Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Thursday had to be one of the longest days ever for me...the truck was loaded , Kevin was set to meet me after work and as if that wasn't enough a stack of mapquest directions lay atop my desk as a reminder of the upcoming journey. To say my mind wasn't on work this day would be simply stating the obvious. Somehow I managed to endure and with a little prodding I was headed out the door at four o'clock (two hours early) , hell it's not like I was being even remotely productive anyway. Kevin was sitting in the driveway when I pulled up , his gear piled high and waiting to fill what little remaining space was available in the truck. After a small setback , changing a tire in the drive , we were finally ready to hit the road and get this trip started. I'm not sure who was more anxious...me to get back up to Iowa and see if it was as good as I remembered or Kevin to see some new water for the first time. Honestly we were both as excited as a couple schoolgirls getting ready for their first prom , it's a wonder we got away without forgetting something important in our haste but somehow we did. The drive was uneventful , which is always a good thing , and we pulled into the campground in Highlandville sometime around 1:00 am. It had been a long day for both of us but once we arrived the excitement of finally being there kicked in and immediate sleep was out of the question. We decided to pop the tops on a couple cold ones and set up camp as best we could using the truck headlights for illumination. Once the tents were up we pulled out a couple chairs and sat streamside , listening to the gurgling waters running past our campsite while we discussed the next days plan....it's times like this that a guy can't help but think to himself "life is good...very good!"
The next morning we were up and around at about 6:00 , anxious to get our first real glimpse of the waters that had been filling our dreams for the last few weeks , sleep is highly overrated anyway! With a stream not ten steps away from the front door of our tents it was an obvious choice where to start the day. I don't think it had been five minutes before I saw Kevin hooking up with his first Iowa trout and not long after that his second fish came to hand , not a bad way to start off the trip. After landing a few fish each we took a break to get officially checked into our campsite and finish setting up.
The good folks at the Highlandville Store and Campground were very accomodating and made our five night stay quite enjoyable. Campgrounds with facilities are few and far between in this part of Iowa. Primitive camping is allowed around most streams but be warned that they do mean primitive , as in NO facilities at all. Definitely a far cry from Missouri where primitive camping just means you have to walk an extra 40 yards down a paved walkway to the showerhouse and bathroom. Don't get me wrong , I'm not complaining about this lack of modern campgrounds as it's undoubtedly what keeps the number of fishermen so low in the area. I mean really...how can a guy be expected to enjoy his camping experience without being able to pull the 40 foot motorhome up on a concrete pad and hook up the satellite dish? In all seriousness though , it was a nice campground with full facilities and a well stocked small mercantile store right onsite for things like ice ,charcoal or that twelve pack you need the last night of the trip because the beer coolers run dry. The atmosphere of the campground was almost like a small community , with many of the peole being retirees who spend several weeks at a time there multiple times throughout the year. Being the only store around, you could meet half the towns population in there each morning sitting around a small table having their coffee and discussing the previous days events. I have to admit it was a welcome change from some of the large campgrounds and rowdy crowds you encounter at many Missouri parks.
If you've never been to the area before the first thing you realize is that there's way more quality water than you're gonna be able to fish during your stay , and this rings true no matter how long you plan on being there. Between the state owned land and the stream easements allowed by private landowners the amount of fisheable water is simply staggering.
For someone like myself who's always wondering what's around the next bend in the river it can lead to some serious hikes. Luckily for me Kevin's the kind of fisherman who can be content sitting in one spot and figuring out the fish as opposed to looking for greener pastures so to say.
If he wasn't we might still be on the upper Waterloo , probably across the Minnesota border by now , still searching for fish around that next corner!
We spent four full days on the streams in the area , fishing the Waterloo..North Bear..South Bear..South Pine and French Creeks. The waters were extremely varied , we fished all types from fast running streams to large pools backed up by beaver dams. All of these streams have different trout species in them to target which keeps things interesting. You can choose between wild browns , wild brookies or stocked rainbows and brookies and a couple places have a mixture of the above fish. For me the real draw are the wild browns that inhabit most creeks in the area , you'd be hard pressed to find a prettier fish anywhere in my eyes.
We managed to sample all the state has to offer , catching both wild browns and brook trout as well as stocked bows and brookies in the stream next to camp.
If the size of a fish is your only measurement of how good a trip was then this region might not be the place for you. It's not that there aren't large fish around ,there are , but the waters are mostly small which dictates the size of the fish to a certain extent. The fact that these are native streambred fish living in a beautiful setting trumps size for me. I've caught my share of big tailwater browns on the White river system and loved catching every one of em, but I'm at a point in my fishing where I'd take a day of catching small wild browns on a pristine stream over trophy browns on a crowded tailwater any day of the week.
Needless to say this is my kind of place and I can't wait to make it back. Before the weekend was over we'd traveled countless miles of gravel roads and hiked numerous sections of streams in search of wild trout and been very successful in doing so. Add to that mix some good eats , copious amounts of cold beer and a good friend to share the whole experience with and you end up with one hell of a time.
I could go on and on about the beautiful fish and scenic countryside dotted with classic spring creeks but as they say.."A pictures worth a thousand words" , and when you write like I do that may be an understatement. I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the story , I think they do a better job of it than I ever could.....hope you enjoy.
Friday, August 19, 2011
You know the one I'm referring to , that trip you've been planning since you left the same destination this time last year. It might be a favorite river halfway across the country or an area closer to home that you just don't seem to get back to often enough. Most of us have at least one spot that fits this bill and some of the more travelled fishermen I've met seem to have an unending list. For me the location is always changing. Although my list of spots that I'd love to return to and fish is seemingly never ending, my time (and money) available for those sort of trips isn't , so it becomes a matter of choice. This year "The Trip" is turning out to be a four or five day excursion to the Driftless Region of Northeast Iowa with my good friend Kevin from Fly Waters Edge. Yeah...I know, it doesn't sound very exotic or like much of a destination for an admitted Trout Bum like myself. I should be headed to Colorado or Montana or even closer to home on one of the famous White River tailwaters....Iowa isn't the first place that comes to mind when you think trout, that much is for sure.
That kind of thinking is exactly what makes this area so appealing to me I guess , spring creeks..wild browns and maybe even a brookie or two, all set in a location that compared to many areas receives very little fishing attention. Last year I got the opportunity to fish this area at about the same time and over four days of fishing on four different streams we only saw one other fisherman. Enough said....
What I really enjoy about "The Trip" is all the planning and that feeling of anticipation that grows as the days roll by and the time gets nearer. For you "fly by the seat of you pants" folks that never plan anything past tomorrow the idea of spending days or even weeks planning and getting ready for a fishing trip may seem silly. Myself, I thoroughly enjoy gleaning bits of information about my destination from books , magazines or the internet for weeks before my trip and then trying to work out the best plan of attack to catch a few fish.
It's not unusual for the pile of camping and fishing gear in the garage to get started at least a week before I'm set to leave. By the time it gets to within two or three days the wifes starting to complain because she can no longer park her car in the garage due to said "pile". The kitchen table becomes a clutter of odds and ends that I begin gathering up in preparation for "The Trip" , not unlike a squirrel collecting nuts for a long winter. I even have to admit to enjoying the task of picking up the food and beverage supplies for trips like these. I mean how often do you get the chance to buy four pounds of bacon , ten pounds of potatoes , two sticks of summer sausage, 3 cases of beer and call it sustenance for 5 days? These are just a few of the little extras that make "The Trip" such a long anticipated event. For me it's always a good time to get the flyboxes stocked up and organized too. There's something about a destination trip that just gives me the urge to sit down and fill the holes in my flyboxes. It always seems the fly you don't have , or only have one of, is the one that's working best in these instances, so I try to hedge my bets by spending a few nights at the vise tying up a wide variety of patterns. That being said I'll probably still use one of my three or four favorite flies 80% of the time...but hey, you never know when a pink ratfaced mcdougle is gonna just kill em and I don't wanna be without one when that happens!
Usually "The Trip" also means getting to spend a few days with good friends on the water and sitting around a campfire every evening with an adult beverage in my hand. Both are things that don't get to happen often enough for me it seems. Just sitting here and writing this post has me anxious and excited about getting away for a few days.
I can't think about fishing yet though, there's still work to be done , the garage pile is just starting to take shape and I've still got holes in flyboxes to fill. Shit....I better go , the wifes screaming something about dead rodents in her bathtub , guess I should've warned her I was field testing my new emu hair and badger hackle streamer patterns in the tub!!!
Monday, August 15, 2011
I'm not the type of guy that's discouraged easily, so when I got skunked a couple weeks ago on my first excursion for gar on the fly I told myself that I'd keep at it until I was successful in catching one. Hell I couldn't quit now , I'd already invested time and money in a gar box!
This last Saturday the opportunity presented itself to hit the same river for another shot. This time with a different cast of characters but the same objective...land a longnose gar on the fly. A well known gar fisherman from my local club offered to get me back out on the water and give me a few tips as well as show me his latest batch of killer gar patterns. After dislocating my shoulder throwing my "Kitchen Towel" fly the last trip, I was looking forward to trying something a little more fisherman friendly.
I was the first to arrive so I got the boat unloaded and geared up for a day of fishing. Another member of my local club joined us in his kayak as well , hoping to learn a little bit about the local gar fishery.
We took off shortly after noon and headed downstream keeping our eyes peeled for gar either rolling or lounging along the shorelines. It wasn't long before we came to a pod of gar surfacing intermittently in one spot so we began working the area, trying to elicit a response. I was throwing a new pattern I'd tied up using rabbit strips in conjunction with the nylon rope.
On about my 4th cast, I was working my fly slowly about 6 inches under the surface when I saw a fish appear out of nowhere and grab it.
The excitement hit at the same time I first glimpsed the fish and it was all I could do to focus on the situation at hand...fighting the fish. Just when I was beginning to get my hopes up (about 30 seconds I'd guess) it happened...he was just gone. No breakoff , no violently throwing the hook, the fish let go of my fly and that was that. I was bummed ,but we still had the whole day ahead of us and I was hopeful , if I could hook up in the first half hour I'd surely get another chance before the day was over.
We worked our way probably close to two miles downstream fishing every likely looking area along the way. When we figured we had gone far enough we turned around and worked our way back upstream watching for active fish and blind casting in between spottings.
To our dismay no more fish were hooked or even seen chasing a fly. We saw a few gar rolling but couldn't locate any of the schools that lie in the shallow water waiting to ambush their next meal. It appears as though this gar fishing just wasn't gonna come easy for me. No big deal , failures are nothing new, back when I first started trash fishing I made several trips for carp before ever even seeing a fish let alone hooking one. I'm not giving up , I've got several great gar flies from my new friend and some tips that might help me to get that first fish.
Things that you have to work harder for always seem to be just a little bit sweeter when finally accomplished and I'm already looking forward to that cigar and cold beer I'm gonna enjoy when I land that first longnose gar....here's to the next trip.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
"Don't forget that today's trash day...." , my wife said as she made her way downstairs to head out the door for work. I lazily rolled over in bed and acknowledged her with a sigh , still oblivious to the day and anything related to it. As I lay there, slowly coming to life, I began to think about my wifes last words to me...trash day ,hmmm... I think she may be on to something. With her words still reverburating through my head I crawled out of bed , threw on some clothes and grabbed the flyrod and a box of carp flies. A couple pieces of toast and a cup of coffee and I was headed to the lake to get this "Trash Day" started.
I'd be running solo as I'd heard that my local mudhole was having a blue/green algae problem , I don't know much about it but I'd heard it could be potentially dangerous to dogs that drink the water and I wasn't taking any chances so the fishhound had to stay home.
I sure couldn't see any algae issues on the upper end of the lake where I was fishing , the water was clear and a good 10 degrees cooler than it had been just a week prior during the prolonged heat spell. I knew right off it was gonna be a good day , I could see several drum tailing in the shallow flats as I approached the water. The blue/green algae warnings had obviously deterred a few boaters if nothing else, as the lake was almost totally empty to my great satisfaction.
Tailing fish...calm , clear waters and not another fisherman in sight , I gotta admit I'm really starting to love this shit. Today the fish were just "eating" , plain and simple. If you didn't spook em and made a halfway decent cast they were on your fly with a fury , several patterns caught fish but an olive with fire/tiger legs was tops.
I ended up landing three carp , one of them being my largest so far on a fly , still not a huge fish by most standards, but probably pushing 30 inches and big around as a football. Like a dumbass I went to one hand him and lift him up for a photo op and he flopped out of my grasp and came unhooked, so no shots of the big fish. Note to self : next time use both hands!! I was a little dissapointed, but only for a few casts until the reel was screaming again.
The drum were just on fire today , not sure if the cooler water temps got em on the feed or what's up but they were just pouncing on anything you got within their range of vision.
I actually lost count at seven on the drum but I'm sure I landed at least a dozen before calling it a day. They're not much to look at and still don't get any mainstream attention like their trashy brothers the carp and gar but damn they'll sure eat a fly and then proceed to show you that backing you don't normally get to see.
It seemed the cooler water temps had all species of fish a little more active ,in between the carp and drum I had a hard time keeping the sunfish off my flies and even managed one largemouth from the shallow flats.
Days like this where it seems you can do no wrong and the fish come relatively easy are few and far between for me and I took advantage of the situation and blew off my chores in order to make the most of it. Last year if you'd have asked me to choose between a day on my favorite trout stream or a day sight fishing the flats for carp, the answer would have come without any thought...today I'd have to seriously consider option B , taking out the trash!