The White Wooly Bugger, Fly-Fishing vs Spinning, and the Tributaries of the Kickapoo   3 comments

Last week Tom and I took a sort of ‘last hurrah’ expedition to the Kickapoo Valley Reserve to get in some fishin’ before I embarked on a new job which might impinge on our ability to get out there as often as we might wish.

It was a great idea and great trip.

The story of this occasion was the "white wooly bugger".

Due to scheduling beyond our control, we felt that this was an opportune moment to give our “hammock camping” ambitions another go ’round. We left Madison at 10:30pm and made camp around 12:30am under cover of a moonless but starry night not far from our intended fishing spots.

Tom in a justly famous "Hennessey Hammock" after a pleasant evening.

The hammocks proved their virtues yet again as we strung them in minutes and were comfortable through the night. (doubled sleeping bags comes highly recommended)

I want to discuss a beautiful discovery I had while we fished. I had no real plan or strategy eked out for how I might approach the streams but I figured that this early in the season a hatch would be light at best and that nymphing would be our most likely presentation.  I had tied a number of white wooly buggers on the old adage, “light flies, light day, dark flies, dark day”. I am almost not interested in color patterns in flies at the moment. I tend towards the idea that profile trumps color in most fishing situations. Attraction can be brought about with metallic light catching materials but roygbiv seems irrelevant from my experience. This narrows my need for all kinds of varied materials when tying flies and limits indecision speeding production.  I’d love to hear what anyone else thinks about this as I have yet to read anything about the simple idea of using white or black flies as the baseline for virtually all patterns.

Anyway, my first usage of the white wooly bugger was a revelation. Where with most flies I felt some need to tie on a float to aid in  recognizing strikes, the white wooly bugger was plainly visible beneath the surface and the need for a float was negated. I could now cast with much greater comfort as my leader and tippet unfurled in continuous arcs without the ‘hinge-like’ effect that I find when using a float. I could watch the travel of the white fly all the way to a fish’s mouth. It was terrific!

My new favorite fly pattern.

When I cast my last white wooly bugger onto a lovely wall only to have it get hung up in a deep bend I was almost ready to get wet to salvage it. I spent the rest of the day thinking of that damn fly. I could see it under the surface just begging me to make a mistake trying to retrieve it.

I intend to tie plenty more of these over the coming months. I’ll use lots of lead and a beadhead so I can get it down deep and not have to add split shot which I find disturbs the travel of my line just the way a float does. If you’ve got to have weight it’s nice to have it in just one place. As you can see by the picture, Tom has me beat cold in the fly-tying department. I tie to fish and I’m not ashamed of it. At least, not yet.

On a larger note, I’d like to bring up an idea I recently read about in TU’s periodical “Trout”. I highly recommend checkin’ this out as it was filled with superlative stories on the restoration work going on in our state and beyond.

Here’s the thing: “discovery is the soul of angling”.

That’s it. That is about as irreduceable an idea as I can summon about why I love this activity. It just ain’t about the fish.

Here’s Tom taking his time with his next move. This is a picture of a fisherman in process.
The Kickapoo Valley Reserve is such a god-awfully beautiful place that ‘seekingtrout’ is it’s own reward.

A fresh and blooming skunk cabbage. Maybe fresh isn't the right word.

A moment of astonishing drama in the woodland dun.

A clutch of amphibian eggs beneath the reflection of a leafless canopy. Spring peepers, Cricket frogs, and Green frogs sang in the ephemeral ponds adjacent to the streams.

Last, I wanted to offer a riff about , yes, fly-fishing. Tom and I found that last season we could catch about as many fish as we could want on an ideal day with spinning gear. We worked a stream with an almost ruthless vigor. Spinning is a fast, athletic, and very productive method of fishing. But isn’t ‘productivity’ what our everyday back at work is about? Isn’t fishing sort of a moment where productivity isn’t the underlying motivation?

We fly-fished for probably eight hours. We did not catch fish as we might of with spinning gear or so we supposed. But we did find that we fished with greater intention and sometimes with a kind of grace that spinning gear doesn’t offer. There is, deep down, a kind of brutality to spinning gear that we both could not fail to notice when we switched over to spinning in the latest part of the day. This was an experiment. We wanted to see what happened to our day by changing our method.

I think we both came away rather surprised by how much we missed the slow and quiet presentation of the fly despite catching more fish.

It is hard to not be astonished no matter how many times you bring a brookie to hand.

I haven’t posted in awhile. I kind of been in a funk with what to say recently. This latest trip has revitalized my interest. I can’t wait to get back out there.


3 responses to “The White Wooly Bugger, Fly-Fishing vs Spinning, and the Tributaries of the Kickapoo

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  1. Stephen,

    Great post and great pictures. I really like your posts a lot. I hope you aren’t gun shy about “throwing words on the wall to see if they stick”, if you know what I mean. We’re not aiming for literary awards, right?

    But I digress. This is an outing I will not soon forget. It was like Coon Creek or the Brule last year. Discovery is the soul of angling. Absolutely! And sometimes you discover environs that blow your mind, like this place did. There was something religious about the place, that reaffirms my decision to spend Sunday mornings outside a church, in nature. This place is a holy place to me now, and the architecture that nature has created here, and continues to create, haunts me in a good way. In a way that pulls me back.

    From the muddy Kickapoo to the clear tributary water; from the limestone cliff pools to the wide open pasture atop the bluffs. And the red and white fins of that Brook Trout, the connection the fishing line provides to the fish, the communication with a wild animal via a rod, reel, and line.

    And your words about fly fishing were spot-on. I don’t want to open a can of worms debating the merits of fishing methods. I really don’t. It’s foolish to do so. We should treat an angler’s preference of fishing methods the way golfers who use different drivers treat one another.

    For me, slowing down the pace of fishing, taking time to observe the scene, and maximizing the sould of angling, the discovery of place, is what fly fishing offers.

    I can’t wait to get back and do it again!

  2. This site I found as if by acident. I began reading and noticed the white Wooly Bugger fly pattern. I have begun tying flies myself this year. The Wooly B. is also my favorite go to pattern as well. What type of material is tied on to the end of the White Bugger pictured here in the blog? I love the tail and feel it would be highly effective. I also caught my first Wild Trout in the Fennimore Driftless area last year. I am looking to fish the Cooly Valley area this year too.

    • Howdy! Glad you found the fly interesting. The tail is maribou, which is easily found in fly shops or online. Glad to hear you enjoy fishing for trout, and I hope you get some satisfaction from catching trout on flies you’ve tied. Trout are fascinating creatures and the creeks and rivers they inhabit are wonderful.


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