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.   #20 purple bead head pheasant tail

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.

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Minnesota's winter trout catch-and-release opener

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Feb 7, 2013, South Branch Root River