Monday, July 9, 2018

Fly Fishing The Wisconsin Driftless

This was one of those trips that was literally planned two weeks ago.  My family and I were driving to Russellville, AR for our daughters 8U softball tournament when we realized, it's almost the middle of summer and we haven't planned a family vacation.  The last few weeks have been really hectic with practices and camps.   I didn't think my wife would actually find my idea attractive but I presented her the possibility of road tripping to Wisconsin, where her and the girls would fly home.  Leaving me to explore the "Driftless" area in Wisconsin.  It doesn't happened very often but she actually liked one of my ideas and the plane tickets were purchased in the next 30 minutes.  The plan was to start driving on June 30th and make our way to Minneapolis, MN for their flight on July 3rd.

There were no more plans from that point.  We decided on our route each morning and just went where it felt right.  The first stop was at Mammoth Springs State Park in Northeast Arkansas.  I couldn't remember if I had ever seen Arkansas' largest spring but I knew my girls had not.  We arrived just in time for lunch out of the minivan and then walked around the park for an hour.

My wife asked our oldest daughter if she liked the waterfall, to which she replied, "it was a mill, waterfalls are natural."  In spite of her informative Webster 's awareness we could tell she was having a good time.  We loaded up and started driving, destination unknown, only that we would be taking the scenic route.  We made a quick stop in Jefferson City, MO but decided to push on the Columbia, MO for the night.  We ended the evening letting the kids swim for an hour or more.

We made it to Dubuque, IA and spent the afternoon touring the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.  After some ice cream in the historic area we loaded up and continued to Madison, WI. We ended the 2nd day of our road trip eating dinner near the Capital and more swimming at the hotel.

Tuesday we kept to our "no plan" is our plan and left Madison in a general direction of Minneapolis, MN.  My wife insists on navigating with an old Rand McNally road atlas we purchased in 1998 on our very first road trip from Little Rock, AR to San Diego, CA.  It's only slightly embarrassing because it's the size of a pizza box and her windows aren't tinted.  However, no kidding it's still more accurate than our Garmin "recalculating" GPS unit.

Full disclosure, I had no idea what route we were taking but as we drove in to Viroqua, WI around lunch I knew where we'd stop next, the Driftless Angler.  I had every intention of visiting the fly shop after they flew home but couldn't drive past without stopping.  I picked up a sticker and some flies in exchange for fishing intel.  We were in and out of the shop in under 15 minutes!  Not far from the shop was a shaded park that was perfect for lunch.  After an hour we continued on our way to Minneapolis, MN, where we ended our family road trip.  Their flights left at 10:30 am the following morning.  I get to stay behind and fish the "Driftless".

This would be my first trip to the Wisconsin Driftless.  I have made three trips to the Iowa side, Click here for Iowa Trip, and find it stunning.  After three days I can tell you the Wisconsin side doesn't disappoint.  I brought camping gear and planned to camp but with severe weather in the forecast the next day I opted for the cheap accommodations suggested while I was at the fly shop.  I figured I'd camp after the storm but was almost killed by black flies (watch the video and you'll see) and decided to keep the room.

After securing my room, I ventured out to my first spring feed stream in Wisconsin.  I drove past it twice before I located the small public parking area.  If it weren't for the bridge that crossed the water, I would have never believed it existed.  The fun begins...

In truth, the more I explored the easier it became to locate the public areas.  Some of the water, like the Coon and West Fork of the Kickapoo were not difficult and they fished well.  A dry-dropper rig took many fish.  The browns would readily rise to the dry when the clouds were out and eat the dropper when the sun was high.

However, my favorite creek was a no-name that I stumbled across while looking for another access.  I'm not 100% certain I wasn't trespassing but there was a sign and boot cleaning station beside the bridge which leads be to believe I wasn't.  This stream was tiny and the only way to fish it was to stand in the cold water.  The browns were everywhere and I saw several that might have been over 20".  It would be a real treat to visit it again with a better approach and more options.  The dry flies I had were just slightly too large.  Those mature browns spooked so easily.  It was super cool seeing those large predators in such a tiny creek. You know they are the real property owners and impose their will on all that trespass.  They were just too intelligent for me on this trip.

And here is the video from the trip.  Now time to prep for Colorado...

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Dry Fly for Grass Carp

One of the questions I get asked most often is what fly did that grassie eat?  So here's a short video of one that has always produced.  It's tied on a traditional nymph hook because dry fly hooks straighten too easily or you have to really tire out the fish first, which is just hard on them.  The tail will sink but the foam wings keep it on the surface.  Decided to make a YouTube video so you can see it tied.  It's best viewed from the YT channel and not blogger.  Hope it helps put a few carp in your hands.  Got several more that I'll be adding to my channel.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Buffalo National River - A family adventure.

June has been a blast.  It's been a month of hanging out with family building memories on one of my favorite rivers, The Buffalo National River in Arkansas.  The Ozarks are an awesome place to visit.  We've made it a family tradition to return to Buffalo Point campground outside Yellville, AR since I was a boy.  When I was child, we rented canoes but now we bring our own.  This year the flotilla included 8 boats and ranged in age from 3-82.  We floated from Dillards Ferry to Rush on Monday.  The next day, the guys went fishing while most of the family stayed at camp and swam.

It was also the first time both of my girls paddled their own kayaks the entire trip.  It's hard to explain the feeling but watching their confidence grow was tremendous.  You can literally see them learning that they have the strength and capabilities to accomplish anything.  In the beginning, they didn't venture too far but as the day progressed, I had to call out to my youngest to slow down and stay closer, which got me to thinking about another trip.

Of course I take my BNL fishing and he catches the biggest of the time it's fly only!

Unfortunately, my oldest still refuses to camp on a gravel bar.  She isn't scared but at this point still requires modern facilities.  However, the little one was super excited about going.  In fact, after I mentioned it she reminded me on a regular basis so I would not forget.

I had to take advantage of her eagerness before she had time to really think about it.  My oldest was attending a week long camp with her Girl Scout troop which provided the perfect opportunity.  After dropping my oldest off at camp we spent the next three days kayak camping on the Buffalo.

The first day went by pretty quickly.  We didn't get on the river until after lunch.  The entire float I had planned could easily be done in a day but I wanted to be sure we had time for fun and time to learn.  It would take us three days to go 8 miles.

The first thing we talked about was safety.  We've had the pfd conversation but I went into more detail about keeping up with her paddle, any gear she needed for the trip and especially making sure she secured her kayak when she wasn't in it.  We talked about suitable locations for camping on a river including never camping at the base of a cliff and planning an escape route if needed.

We also worked on paddling skills.  We would run a shoal and I would pull her kayak back to the top and have her do it again.  Only this time with a goal or task in mind.  And when she lost her balance and fell out of her kayak, she had to re-renter it from the water.  All of this was done in between ample amounts of swimming, skipping rocks and exploring the area.

Wasn't planning on a re-entry lesson but couldn't pass up the opportunity.

Again I was struck by how quickly her confidence grew.  The second morning while I was breaking camp, she put on her pfd, pulled her kayak off the shore and paddled across the river to a nearby creek.  That got my attention because I hadn't scouted that creek yet and tried to check new areas for snakes and wildlife before she ventured into them.

I didn't want to restrict her or make her feel any sense of danger so I just waited to see what she did.  We had spoken about being aware of the surroundings, particularly where she stepped and what she grabbed so I wasn't too concerned.  When she backed away from the creek and came back to camp, I knew she was making good decisions.  She had something she wanted to show me so we packed up quickly and made our way to that creek.

The diminishing glow of a fading sun marked the end of our trip.  The next morning we paddled the last mile.  I watched as she ran the last few shoals on her own, often going before me.

I remember the last shoal very well.  The channel cuts close to the rock lined bank on the right side with a tree hanging about 4ft over the water with just enough space between the branches to make it under them if you can maintain your course.  At the bottom there are several large boulders that force you to cross the flow and get to the left side or crash into them.  For an experienced paddler it's nothing special.  But for a beginner, it could be intimidating.  I ran it first to show her the way.  When I turned around she was passing between the branches of the tree, crossed to the left side and shot past me before eddying out behind the boulders.  Show off!

Short Video from the Trip:

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Short Video - Ozark Smallies

Just returned from our annual family camping trip on the Buffalo River (pics coming soon) but here's a short video from a day of fishing with my uncle and brother-n-law.  River smallmouth bass are so much fun to catch.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Maybe Bonefish Fly Fishing in Grand Bahama

The silvery greenish shadow appeared at my 9 o’clock and moved to 8…7…5…before I could stop the kayak.  That opportunity existed and vanished so quickly I wasn’t even confident whatever I saw was a fish anymore.   There was a decent chance it was the shadow of a plane bringing a fresh new group of tourists to Grand Bahama Island.  That was my first encounter with a maybe bonefish. 

Pic: Charles Levi Jr

Sight fishing bonefish from a kayak is something I’ve wanted to do for a few years.  In March, some buddies called and invited me on a kayak fishing trip to the Bahamas.  I was super excited but knew my wife would be more like, “I dare you to go to the Bahamas without me!”  She either really loves me or really hates me because I spent last week fishing the flats.

1st Triggerfish

The winds blew over 30 mph for the first three days but that didn’t stop us from fishing.  We were thankful for the variety of targets that were willing to eat a fly and for the bicycles that we used to explore the island.  Barracuda, triggers, jacks and small snapper kept us busy while we waited out the weather.

One of the rougher days

The view

When the conditions improved we shuttled the kayaks to nearby flats and spent the afternoons poling the incoming tide.  The bones lived up to their reputation of being both, elusive and difficult to catch.  Good thing the chase was what most of us came for because the flats were full of maybe bonefish.  More than once, I convinced myself a rock, sea grass, and even a small turtle was a bone.
Shuttle to the flats from Old Bahama Bay

Not sure of the name of the game but it's addicting as...

Conch for the fresh conch salad served on the side of the road...

Like musky or grass carp, only the “first timers” ask how many you caught.  Those who’ve spent any time on the flats, know you only count the number of fish seen or how many follows you got.  

We relived the game of hide-n-seek over dinner each night.  The small victories gave us hope for better days.  Bones are easy to love but easier to hate, you curse the many refusals and celebrate like it’s your 21st birthday when they eat, which sometimes leads to new nicknames but that’s for another story.

OBB Marina

Each evening we’d gather for dinner at Old Bahama Bay Resort and drink our struggles away.  After an hour we convinced ourselves that tomorrow would be the day we’d figure out those flats ghosts.  All I can say now is, I saw a lot of maybe bonefish.