Archive for the ‘On The Creek fly shop’ Tag

Black Earth Creek Headwaters   1 comment

I visited Black Earth Creek for an hour yesterday, aspiring to catch some trout on the last day of the inland waters trout season in Wisconsin. I knew it was a long shot though. The sun was out and the sky was blue, but moreover I was fishing in Cross Plains at Zander Park, a spot that just two months ago was being fully rejiggered by diesel-powered earthmovers and men in hard hats.

I saw another angler downstream of the now defunct On The Creek Fly Shop, so I started fishing the second pool in the “re-meandered” section. I saw a few little fish scatter as I moved along, drifting my nymph along. I moved up past the new bridge into the section of the stream that had not been reworked. Funny thing is though, it was getting reworked. With the gradient downstream restored to its more natural state, the speed of the water upstream has increased and now, instead of lots of muck and silt on the streambed, there are beautiful stones and patches of gravel. Water Cress grows along the banks, accompanied by Jewel Weed and Black-Eyed Susans.

Wading upstream, what used to be a chore in slogging through silt is now a pleasant and easy amble with solid footfalls. Trout will find plenty of places to drop their eggs and spawn, and hopefully multiply appreciably.

I look forward to visiting this spot next spring. As seasons come and go, the habitat will settle in, and so will the fish.

 

Black Earth Creek, upstream of the Zander Park bridge

Black Earth Creek, upstream of the Zander Park bridge

 

The cool clear water of Black Earth Creek, running over the newly scoured streambed

The cool clear water of Black Earth Creek, running over the newly scoured streambed

 

 

Black Earth Creek Headwaters Get Fixed   Leave a comment

Olde Timey Times in Cross Plains

Olde Timey Times in Cross Plains

 

Long ago, when the photo above was new, there was a mill dam on Black Earth Creek in Cross Plains. The dam provided power of some kind to aid in the production of something. It was a beautiful thing. To make the dam work better the channel upstream was straightened out (channelized).

Some time later, perhaps after electrification came to Cross Plains, the dam was removed, but the creek remained straight.

On April 3rd the Village Board of Cross Plains awarded the job of “remeandering” this section of Black Earth Creek to a local construction company. In the short time between April and late June, the job is nearly done.

I went to Cross Plains today to take a look, and stopped in to chat with Todd Opsal at On the Creek. According to Todd, the new work being done on the creek will not only benefit existing fish, but will also significantly add to the spawning habitat in the creek headwaters. That’s a very good thing because more spawning means more trout.

The section upstream of the reworked section is now flowing faster, so a lot of the silt has rinsed away leaving behind sand and gravel streambed that fish and fishermen love.

I look forward to watching the stream take shape and getting after it once the fish return. It should be a real pleasure!

 

Black Earth Creek in Cross Plains - no longer a muddy channel

Black Earth Creek in Cross Plains – no longer a muddy channel

 

Black Earth Creek in Cross Plains - look at those lovely curves!

Black Earth Creek in Cross Plains – look at those lovely curves!

 

Black Earth Creek in Cross Plains - the right side is the old channelized streambed

Black Earth Creek in Cross Plains – the right side is the old channelized streambed

 

Black Earth Creek in Cross Plains - Looking downstream at the reclaimed streambed

Black Earth Creek in Cross Plains – Looking downstream at the reclaimed streambed

 

 

 

 

 

Driftless Hay Harvest and Night Fishing BEC   4 comments

Here’s a lovely scene I came across today in the Driftless. Wisconsin is a rich and fertile place.

 

The Season's First Hay Crop, Dane County Driftless Region, Wisconsin

The Season’s First Hay Crop, Dane County Driftless Region, Wisconsin

 

I passed the field above on my way back to work after visiting Todd Opsal at On the Creek Fly Shop in Cross Plains. I wanted to get a second opinion on mousing and the Hex hatch from Todd. On the Creek is closed on Mondays, so I went to Fontana Sports and talked with Craig Amacker, Fontana’s Fly Fishing expert. Craig pointed me toward the mouse flies and then told me the Hex hatch was starting up. So I bought a few Hex flies too.

Stephen Rose and I got out to the creek at around 8:15 with visions of 6lb trout in our eyes. There was a lot of feeding going on, but no Hex (more like midges) and no monster fish. We fished until about can’t-see-anymore O’clock and headed home, having caught two ten-inch fish on small dries. It beats a skunking, but didn’t come close to meeting our aspirations.

So I went to Cross Plains and sought out Todd, and I asked him what to do. We were taking the right approach, but the Hex hatch isn’t really “on” yet, they’re just starting to come out here and there. He suggested going out early in the morning and tossing a Hex spinner (a Hex with its wings laying down on the water). If fish hit it that morning, you know there was a decent hatch the night before. He also said many anglers claim that if the hatch isn’t off by 10pm it isn’t happening. But Todd tells a story of a night he spent on the creek when the hatch finally came off at 1am. Goes to show Mother Nature has her own agenda. Finally, the spot we fished last night is a bit too rocky in the stream bed for Hex to really thrive. Hex bugs like a firm clay bottom. They burrow into the clay to come of age, so finding sections with this firm, slippery clay is a must for Hex success.

With an upgrade in Hex knowledge I hope to get myself in the right place at the right time sometime this season. I can still see that six-pound Brown slamming my Hex pattern and giving me a nice ride.

Clarence Olsen   9 comments

Meet Clarence Olsen. Mr. Olsen is from Westby, but we met him today in Cross Plains. He is holding the rod he built fifty years ago, and he has used it to fish each and every opener since.

90 year-old Clarence Olsen of Westby, Wisconsin

90 year-old Clarence Olsen of Westby, Wisconsin

 

I supposed Mr. Olsen measures the fullness of his life by these outings. As long as he can get out and fish for trout, life must be pretty good. That’s how I hope to look at things in 56 years!

It was a pleasure meeting you today Clarence!

 

Clarence Olsen angling on Black Earth Creek

Clarence Olsen angling on Black Earth Creek

Black Earth Creek Water Monitoring Stations   4 comments

I stopped in at On the Creek Fly Shop yesterday to pick up a new leader and some pliers from Todd Opsal, and when I pulled on the handle to open the door to the shop, it was locked. A sign on the door said “I’m upstream of the bridge watching the stream survey crew. If you need me, holler.”

I walked upstream and found Todd talking with fellow fisherman Zach (nice meeting you Zach!), who was heading up to Avalanche on the West Fork of the Kickapoo to spend a few days fishing with his two brothers. Lucky bastard. Anyway, Todd and I got to talking and he mentioned that the fine for harvesting fish in the early season is something like $100 per fish along with another general fine and suspension of your license. This got us to talking about how much a land owner could be charged for triggering a fish kill (say, a farmer spreads manure right before a heavy rain).

2001 Black Earth Creek Fish Kill Report

In 2009, four “Real-Time Water Quality Monitors” were installed at various locations between Cross Plains and Black Earth to monitor water temp, dissolved oxygen, specific conductance, turbidity, and pH. These parameters are monitored and if thresholds are met, fisheries managers can be alerted to conditions that may induce a fish kill. The monitoring stations can also collect water samples that allow analysis of pollutants in the water during such an event.

 

BEC Stream Monitor

BEC Stream Monitor

 

BEC Stream Monitor Sites

BEC Stream Monitor Sites

 

If the source of pollutants (fertilizer, manure, etc) responsible for the fish kill is pinpointed to a particular location, the fine for the landowner is as much as $25 per fish. If a mile of stream has experienced a fish kill, and the estimated fish density is 3,000 fish per mile, the fine would be in the neighborhood of $75,000!

A few things about all this are intriguing to me…

  1. Each fish I catch has a value of $25 to the state of Wisconsin. That’s a measure of the money that goes in to our fisheries, but it is also a measure of the economic value of high-quality trout streams, the money that having this resource brings to our state through tourism.
  2. I told Todd that being a landowner along a trout stream now seems like a liability. He countered that streamside landowners get tax breaks for being responsible landowners and adhering to practices that keep the stream healthy.
  3. I’ve heard it said by some that the DNR has an unbalanced amount of power in Wisconsin. That argument could certainly be made when you consider a $75,000 fine against a landowner. But, that waterway is a public resource and if it wasn’t managed by an agency with some teeth behind it, the resource probably wouldn’t be worth a damn anyway. My barber is from Thailand and he told me that people fish with explosives in Thailand because the enforcement of regulations there is weak. So now the fisheries there are in big trouble.

To bring this all back around, Todd mentioned that fish numbers in Black Earth Creek have been steadily rising since the introduction of these Water Quality Monitoring Stations. Point and Non-Point pollutants have decreased significantly since 2009, likely because of the ability for fisheries managers to determine the source of pollutants. I imagine it has also “inspired” property owners to implement stream-friendly practices like crop planting buffers and such.

If I owned a farm along a trout stream I would be motivated to “get it right”, both for the sake of the stream and to avoid the fines. Farming is not easy, and regulations enforced by a powerful government agency don’t make it any easier. I suppose it’s a matter of your view of your place in the broader community. Water is a resource that we all depend on for life and well-being, and it is something we share. It should be protected, and I for one am glad to see that efforts to protect Black Earth Creek are paying off.

 

Get the Kids Out   Leave a comment

After an hour of Lego Indiana Jones on the Wii and Minecraft on the PC, kids need to get the heck outside. Saturday morning, Stephen and I took advantage of the glorious weather, put rubber pants on the kids, and hit the water. We found clams, set up a hammock, made a little fire for roasting marshamallows and warming hands, and even sniffed a fish or two (it’s tough to sneak up on a trout with 8 small feet tromping around).

 

 

Rubber Pants, Marshmallows, Hammock, and Republic Clone Trooper DC-15 Rifle. Check.

Rubber Pants, Marshmallows, Hammock, and Republic Clone Trooper DC-15 Rifle. Check.

 

 

Serious Fun in the Driftless of Wisconsin.

Serious Fun in the Driftless of Wisconsin.

 

 

This photo needs a caption contest. Any ideas?

This photo needs a caption contest. Any ideas?

 

 

When the sun reached its peak it was time for some lunch. We took the kids into Black Earth and filled up at the Luckenbooth Cafe. I highly recommend the burgers. And the kids each got a scoop of ice cream topped with whipped cream and caramel to make good and well sure they were full.

 

 

This is what nature does to your kids. Any Questions?

This is what nature does to your kids. Any Questions?

 

 

After the long and lazy lunch we stopped over at On The Creek to visit Todd Opsal. I’d bought a TFO reel (the $60 job) and was having some trouble with it free-spooling in the cold weather. Pulling out line felt like Russian Roulette. Every now and then the drag would just turn off, and I’d be left with a bird’s nest of line tangled up in the reel. I had reported this to Todd, who recommended I try one more time out to see if I could reproduce the problem, and after doing so, Todd kept his word and allowed me to trade the reel in. I paid the difference and upgraded to the large arbor TFO reel. So far, so good. Thanks Todd!

After arriving back home, hanging up our gear to dry, and settling in for the evening, my oldest and middle sons both thanked me for taking them out to spend time in the natural world. There often seems to be some arm twisting required when it’s time to get out and play in nature, but without fail, everyone ends the day feeling good about soaking up some sunlight, fresh air, and moving water.

Oh, and the rubber pants. Let’s not forget about the rubber pants.

Success on Black Earth Creek   2 comments

After striking out on Sunday I decided to swing 180-degrees and go from fishing streams I don’t know to fishing those I know well (or better, anyway). My home stream, as it is for many around here, is Black Earth Creek. Many people frown on it because “there was that fish kill awhile back” and “it gets so much pressure from Madison fishermen”. While those things are true, it is still a lovely stream with lots of fish that is fishable for me over lunch or before or after work.

Monday I drove 15 minutes to a spot on Black Earth Creek and caught a couple of nice Brown Trout, whereas on Sunday I drove an hour and didn’t see any fish.

Black Earth Creek in its broad valley

Black Earth Creek in its broad valley

 

I haven’t yet fished every stretch of this river, so I have some exploring left to do, which will help my neophilic tendencies. There are a few nice tributary streams as well that are proximal to my location that don’t see as many fishermen, and I plan to increase my knowledge of those streams as well.

The spot I fished was basically “in town” and it sees lots of fishing pressure. Even so, I caught fish. This, to me, says a lot about the health of the Black Earth Creek system.

The guys at On The Creek provided an audience during this hookup.

The guys at On The Creek provided an audience during this hookup.

 

Speaking with Todd Opsal at On the Creek Fly Shop, I found out the section between Hwy P and Hwy KP is going to get some special attention in the next few years from the DNR and Trout Unlimited. Many moons ago this section was channelized and dammed to serve industrial purposes. The project in the works will put the stream back into its original stream bed, with lots of meanders and natural gradient. It will be used as a national example of stream restoration practices and will only serve to increase the fecundity of Black Earth Creek, and we’ll all have more fish to catch and lovelier places to catch them.

 

Tight Line! Channelized section of Black Earth Creek.

Tight Line! Channelized section of Black Earth Creek.

 

I plan to keep up the blog posts as a sort of journal this season, so hopefully I’ll be taking many more pics of fish and nice places as the weeks go by.