Wednesday, May 29, 2013

5/22 - 5/25 Memorial Day Weekend...Family Camping Trip

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Last week was a whirlwind and I think my heads just now beginning to stop spinning from all of the action. After getting home from my Driftless trip late Saturday night I spent the next three days trying to catch up ,both at home and work, before heading out of town with the wife for a few days of camping down in Southern Missouri. You know it's hectic when the pile from the last trip is still sitting in the garage untouched and it's already time to pack it back up again!
Wednesday morning (I use the term morning loosely , you know how most women are) the wife , Joe and I hopped in the truck and headed South for a few days of R&R at one of my favorite campgrounds. The plan was to kick back and relax for four days and three nights , hopefully beating the holiday crowds by arriving on Wednesday and leaving Saturday.
We spent some time hiking a few trails in the area and (of course) I made time for a few hours of wet wading in the local streams to play around with a few small wild trout.
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When we weren't off traipsing through the hills or standing shin deep in cool flowing waters we simply enjoyed sitting around and taking it easy. Knowing that I'd be spending more time than usual in camp I packed along the cast iron cookware so I could try out a couple of new recipes. If you're going to spend time sitting around with a beer in your hand there's no better way to do it than with a good fire and a couple of dutch ovens full of goodness in my opinion.
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We spent the first two nights being one of only two groups in the the entire campground which was just what we had hoped for. Friday night the crowds started showing up but even then it was a pretty peaceful evening , one of my pre-requisites was that we would NOT camp anywhere that was frequented by canoers. Some of my worst nights camping have been on rivers where I had to put up with obnoxious drunk canoers for a weekend. Mother Nature cooperated nicely and we had beautiful weather the entire time , mid 70's for highs and nighttime lows in the upper 40's...perfect!
I'm pretty sure the whole family had a good time and we all enjoyed a few days with nothing on the agenda to do except enjoy each others company.
That's about it , more words won't add much to what I've already said so I'll just shut up and let a few pictures do the rest of the explaining. Nothing too exciting , but I hope you enjoy anyway....
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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Road Tripping with Joe...Driftless Adventure (Very Belated Part 2)

Friday morning I was awoke before the sun made an appearance by the sound of distant thunder rumbling through the hills. I'd checked the forecast the day before and knew there was a chance so I had prepared camp the night before just in case. I got up anyway and made sure the tarp lean-to was still covering my gear and checked the windows on the truck before crawling back into the sleeping bag for a couple more hours. I stirred several times after the sun came up but upon hearing the constant din of raindrops on the fly simply rolled over and went back to sleep.
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It was about 8:00 when I finally dragged my butt out of the tent , the sky was still dumping rain but I couldn't lay around any longer. The stream in front of camp had already risen a few inches and was a little dirty so I was concerned that I might not have many fishing options if this kept up for too much longer.
I grabbed a couple of granola bars for the pack and stopped off at the camp store for a cup of coffee before hitting the road to see what the day had in store for us. We decided to stay a little closer to camp for the morning , just in case the weather took a turn for the worse.
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After a short two mile drive we pulled into the access and found an empty parking lot , big surprise. The rain was still coming down, accompanied by lightning flashes and cracks of thunder every other minute. Joe isn't a fan of storms , for a big tough looking dog he's a total baby when it comes to thunder in particular so I knew I wasn't going to get him out of the truck. I realize that the intelligent thing to do would have been to sit in the truck with Joe and wait out the storms ,but hell I just drove 500 miles for the chance to fish these creeks and wasn't about to let a little weather deter me. After making sure Joe would be comfortable in the truck for awhile I donned the waders and raingear then started the hike for the creek. When I arrived at the water I could see at first glance that it was up about a foot and stained pretty good. I knew right away that the caddis pupa and stimi setup wasn't going to cut it today under these conditions so I sat down on a rock and put on a short piece of 10# flouro and pulled out the streamer box. This was pretty much new territory for me , although I'd been here on several trips before the small creeks and clear water really hadn't prompted me to try any serious streamer fishing. Brown trout , high off-colored water and a steady downpour all said the same thing to me...streamers. I chose a large black mink sculpin pattern to start off with and started working my way back downstream towards the parking lot. I couldn't have made more than a half dozen casts before the first small brown came rocketing out of the water with my fly in the corner of his jaw.
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I knew right then that it was gonna be game on until the water got too dirty to be fished. The next four hours or so was the best fishing I've had up there in all of the trips I've made. I don't know how many wild browns I caught that morning during the rainstorm but the fishing was good enough that after fishing my way back to the truck and checking on Joe I changed fly patterns and headed back upstream to fish the same section again.
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A couple of the nicer fish for the weekend came to hand that morning and I lost a brown that would have easily been my biggest to date from any Driftless stream. Unfortunately the constant downpour made taking pictures a lost cause , I managed to get a couple of shots of fish early on before everything I had access to was totally saturated but even they left a little to be desired. I know a lot of folks that love the excitement of dry fly fishing but give me a good streamer bite anyday! Those wild browns were hellbent on eating that streamer in the rising water and at times I thought every fish in the creek was chasing my fly. Sometimes you just get lucky and hit it right , the conditions on this morning just happened to be the "perfect storm" for tossing meaty flies to these little wild fish and I was happy to be there when it happened.
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By the time I got back to the truck for the second time the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to make a brief appearance. The water had continued to rise and was just slightly less brown than chocolate milk but the fish didn't seem to mind too much. It was close to 2:00 and I still hadn't had lunch yet so we headed back to camp for a little break and some grub. By this time the thunder had moved away and Joe was glad to be out of the truck and back to his jovial self.
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We sat around camp for a couple of hours , drying out gear and just relaxing before finally deciding to go back out and check on the conditions of a stream a little farther away than the mornings location. Surprisingly that creek was about normal and only slightly stained , these little creeks all have different watersheds and just because the one in this valley is blown out doesn't mean that two valleys over the waters not running clear.
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We proceeded to hike and fish our way upstream , completing the "Driftless Slam" again with browns , bows and brookies all being caught.
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I was enjoying the nicer weather conditions and clear water but in the back of my mind I kept thinking about that 20 inch brown that I'd seen and lost earlier that morning. That dirty streamer water was calling my name and I just couldn't rid myself of the nagging thought in the back of my mind. After fishing a couple more holes and catching another fish or two on the nymph setup I made up my mind to head back over the valley and finish up the day chucking bigger flies in chocolate milk. Normally leaving fish to find fish doesn't work out too well for me , I almost always wish I'd stayed where I was at.
For once things went just as I had planned and Joe and I fished the downstream section of the mornings water with the same results as earlier in the day.
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That big brown never made it to the net but I know he's still in there swimming around and I'm gonna get him next time!
It was pitch black by the time we made it back to the truck , owls were just starting to converse on the hillsides and several deer snorted at us as we made our way back along the creek, the denizens of the night were just waking up. It was too dark to see it but I'm pretty sure I was grinning ear to ear as I tossed the gear in the car and we headed back to camp.
Being the last night (and also being dark-thirty) we slummed it for dinner and finished up some leftovers from earlier meals that were still residing in the cooler. One last campfire and a nightcap of Makers finished off the evening before we made our way to bed.
The last day at camp always sucks , especially when you know you've got an eight hour drive to get back home , and today was no different. The only good thing was that it was a Saturday and I knew we'd be leaving just as a new weekend crowd began to show up.
After breakfast Joe and I took a little walk upstream from camp and hit a few of our favorite holes before starting the process of taking down camp.
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By 10:30 we'd already caught a few fish and got the truck packed up and ready to go. I probably should have just hit the road and got home at a decent hour , but I'm not that bright. We stopped off at another stream on our way out of the area and spent several more hours introducing ourselves to the locals.
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By the time I finished up and headed back to the parking lot Joe had already found his way back and was lying in the shade waiting on me.
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Some things just don't change , I'm always the last guy back at the truck...the one hollering "Just one more cast!!"
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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

5/15 - 5/18 Road Tripping with Joe...Driftless Adventure (Part 1)

I was in desperate need of a real fishing trip , you know the type , one where you pack up the vehicle and leave all of your day to day problems in the rear view mirror for a few days. I'd been trying to make a Spring trip up to the Driftless for the last couple years but something always seemed to come up , so this year when a five day stretch presented itself with nothing on the calendar, plans were made. I've made the journey North to fish the "Driftless Area" for the past four years now and it's quickly become one of my favorite destinations to spend a few days off the grid chasing small wild trout.
A couple of weeks before the trip I threw out a couple of invitations to see if anyone had any interest in joining me , while the interest was there the logistics just didn't work out this trip. No favorite fishing partner is always ready to take off on a trip , he's the only one I know who never seems to have anything better to do than hop in the truck and go fishing (other than myself).
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Wednesday morning we headed out before the sun made an appearance , passing through downtown KC just as the city was waking up and smelling the coffee on another hump-day.
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It was a good feeling knowing that as everyone else filtered into the city for another work day I was making my way out of the concrete jungle headed for a town with two stop signs and a population of about twenty-five. The perfect escape....
We pulled into the campground just shortly after noon and quickly got checked in and started setting up camp. After the eight hour drive it felt good just to be on my feet and doing something. Camp setup was quick and painless and by the time it was finished up we had worked up an appetite. A quick sandwich and an ice cold barley pop to wash it down with and I was feeling almost human again. With the work detail out of the way there was nothing left to do but start enjoying the weekend , I popped the top off another cold one and plopped my backside down in a chair not ten feet from the stream outside of my tent door. Joe was already in his "happy place" , rolling around on the lush green grass with a look on his face like life couldn't be any better.
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I knocked the frost off a couple more while rigging up the rods and getting the gear ready and then decided it was high time to hit the water and see if any of the locals wanted to play.
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We didn't want to venture too far away after the long road trip so we headed over to one of the streams within five miles of camp to spend the rest of the afternoon. Having only been up in this area during late August or September I was amazed at how much more accessible the streams were this time of year. The same areas that were normally weed choked and almost impenetrable by late summer were wide open now.
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At first thought this seemed like a godsend , until I got streamside and realized that those wary little wild trout in that crystal clear water now had a much better vantage point to see you coming. It was still a good tradeoff though , you had to be a little more careful when approaching a pool holding fish but at least it didn't require a can of bug spray and a machete just to get there.
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During my trip up last August these creeks were feeling the effects of the ongoing drought just like everywhere else in the midwest so I was glad to see them running full again. Some of them are only two sidewalk widths wide under normal conditions so you can just imagine what they looked like on a dry year. It didn't take much time to be rewarded for the long drive as the first wild driftless brown came to hand.
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On average these fish aren't big , I like to think that they're sized just right for the small creeks they call home , but what they lack in size they make up for in beauty and attitude. I just never get tired of looking at those butter colored bodies covered in detail with even more brilliant black and red spots.
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Joe and I hiked about a mile or so of stream and caught numerous browns and even a brookie or two before deciding to call it a day and head back to camp for the evening.
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It'd been a long day already and the thought of dinner and a relaxing evening sitting around a fire with a beverage or two was sounding pretty good about now.
With a couple hours of daylight still left I got the evenings meal started on the grill and then kicked back and watched the water meander by in front of camp.
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Something about pitching a tent on moving water just can't be beat , the relaxing sounds of the creek and it's inhabitants seem to surround you and make you forget about all of the annoying sounds you left behind ,like cell phones and television and bitchy people! After a good dinner we settled back around the fire for an hour or so and watched the stars begin to make an appearance in the evening sky , not a bad start to the trip...not too bad at all.
Thursday I woke up early after a long peaceful nights rest , man if I had a creek outside my bedroom window my sleeping problems would be over! The sun was still trying to work it's way over the surrounding hills and mother nature was waking up with all of her usual brilliance as we crawled out of the tent .
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After listening to the creek all night I decided to grab a rod and take a walk upstream and see if we couldn't catch a fish or two before cooking up some breakfast. Joe and I crossed right in front of the tent and made our way up to a pool that has been good to me in previous years. Thankfully some things never change and I was into a nice little brookie on my second or third cast. In the half hour fished before we headed back to camp I caught a couple of brookies , a few rainbows and a small brown. I really think every day should be required to start off this way!!
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For breakfast I whipped up a quick sandwich that would put Mickey D's out of the breakfast business if it ever hit the market and then we loaded up the truck and headed out to spend the day at one of my favorite waters in the area.
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It was a sunny , warm day with temps supposed to top out in the middle 80's later that afternoon. While I started off the day in a pair of waist high waders , after lunch I took the opportunity to do the first wet wading of the year and man was it enjoyable.
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Something about the feeling of cool , clear water on your legs just makes it all that much more enjoyable. This particular stream is one of the better catch and release waters in the state and I always enjoy fishing it.
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With the easier access due to the missing bankside vegetation we were able to hit a few new spots and see some different water that I hadn't fished before. The fish were cooperating nicely again today , the fly of choice seeming to be a caddis pupa imitation that I like to tie.
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Surprisingly I saw very little topwater action , with the warm sunny day I half expected to see some good caddis hatches and fish rising to the feast. I fished a small (size #12) stimi as the point fly for awhile with the pupa as a dropper and managed to pick up a couple of fish on the dry but the real action was obviously happening on the bottom of the stream. There are numerous access points on this creek and we spent the majority of the day exploring them all at a leisurely pace. A few of my old favorites were good to us again on this day but a couple of the new spots we found may just make their way to the top of the list after this trip.
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I think we encountered two other fishermen during our days travels , meaning we saw a car in the parking lot , I never walked past another person on the stream all day. Just one of the many things I love about this area compared to the often more crowded Ozark waters I frequent. We headed back to camp about 6:00 , hot and a little tired but feeling totally satisfied after a great day of fishing. The remainder of the evening consisted of the standard fare...a good meal ,a little hair of the dog and a big campfire to sit around while gazing up at the stars.
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Tell me whats not to like about that??

Part 2 coming soon.........