Trip Report: A smattering

I ended my work day near a number of productive trout streams. After a long stretch of being unavailable to fish I leapt at the opportunity to see what’s hatching. I expected a slight stain on the water but the stream I chose was crystal clear. Temps were in the mid 50s when I arrived on stream and cloudy skies gave way to the occasional ray of sun. Winds were mild. I noticed a bigger caddis buzz past as I geared up so I tied on am elk hair caddis. Unfortunately that was the only caddis I’d see all evening. A larger mayfly or two, midges, and craneflies fluttered about and blue winged olives saved the day!

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The newly tied parachute emergers in gray fished well. Trout rose consistently from when I arrived on stream at 415pm and slowed dow by the time I hopped in the car and headed home around 7pm.

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This guy took a size 18 baetis nymph that I recently started tying. It worked well last time I was out too. I think the fly has earned a place in my fly box during the spring and fall baetis hatches.

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After landing a few decent little trouts I switched over to the skittering caddis and headed back downstream.

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Fish responded well to the skitter although a number of decent fish made short strikes and near misses. In a week or two fish will be totally on the skitter! If you are in need of flies but not sure where to start hit me up and I can throw together a combo of flies that’s sure to entice some trout!

Goings On

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First off, flies. Lots and lots of flies. I’m hearing reports of sporadic hatches of caddis, particularly the small gray (sz 18-20) variety. The cold weekend will likely stifle the hatch a bit but next week and into the weekend they should make a strong return. Bwo mayflies should continue to come off as well as craneflies. I’ve noticed earth worms crawling around on the pavement during and after rainfalls so besides zebra midges, pink squirrels, baetis nymphs, and scuds the San Juan worm should fill a prominent place in your fly box. When streams carry a good stain it never hurts to throw bigger, darker streamers after unicorns.

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I’ve been working on a few fly rods as well. The wood handled Sage and Loop rods will soon be headed to Alaska to chase steelhead and king salmon! The shorter rod will snatch panfish and small smallmouth bass from the fertile waters of southeastern Wisconsin.

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All three rods are done being wrapped and are only awaiting finishing before heading to their respective owners. I have work obligations that will keep me off the streams this weekend but I hope to get out early next week. If interested in a fly rod or flies order now! If you’re fully stocked get out there and fish!

Trip Report: mayfly arrival and caddis to come!

Since I’m on call for the next week+ my opportunities for fishing are slim. With cloudy skies and warm temperatures I felt the urge to fish so I headed to the only spot close enough to home and within cell reception to check out the hatches.

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I switched up flies a fair amount over the 2 hours afield. Initially I tried a size 16 quill bodied mayfly. This fish along with a few others were looking up prior to any noticable hatch activity. After a few quick hits on top I tied on a size 18 grey baetis nymph. Bingo!

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Fish eagerly took this fly. While it is likely that baetis nymphs were bouncing along the bottom I believe this fly worked well because its different. Often when you’re fishing heavily pressured water, like this spot, finding a pattern that the fish haven’t seen can elicit strikes.

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Upstream I found brookies! I tried an orange scud and a zebra midge with no success. Fish began rising around 930 when a smattering of mayflies, midges, and small crane flies began fluttering about. I returned the mayfly pattern to the end of my tippet and resumed pulling ’em in. By the time I left around 11am 20-30 trout came to hand. Around six were brookies and the rest were browns. A quick word on flies.

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Over the next month or so the flies pictured above are must haves for the small stream fly fisher trying our driftless area trout streams. For mayflies we are seeing bwo’s and dark hendrickson’s. Bwo’s are sized 18 and 20, although you can get away with a 16 fairly well. DH’s in 14 and 16 should do the trick. I worry more about size than color although in flat water fish are more discerning. While conditions are right to catch em all day on dries the best periods to find hatches are from approximately 9-11am and 2-5pm. Emerges, parachute emergers, and dries should fill your fly box. Caddis will make an appearance soon as well, likely within the next two weeks. I prefer to fish caddis dries during the hatch and chase mayfly risers when the caddis hatch slows. We have a small gray caddis (they look like a dark brown to me) that looks to be a size 18 or 20. A few other species of mayfly hatches throughout the driftless as well. I usually carry gray elk hair caddis in sizes 16 and 18 as well as gray parachute patterns in size 18. Of course the pink squirrel is good to have on hand as it looks (to me) like a caddis pupa. If you need any of the flies pictured above, or any other patterns, drop me a message! Tight lines.

Trip report: a quick fish

I got out for a quick fish yesterday after work. Temps reached the 60s and the sun felt good on my shoulders. I laced up my slowest 9ft four weight and began fishing around 230pm. I quickly realized that the light but constant breeze would impair my casting. Syill I punched some good casts in there!

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Fish did not appear eager but came to hand with regularity over the hour or so I spent n the water. Unfortunately two of the best pools in this stretch were silted in pretty badly.

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Both brookies and brown trout came to hand taking a variety of flies including the San Juan worm, zebra midge, and deer hair mayfly emerger.

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I’m currently working on two rods bound for Alaska, a 9ft 11 weight and a 9ft 9 weight and one headed to Wisconsin. Drop me a message if you’re interested in any of the rods I have in stock or if interested in working with me to have a rod customized for you!

Trip Report: lacking hospitality

Today a friend and I met up early and headed south to fish a few streams with Hope’s of catching some bigguns. Conditions were largely inhospitable with temps in the mid 30s, cloudy skies, and winds gusting up to 40 mph. First we explored potential brookie water.

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I struggled to cast a streamer into the stiff wind with my moderate action 9ft four weight. This fish ate the fly when I dapped it below a big beaver dam. Between my friend and I we landed a fair number of browns and brookies! The on to a larger body of water to chase browns.

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We fished hard, me with streamers and he with a Rapala, but didn’t come across any beasts. Fish rose consistently despite the cold and wind. Although fish came to hand consistently on the streamer eventually I couldn’t help but switch to a deer hair mayfly emerger. I skittered the fly across the surface and the fish responded well.

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After hiking a few miles and landing around 30 trout a piece we decided to call it a day.

Short story- Jumpin’ the creek

It was a week before I headed out to the Black Hills for some rest, relaxation, and an opportunity to explore some new waters. This late April morning was chilly, with temperatures in the low 40s when I woke up and decided to chase trout on a nearby stream. The forecast called for temperatures to reach the low 70s so I laced up a dingy, grass stained pair of sneakers passed down to me from my father, and prepared to wet wade despite cold morning temps. I sped to the creek in hope of being the first to arrive at my desired access point. I laced up my trusty 7′ 9″ three weight, through an assortment of flies, tippet, and indicators into my pockets, through the camera over my shoulder and proceeded as usual.

It was around 900am and a heavy dew covered the areas flora, just awaking from its winter slumber. Droplets of water reflected a thousand rays of light and seemingly illuminated an opening in the trees just across the river. The rocky streamside was slick with dew as well. I paused for a moment to inspect the water. It ran with a perfect, chalky green stain under the strengthening morning sun. The current was strong as it had rained gently the night before. No fish were noted but occasional bugs could be seen darting about through humid morning air.

I blasted through the brush which left my long sleeved shirt streaked with moisture. I poked out at a few locations along the creek looking for the best area to cross. The moisture in my clothing began to chill my underdressed body so I searched for a point at which I could leap across the stream, rather than wade across in my hand me down tennies. I planned to wet wade anyway, and would be required to do so, to access some of the most productive runs ahead.

After much consideration I located a rock that stuck out just enough to give me a real shot at airing over the stream to dry safety on the other side!

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I carefully navigated the steep, rip rap covered and brush lined bank mindful of loose rock and/poisonous snakes that could strike without warning. Made extra precipitous by the total lack of tread on my worn out shoes I scrambled down to the waters edge, reaching the launch point in short order and fully intact.

By my estimation this would be a manageable, yet difficult maneuver, requiring maybe 3 feet of flight to cross. The landing, a flat wet stone placed by a habitat improvement crew a year or so earlier appeared cold and uninviting. I stood with my left foot placed firmly on the launch rock and my leg bent in preparation for launch. With my right food behind, i prepared for a swing that would aid in flight and hopefully land true on the other side. My heartrate increased and I grew anxious. I swung my arms a few times in preparation. False start. I re-set my foot, swung my arms a few times…false start. With each false start I grew less confident in my ability. The current flowed swiftly between the banks and swirled through the narrowed channel, leaving anxious thought swirling in my head. The water was maybe 18 inches deep and the stream bottom was covered in uneven boulders. I pictured coming up short, my hans catching my fall bloodied by the sharp rock lining the opposing bank. Maybe a broken arm too. With a running start this would be no problem but space would not allow. Finally I went for it.

Every muscle in my left leg tensed under pressure the as I swung my arms and my right leg forward. The imperceptible remaining tread on my shoes did nothing to grip the slippery launchpad and the rocket failed. The rug felt pulled out from under me. My left leg provided no thrust. My arms flailed in the dew heavy air. My right foot pointed ahead with the grace of a ballerina before plunging into the cold creek. Somehow my body fell clumsily forward as my right foot caught the rocky bottom. The ligaments separated and the tendons tore like someone separating their hands from prayer. The excruciating pain was punctuated by a muffled “KKU” reverberating from my foot, through my flesh, and into my ears. My torso slammed into the unforgiving opposing bank.

When you’ve broke a bone and/or sprained anything you know when it happens and you know what goes into the recovery. The frustration, the helplessness, the inconvenience. It all flashed before my eyes. A ruined vacation, another wasted week off work, work obligations, more time away from the water, dealing with medical professionals, physical discomfort.

I dragged my body onto the shore while writhing in pain and holding my leg just above the ankle. I allowed my self a moment to experience the psychic pain of realizing all of these things before realizing I had real problems to solve. First, my breathing was shallow. I feared passing out and could not determine if I was in shock so I took slow, deep breaths. As my foot swelled the shoe tightened around my foot. I tried to move my ankle, then toes but couldn’t. I looked up at the road and realized passers by could see me. I wanted to avoid intervention by first responders so I tried to stand up. As soon as I put pressure on my right ankle it gave out and I collapsed in a heap of obscenities, tears, and frustration. My head began to throb. Still very aware of my proximity to the road and visibility to those passers by I gathered the fortitude to shuffle back to the stream. I put my foot in the water until it became numb.

While wallowing there in my own self pitty I noticed fish rising sporadically in a pool located 25 yards upstream! Thoughts of “how am I going to get back to the car” were quickly replaced with thoughts of “how am I going to get within casting distance of these fish” and “what are they keying in on” and “do you think they’d take a San Juan worm”? Of course they would take the San juan worm!!! By the time I’d determined “it can’t be that bad, I dont see blood” a plan became to formulate behind my eyes.

I clumsily scooted along the bank in 5 yard increments. After each 5 yards my foot grew so heavy with pain that I had to return it to the creek for numbing. Determined to avoid being skunked I eventually found myself in a good position, a 2 foot tall bank where i could kneel with my left leg and extend my right leg to speak my foot while casting.

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From this position a hundred or so fish could be seen hugging the bottom in a formation with the largest fish commanding the best lies. I furiously stripped line from my reel, waggle my fly rod back and forth a fer times, and let a cast fly. (Using the San Juan worm of course). Fish came to hand consistently over the next hour and a half, some big most small.

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The pain escaped my foot for a brief time, reminding me of my failed launch only when I placed undue pressure on it. As I prepared to leave the pain returned, this time up to my knee. I began visualizing the path required to get back to the car and the first aid I may need (I suppose the fishing was first aid, medical treatment would be second aid). With a plan in place I arose, placing weight only on my left leg. I tentatively placed my right foot on the ground but quickly recoiled. Shit. Back to the drawing board. I considered crawling back across the stream but that seemed unpleasant and hopefully unnecessary.

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If I only had a crutch. As soon as the thought crossed my mind I began to see everything for its potential to aid in my rescue. I spied a large, heavy, waterlogged stump and hobbled over to inspect. It felt sturdy enough so I braced myself and clumsily made my way to the water. The current felt powerful, challenging my balance at every opportunity. I lost footing but managed to regain balance without impacting my hobbled right appendage. The closer I got to the car the heavier and more painful my body became. The log proved a trusty aid though and after a treacherous yet uneventful traverse I returned to the car. The ride home was a little awkward as I had to use my left foot to gas and break. I sat at home icing and elevating my leg for four or five hours before the wife got home and made me go to urgent care.

Short story- A personal best, bested by a personal best

To my surprise the phone rang. The wife had given me a pass to fish the day away and I was easily a mile or so away from cell reception, cooling my feet in the crystal clear waters of a local spring creek. I’d already brought a few fish to hand, no biggins, and was prepared to continue on into the depths of the woods and into prime trout territory.

The water sparkled in the noon time sun. Air temps reached just shy of the 70’s necessitating my trusty neoprene waders to shield me from the frigid waters I plied. It was early April and after a low snow year runoff had subsided. At the lower end of the valley the stream ran through recently reclaimed pasture land, thick with prairie vegetation still crispy and brown from last fall. Further upstream the river carved through the woods, flanked closely on both sides by steep rocky bluffs. The water flowed well within its banks over cobbled limestone. I was interrupted just as the hillsides closed in and the stream flowed at a higher gradient as it tumbled through the forested valley.

My wife’s voice quivered as she fought tears to explain how our dog, big momma Beazer, had swallowed a drumstick bone which she snitched out of the garbage when the wife’s attention was away. She would need to head to town to have an ultrasound taken to see if the bone would pass naturally or if some other means were indicated. This would cost $300.00, no small sum for a lowly social worker. Not good news but the warmth of the sun on my shoulders, the trickle of the stream flowing around my legs, and the promise held around the next bend softened the blow.

I continued on for an hour or so, periodically casting to and landing average sized trout on small dry flies. In the back of my mind I worried about what a medical extraction of the drummie would mean for our modest savings when again, the phone rang. The sun passed behind a cloud, the wind picked up, and temperatures dropped. My wife explained that the bone was lodged in the puppy’s gut just so, requiring emergency surgery.

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She would have to take big momma to the cities as no other services were available locally (it was a Sunday). I asked her “the damage” she replied, “you’re not going to like it “. I didn’t.  It would cost an additional $1200 for the procedure and a drive to the cities, a five hour round trip. Before I could pick my head up and ask she said, “it’s ok you can keep fishing”. Again, this softened the blow. The cloud passed, the winds died down, and temps rose. I continued prospecting the water as I headed upstream $1500 poorer. All those sayings that I use at work comforted me as my mind tried to loosen focus on the financial impact of Beazers indiscretion. Sayings like “it is what it is” and “we’ll just do what we have to do” and “things will work out, they always do somehow” soothed me.

After landing a few more cookie-cutter brown trout I decided to tie on a streamer. The fly I chose was a simple leech pattern tied with a tungsten bead head and buffalo hair.

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Continuing upstream I found heaven. Held back by the largest pile of sticks, branches, twigs, and muck I’d ever seen the stream pooled. I climbed onto the beaver dam. To my right a massive beaver hut sat along the shoreline which plunged into the depths. Huge boulders flanked the bank and ran all the way to the bottom. The right bank was clearly not fit for travel. Between the banks lie a massive pool, around 7 or 8 feet deep which ran stagnant toward the tail and slow near the head. Three or four large boulders were spread out evenly from head to tail. The water was a transparent, chalky, greenish color. Big fish stain! On the left side, my only real option to navigate, the forested bank was steep. I was forced into the chalky gray muck to access the prime lies. At the mid point a large tree hung over the pool, buds just beginning to open. Branches hung into the water forcing me to wade out onto the mucky slope. The sun was high and the pool danced with glints of a golden glare caused by the disturbance created by my wading.

As I approached the sketchy zenith of my traverse there they sat. On the bottom of a mucky delta in front of me, in about four feet of water, sat two massive brown trout big enough to eat any one of the fish brought to hand until now. One fish was clearly larger than the next. Amplified by the angle and the water I’d guessed they both were in the mid 20 inch range, a true trophy trout and for many a once in a lifetime driftless spring creek catch. My heart lept out of my chest as I struggled to maintain balance. I slowed the rate of my traverse to an imperceptible shuffle to avoid spooking my weary prey. I began to contemplate my plan of attack during my slow approach.

Because of the tree stretching overhead my back cast was impeded. A roll cast would certainly spook the pair. I couldn’t wade any deeper. Hmmm. As I imagined a number of impossibilities both fish, with a swift flick of the tail, bolted into the depths along the opposite shore. I lost sight of them along the submerged boulders ahead of the beaver hut (which sat opposite of that damned tree). My heart sank into my boots for a brief moment before returning to its anatomically correct position, when the smaller of the two fish slid back into view. Although my casting lane was diminished I figured a gentle roll cast (a near impossible maneuver with my soft, medium action rod and a waterlogged, tungsten beaded streamer) would work. With the flick of my rod the fly plopped ahead. After whipping a few feet of line out I reached up, tilted the rod back, and as soon as the line slacked, rolled a cast above the trout. He didn’t move as the fly bounced along the bottom past his face. I repeated this cast with the current carrying each opportunity past the fish at slightly different trajectory. I tried the dead drift, the slow twitch, the fast twitch, the moderate twitch, the long mend, the short mend, I stood on one foot, I closed one eye, I crossed my fingers, I said a prayer but nothing would entice the fish to eat. I was not about to give up.

Finally, after a cast and drift no different than the others the trouts mouth opened, the fly disappeared, and the fish shot forward. The fish ran hard to the head of the pool and before I knew it he was on the reel. He put a serious bend in the four weight as I struggled to turn his head out of the current way at the head of the pool. I managed to turn his head and he drifted back toward me. I was astonished to have the fish come calmly to hand after so quickly. This fish marked my largest brown trout! My hands shook and my heart beat out of my chest as I fumbled with the camera.

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After a fast photo session I placed the fish in the water and supported his belly to aid in revival. He immediately launched back into the depths. As I washed my hands of his slime I spotted the other, larger trout drift into a somewhat fishable position.

I though no way could I land two massive trout on the same day, from the same pool. I couldn’t make another impossible cast without spooking the beast. Not in these conditions, with my heart rate through the roof and my hands shaking in the afterglow of such  wonderful luck. Not after Beazer and the chicken bone and the newly drained savings account. Of course I had to try!

I stripped a goodly sum of line from my reel, enough to start a roll cast. I reached back and flicked the fly forward, caught it mid air, and sent it behind me into a false cast. I stripped and cast line until my sidearmed backcast became impeded by that damn tree. I hopelessly launched the cast and tossed another four feet of line which the four weight smoothly delivered just ahead of the resting giant, but to no avail. I tried again. And again. And again. I considered continuing on, feeling bested by the beast, but decided to give it a few more casts, thinking how often do you get the opportunity to sight cast at 20+ inch fish in the driftless?

Finally my cast landed just right. The fly dropped percipitisly toward the shadowy figure. It felt like hours before the fly approached him but it felt right. My body was just recovering from the adrenaline of catching the last fish when my pulse again quickened and my hands resumed shaking. Just before the fly bonked him on the forehead I pulled the line around 6 inches causing the fly to jump up and across the trouts field of vision, only inches from his crooked face. With a flash of his mouth and a sharp jolt through the line and rod and into my hand the fish struck. I struck back by yanking the line harh and pulling the rod back, sinking my hook into the fishes protruding jaw. He took off like a bolt of lightening doubling over the 9ft fly rod and threading line through my fingers. In a flash he was on the reel. We played chess as he drove for submerged rocks and logs. He noticed the beaver dam and with a powerful gesture pulled me in that direction. I knew quickly that this was the largest trout I’d ever quarreled with, and wiley as well. I countered by dropping my rod to the left, then right, and back, and forth applying side pressure to control his furious head shakes. After an eternity I called checkmate and the brute came to hand (and leg).

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At well over 20 inches this was my new personal best brown trout, landed only five or so minutes after my previous personal best! With adrenaline coursing through my veins, my heart pounding through my ears, and my hands shaking to the point of worthlessness I fumbled the camera into taking a few awkward pictures before releasing the beast. The fish hung his head in defeat as he slithered back to the bottom of the pool I had conquered. With my head held high I hiked out of the bush, knowing that despite ending the day considerably less financially secure many fishermen would pay much more to travel to an exotic location, take weeks off work, and follow the expertise of a guide to best, then best again their personal best!

Trip Report: Windy driftless slam

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Ok so it’s not a grand slam (no tiger trout) but I braved the wind yesterday to chase brookies, browns, and rainbows. Despite wind gusts that frequently piled casts at my feet a few casts landed true, and when they did fish responded well.

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Conditions above the surface were less than optimal. Along with stiff winds my frame projected an imposing shadow under a cloudless sky. Eventually clouds did move in which helped.

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This brownie took a size 16 San Juan worm, as did the bow pictured above. I headed up a small feeder stream in search of brookie. The water was crystal clear and fish were spooky. At one point a small midge hatch popped off so I tied on a size 20 Griffiths Gnat. A few tiny brookies came to hand before the hatch dwindled. I tried the zebra midge through a few runs before returning to the trusty SJ.

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After 2 hours of fishing it was time to return home. With a dozen or so fish to hand this days outing was time well spent!

 

Trip Report: Death March in April

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Yesterday a friend and I hiked a ton (and did a little fishin too). We put on a quick mile hiking on a bluffside deer trail before dropping down to the river. After skittering a caddis to no avail I tied on a black bunny leech and action was consistent.

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Fish were fairly spread out. The most aggressive lot came from the edges of current, especially where the water transitioned from clear to chalky green. My friend had decent luck on nymphs fishing in deeper runs.

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At one point I pulled this rainbow out of a big, swirling “toilet bowl” pool.

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This is by far the most picturesque piece of water in the driftless! It rained off and on the whole day. We noticed the stream stain up a few times but conditions remained fishable. At one point I noticed a decent trout poking his head up for dries on a sporadic basis. I rigged up a size 16 skittering mayfly and bam!

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My fish of the day was this lol brownie. We arrived at the access point at 9am and fished, hiked, and looked  for sheds until around 5 when we stumbled up the ridge to the other car. I’d guess we put in 5 or 6 stream miles. I’m still beat.

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Trip Report: Springtime float fish

After a particularly rough couple weeks a buddy with a boat decided to come down and float a nearby trout stream. Despite a rainy forecast we went ahead with the plan. On the water by 9 fish came to hand immediately!

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I fished a black bunny leech and my buddy fished various streamer patterns. I hoped to land a few on the San Juan worm but they weren’t having it.

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We spent a fair amount of time wading. At one point I tied on a deer hair mayfly pattern and landed a half dozen or so on the skitter.

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My buddy got in on the fun too!

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We talked a fair amount about shed hunting when he spotted an antler with a chunk of skull plate attached.

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A number of heavy rumbles of thunder kept us on our toes. Intermittent rain showers fell throughout the day and temps hovered in the mid 60’s. We only spotted 2 or 3 fish rise all day. The water carried a nice chalky green tinted and fish chased the streamer without hesitation. We must’ve landed 50 fish between the two of us over a solid 8 hour day.

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