Scott's Outdoor Blog

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Steelhead for Dummies (Part 3 of 3)

Part 3 - Brule Side Trip

Conditions Saturday morning were similar to Friday, with one exception.  The river was considerably lower.  Water that may have comfortably held resting fish was now clearly visible to eyes from above.  We fished the same water as before with hopes that a few fish would still run.

Bayes briefly hooked into a good fish shortly after we started fishing, but it didn't stay on long.  I managed to bring in a couple 8 inch rainbows.  Then the fishing seemed to completely shut down.  We fished the rest of the morning and into mid-afternoon without so much as a bite.  As we were about to leave to check out new water, we got a report that the Brule was on fire.  We had been kicking around the idea of heading over there anyway, so this info sealed the deal.  We quickly checked out of our motel and made the hour and a half drive over to Brule, Wisconsin.  While buying our licenses at the local bait shop, we got a less-optimistic report.  He told us the water had been high all week, nearly unfishable.  The water was starting to come down, but fish caught were few and far between.   Oh well, we were here. Time to go see for ourselves. 

The scenery surrounding this River was remarkably different.  It looked like the type of River to film a movie on.  The views from the forest trails above the River made the drive worth it, even if we never saw a fish.  The snow once again started to fall.  But now there were trees  to block the bitter wind.  For the first time this trip, the conditions were relaxing, calm, and peaceful. 

The river was running fast and deep.  Trees all along the banks made finding a place to cast from difficult.  When we did fish good looking runs, we were reminded that there were many trees underwater as well.  Snags were frequent and annoying.

We hiked close to a mile, stopping to fish several spots along the way.  There were so many places the fish could be, and we were running out of time trying to find them.  We fished until dark without any luck.  The decision was made to head back to our motel on North Shore for the night.  We felt our chances of getting into fish in the morning were better there.  Better odds don't necessarily mean better results.  We gave it one last shot Sunday morning, but we wouldn't see another fish. 

The drive to get Bayes to the airport on time had us reflecting on our thoughts of the trip.  We were both glad we went.  Bayes caught his first Steelhead.  I caught my first Kamloops Rainbow, which was also my biggest trout.  We fished numerous new rivers in two states.  But mostly we were just glad our feet were finally starting to thaw out. 

- The rest of the pictures from the trip will be posted to the albums on the right-hand side of the page.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Steelhead for Dummies (Part 2 of 3)

Part 2 - So You're Sayin' There's a Chance

Friday morning we rolled out of bed at the crack of 9:30.  An unexplained alarm clock malfunction was on the list of several possible excuses for our Four-Hour-Late start.  A quick look out the window for confirmation. Yep, still windy.  Early morning, we're told, is the best chance to catch a Steelhead.  That ship had sailed.  Since we were this late already, we didn't feel the need to hurry up now.  We leisurely geared up, then headed for McD's hoping they were still serving breakfast.

After a coffee and a mocha-berry-sugar-milk (for Bayes), we again had fish on our finally-awakened minds.  Steelhead in particular, but we'd be more than happy with a Looper at this point.  We arrived at the parking lot to find it less crowded than the night before.  There were a handful of fishermen down there, but still plenty of room.  Once on the water, we slowly fished our way upstream.  Maintaining a concentrated stare at the point where our line entered the water. 

It didn't take long before Bayes was hooked up.  Looking to my left, I see his fly rod severely bent over.  I immediately reeled up my line and tucked my rod under my arm.  I had the net.  But it was attached to the pack on my back, and I couldn't seem to get it un-clipped.  I ended up taking the whole pack off, net still attached, all while trying to keep that rod under my arm.  We saw right away it was a Kamloops.  It was ready to surrender to my net, if I could just figure out how it was going to fit.  This was my typical trout net, never used on fish this large (although the tape measure along the bottom of the net goes to nearly 28 inches).  First, I tried to net it from behind the tail, scooping forward to cradle the head.  No way that was working.  Next, I tried head first.  I got about half the fish in the net before it flopped out.  Desperately, I tried centering the net directly below the fish and lifting straight up.  It's head stuck out well beyond the front of the net, and it's tail well out the back.  Instead of folding inside, it rolled off the top of the net.  Giving up on the net altogether, Bayes worked it towards the shallows and was able to beach it. 

I'm sure anyone fortunate enough to watch that spectacle unfold probably laughed uncontrollably for several minutes.  It was that good.

The adrenaline rush that goes along with being a part of something like that made the brutal cold go away, at least for awhile.  We noticed a few fish starting to roll in the river.  This was a good sign there was a run of new fish coming up from the lake.  I was still regretting not swapping out my fly line as I watched Bayes hook into another fish.   This one came off after 4 or 5 seconds.  But the show it put on in that short time made it clear to us that it had to be a Steelhead.  We went on for another hour like this.  Both missing strikes, or hooking into fish temporarily before losing them.   I'm sure I was hooked into my first Steelhead for what seemed like the longest 5 seconds of any fish battle I can remember.  In no time at all the fish went from the center of the run, downstream, across to the other side, then back downstream before the line finally broke.  I smacked my rod tip down on the water when it was over and looked downstream to my right.  The look on the face of the kid who had just moved downstream of me said it all.  His eyes were wide open, along with his mouth, and he was stuck in that position seconds after the fish was gone. 

Not long after getting back to the business at hand, Bayes was at it again.  I heard him mumble something, so I looked upstream just in time to see this big chrome fish leap out of the water.  I'm guessing it was close to two feet in the air, and pulled off several full body shakes reminiscent of a tarpon, before it splashed down.  Steelhead fight on!  Bayes tried in vain to keep the fish contained in the slow pool his was fishing.  Fat chance.  That fish wanted no part of it.   Fortunately for us, it took off downstream instead of upstream.  There was a bend in the river upstream and no way to follow the fish that way.  So we chased it down.  We were probably 70 yards downstream when Bayes had the opportunity to guide it towards another tapered shoreline.  No net this time.  The gloves came right off.  And as soon as that thing was within 2 feet of shore, I two-hand scooped it up onto the bank! 

Now this was it.  This was what we came for.  I just wished I'd spooled on some mono!  Bayes was definitely getting around 3 hook-ups to my one.  Fortunately for the fish, the hook-up to landing ratio was closer to 4:1.  Finally I got my chance.  I hooked into a solid fish and managed to keep it on my line for more than a few seconds.  Turns out it was a Looper, but it still took me downstream.  As I pulled it near shore, Bayes was able to beach-assist this dark-colored hen. 

The fish monkeys were off our backs.  Our goal for the trip of one nice fish apiece had been achieved.  Anything after this would be icing on the frozen cake.  The bite went cold as the afternoon progressed.  We stuck it out until dark without seeing or feeling another fish. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Steelhead for Dummies (Part 1 of 3)

Part 1 - Orientation

An Excited Justin Bayes  "Dude, where's Charlie Brown from?"

A Confused Scott Schmidt  "Uh What?  I have no idea."

Bayes, Still Overly Excited  "I think he was from Duluth, right? Yea!"

I was still bewildered by the statement, but thought it had potential, as we cruised up Hwy 61 alongside Lake Superior.  The mood was light and thoughts were random as we went back and forth singing parts of songs we thought we remembered from the '90s. 

We were a couple of Kansas boys on our first Steelhead adventure.  I had picked up Bayes at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport the night before. And after a late-night stopover at a Downtown Duluth Motel, we were headed for running water!  No familiarity with the area.  No Steelhead fishing experience between the two of us.  Didn't matter.  This was a break from our usual Spring trip to the White River in Arkansas, and we were up for a new challenge. 

This picture does a good job depicting the attitude we held most of the first day.  Is what we're about to try a good idea or not?

Bayes eventually decide against trying to cross, but the day was very much trial and error.  Reports of where the Steelhead were, or were not running were almost impossible to come by.  We knew this going in.  This trip was pretty much a crapshoot.  It didn't help that for the duration of our time here, the wind would blow 30 mph, the temperatures would stay below 40 degrees, and snow or sleet would be a daily occurrence. 

We traveled up and down the Lower North Shore in search of fish, or people catching fish, or second-hand rumors of others catching fish.  Day One was a recon mission.  We tried fishing several spots that looked fishy to us.  But without confidence that where we were fishing held fish, it was hard to stay long. 

By 4 p.m. we had fished 3 or 4 tributaries, and stopped on bridges to look over bridges at at least 5 more.  We talked to cold fishermen in parking lots that had given up for the day.  Word on the street was the water was still too cold, but there were some fish further south.  I won't name any names, but it's no secret.  The river is basically the community hole.  We wanted to find fish on our own.  But with only 2 1/2 more days we were ready to look for hand-outs. 

So we headed South again.  Our plan was to observe large groups of fishermen to see if ANYONE hooked anything.  While we were watching, we talked to a local fishermen who gave us a bit of common knowledge.  This was about the only river that had fish in it so far.  He also took a look at the fly line on our rods and said "It's gonna be a lot harder with that."  The most effective technique to catch these fish involved spooling monofilament line onto the fly reel, only using the fly rod for a longer reach.  The thinner line allowed the hook and weight to travel more naturally along the bottom, was less affected by the wind, and was less likely to spook the fish.  Oh, and if you really want to catch something, ditch those yarn flies and give 'em a stinky spawn sack. 

This last bit of advice struck a nerve.  We were elitist fly fishermen.  Purists.  We would have no part of this sacrilege. 

Yeah right!  Where's the bait shop?

Previously cold and disheartened, we were now rejuvenated with new-found optimism!  After buying bait and weight, we checked into the Voyageur Motel in Two Harbors.  The camping gear in the back of the Honda was just taking up space.  We were getting softer by the second.   

Bayes immediately spooled up some mono.  I had a beer, and a plan to lengthen my leader a few feet in the morning.  We walked on over to the Landing Sports Bar and ordered some drinks and a pizza.  Tomorrow was going to be our day. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

New 3-Weight in Action

  The flood waters have resided in most of SE Minnesota, and I had a new fly rod.  I hit the road Saturday morning hoping to fish some new water.  I scoped out some new spots, but wasn't sure about the trespassing laws, so I went back to a familiar area.  I did fish a new section of a stream I've fished quite a bit in the past.  The water was clear, with just a hint of cloudiness.  The flow appeared to be at a very fishy level.  By the time I hit the water, the winds had picked up to a level just below gale-force.  Casting was going to be a chore, better left to the 7 weight in the car, but I insisted on trying the new one.

I started off with a two-fly combo consisting of a caddis pupae trailing a black stone beadhead.  It didn't take long for my foam indicator to go down, as I set back on what felt like a good fish.  I took my camera out of my pocket during the fight, hoping to get a good "first fish on new rod" picture, but put it back after realizing the caddis pupae was snagged in the fish's belly.  Not much action after that.  I was feeling a bit lazy that day, so I didn't mess around with switching flies or indicator depth.  As the afternoon temperatures climbed into the 50s, I noticed a few mayflies flying around.  A few minutes later there were some duns floating in the drift, occasionally getting slurped up by eager browns in the slack-water eddys.  This finally prompted a change of flies.  Looking in the dry fly side of my box, I grabbed a very realistic imitation that I still had from fishing the meadow's of Elk Creek in Colorado last summer.   

The 3 weight delicately placed the fly right where I wanted it, and it looked just like a natural in the drift.  This little guy agreed.

The action continued for about half an hour and I picked up about 5 or so.  It was fun to see them wait in their lies and come to the surface for the fly every time I kept the drift natural.  I had a handful of refusals anytime the bug floated funny.   That short period of dry fly action made the day worthwhile.