Monday, August 24, 2015

Summertime Stripers...The Return Trip

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While this weekend was fishless for me as I had to work both days, the upside to that is that I got out for a few days mid-week to make up for it. Ever since that first successful striper trip I'd been wanting to make a return visit and luckily for me I've got a great fishing buddy who also can take some time off during the week. A few phone calls later and plans were made to meet Wednesday around noon at the campground by the boat ramp we were using to launch out of. Much cooler weather than we experienced during our first foray had us deciding to pitch a couple of tents instead of spending another night in a flea bag motel. Unfortunately the cooler weather had some unwanted repercussions as well...the night before we were heading out the new generation schedule refreshed on my computer screen and to my dismay the month or more of constant generation we'd had was suddenly over. Wednesday they were scheduled to run water for a short 4 hours and on Thursday it looked like the river would see it's first 24 hour period with no generation for more than two months! Not exactly what we were hoping for, but like the weather, water generation is just something you have to live with and make the most of when you're handed less than stellar conditions.
We arrived to a cloudy, rain soaked river that had an obvious muddy tint to it after several hours of hard rain during the morning hours. It seemed as though all of the odds were stacking against us having another trip like the first one but we were there and still excited to give it a valiant effort anyway.
At least it looked like the rains were over for the most part so we set our tents up and then threw our gear in the boat and headed out.
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The low water conditions not only diminished our chances at actively feeding fish, it also limited the amount of river we were able to fish due to the constraints of the boat we were using. We soon found out that we only had about 3/4 of a mile of water upstream of the boat ramp that we could safely navigate under these water conditions as opposed to having the entire 8 mile tailwater to roam under previous conditions. We took each blow dealt us and moved on, Fall like weather in August and we were drinking beer and fishing mid-week instead of working, what was the issue I was complaining about?
This trip was a classic example of why I never try and over-analyze the conditions, it's fishing and you just never know what the fish are going to do regardless of all the conditions. To our surprise (and relief) we ended up sticking our first striper on our initial drift downstream and the action continued on throughout the evening.
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Other than a few slow stretches when the water seemed to dirty up on us from the generation we ended up having a stellar day of fishing. Before the day was over we had landed probably twenty fish between the two of us, mostly 3-5 pound schoolies with a couple of bonus bigger fish thrown in.
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At one point the action was so furious we couldn't make it out of a short 50 yard stretch of water, each time a fish was caught we'd switch up on the oars and before we could get settled back in the other guy would be hooked up. This was definitely streamer fishing on steroids!!
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We were putting the boat back on the trailer just as the last of the suns light was fading on the Western horizon in a brilliant orange hue.
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We finished off the evening with a good, greasy burger and fries and then headed back to camp for a beer and a cigar.
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The next morning we woke to clear skies and cool Fall temperatures that required a light jacket and a hot cup of coffee to start the day.
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A quick peak at the water verified that the river had dropped back out and we'd be dealing with low water conditions for the duration of our fishing today.
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With only half a day to work with we gave it an honest effort but came up against some of that tough fishing we'd actually been expecting all along.
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We spent about 5 hours on the water and only boated two fish, one for each of us. After a day like we had just experienced it was definitely a little anti-climactic to finish the trip that way, but honestly we were both still jacked up enough from the day before to even give it much thought.
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Very seldom does a return trip meet your expectations, it just never seems as good as what you remember, on this trip though I'd venture to say that our expectations were exceeded!!
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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Summertime Stripers

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I wasn't looking for a new addiction...honestly. Between my latest craze for smallmouth bass the last few seasons, adding a new tool to my arsenal and taking up Spey fishing this Spring and then planning my first Steelhead trip for later this Fall, my fishing plate is pretty much heaped full. The last thing my schedule needed was another potential quarry to peak my interest and pencil their name in on what few remaining days were left of the Summer. What can I say, I'm a real pushover when it comes to just about any piscatorial pursuit. With that in mind it was a no-brainer when I got the call from a buddy last week asking if I wanted to go chase some river run stripers in a local body of water.
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I hopped in the truck Saturday morning before the sun made an appearance and headed South for a few hours to my eventual destination. Some plans at home meant my partner couldn't show up until later that afternoon but I decided to show up early and scout the area a little bit seeing as it was my first time fishing this particular body of water. Boatless until he arrived, I decided to break out the switch rod and hike in below the tailrace of the river we would be floating to see if I couldn't get a head start on the fish catching activities.
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Luckily the hike was short and the water cool, with the temperature pushing 104 degrees that first afternoon the weather was more conducive to sitting waist deep in the water and drinking beer than it was to fishing. I gave it my best shot anyway and swung flies through the swift tailrace for an hour or so until I got the call saying he was pulling into town. We met at a local greasy spoon and went inside to soak up some of the AC and grab an early dinner before we hit the water for the afternoon. A couple of double cheeseburgers and cold drinks later we were heading out to drop the boat in and get the party started.
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I've caught my share of lake bound stripers before but never done anything like chucking big streamers from a drifting boat for them. To say I was excited to get up on the casting deck with a rod in my hands would be an understatement, I love streamer fishing and this was streamer fishing on steroids! We got in about five hours of solid fishing that evening and ended up with a couple of small fish to show for it.
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Granted, these fish may have been 3-5 pound schoolies but they fought with enough attitude to make me realize that a much bigger fish would likely hand me my ass before I could ever bring him boatside. The fact that we only caught two fish was a little disheartening as we were both expecting a little more action, then again if a couple of fish that bend an 8 weight from cork to tip and do their best to show you your backing doesn't make your hands shaky and your knees weak you should probably take up golf. We got back to the ramp that night just as the last of the suns orange hue dropped below the Western skyline.
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Back at the "sleazy 8" in town we killed the remainder of the night sitting in lawn chairs in the parking lot with a cooler of beer and a couple of cigars discussing tomorrows plan. While the fish might have won the first round, we were deadest on making sure it didn't happen two days in a row.
Sunday we got to the ramp before 6:00 and found ourselves waiting in a line with a half dozen or more other trucks and trailers with the same idea as we had. There were a couple of boats with other fly fishermen but the rest of the armada consisted of mostly center consoles with 75 gallon shad tanks mounted on the deck. It looked like the word was definitely out.
We made our way slowly upstream in the early dawn hours, trying to keep from running aground on any shallow shoals or rootwads that weren't apparent in the fast moving off colored water.
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We made it a couple of miles from the ramp when we found a bank that had our name written all over it. Good current, lots of structure right on the bank and on the East side of the river so we'd have some shade for a good part of the morning. It didn't take any longer than the first drift down to know that the fishing was going to be a little better today as we each landed our first fish of the day.
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The rest of the morning was pretty much non-stop action like I havn't experienced in quite some time. The section we were fishing gave up the goods drift after drift, not lots of fish but more than enough to keep your hands slightly shaky in between hookups.
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While I've always considered stripers/white bass/hybrids to be one of the best fighting fish pound for pound, these fish that spend their entire life fighting river currents were just solid muscle. With every battle it seemed you had to grab the rod with both hands and hold on for dear life as these fish had some serious attitude.
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Before the morning was over I was telling myself that an 8 weight wasn't enough rod for these fish...and we didn't even catch any big ones. As much as I'd have loved to connected with one of the 30 pounders that are definitely swimming in these waters, I'm almost as sure that my tackle would have been sorely undersized for that kind of battle.
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By around 2:00 the temperature was back up to triple digits and the fishing was slowing down from the mornings fast and furious action so we decided to call it a hell of a good day at that.
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We ended up with 14 or 15 fish between the two of us, ranging from 5-15 pounds. I don't know about you, but if I can get numbers like that in little more than a half days fishing I'm pretty much ecstatic.
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Needless to say the majority of the 5 hour drive home was spent manipulating schedules and priorities in my head to get the next trip back down penciled in on my calendar. I sure hope the fish are still biting by then....
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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Family Vacation...Trip to the Land of Beer and Cheese

Last week the wife and I loaded up the car (with Joe in the backseat, of course)and headed North to try and escape some of the blistering heat we've been putting up with here at home. After some discussion and a little research we decided on a destination that neither of us had ever been to before.
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With the last two vacations we've taken being in Texas and Florida we decided to head the opposite direction and check out some new scenery on this trip. Door County Wisconsin was to be our final destination but we took the scenic route and spent a day in the Driftless region and then spent some time driving the scenic byways along the upper Mississippi River between Iowa and Lacrosse Wisconsin.
My wife was almost as impressed with the Driftless area as I am every time I make a trek up there.

The hills, the well manicured farms and of course those beautiful little streams that run through the floor of almost every valley are just a few of the reasons I've been making a return trip every year for the past 6 years.
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Unfortunately there wasn't much time for fishing on this vacation but I did get to spend a few hours throwing a hopper/dropper on a couple of my favorite creeks in the area while we were driving around so my wife could see the sights.
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I think I caught a half dozen pretty little browns and a rainbow or two, but the best part was simply hiking along the stream trails with the wife and Joe taking in the scenery.
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We camped along a pretty little creek for one night and then woke up the next morning and packed things up to get back on the road again.
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We spent the better part of this day cruising the scenic routes along the Upper Mississippi headed in the general direction of our destination. For someone who's used to seeing the larger rivers such as the Missouri and Ole Miss down here in the Midwest, where they look like giant drainage ditches full of muddy water, it's pretty amazing to witness their natural beauty up North before mans idea of progress alters their personality.
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The only thing better than the scenery might be the fresh walleye and lake perch that can be had at almost every eating establishment along the river. If you havn't had the pleasure of enjoying a lake perch sandwich washed down with a locally brewed Wisconsin ice cold beer...let's just say you're missing out!
We arrived at our destination late that evening, just in time to unpack our stuff at the cabin we'd rented and catch the sunset over the lake just a short walk from our front door (which became a nightly event).
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We were staying in the small town of Ephraim, in the Northern section of Door County, pretty much right on the tip of the peninsula separating Lake Michigan from Green Bay. This trip differed from a lot of our vacations, simply because we didn't have plans to do much of anything. The cabin was 250 yards from the shore of Lake Michigan, less than a mile from the entrance to Peninsula State Park with access to numerous hiking trails and beaches and right in the middle of all of the cherry orchards and farmers markets that the area is known for.
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One of the cool things we did get to do was experience one of the Norwegian fish boils that they're famous for in the area. My wife and I both love fish so it was a no-brainer for us, but even if you didn't the whole event was a sight worth seeing.
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I would have loved to do some scuba diving on a few of the wrecks in the area but Ginger isn't into the coldwater diving with drysuits and hoods so that would just have to wait for another trip.
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I spent a few morning hours wading shorelines with the flyrod in hand, hoping to catch a glimpse of cruising carp on the flats or maybe catch one of those big smallies the area is famous for, but all to no avail. I still enjoyed it regardless, the water and surrounding scenery was worth the effort on it's own.
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The one activity we really wanted to do, renting glass bottom kayaks and seeing some of the shallow wrecks in the bay, was cancelled on the morning we were supposed to go due to high winds unfortunately. Even so, with all of the state parks and small touristy towns located on the peninsula we ended up running out of time before we ran out of things to do on this trip.
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Sometimes it's nice to get away without any real plans and just spend some time decompressing from lifes everyday hustle...and watching the sunset over Lake Michigan from the comfy confines of an Adirondack chair turned out to be a fabulous way to accomplish just that!
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