously undiscovered to me. It is what the locals call the slough as it is connected to the Mississippi River by means of culverts under the dike roads. It has lots of veg in its murky shallows. I can see the early signs of cattails and lily pads. I was drawn here today after I noticed the splash of spawning Common Carp on my way to the office. Carp known me and I know them. When compared to Trout, our other exotic species in the region, they grow bigger and fight much harder. Further, they are closer to where I am and do not require a trip out to the country, a climb over any barbed wire fences, and take a fly just as well. I did not see the carp I had noticed this morning while scouting at noon however I did find a shoal of shiners. Any skilled angler understands that where there is forage there are consumers of that forage. In this case there were native Bowfin and Gars mixed in with Largemouth Bass and other various unidentified Panfishes. I have little experience with Bowfin given that I have never really had the opportunity to target them directly. Its not to be construed that I have never tried to catch them before. In this case I have never found them. I prefer to sight fish for many species and even more so when I am fishing with a fly rod. Today all I had were fly rods in the car and a variety of flies. I had the choice of a nine-foot four weight, a nine-foot five weight and an eight-foot three weight. I had just received the three weight in the mail last week. The Winston WT was a Christmas present to me from my wonderful wife. It replaced my Winston IM6 that i had left on the rood of my car as I drove away from the South Branch Whitewater River last fall. This is not just a regular Winston WT. It is one that my brother, a master fly rod builder, made for me. The rod's name is Virga. I chose Virgo as she treated me to a fish on the first cast with her. I figured she would be the mantra I needed to catch a Bowfin on a fly in this Mississippi River backwater slough. I had no tippet material so I was left with a six-foot leader of which I added a #4 green chub streamer fly to. I could see the Bowfin cruising the shallows. There were numerous big females and smaller males that seemed to have blue fins through the water. I stood on the top of the culvert and used my photochromatic polarized glasses to my advantage as I sought out the right fish to catch.
Many Bowfin were cruising and gulping air then disappearing. I end up making a blind cast which landed me this wonderful female Bowfin over 24-inches long. My casting lane was very tight in this situation. Behind me was a powerline not more than 30-feet behind me. I am a bit shy about wrapping my fly line around a powerline so I resorted largely to roll casts and plunks. This style of presentation proved to accurately place my fly as I had numerous takes. If you have ever fished and caught Bowfin before then you will understand that their mouths are very tough. I lost many fish as with this combined with the fact that I was using a three weight on fish consistently over six pounds. Now that I had the taste in my mouth for one Bowfin I wanted another. I had watched the smaller males break the surface of the water. To me it appeared that they had blue fins and bellies with golden sides through the water. I wanted to more closely inspect on of these fish and began targeting them directly. I managed one, photographed it, and released it before retiring home for the night. I was surprised to find that the fins and belly of this fish were in fact flourescant green and not blue and that the side of the fish was mottled copper and brown and not gold. I took a bit of time admiring the beauty of this wonderful example of one of Minnesota most mis-understood native species before releasing it.
This is the first episode for the 2010 season of On The Water. Filmed entirely in southeast Minnesota.
January brings ice and snow to Minnesota however the few of us that are smart enough to know where to go to fish trout in the dead of winter typically have a successful time. This video shows you how to present to active winter trout during a mid-day midge hatch when the air temperature is 5 degree.