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Posts Tagged ‘walleye’

The other night was a rare opportunity in the realm of fly-fishing.  We were coming off of 3 days of stormy and windy weather and we got one of those bluebird evenings that come in the spring and make you pretty sure everything is right with the world.  There was virtually no wind, the sky was a color blue that would make a topaz self conscious, and it was in the mid 60’s.  This would be one of about 6 evenings like this all year here on the plains.  Naturally I was quite disappointed.  I had my rain coat already in the truck and I was ready for an entire evening of drippy droppy fishing.  The kind that gets you the water to yourself and the air full of hatching bugs.  Instead I was going to have this heavenly evening, which would ensure that the bug maternity ward would stand empty and that would fill my little spot with men on buckets flinging skewered worms to fish that weren’t interested.  So I did the only sensible thing that a person can do when they are disappointed…  I went fishing.  (See how I did that?  You like that?).

I left work late (no sense in hurrying on a day like this) and headed straight for the water.  The spot I was going to fish is about 5 miles on gravel off of the main road and is a nice 30 minute drive from work.  Just far enough to feel the tension leave and the thoughts of tasks unfinished settle into the spot in your brain they go to hibernate until the fishing is over.  Just long enough to get into the present and begin to actually see the things around me and enjoy the sights and sounds.  To see the world as it is rather than to see through it.  The drive is perfect for me.  As I turned onto that little gravel road I was just settling into the more attentive state of mind and I noticed a particularly large quantity of bug guts accumulating on my windshield.  Now I may be the only person in South Dakota that gets excited about seeing his windshield caked in the unearthly concrete that is a bug’s inner juices.  Hell the stuff could be used to plug the leaking oil well in the gulf, but when I get those guts as I follow this little road along the river I know that there is a fair chance that the bugs are coming from the water… and that means a hatch.

The road approaches this spot by a slow accession up an almost imperceptible incline, followed by a crest and view of the entire river valley and a screaming ride down what we called as kids a “roller-coaster hill” to the bottom where the parking area is.  You know the hill, the kind that as kids you would put your hands up in the car like you were on a roller-coaster and drive your parents mad by screaming weeeeee all the way to the bottom or until your breathe gave out, which ever came first.  To this day I get a kick out of these hills and this one serves 2 purposes.  It is just damn fun, for one, and it gives me a view of all of the water that I will potentially be fish that evening.  I was shocked to see that I would be all alone.

When I parked and caught by breathe from screaming weeee for the last quarter mile; I hopped out and strung up.  The bugs were everywhere.  Apparently there were a couple of hatches going on simultaneously.  One of large golden mayflies and one of smaller caddis.  They were so thick that I was worried I would inhale them if I were to breathe carelessly.  It was shaping up to be an unbelievable evening.  A cross-over hatch of 2 different species of bugs without the required sopping wet hat and cold fingers.  I was thrilled.

I approached the stream at a plunge pool and looked down to see that things were even better than I had thought.  The surface of the water was covered in bugs and beneath the surface were thousands of minnows looking like tiny underwater bomber squadrons; all moving in formation.  This was unbelievable.  There were flies everywhere, for the panfish, mooneye, carp and bass, and there were minnows by the millions for the walleye, pike, gar and well… everything else, the weather was unbelievably gorgeous AND I had the water to myself.  This was reaching once in a lifetime/lightening striking/win the lottery proportions. I was so excited I nearly wet my pants.

I started the way I always do, by sitting on the bank, lighting a cigarette, and watching the water to see where the fish are.  I saw positively nothing.  Not one fish grab a bug, not a splash or push or flip or flop or flash.  Nothing.  Ok fine, so nothing was eating the bugs… surely something was eating the minnows.  I work every inch of that stream at all depths with a few different patterns and I didn’t get so much as one hit.  Nothing.  I fished until sundown and then drove home.  I wouldn’t say I was satisfied, but I wasn’t distraught either.  I had the comfort of knowing that I had picked the right place, the weather change had brought the bugs and I had fished well if not successfully.  Every part of the evening that I could control I did as well as I can at this point in my flyfishing education.  If the fish were not there, or were dead, or asleep or possessed or had all gone vegetarian as part of the liberal movement… well I couldn’t control that and there is not a damn thing I could do to change it.  If you get too worked up about the effects of things beyond your command as a fly-fisherman, you are liable to go bonkers.  You have to understand that sometimes even the perfect situation can go sour for a reason you can’t affect or even detect.  It just is.

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Southeastern South Dakota, where I live, was having an unseasonably mild August.  By the middle of August the weather felt like the middle of a normal September.  Temperatures were warm all day with the evenings cooling off nicely.  The local flora and fauna were responding accordingly.  My five year old daughter and I had decided to do some fishing on a Saturday afternoon.  My daughter loves to fish, and the night before had been like an invitation to catch.  The sky had been clear and warm all day on Friday and right as the sun started to relent, a nice low pressure system had rolled in; bringing a little drizzle and a mating swarm of mayflies that, if they had teamed up, could have grabbed you by the shoulders and carried you away.  These things were gigantic, an inch or longer in the body, and were so numerous that your car would get covered with them at the nearby gas station when you stopped to pump.  I had never seen a spinner fall like this before and I had fished it alone and hard.  Fish were rising to these bugs and I caught many large ones.  The particular species that were partaking in the buggy feast are locally known as mooneyes.  Don’t feel bad, even with 20 years of fishing these waters I proclaimed, “Holy shit, I caught a piranha!’ when I landed my first one that day.  A google search when I got home revealed the real species.  These are flat, silver fish, with oddly upturned, toothy mouths and large scales.  The largest one I caught was nearly as big around as my net.  5215_1028855537454_1707303459_58241_7479688_n Anyway, I wanted my daughter to participate in this fishing bonanza.  While she wouldn’t be able to dead drift a mayfly look-a-like to them, I had noticed that once the feeding frenzy was on; these fish were aggressively biting anything that appeared semi-foodlike.  A minnow on a bobber should be particularly effective.  So I spent the half hour drive to the stream teaching her about the lifecycle of mayflies and the ensuing fish feast that would inevitably follow.  We fished for a few hours and the mayflies refused to breed and die.  My daughter was completely out of patience.

If you have ever been fishing with a 5 year old, you know that it can be a daunting proposition.  They want to catch fish, the bigger the better, just like any of us.  However, they would rather not wait for these fish to show up.  So you are left with a quandary.  Do you try to put them into some small bluegills, so they can catch many small fish quickly and eventually get bored with that and want to go home.  Or do you try to get them into bigger fish and run the risk of them not catching anything for a while and getting bored and wanting to go home?  The trick, in my opinion is twofold.  First, you embrace the experience for what it is; time in nature with your child and don’t be afraid to reel in and go look at the cow-patties and explore for pretty rocks.  It is the 5 year old equivalent to me sitting on the edge of a stream thinking about how buddha was right when he said life is like a river.  The inherent value in recognizing how truly unimportant our responsibilities can be and going to explore something new.  Secondly, and more practically, fish for the little ones without excluding the possibility of a wallhanger.

My daughter and I had been fishing on a prior occasion and she was catching bluegills as fast as I could get them off the hook and a new worm on it.  I had purchased a couple dozen crawlers for this particular fishing trip and we were going through them so fast it looked like we were going to run out.  I didn’t get to fish that day; I was too busy baiting her hook and taking her fish off. Despite the impending nightcrawler shortage I continued to put full, large worms on her hook and direct her to cast to the outside of the pingpong table sized area where the bluegills were hanging.  I thought there was a chance, with a nice looking worm and by being on the outskirts of the fishy circle, that we might pick up a big cruiser.  Sure enough, her bobber vanished and she fought with everything she had, nearly losing her pole in the process and, after screaming at me that this was her fish and to not help, she drug it on shore. She had landed a 19 inch walleye.  That is a fish that is nearly half as big as her.  She still talks about landing that beast and holding him and then letting him go.  The only thing bigger than that fish she caught that day was her smile.

Having the opportunity to share what you have learned about where the fish are and when, can be a very rewarding use of your fishing knowledge.  My mother and I had agreed to meet on dreary day at a spot near her house.  I got there about 15 minutes before her, and strung up and hit the water.  There was a beautiful seam that was easily fishable from shore right were I approached the stream and I swung a white wooly bugger into it.  I cast 5 times before Mom appeared on the bank behind me and I had gotten 4 hits and caught a beautiful dark gold walleye.  I was so excited that I immediately put Mom right where I was standing, pointed out the seam to her and suggested a lure (mom is a spin fisherperson) to her.  I then left to find myself a new spot.  Mom caught a couple very nice fish in that spot, including a chunky 17  incher.  I, on the other hand, didn’t get a hit for the rest of the evening.  I would say I got skunked, but the next morning she called me and thanked for the experience.  It seems she hadn’t caught a fish that size for a number of years.  I would call that a pretty good catch.

My mom is not the only other person in my family that fishes.  My Dad and my brother do also.  In fact, I recently went on a two day fishing excursion with my little brother.  Now this was not your average, everyday flyfishing trip.  My brother lives in Minneapolis proper and we were fishing in the city.  So there we were, a couple of guys in chest waders, fishing vests and hats, wondering the parks of Minneapolis.  It is a wonder we weren’t arrested.  After a full day and a half of looking for fish and only catching one small northern pike, we were close to calling it a weekend.  But lady luck had something more in store, for me at least.  As we were walking back slowly along a stream, my Brother spotted a nice little school of bluegills.  At this point it behooves me to point out that my Brother’s recent domestication and his career as an attorney have severely limited the time he spends on the water.  And in fairness, we were both pretty excited to see some fish after a good 18 hours of fishing with nothing to show for it.  Any way, he spotted the fish and immediately pointed them out to me by thrusting his 9 foot rod at them like a fencing sword.  That caused the fish to decide to move, obviously.  I chastised him appropriately and then asked him to again identify precisely where he had seen the fish.  And, with an absentmindedness befitting a wacky haired college professor, he repeated the rod thrust motion, completely spooking the school of fish.  When we finally located the school again, or more likely another school that hadn’t had our presence broadcast to them, I stepped back to give my brother a shot at fishing these fish.  He was so excited that you could visibly see it, and that doesn’t translate into effective flyfishing.  He managed to knot his line while trying to strip out to prepare for his cast.  He then took one step too many in approaching the bank and nearly fell into the water.  After getting his wits about him, he attempted to cast and managed to get the line wrapped about his body and his fly hooked in the tree behind him.  After we had utilized some moves reminiscent of a top to get him all ready to cast, he hooked his fly on the back of his vest in his backcast.  Needless to say, the fish had left the area long before he put a fly on the water and we came up empty.  But I did get a nice ab workout from laughing so hard at him that I thought I was going to wet my pants.

Anyway, my Daughter had lost all patience and was ready to call it a night.  I took my fly off and was winding up when she said, “Daddy, what does a Mayfly look like?”  I began to describe it to her again and she interrupted me, saying, “Does it look like that?” as she pointed to the water.  And the Spinner Fall was on.

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In case you thought I was lying.

In case you thought I was lying.

One thing you quickly discover while carrying your flyrod with your vest on to the edge of a river or lake in these parts is that “you ain’t gonna catch nothin’ with that stuff here.”  Or even better, “there ain’t any trout in this water.”  Some Busch Light swillin’ dude sitting on an upside down five gallon pail with a Dale Jr. T-shirt on and his Camo baseball cap will quickly and repeatedly let you know that you took a wrong turn at Nebraska and ended up in South Dakota, which you have apparently mistaken for Colorado or Montana.  Most are friendly enough when you tell then that you are going to give it a shot and some are interested in watching or even asking questions.  This, of course, assumes that you are not out-fishing them.  Worse yet, out-fishing them and then releasing everything you catch.  I should be clear. I see nothing inherently wrong with spin fishing or using live bait, or with keeping your catch.  I do, however, have a problem with pretentiousness or with the assumption that because something is different it is wrong.  This is what I deal with nearly every time I fish. 

You see, fishing here is a combination of sport and food collection.  The fish to catch here is the Walleye because it tastes good.  Nobody deliberately fishes for Largemouth Bass because they say that in these waters the bass eat crawdads and are therefore oily and fishy tasting.  The Walleye, on the other hand, is very good because they eat mostly baitfish.  Northern Pike are considered junk fish and no one deliberately fishes them either, because the flesh is bony and hard to eat.  All this adds up to two things; all fishing is down in deep water with live bait for walleyes and if you catch anything over 14 inches you throw it in your bucket to take home to eat.  I have talked to old boys that have been fishing for years that will freely tell you that a walleye doesn’t fight like most fish here, and in fact gives up easily and lets you haul it in, yet that is what they would choose.  Given these facts, a man with a flyrod is unfathomable to people and a man releasing a 19 inch walleye is sacrilege.

I have learned to be extra friendly and even self-effacing and to, when it seems to help ensure my personal safety, even act surprised that I am catching anything.  You see, after a 12 pack of Busch Light the frustration gets serious and I have even had a beer can or two thrown at me. 

I recently had one of the more satisfying experiences I have ever had with regard to the hostility I sometimes find on the water.  A pair of very serious meat eaters showed up at the same stretch of water I was fishing about an hour before sundown.  They were wearing hundreds of dollars worth of Dryfit outdoor clothing and each had a giant tackle box, two spin rods, a bucket and a head lamp on their foreheads.  I was about to be shown a very serious display of night fishing. 

I had already staked out a spot on the water that allowed me to fish some fast moving water and a deep pool that runs perpendicular to the main current.  From here I commanded the deeper water where the cruisers are and the seam where the current runs along the slow water and the fish like to hang out and let the food come to them.  While it is a good spot, it is far from the only good spot in the area.  There is plenty of room for all. 

There was much whispering and gawking by our two serious fishermen when they first showed up.  It was clear that they had an opinion about what I was doing, although they kept it to themselves.  Both men clipped large plugs to their swivels and began casting across the current and reeling back in.  They too had staked a fine spot to fish from; one that gave us all plenty of room.  This was an odd situation from the beginning.  There were no pleasantries or fishing civilities exchanged.  No “Any luck, today?” or  “You nailin’ ‘em?”  There was an odd sense of hostility from the beginning.  It was as though I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to, but nobody was going to say out-loud what it was. 

Shortly after my uninvited fishing partners showed up I decided to switch to a large Clouser Minnow fly.  The sun was setting and I thought there was a pretty good chance to get into some fish coming up to hunt.   I threw my first cast into the current and began a speedy retrieve and hooked into a rather nice largemouth bass.  After netting him and releasing him, one of the men downstream yelled, “Just a bass?” to the guffaws of his partner.  Bear in mind they had yet to catch a fish.  I released the bass and cast back into the current, a few times.  At this point I noticed that one of my cohorts had turned and was now casting directly upstream, right to where I had hooked my largemouth.  This effectively made it impossible for me to fish the current.  Oh well, I could still fish the seam.  I threw a cast just on the current side of the seam and let it swing into the still water and immediately had a hit.  I hooked and netted a nice 18 inch long walleye which I promptly released.  There was still no sound from down the bank but the hostility hung in the air like an oncoming thunderstorm.  Before I was ready to cast again, the other fisherman was throwing his Rapala into the seam right in front of me.  Now I was completely hemmed in.  I literally had nowhere I could cast.

As I mentioned, that there is plenty of room for fishing on this specific spot.  So I ambled off my perch, giving up the current and the seam and moved into the still and deeper water of the pool.  As I was leaving both men rushed to move into where they could more effectively fish the water that I had chosen originally.  This had reached ridiculous proportions. 

I waded up to my thighs and gave a long cast straight out into the deepest part of the pool and quickly retrieved my fly with jerks and twitches, trying to make it look like a wounded minnow.  It was on the first cast that I got a hard hit.  The sun was set and it was about 20 minutes from total darkness and I had a serious fish on the line.  I am fishing 3 pound test line so I have to be very careful when I play a fish in and this one was gonna take some time.  I made sure to indicate that I had a fish so the geniuses up the bank knew that while they were well on their way to getting skunked, I was happily fighting my third nice fish of the evening. 

I will spare you the details, but it was 30 minutes later and pitch black before I landed her and she wouldn’t fit in my net.  I had been ordered to “break it off, it is just a f***ing carp!” and “just get it in already.”  It was not a carp; it was a 24 inch long, 6 pound walleye.  After I had her safely on shore I took off the fly and broke down my pole and began for the car.  At this point I thought a friendly smile, a helpful tip and 6 pounds of fish would be the best jab I could give.  So, when I got near the other two fishermen I said, “I was using the flyfishing equivalent to a red and yellow Rapala.” And was greated with “Get the F*** out of here.”  Then they actually both turned for their tackle boxes.  Gee, I wonder what they were looking for?  Maybe the best revenge IS a life well lived.

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One of the multitude of things that flyfishing has given me is far better attentiveness to my diet.  I now make sure that I put things in my body that will generally agree with it.  This is not from some need to fuel myself right in order to undertake the rigors of the fishing.  Nor is it due to some crap about getting in tune with the environment and therefore only wanting eggs from cage-free chickens.  Flyfishing has not made me a tree hugging granola eater.  Instead, I have learned a valuable lesson concerning our olfactory sense.

It all starts with a simple question from the man behind the counter at the local burrito chain.  “Would you like black beans on your steak burrito?”  Of course I would. 

It was lunchtime on a cool Saturday in late fall. A low-pressure system was just settling in, chasing out the last vestiges of our Indian summer.  The change in pressure was bringing in some wind and on and off sprinkles; making the outlook promising for some fishing.  I met my fishing partner for lunch at a chain burrito restaurant, so we could wolf down a burrito the size of our heads and then get out to the water for 6 or 7 good hours of fishing.  I was hoping that the wind would cause some chop on the water and the walleyes would be up and feeding.  We snagged a couple of burritos, forced them down our gullets and hit the road.  The drive to the river we were fishing is about 30 minutes, tack on 15 minutes for getting all geared up and you have plenty of time for the burrito to do what burritos do. 

The water we were working is interestingly laid out.  There is a fairly swift river, cascading about 20 feet down some rocks; gets to about 4 foot deep and then into a shallow riffle as it speeds away.  Jutting out from the river at a right angle between the rocks and the riffle is a large pond.  It covers about three quarters of an acre and gets something like 6 feet deep.  This is where we would be looking for the walleyes, in the deeper water.  Deep water means deep wading.  Deep wading means chest-waders instead of hip-waders.

For the uninitiated, chest waders are like waterproof snow-pants.  They fit very loosely and cover you from the bottom of you feet all the way up to your armpits.  Of course being waterproof, there is no way for air to escape either except to slowly seep out the top right under your neck. 

Standing at the trunk of my car, I pull on my waders and notice an unpleasant rumbling in my stomach.  Just as I got the shoulder straps buckled into place, another rumble.  Vest on, rumble.  Pole put together, rumble rumble.  I actually farted the first time as we walked to the water.  It would not be the last. 

Walking and windy conditions can help you not have to pay the price to farting in your waders, but once you get down by the water, where the wind is blocked and you are standing in one place…….God help you.  I approached the pond quietly and noticed a horrific odor.  Must be a dead fish on the shore somewhere?  The smell just kept coming and coming, like it was being slowly blown on my face.  For a second I thought maybe it was myself I was smelling. No way.  That was clear back while we were walking.  Certainly it hadn’t followed me all the way to the water.  I took a step into the water and the smell suddenly got stronger,  like a puff of noxious fumes.  Maybe the water stunk.  Another step and another puff.  God this was getting unbearable.  Finally I had waded about as deep as I wanted to go, to my waist, and I stopped and the odor subsided, eventually leaving altogether. 

I cast a few times, tied on a different fly and cast a few more.  The rumbling was getting bad now and I succumbed to the urge to relax once more.  After about a 10 count the odor started again.  Oh my, it was me that I smelt.  The waders were holding my poisonous gases to my body and slowly funneling them out right under my chin!  It was terrible.  At one point I actually decided against lighting a cigarette for fear I would die in a terribly well contained flame ball!  I also realized that as I waded the water pressure would collapse my waders to my leg, making my baggy fart holders squeeze puffs of hell’s own fury into my face.  Like some sort of fart bellows invented for the Inquisition.  Worse, the rumblings were getting more frequent and ominous.  I was no longer confident that it was safe to relax and there wasn’t a bathroom for 2 miles.  We had only been on the water for about an hour, but I had no choice. 

My fishing buddy didn’t seem too disturbed as we sat having coffee at the coffee shop in town (yeah, cause another diuretic like coffee was what I need.).  I mean, sure the conditions had been right and the fish were probably biting.  Sure we were burning a rare opportunity for a full day on the water due to a need to stay within a stone’s throw of a bathroom. But hey, burritos had been his idea.

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