Sunday, September 28, 2014

Two Old Men...An Annual Trip back to a Favorite Destination

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We all have a favorite place (or places) we try to make that annual pilgrimage to each year to refuel the soul. For some it might be the destination itself ,the quality of the fishing or maybe it's just getting together with the same group of guys to do something you all love that makes the trip so looked forward to. While I've got several local (local for me being within 250 miles of home) trips that I try to make happen each year , this particular one is more of a roadtrip and has become a tradition going on six years now. For me , this trip is all about the destination.
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Not because it's a glorified spot you might read about in your favorite fly mag or hear about on the local fishing forum , just the opposite. What makes this place special for me is the beauty of the area and the noticeable lack of people out on the water enjoying it. This year nothing got put on the books in ink with any of my usual fishing buddies so when I ended up with several days off mid-week and no plans , I made a last minute decision to head North for the Driftless Region. I've only got one fishing partner who never balks at the chance to hit the road for several days , even on such short notice , so Monday morning Joe and I hopped in the already loaded truck and pointed the nose North for four days of Driftless solitude.
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The ride up was uneventful , a few extra pit-stops were needed during the 8+ hour drive than I remembered making last year , but what do you expect with two old men? We arrived around 1:00 and set up camp in our favorite campground next to a nice little creek.
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This isn't roughing it by any means , I prefer the comforts of home when it's feasible to bring them along. That way I don't wake up in the morning feeling like I've been hit by a truck (at least not from the sleep itself , the prior nights intake can be another story altogether).
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By the time we got camp complete and the first beer of the trip cracked it was approaching 3:00 , plenty of time left to spend several hours playing around on one of the streams close to camp before the sun disappeared. We spent the remainder of the afternoon enjoying the Fall sun on our face and the peace and quiet of a small Driftless stream.
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We fished until it was too dark to see the path we'd walked in on and then made our way back to camp. That evening we slummed it for dinner and ate cold fried chicken and potato salad in the dark , washed down with a cold beverage. The tent made it's calling early on this night , it'd been a long day of travel followed up by an afternoon of fishing for these old men. Rest was needed...tomorrow we would do it all again.
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Tuesday we woke to another brilliant Fall day , sunshine and temps starting out in the 40's are about as good as it gets in my book. After a quick breakfast sandwich we loaded up the truck and headed about twenty miles away to hit one of my favorite little streams in the area.
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This place is strictly wild browns , no stocked fish and it's catch and release only.
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If you put this same stream in my backyard of the Ozarks you'd have a parking lot full of cars seven days a week , all vying for the best section of water. Just as expected though , we pulled up to an empty parking lot and the entire stream to ourselves. We hit a couple of my favorite runs and a few new ones as well , picking up several small buttery colored browns in the process.
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I fish lots of water at home , like the White River , where if a brown doesn't hit the two-foot mark it's barely considered a decent fish. This is different...while I know the fish aren't big by any means , I find myself truly appreciating their beauty as well as the beautiful places they live in.
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After a tailgate lunch and some R&R in the shade of a big tree we headed off to try something new , a local warmwater river and hopefully a shot at some smallies.
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This was a first for me in my six years of coming to this area. I'd always focused on the trout streams and hadn't given much thought to anything else. After some on-line research I located a couple bodies of water in the area which were said to have a decent smallmouth bass fishery and decided ahead of time to spend at least one afternoon checking things out.
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The weather was great , the water looked fantastic and we didn't see a single smallmouth the entire afternoon! I'd guess we waded close to two miles of water , me throwing small streamers at every likely looking spot , and still came up empty handed at the end of the day.
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We had an enjoyable afternoon of fishing regardless and I'm not done with this challenge just yet , I may have to plan an extra day into the trip next year that I can utilize solely to target smallies.
That night we got back in camp early enough to cook up a decent dinner before the sun set , one of my favorites , Camp Succotash.
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A few cold ones and a good cigar finished off the night sitting around the campfire...not a bad day.
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After the previous afternoons skunking I woke up with a strong desire to redeem myself and actually catch a few fish the next morning. I'd done a little research on some new-to-me creeks in the area before the trip , but decided to spend the morning on some familiar water instead to try and wash a little of the skunk smell off. This stream has browns , brookies and rainbows swimming in between it's narrow banks , a veritable smorgasbord of opportunity.
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To my relief it didn't take long to break the previous days cycle and put a fish (or two) in the net.
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We spent the next several hours hiking our way upstream and plucking fish out of good looking runs until the hunger pains in our stomachs told us it was time to turn around and head for the truck.
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A quick handful of crackers along with some summer sausage and cheese and we were back on the road heading for another stream.
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This particular creek was one that I hadn't fished before on any of my previous trips , a little bit farther from camp but still well within an hours drive time. We arrived to the same old story , beautiful piece of water and empty parking area , just hate it when that happens.
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Ask anyone that fishes with me and they'll tell you that I like to cover some water when I'm fishing. You know , one of those guys that's always thinking the grass is greener just around the next corner. This particular spot had miles of fisheable water and it all looked good enough to keep you wondering what was around the next bend , a junkies fix for a guy like me.
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We kept it up all afternoon , some more ,until both of us were feeling it.
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There were a few steep banks that I had to assist Joe with traversing , he still did much better than I could have expected considering that he's almost 13 years old.
Then there was the clay bluff with about a 10 foot drop to the water that I tumbled off of. As I laid there at the edge of the creek , checking limbs and fishing rods to make sure nothing was broke , I could picture in my mind Joe running back to town (lassie style you know) for help.
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"Timmy fell off a cliff into the creek , I told the fatass he was getting too close and would probably fall off into the water but he just kept insisting that he get a little closer to the edge to make the cast to that midstream boulder. He's a dumbass , but he does take me on some pretty cool fishing trips so can we try and save him??".
Needless to say , we both survived the adventure. Scraped , bruised and a little wore out but with a nice new piece of water that made it all worthwhile. Later that night I told Joe that maybe we should take someone younger and in better shape along with us next year , you know just in case the two old farts have an accident or something.
That night we had a little mexican fiesta for our last nights dinner and then enjoyed one more evening around the campfire.
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Thursday we woke to cloudy skies that hinted to rain in the near future so we decided to take down camp before doing anything else for the day. With the work complete and the truck packed back up for the journey home we picked one of the closer creeks to spend our last few hours fishing on.
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We hit a couple of good spots , fishing in a light rain , until the skies darkened even more shortly after lunch. With the rain becoming more persistent and the thought of an eight hour drive home with a wet , smelly hound weighing heavily on my mind we finally decided to call it a day.
What more can I say , four days spent with my best friend doing something we both love....I can't think of anything better.
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  1. i adore your old joe. i could watch him all day. :) and i do believe he would have gone to get help, ala lassie. :) glad you two had some great days together.

    1. He's a good old boy for sure , best friend a guy could ask for. Not that I'm unsociable or anything but I'd rather spend a day with Joe than any of my human friends!!

  2. Quite a variety for your catch (species) and your menu!

    1. Thanks....I enjoy fishing some of the streams that have multiple trout species in them , we don't get that opportunity around home in many places. Good food makes a trip more enjoyable for sure!

  3. Every trip seems better than the last. And great story about this one. I especially like it when you and Joe can spend some one-on-one time together. That's a great portrait of Joe at the end.

    1. Thanks Jim....Can't think of anybody I'd rather spend a few days with on the water.

  4. Really enjoyed that, great looking stream and joe looks good too. Dont think I could take my Lab on a road trip I wouldnt have room for enough food for her...

    1. LOL...That's just one of the reasons Joe likes our fishing trips so much , he eats just like Dad when we're on a fishing adventure. If Mama only knew what I fed him when we're camping , we'd both be in trouble!!

  5. nice, good you got in on some of the beautiful fall driftless action!!

    1. Thanks....One of my favorite parts of the country , you guys that live up there are extremely lucky to have such plentiful fishing opportunities.

  6. Wow, that looks like an awesome trip. I got trip envy for sure!!!

  7. Thanks...It's always a good one for me. I like the small streams and wild fish more than some of our larger Ozark waters.

  8. I gotta tell ya Jeff, you take the coolest trips. Great report, thanks!

    1. Thanks Howard...I feel pretty blessed to have the opportunity to spend as much time as I do out on the water.

  9. As always, thanks for sharing. I got up there this spring for a short trip, can't wait to get back. That place can be addictive.

    1. Glad to hear you made it up there Lynn. It is a pretty special place if you enjoy small stream fishing. The trees were just starting to change and I was wishing I'd went up in another week or two when the colors really popped.

  10. Love your trip reports. I have followed you and Joe for a year or so. I fish around Fayetteville, Ar. Been planning a trip to the driftless region for a couple of years. Can you share some info on campgrounds and streams to fish. I am not asking for specifics, just some insight. Thanks

    1. Thanks for the kind words. I'd be happy to give you some information to help get you started planning your own Driftless trip. I would prefer not to give out the information to the entire internet though. If you check back in and see this reply leave me an e-mail or other way to send you some information personally and I'll gladly help you out.

  11. Some of my favorite more memorable blog posts that I have read have involved you and Joe. You 2 truly have something special. One day one of my dogs will be just as awesome to go on trips, just like Joe. Kudos to you for exploring new water and going outside of the box, and still finding fish!

    1. Thanks Justin...It's nice to have a best friend that's always ready to go and never has any issues with when you leave or when you come home. If I could just get him to pay for his half of the gas he'd be the perfect fishing partner!!

  12. Well done. Just got back from the MN side of the Driftless, myself. A truly inspiring landscape that your report and images captures well. So many miles of streams and stream access in such a small and scenic region. Looks like you and Joe connected more than we did. Good on you.

    1. I agree Brad , one of my favorite destinations after all is said and done. We did pretty good fish wise , didn't get near as many fish on terrestrial patterns as I had hoped , most of our fish coming on nymph droppers. From some of what I've heard the streams in Wis. might be a little smaller and tougher to fish than those in Iowa. Beautiful country and always a good time regardless of the fishing.

  13. The first day in MN we did well---we connected with about 30 in 2 hours--all on purple Hippie Stompers. It was one of those types of days that keep you fishing. Of course the rest of the trip was more "normal" or even sub-par from a catching stand point but to be honest, I didn't notice until later when I was reflecting on what a great trip it was.

  14. Awesome write-up and pictures! Great trip!

    1. Thanks Dave....You Iowa guys have got some beautiful country hidden away up there in that corner of the state.