Urad Lake – 06/26/2017

Time: 11:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Inlet end of the lake.

Urad Lake 06/26/2017 Photo Album

My calendar was clear for one day before a host of obligations prevented me from straying away from Denver on Tuesday. I felt a strong desire to fish, but all the local streams were essentially blown out from run off. Bear Creek was listed at 62 cfs, and I was tempted to gamble, but before doing so I reviewed stillwater options. I looked at Clear Lake, Pine Valley Ranch Lake, and Pinewood Reservoir. All three represented a reasonable drive; however, I never visited them, so they represented a bit of a risk. Last year at roughly this same time I discovered Urad Lake, but I was unsure that it was ice free by June 26 in 2017. I was reluctant to make a 1.5 hour drive only to realize that the body of water was covered in ice.

I checked the Colorado Parks and Wildlife stocking report, and I was pleased to discover that Urad Lake was stocked in 2017. I could rather safely conclude that the DOW would not stock a lake covered in ice. I designated the lake near Berthoud Pass as my destination, and I gathered my gear and departed by 10AM. Traffic was reasonable, and I negotiated the rough and steep dirt road that linked US 40 to the state wildlife area without incident. Seven vehicles were parked in the lot when I arrived, so I knew that I would have company. I assembled my Sage four weight and began a steep hike up a dirt road until I reached the dam. One fisherman staked out the water next to the dam, and I could have found enough space there, but I decided to continue on the road to the inlet end of the lake.

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Fishing Companions Guard the Inlets

Another ten minute hike delivered me to the upper end of the lake, where I joined ten fishermen already prospecting the stillwater. Two swollen creeks rushed into the lake, and four fishermen occupied these desirable locales. During my visit in 2016 I fished next to the first inlet with considerable success, so I was disappointed to eliminate these spots from my fishing options. I retreated to a path through the low bushes and crossed both feeder streams until I was on the bank on the west side of the lake. From my position I could reach the near side of the second inlet current with a long cast, but such a cast taxed my distance casting abilities.

I began with my sinking tip line, and I attached a slumpbuster streamer and then added a beadhead hares ear. I fished this combination for thirty minutes and covered the lake between the inlet and the point of land to my left, but my efforts were futile. I did not even experience a bump or follow, in spite of my confidence in the streamer approach. Since it was slightly past noon, I decided to take a break for lunch and change my approach to dry/dropper.

While I ate lunch I observed quite a few trout hovering within ten feet of the shoreline. Some were wasting energy chasing other fish, but a few were clearly searching for food. When the wind died back, and the surface of the lake was relatively smooth, I noticed very sporadic rises. After lunch I replaced my sinking tip line with a floating line, and I began fishing with a green floss body fat Albert. Beneath this foam attractor I added the beadhead hares ear and a salad spinner. I flicked the three fly combination to the area where several fish lurked. I closely observed these fish as they swam right past my droppers, but after six or seven casts I allowed the flies to dangle for what seemed like an eternity, and sure enough an eight inch rainbow grabbed the hares ear.

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A Bit Larger

Am I the only person who does not have the patience to allow my flies to remain in a stationary position for an interminable period of time waiting for a fish to cruise by in a large body of water? It takes every ounce of self control for me to resist twitching or stripping the flies. On Monday this actually proved to be a beneficial trait. I began to slowly crawl the flies with a hand twisting retrieve, and for some reason this worked. I began experiencing momentary hook ups and eventually landed three additional small rainbow trout, as they snatched one of the nymphs on the slow retrieve. One trout nabbed the salad spinner, another nipped the hares ear, and one gluttonous finned fool smashed the fat Albert.

Unfortunately the wind kicked up and created larger riffles and small waves, and this change in atmospheric conditions coincided with an extended lull in my trout action. Clearly the fish were willing to grab subsurface offerings, so why not return to the streamer method? I snipped off the fat Albert and salad spinner, and I replaced them with a slumpbuster and bright green caddis pupa. The mainstay hares ear remained in the lineup as the middle fly, and I began to cast and strip my streamer. Unlike the initial session I deployed a slower retrieve, as I made short erratic strips. I also paused to allow the flies to sink, before I began my retrieve in case the trout were hanging out lower in the water column. The third deviation from the morning period was the addition of a third fly.

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My Position Was on the Far Side of the Entering Creek

The three fly streamer approach evolved into my most productive fly fishing method over the remainder of the afternoon. I moved the fish count from four to thirteen, and all of the netted fish were rainbows, and all slammed a fly in a streamer lineup. Toward the end of the afternoon I briefly experimented with a size 14 gray caddis, but the wind kicked up and created waves, and I abandoned the single dry after only five or six casts. When I returned to the streamer and trailers, I opted for a natural pine squirrel leech, beadhead hares ear, and ultra zug bug.

The tally by fly for fish numbers four through thirteen is as follows: two consumed the bright green caddis pupa, two slammed the slumpbuster, one grabbed the pine squirrel leach, and four nipped the beadhead hares ear. I experienced at least double that many bumps and nips during the streamer time period, and I probably hooked between six and ten for only a second or two. I am uncertain what technique I should use to convert more hook ups and bumps to netted fish.

It was 61 degrees when I left the parking lot, so I wore a long sleeved undershirt, and I was comfortable until the wind accelerated at two o’clock. This forced me to unwrap the light down coat that was around my waist, and I was comfortable while wearing this extra layer for the last two hours. When I returned to my home in Denver it was 89 degrees!

The fish were small and likely stockers, but the alpine scenery was breathtaking, and I enjoyed the challenge of using different techniques to catch trout in a stillwater environment. Will I undertake more lake fishing in 2017? Stay tuned.

Landed Fish: 13

Yampa River – 06/23/2017

Time: 9:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Town of Steamboat Springs

Yampa River 06/23/2017 Photo Album

Friday by any measure other than the prior day was a solid day of fly fishing. Unfortunately Thursday was outstanding, and June 23 suffers by comparison.

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Stagecoach Lake on Friday Morning

I snagged a campsite on the McKindley Loop at Stagecoach State Park on Thursday night, and this positioned me to be on the stream by 9AM on Friday morning. On Thursday morning I experienced some decent action on nymphs just prior to the spectacular hatch that commenced by 11:30, so I surmised that I missed some great pale morning dun nymph action earlier. I planned to corroborate this assumption by taking advantage of my close proximity to be on the water early.

It was a great theory but in reality the day did not evolve that way. Once again I parked at Howelsen Hill, and I was fortunate to find a parking space. A Triple Crown baseball tournament was on the schedule, and the 8AM games were already in progress, thus attracting a large number of spectators. I managed to grab one of the few remaining spaces and quickly pulled on my waders and assembled my Sage One five weight. I was an obvious outlier compared to the men and women carrying folding chairs and coolers from their vehicles to the ball fields.

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Nice Start

I was averse to covering the same water that entertained me on Thursday, so I crossed the pedestrian bridge and walked downstream along the bike path until I was just above the location where the river narrows and picks up considerable velocity just upstream from the hot spring. I once again tied the yellow fat Albert to my line and then added a beadhead hares ear and salvation nymph and began my search for hot Yampa River trout. I worked my way upstream on the Steamboat Springs town side of the river, and I popped down the bank where gaps appeared in the streamside brush.

The river was flowing at roughly 800 CFS, and this rate was very comparable to Thursday. The main current surged toward the north bank, the side I was on, and for this reason fewer locations with slow holding water were present. I spent an hour casting the dry/dropper to likely spots, and I managed to land one trout, although I also registered two momentary hook ups. Needless to say this was not the fast paced nymphing action that I anticipated, when I decided to arrive at the river early.

When I approached the pedestrian bridge, I advanced thirty yards above it and prospected a couple places, but then I was directly behind the boat, kayak and tube rental shop; so I reversed direction and crossed the bridge. I skipped around the section between the pedestrian bridge and Fifth Street, since I knew from Thursday that access was difficult due to high flows up against the bushes and trees. When I reached Fifth Street I cut down to the river just above the bridge, and I began to fish the deep run in that area. Another fisherman was directly across from me, but with the main channel crashing between us at high velocity, I was not interfering with his success.

For the next hour I progressed upstream until I reached another bridge serving the bike trail, and at this point I exited and returned to the car for lunch among the baseball madness. The segment covered before lunch was nearly as difficult to fish as the portion I skipped, so I cherry picked a few marginal places, until I reached a relatively nice shelf pool below the bridge and also downstream from the confluence of two channels that flow around a large island. In this area I managed to hook a second trout of moderate size; however, it flopped off my line just as I lifted it from the water and toward my net. This prevented me from capturing a photo, but I added it to my fish count. During the last fifteen minutes I began to notice a fair number of blue winged olives, so I removed the hares ear and replaced it with a RS2. As I made this change, I elevated the salvation to the top position and knotted the RS2 to my line on the end. Despite the baetis activity the fish did not respond to my RS2.

As I munched my sandwich and crunched some carrots while perched on the tailgate of the Santa Fe, I pondered my path forward in the afternoon. I was running out of water to fish in town, and I concluded that the most comfortable section to fish at high flows was also the most attractive stretch for the fish. The strong current favored the north bank, and therefore the south bank provided more areas with moderate riffles that were popular with the trout. They could spread out and chow down on the abundant food source created by the blue winged olive and pale morning dun hatches. I also noticed the occasional caddis and golden stonefly in the mix. I decided to fish the same section on Friday afternoon that provided outstanding action on Thursday.

I hiked down the railroad tracks until I was just above the hot springs, and here I carefully maneuvered over some large boulders until I was standing at the bottom of a nice narrow slot where the current slowed down. There was a cable overhead that was littered with lures and flies and dangling monofilament, and I managed to avoid that small impediment to casting. I scanned the water and immediately noticed that a thick emergence of mayflies was in progress. As was the case on Thursday, a fairly dense population of blue winged olives and pale morning duns were gracefully floating up from the river. I recognized this as my sign to remove the dry/dropper, and I tied on a size 16 light gray comparadun.

I spent some time casting in the narrow spot in front of me, but no fish rose to take advantage of the windfall of food, as mayfly after mayfly popped off the surface of the river. Hatch time is precious, and I did not wish to waste it, so I climbed up to the railroad tracks and moved to the first substantial pool. The same pool on Thursday was where I spotted rising fish and made the conversion to fishing a single comparadun. Sure enough the same situation presented itself. The main current rushed around a man made barrier of large boulders, and then it curled back toward the south bank and swirled by a large submerged boulder. This created a beautiful eddy and shelf pool, and I positioned myself at the bottom next to the submerged boulder. I scanned the scene and immediately noticed several rises. One fish smacked the surface twice along the seam in front of the submerged boulder, so I focused on it first. On the third cast a shadow elevated and sipped in my comparadun, and I reacted with a swift hook set. The fish streaked downstream a bit and then paused, while I reeled the slack on to the reel and exerted some pressure. By now I could see that my combatant was a strong rainbow trout, and it accelerated once again and streaked toward the barrier at the top of the pool. Suddenly the throb on the rod ceased, and my heart sank, when I realized that the cagey rainbow had shed my fly on a submerged stick.

I paused and observed for a bit, but I was certain that the wild commotion disturbed the pool, so I moved on to the nice moderate riffle area just above the stream improvement barrier. Surprisingly no fish were showing in this wide area. I made some obligatory prospecting casts to no avail, and then I moved farther upstream to some marginal slots behind exposed rocks. Once again I did not see any rising fish, so after some desultory casts I returned to the bank. I was convinced that more fish resided in the pool where I hooked the angry rainbow, so I carefully waded along the edge until I was back at the man-made structure. I stood motionless for a few minutes, and I was surprised to see three fish smacking the surface in the shallow riffle below the submerged rock that deflected the current. I made some nice downstream casts over the trio, but the aggressive eaters simply showed their disdain toward me with splashy refusals.

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Cinnamon Color on These Spinners

I was standing along the edge of the pool near the reversing eddy, and for some reason I directed my attention to the surface of the water. What do you suppose I saw? Lying motionless with outstretched wings were a large quantity of size 16 spinners. No wonder the residents of the pool were eschewing my dun. The river was feeding them a steady supply of motionless easy to eat spinners. I checked my fly box, and I had a few rusty spinners, but I guessed that they were a bit large. Last summer on the Conejos I enjoyed success with a cinnamon comparadun with the wing mashed down during a spinner fall, so I reactivated the ploy. I knotted a size 18 cinnamon comparadun to my line and mashed down the wing. This ugly fly delivered four trout to my lonely net over the next thirty minutes. Three resulted from the downstream drift, and another sipped the fraud spinner in another nice eddy below a structure farther upstream.

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The spinner ruse worked for awhile, but then I reached some water that was a bit faster, and several fish showed their position with rises, but they paid no attention to the size 18 comparadun. I focused on these fish and cycled through a series of fly changes. First I experimented with a size 14 light gray comparadun, but the targets ignored it. Quite a few of the naturals in the air displayed light olive bodies, so I plucked a sulfur style fly from my front pack and gave it a spin. Amazingly this fly delivered two medium sized fish, but through wear and tear the wing was reduced to a nub, and the fish then snubbed the handicapped fly. Finally I settled on the classic, a size 16 light gray comparadun, and the Yampa trout gave it a vote of confidence.

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Not Bad

I persisted with the light gray comparadun for nearly the remainder of the afternoon, and I built the fish count to thirteen. At one point I was directly across from a family of four, and while they observed I landed an 18 inch rainbow and a 16 inch brown. The size of my fish on Friday paled in comparison to the previous day, but these two fish were exceptions. By three o’clock the hatch was essentially over except for the everpresent stragglers, so I converted back to a dry/dropper system. This time I used a size 8 Chernobyl ant as the indicator fly, and below that I added an iron sally and an emerald caddis pupa. This change enabled me to add two more small fish to the fish count with one falling for the iron sally, and the other craving the emerald caddis pupa.

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Pleased to Land This Beauty

By 3:45 I reached a huge wide eddy pool behind another stream improvement structure. This pool was four times the size of the one I described earlier. I made my obligatory casts of the dry/dropper along the current seam, but they were futile. I paused for a bit to evaluate the situation. A pair of kayakers were oppposite me, and they made periodic attempts to buck the whitewater chute just below the pedestrian bridge. Three thirteen year old girls dangled in hammocks beneath the bridge, and from a distance they reminded me of a colony of fruitbats. Suddenly I was aware of a huge swarm of miniscule mayflies. They could not have been larger than a size 24, and they hovered above the eddy, and as I watched, several gusts of wind scattered the delicate insects.

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Eddy That Yielded the Fine Rainbow

Shortly after this observation I noticed three very subtle dimpling rises in the center of the eddy where the current was barely perceptible. The fish at the farthest outside point of the eddy was the most persistent riser, so I decided to focus on that spot. I removed the dry/dropper offerings and tied a size 24 CDC olive to my line. I fluttered a short cast to a spot above the rise, and I allowed the eddy to feed the small morsel toward the target, and suddenly a small trout darted to the surface! I set the hook, but my action resulted in a brief connection. I rested the water a bit after this disturbance, and two fish closer to the center of the eddy resumed feeding.

I decided to try for the feeder closest to the large barrier rocks. I floated a cast farther upstream than the last one, and again the eddy slowly fed the fly back toward the nook. I was astonished by what followed. I assumed that I was fishing to small rainbows in the nine to eleven inch range based on the nature of the rise, which appeared to be an almost insignificant dimple. The CDC olive crept along, and I detected a subtle barely perceptible sip. I lifted the rod tip to set, and instantly a hulk of a rainbow thrashed to the surface and then leaped from the river and fell back in a thunderous crash. I stayed connected, and the football shaped opponent executed an array of escape maneuvers, before I lifted its head and slid it into my net. I gasped at this late day stroke of good fortune. Never underestimate the size of a fish based on the nature of the rise!

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Now it was nearly four o’clock, but my heart was racing, and my optimism was peaking. I circled around the wall of rocks and passed under the bridge and spotted a couple rises in a nice run along the bank. An occasional PMD appeared during the late afternoon, so I concluded that the rise was instigated by the straggling emergers. I once again knotted a size 16 light gray comparadun to my line, and I began shooting some searching casts near the scene of the rises. Several drifts bobbed right along some submerged willow tips, but no response was forthcoming. I was about to call it quits, but I decided to send one more long cast to the very top of the narrow run. The comparadun fluttered down and after a one foot drift, a large mouth appeared and engulfed my fly. I could not believe it. I set the hook, and the point penetrated causing an underwater freight train to streak upstream. The water was not more than two feet deep, but the fish dashed toward the bank, while I allowed line to spin from my reel. Suddenly it slowed down slightly, and then it hit the accelerator a second time, and I heard the gut wrenching sound of my line popping.

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Tubers and Girls Hanging in Hammocks from the Bridge

All I could do was tip my hat to the fish. It was just after 4PM, and I was not about to tie another fly to my line, so I slowly shuffled to shore and returned to the car. By the end of Friday I landed seventeen trout including three very nice fish in the fifteen to eighteen inch range. I had shots at two additional beauties that foiled my attempts to land them. The average size of the other landed fish was beneath the high standards of Thursday, but overall it was still a fine outing during the late run off time frame. Two fish consumed the salvation nymph, four favored the cinnamon comparadun, two slurped the size 14 sulfur comparadun, the iron sally and emerald caddis pupa accounted for two in the late afternoon, one fat glutton sipped a size 24 CDC olive, and six fish plucked the size 16 light gray comparadun. The fish on the Yampa River were not narrowly selective on June 23.

Fish Landed: 17

Yampa River – 06/22/2017

Time: 10:00AM – 5:00PM

Location: Town of Steamboat Springs.

Yampa River 06/22/2017 Photo Album

Thursday represented another spectacular day of June fishing on the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs. June 22 was an example of how great fly fishing can be when fishing during the high but receding flows of run off. The Yampa was flowing in the 850 cfs range and crystal clear, and I capitalized with some superb action.

I woke up at 4:30AM in order to drop Jane off at DIA for her flight to Philadelphia. I packed most of the necessaries for fishing and one night of camping on Wednesday, and I returned to the house to change, eat a light breakfast, and pack a few remaining items. I was on the road by 6:35, and this enabled me to pull into the Howelsen Hill parking lot by 9:45. Before I started, I walked out on the pedestrian bridge across from Howelsen Hill, and I was pleased to see that the flows remained high enough to push the fish against the banks, but low enough to facilitate reasonable wading. I repeat reasonable not easy. Obvious spots remained where a fair amount of bushwhacking was required to reach the railroad tracks, advance to another location, and then blast through the brush again to gain access to the river.

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Morning Sun Glistens Off Yampa River

I began my day by hiking downstream until I was just above the hot springs, and there was no mistaking the strong scent of sulfur. I was on the water shortly after 10AM, and I began fishing with a yellow fat Albert, beadhead hares ear nymph, and a salvation nymph. Almost instantly I experienced two momentary hook ups, and then I connected with four trout that inhaled the nymphs. One was a fat brown trout in excess of fifteen inches, and another was a long lean rainbow. Of the four netted fish one took the hares ear, and the other three snatched the salvation nymph. I hooked fish almost instantly, and I fully expected to have a day of hot dry/dropper fishing, as Yampa trout moved aggressively to active nymphs.

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Closer Look

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I departed the productive deep narrow pocket and moved upstream until I approached some attractive deep troughs next to the steep rocky bank. I tossed a backhand cast to the very top of a deep run that fed into a narrow pocket. As soon as the nymphs sank, the fat Albert darted upstream. I reacted with a decent and not overly aggressive hook set, and my heart sank as the line popped back toward me minus two nymphs. I was certain that this fish was a prize.

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Hatch Brought the Fish Up Here

I replaced the nymphs with new versions of the same type, and as I continued upstream, and I hooked and landed two more moderate sized trout. Another move brought me to a very attractive wide shelf pool, and I observed three or four rising fish. Initially small blue winged olives were fluttering up into the air, but then I noticed a smattering of larger mayflies, likely pale morning duns. It seemed the fish shifted from subsurface nymph gobbling to emergers and adults, so I made the switch to dun imitations. I removed the dry/dropper flies and tied a size 18 gray comparadun to my line. Previously after snapping off the two nymphs I reconfigured my leader with a 4X tippet. I debated adding a 5X extension for dry fly fishing, but in my haste to pursue the surface feeders, I gambled that the trout would not be leader shy in the high flows and swirling currents.

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Eating a Bit Too Much

The size 18 gray comparadun failed to seduce the feeders, so I swapped it for an 18 cinnamon comparadun. This duped one twelve inch brown, but then it generated a couple of refusals. Judging from the pale morning duns in the air, I surmised they were size 14 or 16. I grabbed a fairly large cinnamon version from my front pack foam, and this fly created only refusals as well. The flies I observed appeared to possess gray-light yellow bodies, so I changed again, this time to a size 16 light gray comparadun also known as the money fly. Of course this fly was on the money, and one might ask why it took so long to test a money fly?

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Long Bow

I extracted two more trout from the gorgeous hole, where I noticed the first rising fish, including a fifteen inch rainbow. I was now brimming with confidence, and the money fly did not disappoint. Between 11AM and 1:30PM I moved the fish count from six to fourteen, and the money fly accounted for all but one of these fish. The lone outlier was the twelve inch brown that sipped the size 18 cinnamon comparadun.

I recounted the numbers story, but the size saga was even more impressive. The eight dry fly eaters included a sixteen inch hook jawed brown that was feeding in extremely shallow riffles among submerged willow tops. Another beauty found my net in the form of an eighteen inch rainbow that streaked into fast current and then leaped out of the water. In a rare display of  fish fighting skill, I allowed the hot fish to run and then shifted the rod tip to allow slack to absorb the jump. What a blast! Several additional fish in the 13-14 inch range were among the dry fly eaters.

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By 1:30 the hatch subsided to occasional stragglers, and I approached the pedestrian bridge, so I fought through the brush, crossed the tracks, and returned to the gazebo next to the Santa Fe. I chowed down, made a couple phone calls, and added a hydration bladder and raincoat to my backpack. I was now ready to attack the river, and I was pretty optimistic.

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Bright Stripe and Cheek

I returned to the a spot below my exit and covered a portion of the river a second time with a dry/dropper setup. It featured the yellow fat Albert, iron sally and salvation nymph. These choices resulted from reading my blog covering historical trips to the Yampa River at this time of year. The hatch was essentially complete, although a brief wave of blue winged olives appeared and generated a few slashing rises. I guessed emergers and replaced the salvation with a soft hackle emerger, but the strategy failed to click, and eventually I replaced the soft hackle emerger with a hare nation nymph.

During the middle to late afternoon time period I managed to land four additional trout. The slow catch rate highlighted how much a hatch energized the trout’s eating habits earlier. Two of the four after lunch catches crushed the fat Albert including a thick rainbow that measured around seventeen inches. Another fourteen inch brown trout joined the afternoon mix. The iron sally duped one of the trout, and the hare nation accounted for the other.

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What a day! Eighteen fish were landed, including five in the fifteen to twenty inch range.. This count does not include the four or five long distance releases, and several of these felt substantial. The hatch period was insane. Mayfles were popping off the water surface everywhere, and the blizzard included blue winged olives and pale morning duns of varying body colors. The whole scene was electric with hungry trout assuming feeding stations to chow down on the abundance of food. The trout took the money fly with confidence once I settled on it, and I caught several nice fish by prospecting the comparadun in obvious trout holding water.

Tomorrow I hope to be on the water earlier in order to probe likely spots with nymphs before the hatch. What will tomorrow bring? Stay tuned.

Fish Landed: 18

 

 

Day 8: Wisconsin Trip – 06/14/2017

Day 8: Wisconsin Trip 06/14/2017 Photo Album

Wednesday morning we woke up to rain and dense clouds. The storm was blowing from the southeast, and the wind blasted sheets of heavy rain against the large living room window of The Mettie Room. Jane and I ate our normal Door County breakfast, while we marveled at the deluge, and then we noticed water droplets along the top of the window frame; and as more time elapsed, the steady drip of water on to the window sill accelerated. I rushed upstairs to the hot tub room and grabbed a pair of thick towels and returned to the front room, where Jane placed the towels on the sill. This seemed to solve the problem for a short while, and then the rain resumed its intensity and drops appeared along the wooden ceiling beam. Gravity caused this water to fall to the carpet, and Jane reacted by placing the two trash cans beneath the dripping beam.

In the midst of this mayhem I looked up the phone number of The Cornerstone and called the person on duty. Within fifteen minutes an elderly couple arrived to inspect the situation. The gentleman claimed that the windows were recently replaced, and I pointed out that much of the leakage was originating from the ceiling, and therefore it was likely there was a leak in the roof. The woman replaced our towels, and they departed, and shortly thereafter the storm abated. We moved our belongings out of harms way, so the impact on us was minimal, and we were due to check out on Thursday, so we continued with our plans.

In retrospect we really did not have any plans for Wednesday, so while the rain slowed and ended, we once again researched our pamphlets and maps. One map highlighted road loops in Door County, and my attention was drawn to a route that tracked the eastern coastline just south of Whitefish Bay, a tiny town south of Whitefish Dunes. I convinced Jane that this would be an interesting ride, and once the rain ended, we set out for our agreed upon destination.

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Checking Out the Beach

We found a nice parking lot with a boat launch and a concrete dock, and after unloading our bikes, we mounted them and began our ride. We followed CO T south along the eastern shoreline for six miles until we reached Lily Bay Park. It was not much of a park, as it represented a narrow public parking area and a place to launch a boat. The land between County T and the shoreline contained very nice summer homes that blocked access to the beaches; however, periodically a sign announced the name of a narrow lane, and several were not labeled as private. Jane and I stopped at a few of these to gain access to the beach, and this enabled views north and south.

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Dave on the Beach South of Whitefish Bay

The return route was uneventful, and after a one hour and fifteen minute out and back we loaded the bikes and returned to The Cornerstone. Jane booked reservations at Pellitier’s Restaurant and Fish Boil in Fish Creek for 6:00, so we changed into our nicest clothes and once again made the drive to Fish Creek. We parked on a side street and decided to browse the shops. We walked south and then crossed the main street that paralleled the waterfront, when once again the sky opened, and buckets of rain fell upon us. We quickly scrambled to find an open store and found ourselves in a small shop that specialized in international gifts. Jane felt guilty about using the shop simply for shelter, so she purchased a nice headband.

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Fish Boil in Progress

Eventually the rain slowed enough to enable us to sprint to the car, and we moved it to a parking place close to Pellitier’s. We checked in at the host counter and paid for two fish boils. I chose the standard boil, and Jane opted for the lite. We were invited to grab a table, or we could move outside to watch the culmination of the 6PM boil. We actually did both. We chose a table, and then I walked to the area behind the restaurant where two large barrels were perched on stands over a flaming fire. Several young men wearing rain slickers were tending the boil, and I snapped a few photos while attempting to remain somewhat dry. At six o’clock I was back inside the restaurant looking out the large glass window, and I witnessed the flames as they burst from the fire and surrounded the large barrel for a moment. With this climactic ending the boil was complete and ready for consumption.

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The Famous Fish Boil

Jane and I returned to our table and within minutes our waiter arrived and deposited two plates in front of us. Each contained a fillet or two of boiled whitefish, two small boiled red potatoes, and a boiled onion. A thick slice of brown bread perched on the lip of the plate. Jane and I ate our boils, but we both agreed afterwards that it was relatively bland, and the high point was the ten second flame up in the back patio.

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The Stage Is Set for The Actuary

After dinner we proceeded south to the Peninsula Players Playhouse several miles south of Fish Creek. We purchased tickets online for The Actuary. The playhouse opened for the season the previous night and was sold out, so we decided to stay an extra night in order to obtain seating. We both thoroughly enjoyed the performance, and the time raced by. A humorous play was an appropriate end to our Wisconsin road trip in 2017.

Day 7: Wisconsin Trip – 06/13/2017

Day 7: Wisconsin Trip 06/13/2017 Photo Album

Jane and I typically rent an audio book from the library to entertain us while making long road trips, and on one previous excursion we listened to The Bone House by Brian Freeman. This novel unfolds in Door County and the protagonists reside on Washington Island which is located north of the Door County peninsula. The story took place in the same area that we were now visiting, and it mentioned Schoolhouse Beach, Death’s Door, and the ferry that transports cars and residents between the island and the mainland. We visualized these scenes in our minds, but now we had the opportunity to see them first hand. Tuesday was our designated day to visit Washington Island.

We targeted the 12:00PM ferry departure, and this provided a window of time in the morning to do some additional sightseeing. We filled out the morning by visiting yet another state park, Newport State Park. Newport State Park is located on the southeastern corner of the tip of the peninsula, and the drive from the park to Gills Rock was short. The dock at Gills Rock is the departure location for the Washington Island passenger ferry.

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Ferns Reach to My Shoulders

The 2.4 mile Lynd Point/Fern Loop Trail required an hour to complete, and the highlight was the Lynd Point segment which followed the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Jane and I hiked on a short spur to some rocks overlooking the water, and as I gazed at the unending expanse of the lake, a huge fish leaped completely clear of the water’s surface. The fish was definitely some form of trout or salmon, and I anxiously told Jane of my observation. She turned to look where I pointed, and miraculously the same fish cleared the water a second time. I estimate it was a fat salmonid in the 20 – 30 inch range. I now had a witness to my first sighting of a fish in Lake Michigan.

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Near the Spot Where I Saw a Salmon or Steelhead

When we returned to the car we hustled to reach the ferry launch and quickly parked in a grass lot at the top of a hill. We unloaded our mountain bikes and cruised down the hill and purchased our tickets for the crossing to Washington Island. An elderly gentleman piloted the ferry, and within ten minutes we commenced the crossing. The band of water that separates the peninsula from Washington Island is named Deaths Door, and our pilot/guide informed us that it claimed a large number of vessels over the years due to its difficult currents.

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Lunch on Washington Island

Once we docked on the island a ship’s mate unloaded our bikes, and we found a convenient picnic table next to the dock. We munched our lunches, and then we pedaled a short distance to Lobdell Point Road which connected with Main Road. Main Road was the main artery, and we followed that for five miles to Schoolhouse Beach. We paused at the park and beach which was relatively crowded with recent arrivals from tour groups. The beach was comprised of white round stones that are on average three inches long by two inches wide and shaped like an egg.

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Smooth and Round

We rested at the beach and watched tour visitors toss the round rocks in the lake, and after fifteen minutes we were anxious to escape the insanity of humanity and return to the peaceful rural roads of the island. We completed a loop by traveling east on Jackson Harbor Road and then looped south and west until we reconnected with Main Road. The island seemed sparsely populated, although most the of the lakefront lots seemed occupied. We returned to the dock with nearly an hour to spare, so we climbed back on our bikes and completed a short loop that circled around a small peninsula that jutted out from the southwest corner of the island.

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What Is Up with the Leg Raising?

The ferry arrived at 4PM, and we departed and arrived at Gulls Rock within thirty minutes. On the return trip we traveled on route 42 along Green Bay and passed through the classic lakeside resort towns of Sister Bay, Ephraim, and Fish Creek. For dinner on Tuesday night we returned to Fish Creek where we feasted at the Bayside Tavern. After dinner we stopped at the Egg Harbor Fun Park and enjoyed a game of miniature golf. Actually Jane enjoyed the match more, as she edged me by two strokes on the Door County themed course.

Tuesday was a fun day in Door County highlighted by a ferry ride, a cycling loop, and miniature golf. Only one day remained in our Wisconsin road trip.

 

Day 6: Wisconsin Trip – 06/12/2017

Day 6: Wisconsin Trip 06/12/2017 Photo Album

Monday June 12 was a gorgeous day with temperatures peaking around eighty degrees. The Cornerstone Lodge provided us with a gift basket that contained salsa, coffee, and a stack of brochures with coupons and things to do in Door County. Among the pamphlets were maps of several of the five state parks located in Door County, and we perused these as we searched for fun activities. We hoped to undertake bike rides and hikes while exploring as much of the peninsula as possible.

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Our Monday Bike Route

Peninsula State Park caught our attention quickly, as it contained the 5.1 mile one-way Sunset bike trail. We liked the idea of an off road trail within a state park, and it was only fifteen miles from The Cornerstone. In addition more than half of the ride tracked Green Bay, and we welcomed views of the water.

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Peninsula State Park is located just beyond the town of Fish Creek, so this gave us an opportunity to cruise through another resort town. Fish Creek was three times larger than Egg Harbor, and the main street contained an abundance of shops, restaurants, bars and lodging. The waterfront was only a block away from route 42, which served as the main street through town. We turned left near the northern edge of Fish Creek, and a short drive delivered us to the entrance station for the park. We paid an eleven dollar day use fee that entitled us to visit any Wisconsin state park on June 12, and then we quickly found the trailhead for the Sunset Trail and a nearby parking lot.

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Eagle Bluff Lighthouse

The initial section of the trail passed through some woodlands, but then it veered to the left and paralleled Green Bay for quite a distance. We stopped at the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse and the Nicolet Bay boat launch and snapped some photos. The ride from Nicolet Bay back to the parking lot passed through more wooded areas.

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A Lonely Island

We noted several signs that had the words wild parsnips in a bold font in the heading, but we never stopped to read the fine print. Later I Googled wild parsnips, and I learned that it is an invasive species from Europe and Asia that is spreading rapidly through the Midwest. It is in the Queen Anne’s lace family and grows quite tall and displays a light yellow flower. If the plant chemicals come in contact with skin, they are activated by ultraviolet light and create a nasty burn. According to the literature, it is worse than poison ivy. Of course we avoided tall yellow Queen Anne’s lace plants over the remainder of our trip.

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Wood Orchard Airstream

After our enjoyable cycling experience we returned to our lodging for lunch, but just north of Egg Harbor we stopped at our first roadside fruit market. What a great place! We wandered the aisles and tasted the many samples displayed by the Wood Orchard store. Have you ever tried cherry salsa? You should, as it was delicious, and of course we purchased a jar. What about traffic jam? It is a jam comprised of mixed berries, and of course a jar of that now resides in our pantry. We limited our purchases to these two items, but we also tried cherry butter, natural peanut butter, and cherry mustard. Every sample was quite tasty, but we had to draw the line.

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Whitefish Dunes

After lunch at our room we embarked on an afternoon adventure. Whitefish Dunes State Park was across the peninsula from our refurbished barn, so we made the short drive and completed a 2.5 mile hike. The trail began on the beach that faced east, and we caught our first glimpse of the main body of Lake Michigan. The water on the east side was much cooler, and that translated into lower air temperatures as well. Quite a few park visitors enjoyed the narrow beach, and a few hardy souls even ventured waist deep into the lake. Jane removed her Chacos and waded up to her knees, but after a few minutes she returned and complained about numb feet. This of course did not encourage me to dip my toe in Lake Michigan, so I relaxed on the sand until Jane was ready to continue our hike.

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Dave Stays Dry

The red trail loop followed the lake for 1.2 miles, and then we turned right and headed west and climbed the Old Baldy dune, the tallest dune in the park. The dune is covered with vegetation and barely recognizable as something other than a small hill near the lake.

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Beers at Door County Brewery

When I searched for brew pubs in Door County I noticed a second brewery besides Shipwrecked that was located in Baileys Harbor. Baileys Harbor was just north of Whitefish Dunes, so we made the drive to the Door County Brewery and sampled a cold beer before we traversed the peninsula again and found ourselves in Fish Creek. Additional research on our smart phones enabled us to discover a highly rated restaurant in Fish Creek called the Wild Tomato, so we dropped in for dinner. Because of lactose intolerance I resigned myself to pasta or an Italian sandwich, but the menu indicated that it was possible to order soy cheese on a pizza. Jane and I shared a 12″ pizza, and soy cheese covered my half.

Monday was the last day of my four day non-resident fishing license, and I convinced Jane to make a visit to Potawatomi State Park just south of Sturgeon Bay after dinner. The state park pamphlet indicated that 2.5 miles of shoreline were available for pursuing walleye, bass and other sport fish. The drive to Potawatomi was a bit longer than the other two parks, and we arrived so that I was in a position to fish by 7PM. I rigged my Sage One five weight since I was hunting large warmwater fish, and I hiked through the woods south of the boat launch until I arrived at a small cove. Numerous reeds poked above the water along the left shoreline, and this looked like excellent habitat for warmwater species, so I waded into the lake for twenty feet to allow space for a decent backcast.

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Looks Like Great Fish Habitat to Me

I knotted a silver and cream colored sculpzilla to my line and began making casts along the reeds followed by pulsing strips to entice the voracious fish of Lake Michigan. After half an hour of this madness, I covered forty yards of shoreline without so much as a follow or a small sunfish. I reeled up my line and hiked back to the car where Jane waited in the passenger seat. The timing was perfect, as a large black cloud perched on the southwestern horizon, and streaks of lightning kicked off nature’s light show. Just as I hopped in the car after removing my gear, raindrops appeared on the windshield. On Tuesday Jane informed me that heavy rain pummeled the roof and walls at the Cornerstone overnight, but apparently three state parks in one day exhausted me, and I was oblivious to the outside world.

Day 5: Wisconsin Trip – 06/11/2017

Day 5: Wisconsin Trip 06/11/2017 Photo Album

Day five was essentially a travel day, as we crossed the midsection of Wisconsin on an eastward path, until we skirted Green Bay and drove on to the Door County peninsula. We traveled rapidly through the lower portion of the peninsula until we crossed Sturgeon Bay, and then we followed Wisconsin 42 in a northwest direction to our lodging at The Cornerstone Antiques and Lodging south of Egg Harbor, WI. We arrived in the early afternoon, and we had barely enough time to check in, when a thunderstorm delivered sheets of rain on the area. Jane made a dash for the room, while I decided to remain in the car and wait out the storm. The Rockies vs. Cubs game on satellite radio factored into my decision. After fifteen minutes of pounding rain, the storm relented enough for me to make my escape from the car, and we began the process of unloading our luggage. This storm was the first of four that we endured while spending four days in Door County.

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Our Door County Lodging

Once we were established in our room, The Mettie Rose, we decided to do some local exploring. We continued on route 42 to the small town of Egg Harbor. For some reason we thought the town was larger than it was, so we turned left and drove along the lakefront for several miles in an effort to find a larger town center. We passed nice homes, golf courses and resorts; but we never found a center of commerce larger than the initial small cluster of shops and restaurants, so we turned around. On our return to Egg Harbor village we stopped at a public beach and ambled on to the granular beach and watched the crashing waves. Jane and I grew up near the Atlantic Ocean, and it took us awhile to adjust to the fact that such a large body of water was a fresh water lake and not salt water.

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The Beach Facing Green Bay

We found a place to park in Egg Harbor and stopped at the Shipwrecked brew pub, where we each enjoyed some cold beverages. We used our phones to search the Egg Harbor restaurants and settled on a BBQ establishment called Casey’s BBQ & Smokehouse. After dinner we stopped at Grumpy’s, and Jane enjoyed an ice cream cone, while Dave pouted over the lack of sorbet or frozen yogurt. We finished our exploration by stopping at Harbor View Park, where we found a nice bench on the hillside that provided a wide panorama of the marina, lake and sky. We were ready to embark on the exploration of Door County over the next three days.

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The Pier at Egg Harbor

 

Bad Axe Creek – 06/10/2017

Time: 7:00PM – 8:30PM

Location: Duck Egg Park

Bad Axe Creek 06/10/2017 Photo Album

After dinner at the Viroqua Food Co-op I allowed Jane to drive, while I navigated using the Driftless map that was highlighted with our destination on Bad Axe Creek. Our path required numerous turns, as we twisted and curved up and down hills and rural valleys west of Viroqua. Eventually we reached small Duck Egg Park just beyond a bridge and next to the creek. Saturday developed into a hot evening, and the gnats continued their assault on my person. As I mentioned, Jane accompanied, but she immediately surrendered to the insect population and remained in the car during my 1.5 hour venture on Bad Axe Creek.

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Narrow and Dark Olive Spring Creek

Once again I chose my small light Orvis Access four weight rod, and when I approached the stream fifteen yards above the bridge, I could see that Bad Axe was larger than Camp Creek but smaller than Timber Coulee. As mentioned by the gentleman in the fly shop, the water was a deep olive color like many classic Pennsylvania limestoners, and the streambed was similar to a trough with steep banks and tall grass along the edge. I stuffed my headlamp and my regular glasses in my backpack to enable fishing in the low light of dusk should I last that long.

I began just above the bridge with a yellow fat Albert, beadhead hares ear, and salvation nymph. Jane briefly confronted the gnat attack and stood on the bridge to watch my initial efforts to land a Bad Axe Creek trout. Almost immediately I noticed a solitary rise in a small nook along the opposite bank behind an exposed rock, so I lobbed a short cast to the area. I was quite surprised when an eleven inch brown pounced on one of the trailing nymphs, but my glee was momentary as the fish battled and slipped away. A second temporary connection in the area within view of the bridge raised my frustration level; however, I persisted and landed a spunky ten inch brown on the salvation nymph to break into the scoring column.

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This Section Looks Quite Good

The low light and the dark olive color made it very difficult to read the depth of the water. At one point I snagged one of the nymphs on some aquatic vegetation, and I initially took a step toward the area where my fly was held captive, but I found myself immediately in water above my waist. This situation was quite surprising given the ten foot width of the stream.

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Another Bad Axe Creek Resident

I covered .5 mile during the course of my wandering along Bad Axe Creek on Saturday evening, and I built the fish count to four. In addition I registered a foul hooked fish and three long distance releases, so this was a decent amount of activity for a short amount of time. One of the escapees felt particularly hefty in comparison to the other landed fish. Two of the netted fish nabbed the salvation nymph, and the other two grabbed the hares ear. I quit at 8PM in spite of ample light, so that I could find my way back through the tall grass and weeds in the dark. On my return hike I was sorely disappointed when the cable on my right Korker wading boot snapped.

Jane and I departed the Duck Egg Park by 9:10 for Westby, and surprisingly the sky remained quite bright. Saturday evening was a blast, and I second guessed my decision to spend only an evening there. I was the only fisherman, and quite a bit of stream remained upstream to explore. If there is another trip to the Driftless Region, I plan to devote more hours to Bad Axe Creek.

Fish Landed: 4

Day 4: Wisconsin Trip – 06/10/2017

Day 4: Wisconsin Trip 06/10/2017 Photo Album

On Friday as Jane and I searched for non-fishing activities in the Driftless Area, we discovered a bicycle ride to the north of the Westby House Inn. The trail began in Sparta and ended in Elroy, and it was named the Elroy – Sparta State Trail. According to the literature it was the first rails to trails project in the United States. It contained three tunnels, but the main attraction to us was the rails to trails designation. In an area characterized by numerous rolling hills and deep valleys, the idea of a gradual railroad grade was very inviting.

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We Found the Rail Trail

The trail passed through a town called Norwalk that was just north of Ontario, WI, so Jane and I decided to access it at that point and then complete an out and back that would take us through a tunnel near Wilton, WI. We arrived at the Norwalk Park and found an open parking space next to the trail. I mentioned the wind in my report on Camp Creek, and it did not relent during our travel to the bike path trailhead. As we zigzagged across the rural countryside, we observed waving tree branches and flags fluttering in the stiff breeze. We considered canceling the ride, but as we unloaded the bicycles, we realized that the wind was blowing from the southeast. We took consolation in the fact that the wind would be in our face on the outbound leg, and we would benefit from a tailwind on the return. We jumped on our bikes and began to peddle.

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The surface of the trail was crushed limestone gravel, and heavily wooded surroundings provided shade for most of the ride. This was a welcome circumstance for two cyclists pedaling with temperatures near ninety degrees. After four miles we approached the highly anticipated tunnel. Neither of us expected the complete darkness that greeted our progression to the midpoint of the .5 mile tunnel, and I wore my prescription sunglasses. I am essentially blind without my prescription lenses, so I maintained close contact with Jane through the middle section. We were both amazed at the refreshing cool air that settled in the dark underpass, and our exit on the east side shocked us back to the reality of the hot outside world.

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The End Is Near

We passed the small town of Wilton at the ten mile point, and just beyond Logan Avenue we turned around and reversed our direction back to Norwalk. Visibility did not improve on our second pass through the tunnel, but me survived and pedaled into the parking lot having accomplished the twenty mile round trip. Riding up and down the gradual grade of the railroad bed while seeing the sharply rolling hills and valleys north and south of the trail was certainly a relief on a warm late spring day.

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Typical Section

We returned to Westby and quickly showered and changed, before we drove to Viroqua for an early dinner. For Saturday night we chose the Viroqua Food Co-op deli counter in order to save time. The time banked at dinner translated to more fishing time for Dave on Saturday evening on Bad Axe Creek. My dinner consisted of a pastrami sandwich and gypsy soup, and it was one of the best meals I consumed on the entire road trip.

Camp Creek – 06/10/2017

Time: 8:00AM – 12:30PM

Location: Viola Park area

Camp Creek 06/10/2017 Photo Album

Saturday was expected to be even hotter than Friday, so I departed nice and early from the Westby House Inn. I completed the thirty minute drive through Viroqua and then east through the tiny town of Viola, where I reached the Viola Park. The parking lot was devoid of any cars, and I was quite pleased with this development after my difficulties finding fishing space on Timber Coulee on Friday. I experienced a fine day on Camp Creek during 2014, and since it was a weekend day, I was concerned about fishing competition. At 8AM in the morning I concluded that I had the stream to myself, at least for some period of time.

As expected the air temperature was already at seventy degrees, as I pulled on my waders and assembled my Orvis Access four weight in the early morning. Starting early was a smart decision as the thermometer peaked above the ninety degree line in the late afternoon, when I was no longer fishing. I fished nearly the same segment of the small limestone creek that appealed to me in 2014; however, I began farther downstream where a dirt road crossed Camp Creek. In 2014 I hiked downstream from the bridge on the paved road that leads from Viola to the park. Similar to Friday the stream appeared to be nearly ideal with average flows and perfect clarity.

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Above and Below the Fallen Tree Produced

I began my early morning search for Driftless trout with a size 10 Chernobyl ant and a beadhead hares ear nymph, and on the third cast I shot a cast to a position just below an angled dead tree that spanned the narrow waterway. Wham, the Chernobyl dipped, and I set the hook and landed a chunky nine inch brown trout. It was an auspicious start to my day on Camp Creek.

While I was netting the first trout of the day, I spotted a single rise just above the angled tree, so I carefully circled around the root ball and dropped a cast above the scene of the rise. Again on the third drift the foam surface fly paused, and I lifted my rod tip and felt the weight of brown trout number two. My expectations were now sky high for the remainder of the day, but not surprisingly my catch rate slowed measurably.

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Wild Brown Trout

I resumed my upstream migration and covered the remainder of the segment between the bridges with no additional fish putting a sag in my net. I did manage a hook up with what felt like a larger fish, but it escaped prematurely. I also made a poor decision when I attempted a roll cast beneath a tree and hooked a live branch. After several attempts to dislodge the Chernobyl and hares ear, I surrendered and broke off the pair of flies. In place of the Chernobyl ant I tied a yellow fat Albert to my line, and then I added a new hares ear. I continued my quest for additional trout, and after I passed under the bridge I added a beadhead pheasant tail as a third fly. I was dissatisfied with the long dry spell and searched for a means to break the slump.

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Gorgeous Pool

Although the pace of action never matched my remembrance of 2014, it did accelerate. Before quitting at 12:15 I registered twelve landed trout, and all were of the brown trout variety. The beadhead pheasant tail did indeed prove to be popular with the Camp Creek residents, as numbers three through ten succumbed to the size 18 rust brown nymph imitation, and the intervals between catches shrank significantly.

Near the end of my morning I encountered a very attractive wide deep pool. A large submerged log divided the pool, and a five foot lane rushed between the bank and the log. I lofted the flies to the top of the run, and just as they approached the lip, a fish flashed to the left of the visible Chernobyl. I guessed that this signaled a take of the nymph, so I executed a swift hook set and felt decent weight and saw the side of a brown trout. Unfortunately that was the extent of my success, as another nice spring creek trout evaded the hook and escaped.

After this bit of excitement two more small browns grabbed the hares ear, and then I reeled in and hiked along the fence until I reached the park and my car at 12:15. The gnats at Camp Creek were were even more annoying than what I experienced at Timber Coulee. I attempted to thwart their attacks with a double application of DEET and a special concoction that Jane and I purchased at the Driftless Angler, but the effectiveness of these deterrents was questionable.

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As was the case on Friday the riffles and runs at the top of each pool produced the best action. I suspect that this resulted from the the faster water masking the plunk of the dry/dropper, and it also allowed me to execute a closer approach. The accelerated current velocity also forced the fish to react quickly to passing food possibilities. For some reason I never tested the five small terrestrial patterns that I purchased at the Driftless Angler, although I probably should have experimented with them on the smooth pools of the small limestone spring creek. On Saturday the wind was a significant factor, and it created numerous menacing tangles. Tall grass and strong wind are generally strong leading indicators of hot terrestrial fishing.

In summary I enjoyed another fine day on Camp Creek. I was the only fisherman on the stream, and this allowed me to move freely. I love prospecting with a dry/dropper without interference from other fishermen, and that describes my day on Saturday, June 10.

Fish Landed: 12