Tuesday, October 25, 2016

3 Friends Brew Up Musky Mojo Despite 48* Northwoods Water Temps

   A springtime broken finger altered many of my fly fishing adventures for the year. The lack of vacation time sorely affected fall fishing fun. However, my good friend John told me months ago that if I could get a little bit of time off of work then we should go fishing for musky in September or October. And, luckily, I got Monday off following the October 22-23 weekend. John called Scott, currently on permanent sabbatical (AKA retirement) from work, and the 3 of us headed to the waterways of the Northwoods in search of musky.

   Driving north Friday after work, fishing the weekend, and heading home Monday, I surprisingly left the Northwoods and my friends feeling just as satisfied as the previous 3-4 Octobers when I could sprinkle out 14 days of vacation time to mostly chase musky, but also smb, salmon, and trout.

   This was really a very special trip, and I just wanted to share it with you.  Due to extenuating circumstances, I've been asked not to share what waters we visited. I'm sorry, but if you use Google Earth, speak with the DNR, etc., there are many musky haunts awaiting your discovery in the Northwoods. (If you click on the individual pictures, they will enlarge so you can see them better)

Scott keeps the line tight to his first musky of the trip while John prepares to net it.

Preparing to give the musky a smooch!

Scott's 2nd musky of the trip. The camera didn't depict the color and beauty of the markings on this fish.

John removes the fly from his big musky.

Careful fly removal by John.

John was beyond happy when his big girl was safely netted!!

On day 2, Twitch (me!) lifts her first musky from the net.

I saw the boil and set the hook. It was an exciting fight, but my main event was yet to come! (Photo by John!)

This was my first ever tiger musky boated!  This critter struck and I set. The line went slack. I slowed and then started stripping... hoping for a return. It struck again!! I set hard. Leaping twice, rolling and rolling, then a couple short rod-bending runs, John had the fighter netted. I whooped it up!! John wanted a pic of the 3 of us. Well, of course! All in the boat were excited by the fish's fight and its beauty. (Thanks Scott for taking the other photos!)

The fish got fired-up in the boat too! John felt the problem first while I was happily clueless for the moment. I won't quote here what John started to say when Scott took our action shot!

John hunts musky in the beautiful Northwoods. Not everyone can access this water so we were even happier to be here.

Off to more promising musky habitat and giving the arms and concentration a break!

Nearing the end of a good day, for the first time EVER on musky water, I was happy to put my rod aside and sit back and watch friends cast and row while enjoying just being where we were and enjoying the end to a mighty fine weekend.

Partners in the hunt: John

Partners in the hunt: Scott

And Twitch, sporting rabbit ears provided by John.

This swan runs on water during take-off to avoid a pursuing musky! Well, the musky part isn't true, but it sounded good. (:

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Fly Fishing and Other Outdoor Adventures Book List

   What avid fly angler who also likes to read has not enjoyed books written by John Gierach?  His humor, including subtle yet catchy bits of wisdom gleaned from a life of chasing fin on the fly and then sparingly woven into his stories, is what hooked me.  Gierach is also good at sliding in low-key fly rodding education disguised as storytelling.  He was my initiation to fly fishing entertainment in print.  What an introduction!

   After this, the book A Different Angle, edited by Holly Morris, was given to me by a male fly angler.  I think he felt I'd relate to it since all of the fly fishing stories in the book were written by women.  While I relate more to my fishing companions by their personalities and how we approach the sport than by their gender, I did enjoy the book and feel both men and women would appreciate it.


   Over the last few years I've become enamored with listening to audiobooks during my 2 to 8 hour one way road trips in search of trout, smallies, musky, etc.  The 20 minute trip to and from work is also more entertaining with a book on cd than listening to the local radio stations.  I've also returned to reading and am nearly finished with the Cork O'Connor series of books.


   I've become a frequent visitor to the library.  But, obviously specific print and audio library materials don't have their own fly fishing section.  I've never seen an outdoorsy person fiction section, let alone the section further subdivided into regions the reader might like to fish or hike.  Since it has often been a fluke that I've found books with fly fishing subject matter (not "how-to" books) or books relating to outdoor adventure in specific regions that hold an attraction for me, I thought I'd list on my blog the books I've discovered and enjoyed.  I tend to enjoy murder mysteries with a strong and honest lead character who is also independent and adventurous.  Perhaps those who have so kindly taken the time to become a Follower on this blog and other visitors to this blog might appreciate the book list and may, perhaps, have suggestions of their own to share.


1) Books authored by John Gierach.  The intrigue created by titles such as Sex, Death, and Fly-Fishing and Even Brook Trout Get the Blues, simply prepares the reader for great content between the covers.  Certainly, you will learn a little something about fly fishing or a particular region of the country, and Gierach will pass on bits of wisdom gleaned from days on the water.  But Gierach's strength is simply that he's an excellent storyteller again and again and again. He knits together a real-life cast of characters, places, and adventures that most fly anglers would like to know, and in a way, we ultimately feel we do know after laughing and smiling our way through his books.


2) Time Is A River, by Mary Alice Monroe.  After my Aunt Nancy, who lives near Asheville, NC, and my fly fishing friend Kate had each struggled through breast cancer treatments, and then Kate and my friend Ruth (also my aunt's friend), and I particpated in Casting for Recovery, I discovered this book on a library shelf.  Talk about timing!


The main character is Mia, a recent breast cancer survivor.  She escapes to a long-shut cabin near Asheville, NC, offered to her by her Casting for Recovery (CFR) leader after Mia suffers family trauma after the CFR retreat.  Mia's escape soon becomes her self-discovery when she finds the diary and fly fishing journal from Kate, the cabin's previous owner who was a feminist and fly fishing guide much ahead of her time.  Self-discovery evolves into a murder mystery, along with Mia's added discovery of bugs, water, and bamboo.


3)  The Sean Stranahan book series by Keith McCafferty.  The Royal Wulff Murders and The Gray Ghost Murders introduce Sean Stranahan, fly fishing guide, artist, and private investigator, to the readers.  The author develops Stranahan's and other characters in a manner that helps the reader to feel a connection with them.  These first two books have a direct tie-in to fly fishing!  McCafferty's next two books in the series, Dead Man's Fancy and Crazy Mountain Kiss, retain a looser tie-in to fly fishing but still feature Montana country and personalities, and grow characters introduced in the first two books.  All books have been very good Montana-based murder mysteries.  Buffalo Jump Blues is the 5th book of the Sean Stranahan series, and I suspect it will be every bit as entertaining as the rest.


4) A Different Angle,
edited by Holly Morris.  This book of fly fishing stories was written by women.  It has likely been two years since I have read it, but I remember how much it was enjoyed.  While looking over a few stories to jog my memory, I decided I wanted to read it again after I finish my book in the Cork O'Connor series. What mostly strikes home with me is that these stories feel intimate, personal.  To me, that is also how fly fishing feels.  Tales about coming to terms, in her own way (I bet you know how), with a parent's death; and about the joy felt when one realizes she will love to fish, about a One-Fly tournament, and more, are found in this book with a fly fishing theme. 

5) The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.  
It's not fly fishing, but it's fishing and so much more than that.  This classic is a good read on many levels.  I've also enjoyed reading Hemingway's Nick Adams stories.

6)  The Anna Pigeon book series authored by former park ranger Nevada Barr.  Currently, there are 19 books in the series.  I was completely hooked by these murder-mysteries while listening to the audiobooks Blood Lure and The Rope.  Pigeon, a law enforcement ranger with the United States National Park Service, is a fiercely independent woman who is prone to little talk and much action and either finds trouble or is asked to fix known trouble.  The readers tag along with Anna after she takes assignments and job duties at various national park across the United States.  The ranger uses her intelligence and cunning to solve park mysteries while protecting park wildlife and keeping herself from becoming the next murder to solve.  That isn't to say that Anna doesn't suffer her share of hard knocks...

7)  The Cork O'Connor book series by William Kent Krueger.  I read and enjoyed Tamarack County a couple years ago, but then headed on to supernatural mysteries.  Last year my friend Kate recommended and let me borrow Iron Lake, the first in the Cork O'Connor series.  While I have since elected to read, not listen to, each of Krueger's books in the series, tonight I will begin Windigo Island, which is book #14/15.  When I put a reserve on the latest book, Manitou Canyon, at the library, I learned there are 19 people ahead of me waiting to get their hands on this book.


While there are only a few mentions of fishing by Cork and others in the books, the book series does relate heavily to this Midwestern fly angler.  Cork, a sheriff, private investigator, owner of Sam's Place, white and Anishinaabe, and most importantly, a family man, is a native of Aurora, Minnesota.  Cork's life is centered around the Northwoods, its lakes, rivers, wildlife, Native American culture and reservations, the struggle for employment and a way of life.  His travels take me to places and personalities with which I am already familiar due to my fishing travels.  I think many anglers and hunters who visit the Northwoods will enjoy these books.


Cork is part white (Irish) and part Anishinaabe (Ojibwe).  His varying roles as sheriff and later, as private investigator often working with the sheriff's department, put himself and his family in danger as he works to solve the who and why of local murders while managing the delicate balance between white and Native American race relations.  Anishinaabe traditions and the role of Henry, the near-ageless mide, help guide Cork and his family along a path of acceptance, wisdom, and truth.  Strong morals and family values often clash with violence, greed, and murder in a land that is often as harsh as it can be beautiful.  While there has not been a poorly written book in the lot, Boundary Waters, #2/15, remains my favorite.
    


8)  The Kate Shugak book series by Dana Stabenow.  I have only read a few of the 20 books in this
series featuring yet another much-needed strong and intelligent female role model.  I am happy to write that this book series takes the readers to the region of Niniltna, Alaska, where they are introduced to Kate Shugak, a highly-respected and sometimes feared 5-foot Aleut woman who lives on a homestead in an un-named national park in the Alaskan Bush.  Kate's constant companion is Mutt, a half-wolf/half-husky dog.


Former investigator for the
D.A, in Anchorage and private investigator, who also hunts for morels, and who has worked undercover on fishing boats and the TransAlaska Pipeline, tackles murder-mysteries in the Alaska Bush and generally finds a way to ensure justice is served.  The rough-voiced woman with a neck scar travelling ear to ear demands and receives respect from law enforcement, Alaska natives and others, including the "Park Rats,", and takes the readers on adventures on fishing boats, pipelines, mines, the bush, and elsewhere.    

Friday, October 7, 2016

Browns, Bows, SMB, Rockys, Gills, a Creek Chub, and one 19" Brown Hanging with the Smallies

   Last weekend I was suddenly on a solo adventure to a trout stream I'd fished with friends a couple times over the years, and I'd yet to develop any strong desire to return. I'd hoped to enjoy a short weekend with friend Kate, but a sick dog altered her plans.

   Life throws us curve balls, some big and some small. While I'd wished Kate could have come, I never had a second thought if I should continue the trip solo.  A recent large curve ball appearing in my family's life demanded of me some "water therapy."  The pictures below, for me, continue to mirror my firm belief to live life fully whether alone or with others.

   This previously thought of "so-so" region slowly turned into my waiting delight while my Subie traveled the street-light pierced, darkened roads of this Iowa state park as I searched for the campground late Friday night.  I discovered the lake, dams, the river birthing the lake, quality campgrounds, and a welcome bit of peace. My primary excitement the following morning was seeing that I could visit this place and fish the lake for smb in my little pontoon, wade the shores of the river and creek downstream of the lake, fish below the 2 dams bordering the lake, and then enjoy fishing primarily for trout at the stream, located elsewhere in the park.  There is a lot to offer any fly angler in this park!

   
Saturday, I started out early and finished at dusk, taking the time mid-afternoon for a sandwich and a few sips of water. Saturday night I write without exaggeration that I was tortured by multiple leg cramps. I woke Sunday with a bloodshot eye. Stay hydrated!!!

   The morning was for trout. They wanted my dry fly, a wet fly, a streamer, but only one trout wanted a nymph, and it threw the hook.  I was pleased.  Then, I visited the water I was most excited about. Warm water.  I'd quietly hoped I could nab a large brown trout on the river, but my focus was on the powerful and acrobatic smb. 

   Much to my surprise, after failing twice to set the hook on a couple near shore strikes, I changed from a grey craft fur leech pattern to my black and chartreuse Guinea Bugger.  I cast long and downstream and had a hard strike followed by a hard hookset on my end. I'd brought out a rarely used, stiffer, fast-action 5 wt and really rekindled my love with the rod that day.  The fish stayed low and, as always, I chanted to "Please just let me see you," as I hate not to even see the fish that put such a bend into my rod.  Much to my surprise, when I first got a look-see of the fish when it emerged from the drop-off, my brain registered it was somehow lighter and more slender for its length than I'd expected. Then I saw the spots. That was no smb!!!  

   Thank God I didn't know it was a large brown prior to that time.  I would have gotten too excited and all of us have experienced what happens then.  I was able to land the aggressive fish, and I was further glad to have my net on hand. My eyes saw a +20" brown, but my net indicated a 19-incher.  Nonetheless, I hooted and hollered and gave thanks.  I've hooked and lost a couple 18s, and landed one 18" brown sipping bugs in a 2' wide hole on a stream near Decorah, Iowa, a few years ago. But, jeeze, this gal was supposed to be an smb and she took my Guinea Bugger, and she was 19 inches! 

   She also rolled herself counterclockwise in my net, wrapping leader around her mouth. After I worked a couple wraps off, she smartly rolled clockwise, unwrapping all but 2 wraps from her body. I did the rest, took a couple pictures to share with you, and set her free.  After visiting the bank of a large hole, I was soon getting into smb, rock bass, bluegills, and later,

a creek chub.  Between trout and warm water fish, I landed 6 species of fish that day. 

   Bragging? No! Grateful? Yes! I share because it's a pleasure to share one's happiness and because I hope I can inspire others to get out and do the things they love, not waiting for the perfect circumstances to go. Sometimes imperfect circumstances lead to a perfectly happy day.  Nighttime can be another story... unless the angler remains hydrated. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

A Sluggish SMB Start Leads to Mid-Afternoon Feeding Fun

   I was able to fish the Volga River yesterday -- finally after 1.5 years of wanting to get there again!  

Three of us. Water low and had to drag boats more than usual. Portage toons (like the meat in a sandwich) between 2 downed tree trunks in the water. None of us were complainers, and we had a good time. All SMB were small and then rock bass and a few chubs thrown in to widen the species caught. Ha! Too bad it wasn't the occasional white bass or trout that are sometimes pulled from here.

   I did finally trial my yellow popper and after broadcasting a hole, I switched to chartreuse popper (ole faithful) and had a couple strikes and landed one after casting to the same hole. There were a few more strikes later on, but the day remained cooler and the fish were lazy like I had been the previous day.

   Switched to streamers and had some more contact, but guys doing better (M knows the Volga VERY well). Then, I switched to an olive pattern -- no one fishes olive anymore, why is that?!-- and the game changed. Then Douggles switched to olive with orange. Bango!

   Whether is was the fly color, the time of day the fish turned on, or a mix of both, I got most of my fish with that fly. For me alone, probably ~20 bass day overall after a slow start. But, at the hole that had already been fished, I did pull out an SMB in the first few casts with that fly. It was an unpainted lead eye crawdad-like pattern with 2 rabbit strips as legs. Olive tinsel chenille for body. Rubber legs and a little flash. With rabbit strips located at tail of body, I think they may have contributed more to profile color than anything else.  I watched that fly while stripping it in the clear water. I tell ya, with that lead head and the chenille, that fly looked more like a thin baitfish imitation and almost translucent... delicate, thin and very vulnerable.
(Click on photos to see close-up images. Thanks for looking and please comment to let me know you were here! ~Twitch 9-5-15)





Thursday, June 9, 2016

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~42~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On Lake St. Joseph, in Canada, I got to be “The Other Person.”  It was a yell-out-loud, hoot-n-holler kind of thrill after you work and wait and finally don’t fail when a chance comes along.

I had a great boat partner, Ed, who netted my big girl and who did other things to manage the pike that would not have been wise for me to then attempt.  Recently, part of my index finger had been “pulverized,” according to my doctor.  While I was wearing a splint, the wires had been removed just 13 days ago.

My only unfulfilled wish was that the picture could’ve been of both Ed and me holding this fierce-fighting fish with our friend John there to share in the excitement.  John had earlier motored off to prospect other water.


Last year in the Northwoods, John had been trying hard to get me on a big musky… And he did so.  It happened a couple times on a particular day, but I’d failed to convert. The following day I was in the zone but the fish weren’t cooperative. Late afternoon we had some action and a particular fish I converted felt like +40 during the fight.  In reality, its exciting, rod-bending action became 38 inches of musky in my happy hands.  No “+40” To A River Guide Service hat (yet) for me.

Also last winter, John convinced this frugal musky-hungry fly angler to take a 5-day, Canadian trip in search of pike.  The trip cost would eliminate my musky guide trips for this year since I’ve still not received payment greater than a dollar from the Mega-Millions. However, due to my proven faith in John’s ability to plan a trip and prospect good water, I decided I should grab a rare opportunity when it was given. Ultimately, we had a great group of 5 for the trip.

I got a Visa and then on May 25 laughingly predicted John’s minor frustration at seeing me pictured with my personal-best Esox… in a net on my lap.  A thrashing head or tail from a 42-inch pike with a 15 ½” girth does not mix well with a broken finger, and my poor grip could cause the fish to fall in the boat.  I'd elected to "Play smart to fish more, then practice safe release.”

I know that John missed converting a couple super-sized pike, including one right at his boat, and First-Cast Ed had a few mid-30s. The always-funny Steve and his daughter Sam, who was a novice fly angler, daily returned last to the cabin after competing for how many pike each could get.  Yes, there were some slow moments, but we all caught lots of pike. 




While it took me until the final day on the lake, we all landed walleye on the fly.  I cheered just like it was the 42-incher, having joked previously that I would become the first walleye fly fishing guide.  That wally also came to one of my 8-inch BB’s Forage flies, just like 42 did.  Those who tie flies understand that pleasure.  Another bigger pike was coaxed to my fly that day.  After a brief fight, it was gone because I forgot to set the hook a second time.  Right after that, I got a huge snag.


During those days on Canadian water, in beautiful surroundings shared by an excellent mix of people, I experienced many firsts.  42 was a blessing, and I’d always longed to feel the weight of a big girl and feel the release when she left my protective hand.  That pike was also a grand fighter, forcing my rod tip to circle the boat, making 2 short runs, and jumping twice from the water and tail-wagging.  This was Ed’s first big-pike experience too.  To top it off, I discovered she’d also left me with a tooth.  I gave Ed my fly.  I also had my first top-water experience, and that pike was boated with the only surface fly I’ve tied. Really, the fly is an embarrassment, and I call it Ugly Big Head.



Near the cabin, I waded and landed a pike one evening, fly-line-jigged and missed fish from the dock a couple other days, found blue crayfish claws and caribou prints and felt a greater intimacy with Canadian land and water.

Despite my finger, as the days progressed I started to learn how to safely manage my own netted, small pike.  The final evening at the cabin I went out to fish before the imminent lightning and thunder arrived.  I planned to fly fish off the dock but also explore a tiny point viewed from our cabin’s kitchen window.  The point had been a popular spot for beaver, a merganser pair, and gulls.  Would fish like it too?  After fishing the dock, I made the short, rocky hike to the point.  First cast and I had a pike!  Ultimately, I netted three pike while fishing a fly over the steep, rocky drop along that point.



Thunder chased me back to the cabin and we five friends soon enjoyed a final supper, including 4 racks of barbecued ribs, foil-grilled potatoes, and baked beans, with a great salad prepared by Steve and Sam.  Since John did the bulk of each evening’s cooking, the rest of us did the cleanup.  We’d planned for one meal of walleye, but John had brought and prepared so much good food for suppers that we didn’t harvest any walleye.


That evening, I ate with my waders on, having decided to fish again after supper.  If I got one special fish or a few smaller pike then I’d be satisfied.  I would not need to get up early the next morning for 30 minutes of last-hope fishing before the float plane arrived. The second time at the dock, with waning light and a post-thunderstorm sunset, another small pike was netted.  Did I once see a long, white belly turn from my fly in the haze of deeper water?  I’ll never know, but I ended up setting my alarm for 5:15. 



The first time that evening at the dock I’d landed two pike.  The first pike managed to get the fly moderately deep.  All my solo musky have been mouth hooked, so I had to put on my big-girl pants to get the current job done. I learned to keep the fish in the net and learned why the jaw spreaders kept coming undone.  I am, by nature, a jumpy person.  Whenever the pike would thrash, I would jump and squeeze the previously-placed spreaders, allowing the pike’s mouth to again close.  Ultimately, the good fingers on my left hand held the ring of the spreader while my right hand managed the pliers and the fly.  My butt was put in charge of the net handle. The second pike inhaled the fly more deeply.  After calming myself and mumbling that I might have to catch & keep for the first time if the pike did not consider my hook removal a success, I went to work.  I looked through the spreaders in to the mouth and down to its esophagus.  I’d never seen an esophagus before.  Deep breath.  The fly came out more quickly than the first pike’s fly had.  A safe release coupled with much relief.  The big-girl pants fit well so I need to keep wearing them.

By 5:30 am I was back on the dock with the previous night’s popular Umpqua fly on deck.  Then, it was my minnow-patterned BB’s Forage.  No fish sign.  With time running out, I put on a Supercharger; a red, flashy fly created by Jared Ehlers.  Ultimately, nothing was hooked, but it was worth getting up early… 

I had a follow.  It was another broad, 40+ pike, following inches away from the gaudy fly, right toward the dock!  When I look back, she seemed to be the fishy equivalent of the slow walk while scanning the morning newspaper, followed by an unhurried turn to the kitchen to relax and enjoy a good coffee.  I’ve imagined hooking and fighting her, all others rushing to the dock, with Sam, the youngest person and novice angler, being guided on netting a big toothy critter and ultimately getting to feel the heft of that scaled, powerful body.

We all want to return to the cabin, to those Canadian waters and to its pike and walleye.  And I sincerely hope that everyone gets their own chance to be “The Other Person.”  ~Trip dates: 5/21-28/16. Story finished 6/11/16. Thanks for reading it! Twitch

Back at Slate Falls Outpost office, I was the first person with the honor of filling out the board for landing a 42" or greater pike!

      MORE PICTURES FROM TRIP TO LAKE ST. JOSEPH, ONTARIO, CANADA:
View of  the 154,348 acre Lake St. Joseph just prior to the descent to our cabin.

Another view from the Otter float plane. Note that the land at the  lower right corner looks like a beaver. There were many beaver lodges on the lake, and they attracted finned toothy critters too!


John taking the time to appreciate life.

Steve, left, his daughter Sam, Ed, and I visit on the deck while John grills bbq chicken around the deck's corner.

Waiting out a morning's cold, wind, and rain with breakfast, a book, and a nap.

Ed  adds a little more warmth to the cabin on a chilly, late afternoon.

Our bathrooms 2 & 3 are located outside.

Ed was happy with small fish, big fish, in the rain, and in the rarely-seen sun.

I think this was Ed's first larger pike. It was 34" and d/t its girth it appeared large!

I put the netted 42 in the water. Ed removed 42 from the net and initiated a safe recovery (above), then I held her tail to finish the recovery. Meanwhile, Ed returned to his rod and another pike he'd hooked!

The first pike I decided to mug with for the camera. Even the pike is smiling!

Discussing a particular stretch of water.

We enter the channels on a particular stretch of water prior to entering the main body of the lake and heading the boats back to our cabin and supper.

Our cabin in the morning.

Travelling at 133 mph and 1000 feet, I enjoy a ride in the cabin of the 1961 Otter with pilot Rich as we return to Sioux Outlook.

Our group and luggage have been removed from the plane and we ready to begin the drive back through International Falls and to our home, the U.S.A.

One of 2 bears seen (at the start) on our trip as we headed through northern MN to International Falls.