After a slow start to the Wisconsin early catch and release trout season, things have really started to pick up in the last week. Today, I was able to get out and fish "wolf creek", one of our favorite little trout streams on the eastern edge of the Driftless region.
Wolf creek is very narrow for the most part. Parts of it are only 5 or 6 feet across and I would venture there are few sections more than 8 feet wide. It benefited from some stream restoration work many years, but according to a contact at the DNR, it has not been stocked for quite a long time. Despite being a relatively narrow creek, sections of it run quite deep. It always surprises me when I have to worry about my sling pack getting wet in such a small creek. It also has incredible structure, thanks to the restoration work and the machinations of nature. Accordingly, it is absolutely brimming with trout. Most of the fish you will catch in the creek are in the 7 to 9 inch range. They are not all that big, but they are wild and feisty. If you play your cards right, though, you can hook into some much larger fish.
For today's outing, I used the Badger Tenkara Bad Axe. I really like this rod for smaller streams, and I thought I might want to use the shorter setting in certain sections. Having an adjustable rod is kind of like having four wheel drive: you don't need it very often, but when you do, you're really glad you have it. I used the Badger Lite line, which is perfectly suited to the rod. Given the tight casting quarters, I shortened up my tippet section to about 4.5 feet, about a foot and a half shorter than my typical set up for our driftless creeks. The fly of choice today was a size 12 leech pattern.
Conditions were about perfect. Temps were in the 50-60's with overcast skies and only a light wind. I'm not sure what the water temp was as I forgot my stream thermometer in the truck. Again. There were quite a few stoneflies hatching today (and crawling on the streamside brush). Trout were feeding on the surface, but I decided to stick to the leech pattern so I could probed the deep nooks and crannies in the creek.
I caught a nice little 8 inch brown in the first run, and then donated my first fly to the brush. A couple of other similar sized trout were picked up in the next run, and then I lost a fish pushing 14 inches at my feet. This pattern seemed like it was going to repeat itself: catch a couple of nice 8 or 9 inch fish and then lose the big one at my feet. In fact, it happened a total of three times.
Despite losing some nice fish at my feet, I was having a great time. I was tempted to switch to a surface fly, since I saw several trout presumably eating the stoneflies on the surface, but stuck to the leech mostly out of laziness. Somewhat to my surprise, I managed to catch several rising fish on the leech pattern. I do believe there are such things as selective trout, but I believe their existence is exaggerated.
Once I reached my usual turn around point, I had to decide whether to head back to the truck and head to new creek or explore unknown territory. I had been further upstream in the past, but found it was mostly silty and shallow, not very trouty. I decided just to press on and at least lay eyes on sections of the creek I have not seen before. I'm glad I did.
There were portions of the creek that were just not trout friendly whatsoever, but there were also pockets and bends with just about perfect trout habitat. I don't think this little creek gets a lot of fishing pressure, but I would venture this section gets almost no pressure at all. Every favorable segment of the creek held trout, and they were seemingly all naive and eager. As I approached on nice corner, I said to myself "Mike, I think a big trout lives there. Here's what you need to do: step 1, approach with stealth. Don't spook the fish. Step two, don't blow the cast. Step three, catch a big fish". I love it when a plan comes together!
I was thrilled to land this guy (pictured above), especially after losing three nice sized fish at my feet. After releasing him, I thought "I bet at least one more nice trout lives in that pool". I cast again just a little further upstream, and sure enough, I caught his slightly smaller but still impressive counterpart.
Those two fish were certainly the highlight of the trip. I managed to hook a couple more as I hopped from pool to bend, and then finally called it day. In a way, it was bittersweet. It was certainly a great day, but sadly, a day like that could be my best all season, and the season just started!