“♪♪♫…I don’t know why I love her like I do… All the changes that you put me through…♪♫♪”
This song plays on a loop in my brain this time of year. Despite all the different kinds of fishing I do, I guess I’m still a trout angler at heart, and like many, I start going a bit stir crazy this time of year. The fact that this is the winter of the Polar Vortex hasn’t helped, and I’ve spent every weekend alternating between working on and buying supplies for a never ending basement remodel project. A break in the weather actually coincided with a day off, and it was off to the Kinni for me on Sunday.
“♪♫♪…Take my money, my cigarettes…. I haven’t seen the worst of it….♪♫♪”
Something I like about trout fishing compared to the other kinds of fishing I do is the simplicity o the equipment, and the minimal prep/rigging for a session.
Pretty short checklist: Rods? [still have flies tied on since last year]- check. Waders? [which ones don’t leak?]-check. Boots? [need new ones this year]-check. Vest? [I did plenty of tying this winter, fly boxes are FULL]-check. Packed a sandwich, topped off my coffee cup and on the road by 10:00. No advantage to getting on the river at first light this time of year, might as well wait for the temps to approach the freezing mark before getting there. Besides, even though the weather would be mild, the two feet of snow in the woods will dissuade most casual anglers.
Often times when making this familiar journey heading east on 94 towards the St Croix Valley, I don’t really know where I’m going to end up. Not the case today, I have an itinerary that includes several favorite “hit-and-run” spots on the Upper K. I head south towards River Falls, past favorite landmarks–the limestone bluff where my grandpa used to get white sand, Ave’s Taxidermy and Cheese [sadly, now they only have taxidermy, so much for one-stop shopping], and the field where I shot a 20 lb. turkey [a pre-school now sits on the very spot the bird dropped]. My starting spot is a hole that I re-discovered last year, after being away from it for about 35 years. The fish are still there, although the hole is a lot different than when I was a kid.
“♪♫♪… yet I wanna know that you’ll tell me…I love to staaaayyyy…♪♫♪”.
Vehicle parked, waders on, time to head for the river. Someone has actually been down the path this year, I am relieved to have had the trail through knee deep snow broken, but at the same time disappointed to not be the first one in here this season. One of the joys of early season is the experience of making a cast to fish that haven’t seen a fly in five months. I step into the river and head across.
“♪♫♪…Take me to the river…drop me in the water…take me to the river, dip me in the water…washing me down…washing me doooowwwwn…♪♫♪”
No matter how any fish I get today, things are looking promising. The stream is clear [but not too clear], and there are an abundance of robins hanging around the creek. I soon realize what they are up to–they are gobbling up small stoneflies that are crawling on the shelf ice–this is another good sign. The rod I’m using has been rigged with a scud since I hung it up on the pegs last fall; even though there is the promise of dry fly action, I plan to be nymphing today.
On the Upper K I almost always use one of two nymphs, either a UV Scud, or the Green Thing. If you are interested in how to tie the Green Thing, I’ll tell you, but be prepared to be wildly disappointed–there’s not much to it. I like the UV Scud because it works great and takes about 2 – 1/2 minutes to tie. I like the Green Thing because it works great and takes about 1 -1/2 minutes to tie, so I can fill a row in my fly box quicker. Whoever made the track to the river went right to the obvious riffle at he head of the hole. There’s usually a few trout up there, but there’s probably 200 in the slow run bit downstream. I positioned myself carefully on an ice shelf and took a second to “take it all in”. I put the first cast out there perfectly, amazed at how easily I am able to get a fly to go just where I want it, yet I appear to be someone with special needs while trying to operate a bat, a racket, a golf club or a hockey stick. The first cast gets grabbed, and I’m caught somewhat off guard, what with all the scenery and birds and what not. The fish comes off right away. It took another few casts to get the right drift again–this is a spot where you have to cast upstream, mend the line downstream just so– enough to keep the drift going, not too much or it will start to swing, let it drift down, down, and just when you are about to run out of line, you get the grab. Once I had the cast dialed in, it was a fish every other cast. I switched between the two flies, the UV scud had the edge today. After landing a dozen and losing that many more, I left them still biting to try some different water.
Spot Number 2 is just up the road. Again, there were tracks that led to the river, but it appeared that the intrepid angler that made them had not ventured farther than the run at the end of the trail. I crossed the river and began blazing a trail to one of my secret spots. It’s not far, but after “post-holing” through thigh deep snow for a hundred yards, I had worked up a sweat. Much to my dismay, a tree had fallen into my secret high-bank spot, making it impossible to make a cast. I considered my options; either walk right back out, or venture up to another likely looking run that is a mere 75 yards upstream. 75 more yards through 2 feet of snow. And, even though the spot looks good, I have caught few [if any] fish there in other attempts. Of course, I headed up there, and after 10 minutes I was positioned precariously on an ice shelf, casting up into this nice little run. The first 5 casts produced nothing, but then I hooked one. Then another. And another. I think I hooked up 5 in 5 casts, then it took another dozen or so casts before another one bit. After that I called it good enough, and began slogging back to the road.
I skirted around a deer’s ribcage near the parking spot, it had been picked pretty clean. With all the snow this year, I sure the scavengers have had a tough go of it. I was parked right on the road, the parking lots are not so usable yet.
Back in the vehicle, I zigzagged up the valley, crossing the river a few times. I had the radio tuned to NPR. “Prairie Home”, “Wait, Wait”, and “This American Life” are often my fishing partners, it was nice to hear them again. There were a few other folks out and about, I didn’t stop at any areas where there were other anglers. Many of my favorite areas require a decent hike to get into, but I had one more quick spot to try. No Subarus in sight, so I pulled off as far as I dared. As in other spots I had fished, there was a trail blazed to the river, but the makers appeared to have not ventured any further than right at the bridge. Through the woods I went, off to a spot known as “The Trout Barrel”. As I approached the spot, it was obvious I was about to witness a murder…a murder of crows, that is. There were well over a hundred crows in a nearby grove, no doubt harassing a hawk or an owl, making quite a racket. Their “CAW! CAW!” calls soon became background noise as I slid down the ice and snow into one of my favorite spots. The Trout Barrel rarely disappoints, and it gave up a half dozen browns in short order.
By now I’ve caught all the fish I need to be in a happy place, so I spend the next couple hours trying out my new fancy pants SLR camera at a couple of spots that are easy to access, pretty to look at, maybe not good for fishing. At least that was the excuse I told myself when I blanked. Gave me some good practice with the new Canon, lots to learn though.
I was taken to the river, dropped in the water, just what I needed to erase the sound of phones rigging and allowed me to forget about, at least temporarily, the unfinished wall that is glaring at me even now as I type this in my basement. Two weeks and I’ll be back, look for the black stoneflies to really get going on the first warm sunny day we get.
To put you in the mood- The Talking Heads http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ar2VHW1i2w