Archive for the ‘Fly Tying’ Category

Tainter and Knapp Creek in April   5 comments

On Friday Stephen and I took a drive out to the Kickapoo River Valley to fish the fine waters of Tainter Creek. This river is loaded with fish. Perhaps I shouldn’t kiss and tell, as they say, but seriously, if you don’t already know about Tainter Creek, well, you need to talk to more fishermen.

For those of you who are angry about my use of stream names in my trip reports, I’m sorry. But it’s nothing you couldn’t get from reading a few books, going to a few fly shops, and attending a TU meeting once in a blue moon. Isn’t it sort of like saying there are Musky in Lake Minoqua, or that there are Steelhead in the Brule?

But, I digress.

The thing about trout fishing is that it isn’t a given you’ll catch the trout. Stephen and I started the day looking down into a pool from a bridge over Tainter Creek, where we spied perhaps 250 fish. We fished that pool a few hours later and caught exactly two trout from it. Some days the fish are willing. Other days, they’re obstinate.

After a lunch in the car we fished upstream from the bridge and found more fish, only some of which were willing. The sections we fished on Friday were gorgeous, natural, healthy and thriving with life.

We wrapped up fishing toward late afternoon, found a camp, and then headed to Soldier’s Grove for some food. On the way we crested the ridge between the Tainter Creek Valley and the Kickapoo River Valley, and Stephen’s phone chimed. He checked it and found a message from John Jackels, who said he was in Readstown and hoping to find us. We had driven down the hill a ways and Stephen had lost his signal, so I backed up about an eighth mile to regain the summit, and we gave John a call. He was ten minutes north of Soldier’s Grove, and we were ten minutes west of it. How about that?!

I really wish Soldier’s Grove had a bar with some good food. Or maybe my problem is that I picked the wrong thing to eat. I had the fried fish (Haddock, I think), with “baby red” potatoes. John had the same thing. Stephen had the baked fish with garlic mashed potatoes. My fish was akin to eating breaded and deep fried eraser. The baby reds were really just Russet potatoes cut into chunks the size of baby red potatoes, deep fried and sprinkled with canned parmesan cheese. Stephen’s baked fish was like eating a piece of bone that had been boiled long enough to turn it into a gelatinous lump. His garlic mashed potatoes tasted like pizza.

I’m in a critical mood today. Sorry.

After dinner we got some coffee and eggs from the gas station to prepare breakfast on Saturday, then we headed back to the campsite, made a fire, shot the shit, and went to bed.

Saturday dawned cold and breezy. We had breakfast on the road and headed downstream. We fished what I believe are some of the finest runs of trout water in the state. We all got several nice fish to hand and enjoyed the morning immensely.

We had lunch on the road and then hit a pretty section of Tainter where some “restoration” work had recently taken place.

I suppose after a few years these restored sections come back with vigor, but the section we visited was a ghost town. No fish spotted, and the habitat was much less varied than natural areas. It’s sort of like fishing a golf course. A thing that’s concerning about these projects is that, in the natural world, streams move and meander and find their way. The strategy used for restoration means the creek won’t move. It will stay in its channel for a good long while. Is this a problem? Does it exclude other species besides trout? I didn’t see a single creature moving around in this restored section, whereas the area we fished in the morning was full of birds and voles and stuff. I hope these restorations are being done in a way that considers all of this.

We wrapped up our trip on Knapp Creek, where we came upon a woman walking back along the road after a good day of fishing. Her face said it all. The fish were rising, she had said. We parked and dove in and, sure enough, rising fish! I got one out of a deep pool on a dry. It’s silvery body came from down deep and it shot out of the water straight through the fly. What a great catch!

Tired and happy, we made our way back home after a great trip to the Driftless.

All weekend, by the way, I had great success using a “black tadpole” streamer fly, shown in the fish pic below, with a “brassie” dropper. I got fish on both of these and I’m really a fan of this tandem rig. It seems the bashful fish are willing to go after the small brassie, while the outgoing (and usually, bigger) fish are all about gobbling up the black tadpole.


Breakfast on the road.

Breakfast on the road.


Tainter Creek Brook Trout caught on my own "black tadpole"

Tainter Creek Brook Trout caught on my own “black tadpole”


Stephen Rose casting on Tainter Creek

Stephen Rose casting on Tainter Creek


John Jackels on Tainter Creek

John Jackels on Tainter Creek


Stephen and John work out wind knots on Tainter.

Stephen and John work out wind knots on Tainter.


Lunch on the road.

Lunch on the road.








Superior X-Legs: The Fly of Choice for Brule Steelheaders   Leave a comment

The Superior X-Legs fly is the eponymous fly for those looking to catch Steelhead in Lake Superior tributary rivers. It is a nymph pattern created by Duluth’s Jim Pollack that many anglers swear by.


Superior X-Legs Nymph - Click for Recipe at the Fly By Night Guide Service Website

Superior X-Legs Nymph – Click for Recipe at the Fly By Night Guide Service Website


A common rig used on the Brule is to tie on the X-Legs below a float or indicator, and then tie an egg pattern below the X-Legs as a dropper (I like to use “Trout Beads”). The X-Legs bumps along near the bottom and the egg flutters along behind it.


Here’s the “Salmonid Seeker”, Dustin, with an excellent video showing how the fly is tied. Check out his YouTube channel for other videos of Steelhead flies. I’ll be trying out a few myself.



A New Spot   2 comments

I’ve been working my way up and down Black Earth Creek over the past few years, attempting to lay eyes on every stretch of that river. I was looking over satellite images of the valley and saw a bend I had not yet visited. So like any curious adventurer I headed west, rigged up, and hiked in to see it for myself.

The section is comprised of a few lazy but significant bends and riffles, and surely there are hundreds of trout hunkered down over a length of 100 yards of the stream. As I approached the tail of the bend I saw a few rise forms upstream where the current collides with the bank. Fish!

The sky was overcast and the stream was slowly coming up in temp from the 50’s to the 60’s. I tied on a little Elk Hair Caddis and cast to the rise forms. On my fifth or sixth cast I was drifting the fly through the zone and saw something floating downstream that I couldn’t identify. It was about the size of a baseball, but brown and shiny, half-submerged in the water. As it passed I looked back upstream to find my fly, but instead saw a turbulent ring in the water. A fish had slurped my fly. And I missed the take. But I had the fish on!

A short tug of war, dominated by yours truly, resulted in my holding the fish below, a beautiful, if diminutive, Brown Trout.

Black Earth Creek Brown Trout, September 2012

Black Earth Creek Brown Trout, September 2012


I fished a while longer, moving upstream through the bends, casting carefully with dries and nymphs to likely spots. After some time I put on a Pink Squirrel and made a few nice “reach” casts, making the fly swing around to the left and out of sight, hoping to sneak up on something. I felt a big tug and started stripping line. The fish came toward me with a strong fight and headed straight for the plunge pool downstream. I kept good tension on the line and tried to bring the fish up where I could see it, but I couldn’t raise it. The fish kept diving and fighting and I kept easing the rod tip upward to get it into view.

And then, nothing. Somehow my pink squirrel got spit out by that good fish and I was left to wonder what I might have held in my hands.

I noticed that the chenille collar of pink that was once wrapped around the neck of my pink squirrel fly had come unraveled and was now hanging there seductively, looking like a pink worm emerging from a dark gray husk. Perhaps the big fish I’d had on saw the fly in this new arrangement. Perhaps it was just the thing to entice that big fish. Or perhaps the fight with that big fish caused the fly to unravel. Either way, the thing now looked even more appealing, to me anyway, so I continued to fish with it like that. Funny enough, I caught five chubs on it but no trout. I may tie a few like this to see what happens.

I can’t complain about the outing. It was a lovely place with lots of wild and pleasing sounds, and I feel so blessed to be able to zip out and fish there for brief moments almost anytime. Hopefully you’ve got such a place in your life to unwind, recharge, and prepare for what life throws at you.


Commercial Flies   2 comments

Fly Rod and Reel Magazine has an interesting article online discussing the world of commercially tied flies. Many of the flies you buy at a fly shop are made in Thai “factories” like the one seen below. The jobs in these factories pay relatively well and the job is considered a good profession by those employed to do it.

“We have one lady in Sri Lanka,” says Umpqua’s Bruce Olson with obvious pride, “who is the world expert on the Copper John. She is the best the world has ever known at tying that fly. John Barr [the inventor and namesake of the Copper John] isn’t even in her league.”

Thai Tyer

Thai Tyer

Stimulators   Leave a comment

Preparing for the Brule…

Stimulators, ready to hook into a big one.

Stimulators, ready to hook into a big one.

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.


The Pink Squirrel   2 comments

I’ve been working on my Pink Squirrels. Of course I mean the fly created and perfected by John Bethke. His seem a little more flashy than mine due to the fact that he uses a much hairier dubbing mix mixed with some flash. I think I read somewhere he puts muskrat fur and crystal flash into a blender and chops it up. That’s kind of what it looks like.

But, I think mine with catch fish.

How many blog posts do you think exist in the world that are related to the Pink Squirrel fly? Let’s just say it’s north of 40, because I didn’t get to any search results besides the Pink Squirrel fly until I made it to page 4 in Google’s results. I’ve heard it said that this fly catches fish. I’ll bear witness to that, having caught most of my “fish-on-the-fly” fish on a Pink Squirrel.

One of these Pink Squirrels is not like the others

One of these Pink Squirrels is not like the others