Secret River

photo (1)

There are still secrets.  You’ve seen the posts by savvy Facebookers, showing awesome fish from undisclosed streams or lakes.  Do you secretly want to know where they caught the fish?  Did you look for clues in the background that might reveal the location?   This spring someone had pictures of beautiful wild steelhead from “a part of Lake Superior you won’t think of, from a river you don’t know”.  That’s the kind of shit that keeps me awake at night.  There is not a part of Lake Superior I don’t think of, and I’m pretty sure I’ve heard of every river that flows into it.  The excellent pictures offered no clue to exactly where they were taken, and I think I’m glad.

Sometimes [if you are very determined, have lots of time and are a complete fish nerd] you can figure out where some of the pictures are from.  I disappointed and surprised a friend by being able to ID a house in the background of a photo of him with a giant smallmouth from one of these places.  I had a vague idea where the picture was taken, I could tell by which way the current was going in the photo which side of the river the house was on, from there it was easy to scroll upstream for miles along the river on Google Earth until I found the house.

I’ve got a few secret spots.  Some are hiding right under everyone’s nose.  I caught a ridiculous number of largemouth one day by casting right up to a bridge that every one of you has driven over dozens or hundreds or thousands of times.  I know you would not expect there to be a bass in there.  That is if you even noticed there was water down there.  Another time I caught smallmouth after smallmouth off a point in a small lake that has a thousand cars an hour drive right by.  Every damn thing I threw up there was eaten immediately. This particular day I was doing some scouting, based on a couple of words I overheard someone say in a hushed voice at the tackle shop I worked at.  I had a guide trip lined up for the evening, so I left the giant school of smallies still biting, figured I’d save them for my customers.  When I met up with them later in the afternoon I excitedly told them of the giant school of smallmouth I had found in a nearby lake.  They opted to fish the river instead.  Sigh.

photo (2)


Look familiar?  I didn’t think so


I’ve got a secret smallmouth river.  Some of you who know me know where it is.  I’m not going to say the name of it, but even if I did you still wouldn’t go.  This stream remains unfished because it is too far from anything.  And it isn’t really that good–if you added up the weight of the three biggest ones I caught there the last time they would weigh about the same as an average smallie from Mille Lacs.  I know I’ve never caught a 3 pounder there.  But get this, the last time there I fished for about 4 hours.  I can’t ever keep track of how many fish I catch if the number is more than 2, but I know I caught least 20.  All on a fly, mostly on a popper.  I also caught a few goldeyes and got bit off by what I think was the same pike twice.  After the second bite off the scoundrel jumped all the way out of the water in an attempt to get rid of the fly now stuck in his face. “Swiper no swiping” was all I could think.  One time I made a particularly nice cast about 60 feet across a tailout.  A tenacious smallmouth obliged by loudly eating the cork popper right away, but after a couple of jumps he shook the barbless hook and sent the popper back at me.  The popper landed 10 feet in front of me and another one ate it before I could do anything.  For a while I was fishing with two flies for some reason, and twice while unhooking a fish that ate the top fly a smallie ate the trailing fly while it swirled around me in the thigh deep water.


I was wet wading, with one rod, one fly box, a scissors, a hemostat, and two spools of Maxima, 6 and 12 lb.  When I got to the river I realized that there was no leader on the reel, for reasons long forgotten it had been clipped off, leaving a foot of heavy mono.  Three feet of 12 lb. and 2 feet of 6 lb. would have to do.  Due to my excellent casting skills I made it work, a tapered leader would have been nice though.  The rod I was using is an old favorite.  It is a Redington eight weight, at the time this model came out it was the best casting rod out there.  I’m sure nowadays there are plenty of rods as good or better.  This rod has had one duty for the past three years—swinging flies for steelhead.  In other words, this rod hasn’t caught a fish in three years.  I think this rod was happy to feel the life of all the small but spirited smallmouth bass.

photo (3)

This is a goldeye, they are a lot of fun to catch.  Average size 12-14″


And all of this went on in a park in middle of a good-sized town in Northern Minnesota.  There was one other guy fishing, he was casting a buzzbait to the exact same spot the whole time I saw him.  People in these parts don’t fish much, and based on the amount of debris in the river it appears that the river has been historically been more of a dumping ground than a playground.  So much scrap metal, pieces of fences, grates, machine parts, car parts, who knows what else.  The fish don’t seem to mind—one smallie ate a popper right next to huge piece of a discarded concrete culvert.

I’ve floated this river a number of times, it is rare to see another boat.  On these float trips we generally catch an abundance of fish.  Mostly smallmouth, but that’s mostly what we fish for.  Anchoring up and fishing crawlers below rapids will always give up a nice mix of catfish, redhorse, goldeyes, sheepsheads, and walleyes.  There is no shortage of fish here.

Ask nice and I’ll tell you the name of the river.  You still won’t go.