Archive for the ‘Trout Camp’ 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northwoods Ho!   Leave a comment

Plans are in the works for a trip up to the Bois Brule, and perhaps the Cranberry River, Flag River, White River, Marengo River, Sioux River, or who knows where. Hopefully the fish will be our guide.

I can’t wait to see that lovely tanin-stained water, hear the wolves howl, and see the flash of those silvery fish in the riffles. I’ll be keeping my eye on the fish forums to see how our chances look for getting up there during a run.

For now, here are some memories of last year’s visit…

Wood Turtle on the banks of the Bois Brule River, Wisconsin

Wood Turtle on the banks of the Bois Brule River, Wisconsin

 
 
Stephen Rose: Extreme Trout Fisherman

Stephen Rose: Extreme Trout Fisherman

 
 
S. Rose on the incredible Bois Brule River, Wisconsin

S. Rose on the incredible Bois Brule River, Wisconsin

 
 
The Amnicon River in Douglas County, Wisconsin

The Amnicon River in Douglas County, Wisconsin

 

 

 

Camping in the Trees and Kittleson Creek   5 comments

What a campsite this would make.

Getting out to our coldwater streams is a really big deal. But how to not ‘break the bank’ on our visits can often feel like a huge compromise. When you’ve waded enough of these streams you realize just what you don’t see when you stay in a readymade campground.

Someone bought me a cheap nylon camping hammock as a gift for my wedding.  I had planned a bachelor’s river trip down the Flambeau River flowage with a dozen or so of my good friends. That was sixteen years ago and the hammock turned out to be the most revelatory part of the whole excursion. The first night we set up camp, I saw that the moon was bright in the sky and we had little worry about weather. So I strung up the hammock for fun.

But I felt so good in it I didn’t bother to set up my crummy tent and I slept better than I ever had before. I think I was the only one who felt great in the morning. (the beer may have played a role) From that moment on I’ve looked for ways to use the hammock as my primary way to get through the night outdoors.

Recently, Tom and I came across an article in the Times.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/13/nyregion/13trees.html

Cory and Dana Foht

These guys were doing exactly what I always hoped to do. Why do we sit on our hands?

Anyway, Tom and I have invested in some pretty sweet hammock gear and we can’t wait to find an ideal tree to spend an evening this way. Up in the canopy with the stars.

Wouldn't this be cool.

I’m envious of this dude.

This kind of camping would allow you to get right down to the streams edge without disturbing so much as a leaf. You can string one of these arrangements in two minutes if your not expecting weather and fifteen if you do. And there’s a minimum of wet stuff to contend with in the morning. I’ve been through quite a few serious weather evenings in my hammocks and getting wet has never been as issue. Mostly, I’ve worried about everybody else who wasn’t in one.

This whole idea can be taken to some pretty cool extremes.

This is New Zealand but there is no reason we couldn't figure this out at some point.

Enough of that. You get the idea. Tom and I hope to locate idealized trees for this activity all season long. There won’t be any campfires but who cares? We came to fish.

On the last day of the season last year, I elected to give the newly restored section of Kittleson Valley Creek in SW Dane county a try. The banks have been nicely cut back and lunker structures added with some really nice riffle runs and on either side of the restoration I’ve seen some pretty big browns. It’s not a big stretch but it has some premium spots for fly casters.

Kittleson Creek is a nice little tributary of Gordon Creek.

This spot may not be a good choice for the early season as I can imagine it getting some significant traffic right out of the gate. But if you can manage to escape work one day you might have a really sweet couple of hours working this water. You might not even need to get wet.

If anybody’s interested, Tom and I will be down at the On The Creek fly shop in Cross Plains tomorrow night tying some flies.

http://www.onthecreekflyshop.com/

If your local, maybe we’ll see you out there?

 

An idea taken to a nifty extreme. Just how the heck do they get out of there?

 

Trout Unlimited Meeting Last Night   1 comment

Last night Stephen Rose and I attended our first Trout Unlimited meeting. The Southern Wisconsin TU Chapter meets monthly in the banquet hall at the Colliseum Bar in Madison. The reputation of Trout Unlimited precedes itself, and there are strong opinions about the influence and motivation of the organization.

We didn’t know what kind of atmosphere to expect. On the way to the meeting we jokingly agreed that if we saw anyone wearing an ascot ala Judge Smails in Caddyshack, we’d probably have to excuse ourselves and make our way downstairs to the bar for some stiff drinks.

Judge Smails

"Do you stand for *goodness*, or - for *badness*?" - Judge Smails

It turns out no one was wearing an ascot. Most were wearing flannel shirts and faded jeans. The faces in the crowd of 50 people were exactly what you’d expect to see in a bar on a Tuesday night in Wisconsin.

The meeting started out with a few items of business, mostly that winners of raffles from the last few meetings had yet to pick up their prizes of fly boxes or trout books. There was a request to sign up to man the booth at the upcoming Madison Fishing Expo, and a call for members to help with streambank improvement work on Mount Vernon, the West Branch of the Sugar, and Gordon Creeks on April 30. Bring your loppers, chainsaws, and work gloves!

Raffle tickets for the evenings “Bucket Raffle” were handed out. Up for grabs were fly boxes with a dozen hand-tied flies.

Then the presentation began. Four members had taken a trip up to Lake Creek, Alaska for a week of river fishing. The stories and photos were terrific and make me wish I was better at saving my money so that I could afford such a trip (which, according to the speakers, was very reasonably priced compared to other trips offered in Alaska).

Wilderness Place Lodge

Wilderness Place Lodge

The question I asked myself while looking at the slides was “Are they going to eat any of these fish?” and I was surprised and relieved when I saw them showing off giant salmon filets and talking about how delicious all the fish tasted. They also brought along two kegs of beer to keep them company. Sounds OK to me!

After the 45-minute presentation the bucket raffle got underway. Three winners were picked from a hat and they each took home a fly box with some flies.

Announcements for the next meeting were made (March’s meeting is an auction) and the crowd slowly dispersed.

The impression I got was that each of these people enjoyed trout, trout streams, fishing for and catching trout, and spreading the word that trout fishing is a great way to spend time outdoors.

I didn’t stand up and say “Would any of you have objections to me fishing with a chub tail at the April outing?”

I’m not sure how that would have gone over. But I’m going to continue to attend the meetings and become a member. I look forward to helping with stream work, learning how to tie new flies, and create new friendships within the trout fishing community.

I also look forward to fishing with that chub tail in April.

Seeking Northern Trout part 2   4 comments

It’s probably not lost on you that my last post offered little insight into actual trout-fishing. This has broken open a debate for me about what motivates me to hit the streams in the first place.

Don’t misunderstand, if there are fish to be had in the streams we visit my unwavering priority is to catching them. But there are plenty of circumstances in which the fishing isn’t likely to be  terribly productive. These non-season scouting events have proven to me that fishing is simply a goal to be reached.

An unmistakeable coyote track.

It is the pursuit that matters.

Once your ‘in it’ the story of the day just unfolds and you spend it in rapt observation. There is always something going on. Your responsibility, as I’ve read somewhere recently,  is to come home with that story not always told in pounds or inches.

I recently lost a friend to a brain tumor. Young and in every other way unmistakeably healthy, my friend was famous for his love of winter activities. He was a ‘work hard/play hard’ kind of guy and an inspiration to many. His loss gave me ample reason to investigate my relationship with the cold and snow. This has been a revelation. January and February have often felt like a long cold wait in the past. Not this season. This winter everyday has offered possibilities. There is no weather or temperature that does not give you options. The snow and ice are amazingly free surface agents with super neat physical properties that beg for experiment and inquiry. And we have so many new technologies to explore them.

A closer look reveals a classic four-toed canine paw print complete with claws.

As an aside, I have to put in a plug for the guy who really got me out on the streams chasing after salmonids with some measure of success. Jay Ford Thurston’s Spring Creek Treasure has been so revealing with unadorned and specific advice about our Wisconsin trout streams that it has proved as a kind of unconscious series of post-it-notes reminding us where to go and how to do.

I’m sure I speak for Tom and I both about this remarkable work and the big thanks we owe to Jay. I’m not sure anyone has given more of his time figuring out this whole activity than he has.

The view from the 'oculus' of the tent vestibule in Bear Paw campground.

 

This camping trip really got me excited about the possibilities of opening day. Maybe camping in the snow could open up opportunities for great fishing even when the streams are full of enthusiasts. This activity resets all the variables for where you can go to chase after that next big brown or wild brookie.

It’s snowing again today. I say bring it on. It’s not gonna hurt my chances at finding my bliss. With Tom’s three boys and my two, we are sure to be out in the snow giving our wives a welcome reprieve from the general din as we explore our next series of trout waters.

Bring on the Driftless!

 

An invitation for summer fun at Bear Paw campground in Oconto county.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeking Northern Trout   2 comments

Well, Tom and I visited the Northwoods. As our start date became a reality I think we both felt a tremor of reserve about the nature of winter camping. Why go into the woods in late January? Is it some kind of sickness? Self-loathing?

We're not the only fishermen in the woods. Otter slides offering a reassuring image of the presence of fish and fun in the great northwoods.

 

Not at all. Right out of the gate I would say, “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it”. Cold hands, constant alterations to your clothing and gear, frustrations with keeping a fire going, to say nothing of driving conditions, are all very real issues. Now hear me out here for a minute.

Author slowly shaking off the overnight torpor.

Tom looking a bit more 'game' than his counterpart.

It’s true that on the face of things it sounds insane. But there is an upside. First, the woods are yours for the taking. (minus the omnipresent drone of the snowmobile devotees) You hardly see a soul and there is a real grace in this kind of solitude. Second, you get your pick of the litter when choosing a campsite. We camped in two premium spots in the national forest that you would be lucky to get at any other time of the year. Just feet from the water with lovely views and access to your points of interest. Also, that deep layer of white has a kind of cartesian clarity, the landscape looks somehow more understandable. A fresh snow is like flypaper as it records all new activities and careful inspection can reveal a story of the daily goings on that makes for a seriously fun project of sleuthing. Last, there is something about living from moment to moment, just out of shear need, that is strangely calming, restive, and deeply satisfying. You don’t have to wonder if your doing the right thing because it is painfully obvious what needs to be done. And there are always surprises about what goes really well that you couldn’t have hoped for, like an unlikely gourmet meal made over an open fire from spare fixings.

A welcome sight on a snowy evening.

Everybody’s had the experience of a meal tasting better when you’ve worked for it. Your effort demands the senses to take note of every little hint of flavor as the body looks for some cognitive measure of comfort no matter how small.

Our pack sleds ready for easy hauling over lots of new snow. Easy is a relative term.

Truly, the best things in life aren’t free! Oh and by the way, no need for a big plastic cooler to follow you around. Carbohydrate rich food packs easily with little fear of some crazed raccoon making a mess of tomorrow’s vittles.

Breakfast in the vestibule is easy with a little evening forethought.

River stones warming up over the fire for tucking away in the sleeping bag. Highly recommended.

It does appear that Oconto county has much to offer but it may be that the trout fishing will have to play second fiddle to other concerns if your going to have a really nice experience. Probably due to a lack of appropriate levels of groundwater, the trout-streams continue to produce smaller and smaller fish. This is a light gear kind of place where the fishing is all about making the most of it. Most of the streams we saw suggested spin-fishing to my eye. Tight, narrow fishing alleys broken up by alder infested banks that would resist the unfolding flyline.  There do look to be pockets where a stealthy spin caster could pull out a few beauties however.  We encountered two areas on the Northern branch of the Oconto River which struck me as good fly-fishing opportunities. But without seeing the underwater features beneath the snow it’s difficult to know whether or not this pure fantasy. Check out Bagley Rapids if your ever up that way.

Here's an arresting image of the four season tent looking very inviting.

We arrived on a sunny day in the high twenties. We passed through the Menominee Indian Reservation on the way. The forest was deep and beautiful here with an abundance of emerging beech trees in their winter splendor showing a forest in a long term transition. We stopped in the tribal office to inquire about fishing or other tourist opportunities within the reservation boundaries. We were told with great sympathy that these kind of activities are simply not possible on tribal lands. The people we spoke with were very engaging and only too willing to be helpful with our questions. (this included the president)

Moving water really draws you in this time of year.

We stopped at the Ranger station to pick up a map and found more willing and sympathetic people who offered us their personal incites on how to go about our search. The large map for sale was virtually worthless for car navigation having too much information. The simple one-page xerox copy of the local campgrounds, with a few personal notes drawn in, proved to be a great solution when coupled with a gazetteer. “How can we camp right next to a trout stream?”, we asked stupidly. This is a question that may not be welcome on opening day but in late January I think our questions were met with genuine warmth and real solid advice.

Tom, hard at it, snowshoeing to the Bagley Rapids campground.

Our first campsite proved to be everything it was billed to be. We’d hoped to do some ice-fishing in camp should our scouting of streams prove of little value. Down a long, windy, unplowed, road we parked the car just a couple hundred feet from a small lake and our destination campsite  jutting right out onto the water and including a rope swing for the boys in the summertime. It was really nice.

We had the tent up and a solid fire going in about an hour and a half. We bought three bundles of firewood for the evening but utilized plenty of downed maple saplings for additional fuel. Overnight we got somewhere between five and six inches of snow. It came down solidly all night and was a source of some worry considering we had parked the vehicle on an already unplowed road with a solid 3 to 4 inches already present many miles from anything. In the morning we elected to pull up stakes as anymore snow and we would surely be stuck.

Like the otters, I think this spot has a lot of promise (Bagley Rapids)

This proved a wise choice as we traveled extensively the rest of the day checking out various swathes of the Oconto River for premium fishing opportunities. Most of the sections we were looking for were registered as Class I or Class II troutstreams. More than half looked to be very small and, in all honesty, not very promising. The first solid looking spot had us out of the car and working the banks looking for signs of trout when another car pulled up behind us and a man got out. This was a fortuitous circumstance as it turned out this man had once been the head of the local chapter of TU and he lived right on the property.

Author happy to have his feet to the fire and psyched about winter camping.

This gentleman and scholar gave us a pretty good nutshell version of Oconto county trout seeking. First, he said that though he was a member of TU his preference was for panfishing. Not a good sign when you live just a couple hundred feet from a Class I stream. I suppose he could have been pulling our legs but it sure didn’t feel like it. He told us that he had electroshocked this particular section of the Southern branch of the Oconto for most of a decade. Though there are twenty inch Browns present they are few and far between and most fish will be in six to eight inch territory and they’re getting smaller not bigger.  A long way to drive for such small quarry. He told us how fortunate we were to live an hour from the Driftless Area which he felt rivaled the best fishing out West in every way. We couldn’t argue. He offered us a few ideas about possible fishing spots in the forest including a barrier free section for handicap and child accessibility. We thanked him for his thoughts and were on our way.

We stopped at the barrier free section and got out the snowshoes do a little looking around. The stream looked like ideal size and the boardwalks made for fishing provided spots all along a 1/4 mile stretch. The conditions were still not terribly conducive to flyfishing as the forest encroached from both sides with lots of alder stands right in the water. And the barrier free fishing idea sounds great but anybody who has fished trout much knows how important it is to be able to move around on the stream and work a hole from an ideal location. This kind of activity is not really suited for standing still three or four feet above the water. Neat spot though. We found lots of evidence of otters busily working the stream for their meals. We also encountered some very shy Ruffed Grouse while we walked through the woods.

We decided to check out Bagley Rapids on the North branch of the Oconto at the recommendation of an RV camper who had posted some pictures Tom found online. This proved to be a great piece of information as the walk-in campsites proved awesome and this was the likeliest section of fly-fishing water we found in our entire visit. Because the road leading to the campgrounds was unplowed we parked as close as we could and hauled our gear via sleds. What might seem an onerous chore is actually kind of what you’ve signed up and feels really good while your doing it. We got a site twenty feet directly above the water.

Like the last campsite this one was as nice as anyone could ask for. Set up time was greater due to the lengthy haul but had a better fire-ring for winter situations. We found that a ring which was not dug into the ground was far better for this time of the year as it radiated better and moisture did not steal as many of those beautiful campfire calories. We made a stew from some canned venison and ramen noodles that was outstanding. (Thanks Dan!)

The temperature dropped all night long and by morning we had some serious condensation in the tent. My face felt like a windshield covered in dewy frost in the morning. The cold puts a serious setback on getting anything accomplished quickly. We used every stick of firewood we had to take down our camp constantly stopping to warm up. I can’t speak for Tom but I actively wondered how those early explorers dealt with serious cold without the benefits of modern technical clothing and gear. I was never so cold that I wasn’t having fun.

With the camp gear stowed we got called to the sound of the rapids. We put on the snowshoes and hit the river for some cold sunny morning sleuthing. The cameras were very handy as this is a very picturesque spot. There were fresh otter tracks up and down the river’s edge and we found a likely den and a pretty legitimate story developed that at least one coyote was very interested in whatever those otters were doing. We didn’t actually catch a glimpse of anybody but I feel certain that with a telephoto lens and some predawn preparations we could have shot some film of some pretty cool wildlife scenes. It was hard to pull away from this very pretty piece of river.

We climbed off the riverbed and hit the highway for home.

In the end, I think Tom and I came away feeling terrific about the forest and the trip but skeptical that our ‘trout camp’ will end up in this part of Wisconsin. The Driftless Area continues to have an air of inevitability about it.

Lots more pics to come.  Enjoy.

Tava Evericulum

Oconto County   1 comment

Three hours from the heart of Madison (at approximatly 80 mph) you’ll come to the Lakewood Ranger District of the Nicolet National Forest in Oconto County. Photos and videos are currently in post-production and will start showing up on our blog this evening.

Stephen and I kept all of our fingers and toes despite five inches of unexpected snow, a very nearly stuck 4 wheel-drive vehicle, and flaming boot soles.

We also had the opportunity to talk to a gentleman who lives on the South Branch of the Oconto River and is a former Trout Unlimited chapter president. He reminded us how lucky we are to be residents (or nearly so) of the Driftless Area of Wisconsin, where the trout fishing is “at least as good as anything Out West.”

More on that later. For now, we’re back in civilization, enriched by the amazing sights and sounds of moving water in the middle of winter, our goal of locating a beautiful place to take our kids camping and fishing complete.

Stay tuned for photos, videos, and more stories.