Sunday, February 11, 2018

Through the Ice

Entirely different deal here.  No walking, no hunting, no sight-fishing.  Just stopping five minutes from the house and treating it like a grocery store.  The strategy is founded on timing and patience.  There is very little gear involved and very little time needed.  A creel of 5-6 rainbows is approximately $50 worth of protein, at current cost per pound.

Often prepare fish whole but lately have been filleting them.  A year into the new knife and it is appreciated.

Extra aquarium aerator hanging around so we can keep minnows going between visits.  I think we've been out approximately seven times and have captured 1-6 (limit) on each occasion.  Average is 3.x.

Pretty much zero waste deal, as are all fish takings.  Not only can one catch a fish on a fly tied at home but one can catch a fish using a fly tied with a feather that has actual cells aligned and built by way of birds eating fish caught with a fly (or minnow in this case; here referring generally to trout capture which is more often salmo trutta taken with flies) composed of feather grown at home and palmered at the desk and so on, somewhat like the infinity reflection diagrams.  And I suppose you'd also work in the transformation of fish castoffs to eggs and nitrogen fertilizer both of which are cast about the household and yard.  And then there is the really interesting geographical coincidence in that the main waste stream leaving our home works through a number of confluences and then joins the Zumbro river approximately two hundred yards from the place we stand on the ice to catch the trout.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Nymph Restocking

Been riding for a number of years the approach of use what's in the box and fish them well.  The SE MN fly swap inspired me though to do some tying.  These are basic baetis-looking nymphs.  They look a lot like many of the bugs that hang in the interstices of our streams.  Time-saving step is to use the vinyl rib instead of dubbing and wire for the abdomen.  I really like the segmented look and the fact that it's a lot narrower than the thorax.  Wing cases of turkey or krystal flash.  Tail is the same turkey feather.  Dubbing is a mix of peacock ice and black.  Hooks are 14-16; probably good to do some 18s too.  No head cement necessary because when fished well they should be lost to the benthos before they come apart.  A wingcase will pop now and then if a fly grants you a longer-than-average-life-of-service. After setting the materials straight on the table and getting into it, this is pretty much a 3-4 minute pattern.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wilted Spinach: Southeast Minnesota Winter Fly Swap 2018

"Simple soft-hackled wets were first tied more than a century ago for hill-stream trout in the border region of Scotland and England.  They were tied using sewing basket silks and the feathers from on occasional poached partridge or other land bird.  That's all the tiers had available, and they made it work.  Sylvester Nemes, in his brillian book The Soft Hackled Fly, brought these flies to the attention of American anglers.  His flies, and the basic methods he uses to fish them, still take trout well to this day."   - Dave Hughes, Essential Trout Flies, page 74

In 1999 John Montana added to the soft hackle pattern library when he designed the Wilted Spinach.  I've used the fly since with great success.  Sometimes I forget about it and it's always good to come back.  Its application is general here in southeast Minnesota: it's a leggy and buggy looking fly with a trailing shuck indicating the moment of vulnerability which is something trout seem to appreciate.  

Swing it downstream (especially in winter to trout rising to midges) or fish it upstream as you would a dry fly.  Hughes notes that originally, two or three soft-hackled wets were used on the same leader.

Wilted Spinach variation without dubbing and with peacock thorax, tied by Winona Fly Factory.  

Hook: 14-18
Tail: two loops of krystal flash
Body: dubbing (John used orange as pictured here)
Wing: soft hackle, typically a partridge
Head: built up red thread with drop of head cement

I didn't cement the brown thread versions because that is smaller thread and should hold tight on its own.

Varying the dubbing.  Did ten of each color.

Friday, January 05, 2018

 January 1, 2018

It was cold on NYDay.  But sunny and no wind.  First fish of the year is pictured here.  He was primarily liquid water and here he has gone to solid.  Sacrifices to be made.  16:02 CST.  And worth noting that first potential capture of 2018 was unseen because I set the hook so excitedly I broke off at the knot.  Understandable.  Later, in my kitchen I found that hook.

This whole deal is quite a contrast re stream-running.  There isn't much for scenery.  Little if any movement.  And you can't chase fish down.  You pretty much just set up.  One still line and one jigging line.  Things I like about it though: (1) don't have to travel anywhere; five minutes from home; (2) easy - no gear hassle (we were only people out there with no power auger and no shelter, both of which provide some ease and comfort but in this setting are largely unnecessary), (3) we can keep the fish we catch. 

It was cold so I routinely cleaned the skim ice out of the holes.  On one such circuit I turned around to find a "strike indicator" gone; down the hole.  I exclaimed as much and then missed the fish..  I was just getting ready to chide the kid for not watching while I wasn't watching, when he moved quickly to the adjacent hole and set the hook, presumably on the fish I'd missed.  Good.

This was 17:47.  Which gets to one of the key points: easy action close to home such that you can be holed up enjoying Grand Rapids MN beer (shared gift; thanks buddy) minutes after icing numerous trout.  In no way a replacement for true fish hunting and Driftless valleys but we'll take it and enjoy when it's cold and/or when we want some meat.  Speaking of: we ate those fish (finished with six total) last night.  Filleted them and my wife coated in oil, salt, pepper.  Pan fried and then applied butter/lemon/caper sauce.  We were not left wanting anything else out of a dinner.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

December 18, 2017 Trout Fishing

State of Minnesota now allows trout fishing on select streams in state parks and some small town settings.  Those areas in which hunting is disallowed; no hunter-angler conflicts should arise.  After deer hunting the last few years I have taken approximately one fall day per year to fish.  After deer and before the January 1 general trout stream catch and release opener.  December 18 was a warm day.  A local gauge shows that the air temp was in the 40s in the afternoon.  This all before the holidays and the onset of the deep cold.

First trout I've touched since late October.  Nothing remarkable but on the other hand they are all kind of remarkable.

Mostly I just wanted to get a long walk in, see good water and do some nymphing.  Walking to this hole I put a streamer on nice water but didn't move a fish.  Hopeful.  But it was empty water which is common in winter.  All the fish stacked up in holes like this one, which prompted me to rig up tandem nymphs.  Just deadly good looking.

The fish are in that hole and you can stand right next to it, knowing as much.  If you don't catch them the odds are that your flies are not where they need to be.  Iterative fiddling with beadheads, splitshot and indicator will eventually get the flies in the living room of the fish.  Try all the drifts; delay drifts and let flies sink; try it all.  This is not spring or summer when you are running around covering a lot of water with dry flies or streamers; in winter these good holes deserve some time.  In this case the fish were holed up in a little cushion adjacent to the main current.  The takes were all subtle winter takes: gradual sinking of indicator.  I think I took a picture of this fish because I hooked it on the first drift after adding a second splitshot.  

One fish out of here, right in the gray.  A little shallower than the previous water.

From there it was more of a walk; taking 1-2 fish out of each good hole.  Not really staying to pound away.

Big time action shot.

Will never tire of walking valleys like this one.

Looked for dead deer too; didn't find any.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Deer Hunting 2017 (thus far)

11/3/17.  Friday night before the MN deer hunting opener.  Season A in southeast Minnesota.  Picking arugula from the casket cold frame to bring to deer camp.  This patch of greens was running on its own timeline.  I scattered the seeds in spring and maybe 20% of them sprouted.  They sat all summer and then came on strong with full sprouting heading into fall.  Greg Brown said in explaining the song Spring Wind that he would always come up with a list of things to do in spring, including an elaborate garden plan.  Only to eventually (after procrastination) resort to scattering seeds about in the wind and letting them fall and sprout where they may.  Our gardens have kind of gone that direction which seems to be fine for now.  Given their apparent fall vigor though I figured I'd better cover them up and keep them for a while.  
11/4/17.  I spent some time studying opening weekend weather over the past five years.  2017 was set to be cold but not deathly so.  The main issue, we could see in advance, was going to be moisture: rain predicted for SE MN both days.  Opening morning it was raining, and had been for some hours and as such the vegetation was wet.  The night before I made a critical gear decision: I opted for my heavy pack boots (warmth) over my waterproof hunting boots (pretty warm) because I figured I'd be sitting in relative cold (low 30s or so).  The pack boots are waterproof from the ankles down.  I'd never used them for deer hunting but I bought them after 2014 when I sat the stand for hours in 15 F air temp.  I wanted some warmer boots.  Trouble with them is that they have a cordura-like upper, and my waterproof bibs terminate at the bottom of that upper, and not at the waterproof lower boot.  So while walking in I was collecting moisture from the vegetation, and concentrating it in a flow downward along the bibs into the cordura of he boot, and then into the insole and my socks.  When I climbed into the stand then, my feet were already soaked.  Kind of a bad deal that pissed me off.  

11/4/17.  The wet feet would have been forgotten had we (party of three adults) seen a single deer that morning.  Nothing seen; nothing heard.  We all got wet and cold.  And so for the first time since I've hunted with these guys I elected to leave the stand and go down to the house for a couple hours.  It was worth it.  Dried out and re-energized.  We still had a lot of time and we were generally positive.  In the end though, on day one, I took this photo at 6:10 PM (last day before "fall-back" daylight savings) to document the moisture in the air and mark a reminder that none of us saw a single deer all day; bit of an anomaly when considered in historical context.  It was a just a wet, cool, deerless feel all around.  
11/4/17.  Saturday evening meal.  Arugula salad.  Slow-cooked-then-shredded venison from 2016 seven pointer.  Risotto.  Chips and salsa.  Beer.

11/7/17.  No deer sighted on the second day. Three guys in stands that have logged quite a good story of success.  Zero deer; was difficult to take and seemed unbelievable for a while.  Hard to say just why.  There was a lot of standing corn.  The weather didn't feel like a condition that'd be conducive to animals moving around: it wasn't so cold that one would have to get up and move around; it was rainy and shitty enough that just maybe it'd make more sense to stay bedded and hang out for the day.  Who knows.  I don't.  Notably, a string of good venison harvest years brings a lot of happiness but it inevitably sets some expectations.  When I got home my kids were excited, asking after a successful deer hunt.  And so my report out was  a bit of a let down.  But the arugula still going strong; we could fall back on the greens.

11/8/17.  I went back to work Monday and Tuesday after opening weekend, and then back to the woods Wednesday 8 November.  I did this after studying the forecast.  This was a day of change in that a little warmth was coming; some sun.  I sat two different stands on this day.  At 15:30 I was in a stand at a gully head, and I made a deer coming down the far side of the draw.  First big mammal I'd seen thus far so I was a little excited and happy about it.  I got the earliest possible jump on him and slowly got the gun up.  Within just a few seconds I understood what I was seeing but I held statue anyway, with the gun in position watching the deer come in.  There is one good place to cross the gully and the stand is situated accordingly.  He crossed right on that path and basically walked right to me.  By that time I had known for maybe 1-2 minutes that he was not a legal buck.  Nice big body; probably 6-9 months worth of meat at my house.  But he didn't have four points on one antler.  He was a forky tending toward six pointer (the fifth and sixth points just coming on).  So this meant after all these hours in the woods I had to watch this big-bodied buck lick every shrub leaf under my stand and beg me to shoot him.  And let him walk on.  Which I did.  That gave me some hope that maybe another deer would show, but none came.  I studied the moon a bit and then walked out.  

11/10/17.  Still going but added some heat against the dropping temps.  

11/11/17.  Adult hunting days now over.  A big deal for my oldest boy (13 years of age).  He is a very enthusiastic hunter.  He asks many questions regarding ballistics, hunting tactics and deer habits.  We spent the morning of 11 November in a two-person ladder stand I had set up a couple months back in another place (in fact another major watershed of SE MN; we went south instead of east).  The stand is situated at the intersection of two heavily used deer trails.  It's a friend's property and it's pretty special.  There is a remarkable spring flow that confluences with a trout stream.  A wooded knoll transitioning down into cedar meadow mix.  And some floodplain forest; that's where we sit here in picture.  Saw no deer that first morning but we worked out the logistics of getting two guys in a stand, and securing the weapons, pack, etc.  And being still and quiet for approximately four hours. 

11/11/17.  Landowner needed to do some gardening and apiary duty in the afternoon so we were understandably outed.  We left, scouting on our way out.  This rub is right close to the stand.  

11/11/17.  We explored some new public property; not really hunting in traditional sense.  Just looking around in the woods.  Supposing we could have lucked into a deer.  

11/12/17.  Next day though we were back, ready to spend most of the day on the property.  No problem getting this kid out of bed or into his gear or into the stand.  In fact he may have driven me a bit, which was good.  We hunted the morning, and then went into small town to watch first half of Vikings at Redskins.  Then back to stand; sat to nightfall.  No deer seen.  We heard gun shots on the neighboring property; kid wanted to know why they saw deer and we didn't.  

11/18/17.  Following weekend we flipped back over to the east: where one great river joins another.  Can see the confluence from the deerstands.  Good Country is what I call it.  We walked into stands (approx 1.5 miles one way) mid-day on Saturday because we had some basketball in the AM.
11/18/17.  Unique setup here in that the landowner has replaced an old rickety wood stand with a nice new ladder stand.  The new stand is approx 15 feet from the old one.  So I saw this as an opportunity to take a half-step from the two-person bench to individual stands: the kid could be in his own stand, but within eyesight of me just feet away in the old rickety bugger.   I studied pretty closely and understood that because I had a gun tag in season A, I could not party hunt with him in season B.  In fact the definition of "taking deer" indicates that in the most technical sense, I could not be out there with him helping him spot deer, strategize, etc.  My guess is if it came to it, I'd get a break in that regard.  But I went ahead and bought an archery tag to be legal, but also because I was thinking through how a deer might come by my stand such that the kid might not get a shot.  Unlikely but possible.  That would have potential to haunt: "remember that big buck that walked by the east side of my stand and you didn't have a shot and I didn't have a weapon?"  Not good so I at least wanted to have the Bear recurve along for those short shots should they come available.  Overall though, I wanted him to see deer and get shots.  

11/18/17.  The new stand as seen from the old stand.  Later on this day, he saw a deer well down the gully (he's positioned looking downslope).  He tried to use sign language to ask me if he should shoot at it.  Having no data at hand and no observation for my own self and no clear understanding of just what he was trying to communicate, I wasn't much help to him.  He decided to not shoot.  Later he told me he could only see the deer's back half, and it was at the edge of his vision probably 60-70 yards away (he practices and is a very good shot with 12 gauge slugs at 25 yards; the average bluff country shot is probably 20-30 yards).  So he showed some restraint and good judgment.  

11/19/17.  Sunday of the same weekend.  We were up, walked in, and seated in stands by 6:15 am.  This was an indication to me that the kid was into it.  He was often asking me to call with the buck grunt.  There are varying opinions as to "cold grunting."  I don't have an opinion on it because I am not qualified nor do I have sufficient experience to hold a particular opinion on such a detailed matter.  But in this case around 7:15 AM I executed two short grunts (literature says that is code for a deer saying "I am here") and way down the slope at the edge of our viewscape a deer got up and definitively but not hurriedly walked away.  I think it was probably bedded down and it didn't like that grunt call.  For whatever reason.  Possibly an indication that one should not cold grunt; or maybe, as one suggested to me: a doe that didn't want anything to do with a buck on November 19th.  We sat the rest of the day and didn't see another deer.  The good thing is that on both days of this weekend, he saw one deer.  So he knows by his own evidence that there are deer in the woods.  And therefore he has a chance to shoot one and bring home some meat.  I was impressed by his interest and drive.  He never complained once.  He wanted to hunt every day.  Makes me pretty happy even while being humbled and reminded that I/we won't take a deer every year.  First time since 2012 that we have not freezered at least one deer.  Only note is that the season is not entirely over.   Archery still going, and the January firearm hunt looms; we'll see what happens.  Going forward I may set a limit on hours in the woods.  It's kind of taxing to be away so long and come home empty handed.  A sort of antithesis to trout fishing which is the greatest guarantee out there.  Hunting in a stand one is plagued by the constant thought that getting down at any given time could be just a few minutes too early.  The whole deal can go from zero to 100 in about two minutes.  Failure to success in a blink.  But the hours add up.  They never seem long while in the stand; indeed I could sit day after day and just watch.  But I suppose at home they add up.  And there is a hollow ring to it when no meat is won.  Another in the list of duties and endeavors one must properly gauge relative to a greater context.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Exceptional use and last of the trout harvest 2017

As has been stated I don't typically drive great distances to trout fish.  I like to keep my outer bound around 45 minutes.  And 25 minutes is preferable.  I don't like driving over/by good water to get to water.  And further, I don't characterize trout fishing as "vacation" or "sporting" travel because I consider such fishing to be generally part of the life fabric here (I acknowledge that fishing travel does occur and I partake; it's not "home trout fishing" but rather pursuit of other species and/or special destinations with friends/family).  As such for trout I try to keep to habits and places that fit into life schedule/travel/etc.  Now and then it is adventurous, interesting and educational to check out new water maybe at the edge of the celestial sphere.  I typically keep an eye out for efficiencies and when they come up, I pivot on them.  That was the case here: meeting in Decorah, IA.  So the path was set.  There are trout streams on the way, most of which I don't frequent and some of which I'd not fished.  Date was 091317.  Trout harvest closed on 091417.

Minnesota is setting up a tiered system for fish and bug goals in stream and rivers.  This particular stream is (thus far) the only "exceptional use" candidate in SE MN.  That means that it is really good, and the proposal is to raise the bar in terms of water quality goals, and "lock in" that higher bar, such that going forward assessments will be made with those goals in mind. 

Started out banging around with a streamer and got only one eat; landed that fish.  The obligatory bridge hole fish.  Good vertical fall in this stretch of water.  My anecdotal dataset has over time suggested to me a relationship between total vertical fall and quality of fish/bugs.  Generally speaking.  I felt pretty good about putting that streamer through tails like this one but it didn't bring much.  This stream is somewhat renowned as being "difficult" in some ways.

Wider stretch.  Skippable.  But clean substrate; guessing could be good in hatch situation.  Over course of entire walk did not see any exposed banks.

Number of aquarium reaches.  Normally skip those; ratio of work to takes is high.  But the streamer result told me I'd better focus in on what fish I could find.  Using a compradun I proceeded to fish those aquariums.  Any cast over the main pod of fish resulted in skittering and settling.  The deal was to apply a carping approach in this respect: look for the right mood.  For the fish on the edges, marauding about.  Semi-pissed looking foragers.  I got some nice fish in this way, using a long leader, setting the hairwing where those gamers could see it.  Watching in crystal clear water the slow rise, inspection and eat.  It was a worthwhile deal. 

Finding this broken water after the aquariums was an exhalation for sure.  Those fish were caught before any cast was made.  The first two setting-downs of the compradun were destroyed by brown trout.

This one just barely hanging on.  Approx 13 inch female BNT and her stomach contents are in the following pics. 

Belostomatidae - giant water bugs. 

I'm intrigued by the events that led to a trout eating a dozen big water bugs.  Just how did that happen.  You don't see them swimming around freely.  Literature suggests that they hang in streamside vegetation; can also be in slackwater settings.  It's possible that along a bank with good veg, this trout could have been "rooting them out" and snapping them up as they dislodged.  Cool to think about.  A catalog of stomach contents over time and place here in SE MN would quickly dispel the notion that trout are romantic eaters of only mayflies, caddis and stones.  More like opportunistic badasses that can survive on scuds, bugs, inch worms, fish, rocks and sticks (in the case of pellet heads) and whatever else swims by including mice, hoppers, etc.

Both fish ate right there.  I think you could see it coming.  Money water.

Due to other obligations both fishing-related and not, there were not many creels filled this season.  We did eat these five though, the following day, with a mix of produce from our neglected garden.  I don't take things for granted and certainly not the fact that we live in a special place - one in which a guy can just walk a stream and find instruction from nature, scenic beauty, and worthy engagement with many trout, some of which are very fit for human consumption.