If there is such a thing as "Smallmouth Fever", Badger has caught a serious case of it! Don't get us wrong, we love the field-craft and rich traditions of trout fishing (both Japanese and American!). But the Smallmouth Bass is a ferocious opponent that may just be the Midwest's perfect Tenkara sport fish. Why is that? Being a warm water fish, it enjoys a range much wider than trout, so it is more readily available to a larger number of anglers. Most importantly - ounce for ounce and pound for pound, NOTHING fights like a Smallmouth on the Hook!
So, on to the fishing. This section of of Left Hand Branch is spectacular smallie water. Rarely more than knee-deep, it was full of classic structure - a rocky bottom and occasional patches of vegetation that made great holding lies. Casting to visible structure, edges, and current streams was productive. In slower, flat water where structure was harder to see, a steady prospecting pattern of dropping casts every 15-20 feet worked well, often pulling fish from every spot before moving upstream to repeat.
Our friend Jim dropped us a line to tell us about the Woolly Bugger variant he's been slaying late summer Smallmouth with on the Kishwaukee River in Illinois. He has been having so much fun catching bass on his WISCO, he decided to call it the BADGER BUGGER. We thought that was pretty cool, and we also think it is a great pattern worth sharing - check it out!
It is HOT here in Wisconsin right now. Hot and dry. The trout streams are running a little warm, so Matt and I have largely left them alone and will continue to do so until it starts to cool some. But hey, the bass don't care, they like it! So when I had the opportunity to fish after a night shift this week, I naturally decided to chase some bass. I went to one of our favorite creeks. The fish there are not all that large, but they are plentiful and usually cooperative. Additionally, the creek is easy to wade and there is not much to snag on, which is nice for my post-night shift foggy brain.
The first big pool is always hit or miss. Today it was a miss. I know there must be fish there, but I'm guessing the fish get more pressure here than other parts of the creek, since it is right at the access point. No sweat, that's how it goes. The next pool was a different story. I cast along a downed log and hooked into a feisty little rock bass. Not my target species, but I always enjoy catching them. Where there is one rock bass, there are usually several, so I cast to the log again, and sure enough, another one came out to play. As long as I could get my fly to drift under the log, the fish seemed willing to take it. After catching a few, I moved up towards the head of the pool, and to my surprise, caught a bluegill. And another. I'm not sure I've ever caught bluegills in this creek before, but again, I won't complain. The next pool I is one I would consider marginal. The water there is deep enough to hold fish, but just barely. There is some nice structure, though, and a well placed cast will usually draw a strike. I was again surprised here to hook into multiple fish in a pool that is usually only good for one or two. It also turned out to be the pool of many species: smallmouth, rock bass, bluegill and one big ol' creek chub! Not too bad.
At the head of the pool, I hooked into two nice smallmouth, one which I landed and one that came off the hook at the bank. Both of these fish were decent sized, just under a foot or so, which is pretty average for this creek. I was using the Badger Tenkara UNC for a change of pace, and I have to say, it is a blast to catch smallmouth on the UNC! I was using about 11.5 feet of the Badger Lite line with six feet of tippet. With this set up, I was not missing out on much casting distance compared to the Classic or Bad Axe, but had the joy of fishing with an extremely light weight rod.
The "bigger" bass put a bend in the rod and made the fight pretty entertaining, but the rod still has plenty of backbone to handle angry bronzebacks. I look forward to testing the rod on the Little Left Hand river, where the bass are bigger and even meaner! During the dogs of summer, consider giving the trout a break if the stream temps are too warm. Go chase some bass. You'll be glad you did!
I think the real measure of a fly fishing guide is the ability to put clients on fish despite adverse conditions. In the little informal guiding I have done, I have been blessed with days of favorable conditions, fish on the bite and having the creeks pretty well to ourselves. It is easy to look like a great guide on those days. On my recent trip with Kyle Zempel from Black Earth Angling Company, conditions were not so favorable, but Kyle still managed to get us into plenty of fish.
Kyle is a fly fishing guide based outside of Madison, Wisconsin. While he loves to fly fish (and guide) for trout, I think Wisconsin River smallmouth bass are his real passion. Kyle knows the river and its fish like few others. On the day of our outing, the river was at one of its lowest points in Kyle’s guiding career. Some of his “good spots” were now only inches deep. Not a great way for a guide to have to start his day. It is a big, sprawling river, so finding the fish can be no easy task. We were also facing gusting winds that proved challenging for casting at times, not to mention boat positioning. This was also Kyle’s first exposure to tenkara. No pressure here, folks!
A bit about the boat: Kyle owns what is probably the ideal boat for fishing the Wisconsin. It looks like an elongated skiff. It has a nice fishing platform up front. It can be drifted and rowed like a classic drift boat, but when you need to get from spot to spot, or back to the boat launch, Kyle fires up the jets. Yes, it is a jet boat! The jet motor allows you to cruise across the shallows of the Wisconsin River at speed. Drift boats are romantic, sure, and canoes have their charm, but the jet boat is really the way to go!
As we drifted down the banks of our first section of the river, we found the water level to be unexpectedly low. Repeated casts drew nothing. After giving it the college try, Kyle fired up the jets and hit the next spot. One of the great things about fishing on the Lower Wisconsin River is the opportunity to get out and wet wade. You can boat along the river, beach the boat on a sand bar and then fish to drop offs and structure as you wade in the shallows under the summer sun. It will make you feel like a kid again, for sure.
At one such stop we were fishing where a cold water trout stream fed into the Wisconsin. Feeling the cold water of the trout stream pour into the warm Wisconsin river was an enjoyable contrast. I hooked my first fish of the day there, a feisty fish we estimated to go about 17 inches. After letting the fish ride the rod for a bit, I started to hand line him in. I got him to my feet when, inexplicably, I arrogantly uttered “you’re mine now, fish”. Then he broke off. Talk about karma.
We drifted along again and then anchored at a section of river that offered a variety of fishing opportunities: rocks, logs, current fluctuations and bank structure. I handed Kyle the Badger Tenkara Classic rod while I continued to fish the WISCO. Kyle quickly landed a nice 14 inch or so bass, his first fish on tenkara. As he fished along a log, he hooked into a beast. I tried my best to coach him, giving him the abbreviated version of Rob Worthing’s “How to land big fish on tenkara” talk (should be required viewing for anyone chasing big smallies on tenkara). For better or worse, the fish wrapped itself around a log. I was able to net it, snap a photo and release it. The fish measured 20 ¼ inches. It is one of the bigger fish Kyle has caught on the river, and it was on a Tenkara rod! What impressed me even more than the fish’s length was its mass. The proportions of the fish were like nothing I have ever seen. I was in awe the rest of the day.
Our next spot proved even better. The current here ripped along the bank of a small island, creating a deep channel. The perfect ambush spot for hungry bass to chase bait. We hooked one fish after another here. Every time the fishing would start slow down and I would think it was time to move on, another fish would hit. I did not land them all, but I landed quite a few! The biggest was 17 inches, which is the second largest smallmouth I have caught on the river. The largest was on my 8 weight fly rod, so needless to say, this was a much more interesting battle on the Classic! Most of the fish we caught in this section hovered around the 14 inch mark, some a little smaller, some bigger, but all vigorous and strong. I completely lost count of the number of fish we caught in this section, which is always a good sign!
At our next spot, we were treated to one of the iconic spectacles of fishing the Lower Wisconsin River: “the crash”. Smallmouth will chase bait into the shallows, then explode at surface as they feast. It is cool enough just to watch, not to mention fish. We drew repeated strikes from the fish and landed several more. It was pretty darn exciting.
If you are anywhere near the area, or even if you are not, I highly recommend an outing on the Wisconsin with Black Earth angling. If you are fishing tenkara, I would suggest the following:
Photos by Kyle Zempel
Earlier this year we started hearing stories about an early Summer phenomenon that locals call "The Crash". The word was that the Smallmouth Bass in the Wisconsin River like to school up, drive bait-fish into the shallows, and then feast on them in a feeding frenzy that puts the Discovery Channel's "Shark Week" to shame. When my friend Ben suggested we canoe out to a few spots where we'd be likely see the Crash and fish it, there was no way I was going to pass up a chance to see it first hand!
This also happened to be a great opportunity put our WISCO rods to the test. Ben said we'd need some range to keep from spooking the school, so we rigged up with 18 feet of floating line and another 8 feet of 6lb test mono. The plan was to fish the surface with Crease Fly Poppers, similar to the one pictured below. We were lucky - the first place we checked had a school of Smallies crashing, so we pulled up the canoe and got set.
It was like an old west shootout! You stand there, ready to cast, waiting for the first sign of a disturbance on the surface. Suddenly, you'd see a bait-fish jump, or the swirl of a near surface take, and you'd cast out past it and pop/jig the retrieve back towards you. By then, most of the surface would erupt with jumping and thrashing bass as they picked off the trapped bait-fish. The strikes came as the frenzied bass mistook the crease fly as a fleeing victim - BAM! They'd crush it and the fight was on. Once we had them on the hook, we'd move them back and away from the "crash zone" to make sure we didn't spook the school off the feed.
We caught over a half dozen nice fish ranging from 14 - 17 inches and the WISCO was far beyond capable for the task. Moderate current with plenty of room and depth for the fish to run made no difference - when we decided to bring the fish in, it was done. The third and last segment has the best footage I got of the crash itself, check out the chain reaction on the water as the bass go after those bait-fish!
Look for more Tenkara vs. Smallmouth action coming soon!
As summer weather began to set in, Matt and I decided it was about time we started chasing some warm water fish. We had the opportunity to fish a river we heard about some time ago, but had not yet made the time to explore. I'm really glad we finally did! For the purpose of utter obfuscation, we will refer to this Wisconsin gem as the "Little Left Branch".
We had some trouble finding the river, which really isn't all bad, considering that our misdirection led to the sighting of an older gentleman piloting his powered wheelchair through a small town, shirtless, in brightly colored pajamas pants with a large cockatoo on his shoulder. You just don't see that sort of thing every day. On the way home, we learned that some Amish buggies are equipped with headlights. It's about more than just the fishing, you see!
When we finally arrived at our jumping off point, we were greeted by a groomed fishing platform installed by a fishing club. There was a deep pool with swirling back eddy that looked very promising. It was big enough for us both to fish, so we started at opposite ends and worked towards the middle. Nothing. I'm sure this portion of the river gets some pressure, but it was still a little disappointing to draw a blank from such promising water. We then had to decide whether to move upstream or down. Upstream looked narrower with a canopy of trees, so we chose the downstream route. We decided to hike downstream and then fish back upstream.
After a couple hundred yards, we found a nice looking run with a bubble line along the far bank. I cast and quickly got into a fish, perhaps a 9 or 10 inch smallmouth. I lost him as I was about to net him. Our intel had told this creek is loaded with bass, but they are generally small, around 10 inches being the common size. Fine with us. A couple minutes later, Matt hooked into a larger fish that really gave him a fight. We were reminded just how pugnacious these stream smallmouth are compared to even wild brown trout. Frankly, they make the trout look a little lazy. Matt did a great job playing that vigorous fish, thanks in part to some great tips from the presentation given by Rob Worthing of Tenkara Guide LLC at Midwest Tenkara Fest.
I then noticed a very promising looking cliff pool downstream from us. Our original plan was to head back upstream, but this section of water looked too good to leave behind. I suggested to Matt that we alter our plans. I avoided the temptation to go straight to the cliff and worked my way downstream instead. I'm glad I did. There was a drop off a few yards ahead of the cliff pool that was more or less invisible. It turned out to be one of the most productive portions of the creek. I landed my largest fish of the day from that pool, and it gave up several more for both of us.
Most of our casts were down stream. The fish would take the fly on the swing or as it was twitched on the retrieve. They were not subtle in the take! Now, I have to say that Matt is pretty good at fishing downstream, but it feels very foreign to me; a little like writing left-handed. I'm just very used to fishing upstream. Our tenkara journey, though, has always been about learning and trying new things.
I should mention a bit about our gear. We were both fishing the Badger Tenkara Classic, which Matt has dubbed "the AK-47 of Tenkara rods". It is affordable, durable and can function in a variety of environments. We were both fishing Badger floating line. Matt had 4 pound test tippet, I had 6 pound test mono-filament. Matt was using a variation on his go-to fly, the "Nuclear Pass Lake", tied by our buddy Dale Hewitt. I was using a white cone head streamer. They both worked great.
We continued to move downstream from there. Fishing was steady from there on out. We were surprised at the size of some of the fish we caught. We caught many fish larger than 12 inches, which we were told would be exceptional for this creek. They were all fat, healthy and feisty. We came upon several pools that produced multiple fish for each of us. It was joyful, relaxed fun fishing.
Around sunset, we were fishing a very promising looking long run with plenty of depth and structure. For whatever reason, it seemed that the fishing had completely shut down at that point. Matt pointed out that the clouds had changed, suggesting an atmospheric pressure change. Depending on who you believe, such things can greatly influence fish behavior. As we waded back up stream, we saw some fishing frolicking near the surface. I figured they were carp, but as we got closer, we could clearly see they were gar, all in the two foot plus range. There were several of them roiling just below the surface, occasionally sticking their needle nose snouts out of the water. We guessed they were spawning, but also thought perhaps their presence put the bass off the feed.
Not every creek we explore turns out to be winner. This one was. Get out there and chase down those blue lines on the map. You never know when you will find a real gem!
We are excited to share this guest post by our friend Isaac from Fallfish Tenkara. One of Badger Tenkara's favorite things about fishing is the unique places that it takes you, and this trip report highlights that sense of adventure! It features some interesting tactics, great pictures, and an immersive video. Enjoy!
This past week my friend Tetsuya and I met up with our guide and friend, Kado-san (Kado-san is the owner of Kadoya Outdoor Shop in Yokosuka; he is also a Tenkara sensei) for a few days of camping, Tenkara, and onsens in the mountains of Niigata Prefecture.
Niigata Prefecture is a place of immense beauty surrounded by rivers and nestled beneath mountains blanketed in cedar and snow. It is hard to believe that it is a mere four hours north west of Tokyo. After a caffeine-fueled late night road trip, we arrived at the camp-ground where the deer were whistling to each other and the crickets and frogs were chirping and croaking away. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the Milky Way shimmered majestically through the trees. We stayed up awhile talking and sipping on whiskey, and about 2am we turned in for the night.
The sun rose bright and early and by 5:30am it was too bright to sleep anymore, so I reluctantly got up and made breakfast (and lots of coffee).
Kado-san and Tetsuya were already up and after a lazy morning we departed just a little before 8am. As we hiked up the road to our fishing destination, Kado-san pointed out the plethora of mountain vegetables or Sansai 山菜 growing next to the road. After about 4-5km of walking we came to a bend in the road and on the opposite side of the valley we had been hiking up was a majestic waterfall.
After about 4-5km of walking we came to a bend in the road and on the opposite side of the valley we had been hiking up was a majestic waterfall.
Once at the valley bottom we put on our helmets and began the scramble up the side of the waterfall. We left our helmets on for the rest of the day as there was much scrambling, hair-raising traverses high above the creek, and even a few sections of climbing up and over huge snow blocks!
Kado-san was a patient teacher and not only taught me much about Sansai but showed me a cool Tenkara technique I had never seen before.
Kado-san was fishing with a very long zoom rod. Fully extended, it was 530cm, then 490cm, and 470cm. At first I thought it was a keiryu rod because of how long it was, but he assured me it was a Tenkara rod. Where it got really unique though was how he rigged his rod. He attached about 1.5 meters of 2x tippet directly to the lilian, with one of his beautiful hand tied flies on the end! His flies were tied with chicken feathers and pheasant feathers and a few had the eye snipped off and replaced with a bright yellow cord loop.
There were only dry flies in his fly box. The rod’s long length allowed him to stay far back from a promising looking pool and lightly plop the fly into the water. Within a few seconds, a fish would slam it and if it stayed hooked he would collapse the rod to bring it to hand. I found this technique to be wildly effective, especially because there was so much low overhead foliage. A traditional Tenkara cast would have limited us to fishing about 20% of the pools. Using this technique there wasn’t a pool we could not fish. I switched to my Badger Tenkara Classic Rod to this setup to mimic Kado’s and I ended up catching the first fish of the day, which just happened to be my very first Iwana!
We spent the day leap-frogging our way up the creek. When one of us would catch a fish, the other would take point and work his way up the creek until he caught one. We continued in this manner for about one kilometer, catching or seeing fish in nearly every pool.
I had started out with a nymph and it was working pretty well but Kado’s catches were much more exciting as the Iwana would heartily rise for his dry flies. So, I switched over to my largest kebari. It was a good choice - the fish went nuts At one section of the river we came across the remnants of an avalanche that had spilled into the valley bottom over the winter. The creek had cut a tunnel through the glacier and inside the glacier was a nice looking pool.
I figured it was worth a shot, and with water dripping off the glacier all around me, I began to fish this subterranean pool.
Within a few seconds I had a nice sized Iwana on the line. I brought her to hand - she was the most beautiful fish I had ever seen. Between her radiating spots, orange tail, and the location where she lived, she is a fish I will remember for a long time!
Within a few seconds I had a nice sized Iwana on the line. I brought her to hand - she was the most beautiful fish I had ever seen. Between her radiating spots, orange tail, and the location where she lived, she is a fish I will remember for a long time!
After about three hours of fishing it was time to turn around. It had been a very successful and unforgettable day. When we arrived back at camp, in what I believe is Japanese tradition, the whiskey, vodka, beer, and wine flowed ceaselessly. We prepared the day’s catch and sansai foraging next to the roaring campfire, traded flies and fish stories, and reminisced on an exceptional day. The Tenkara portion of the trip was over but we still had waterfalls to see, pools to cliff dive into, and onsens to soak in. It is a trip I will soon not forget.
These are exciting times for Tenkara anglers in America. All across the country, festivals, workshops, summits, and gatherings are showcasing a growing variety of equipment and fishing styles. One of the most exciting opportunities to develop so far has been the Oni Tenkara School USA, held June 13-15 in Utah, and hosted (with excellent hospitality) by Tenkara Guides LLC. This was an opportunity to learn from Masami Sakakibara, “Tenkara-no-Oni” - one of the most respected and experienced Tenkara anglers in the world!
The weekend was an exceptional learning experience on many levels. Rather than try to cram everything into one post, we're going to break it down into a few posts so we can focus on different topics in a bit more detail. This post will convey observations about Tenkara-no-Oni himself, the equipment he favors, and his angling style.
Soft spoken and quick to smile, Masami Sakakibara is humble and well mannered. His English is very limited, but not once did I see him become frustrated with the gestures and hand signals that passed as communications when the translator was not around. He did a remarkable job of transmitting information despite this disadvantage. Corrections to body stance or an adjustment to a cast's timing were all made with a subtle nudge and gentle re-positioning of arm or wrist.
It should come as no surprise that Tenkara-no-Oni fishes, wait for it - Oni rods. These rods were developed to his specifications and reflect his personal preferences. Their soft actions are exceptionally well balanced and fine tuned for casting light weight level lines. While my personal preferences run towards stiffer, tip flex actions, there is no denying that the Oni rods are high quality precision instruments. My favorite among them was the Type 3, a 3.4 meter rod with an EVA foam handle. Without a doubt, It is one of the best balanced rods I've ever cast.
On the water, he fished more practical lengths of line (4-5 meters) with a tippet section of about 3 feet, but on several occasions Oni demonstrated long line casting with line lengths exceeding 10 meters. It was explained that while this would be largely impractical on the water, it serves as excellent training for casting and manipulating "normal" length level lines. The idea being that if you can control a 10 meter line, you'll be able to exert even more control over a 3-5 meter line. There is certainly a logic to that!
As far as all of those amazing, graceful casts that you see Oni make on YouTube videos - 100% real. He makes crisp but never overpowered casts that rely more on timing than force. One major thing to note is that he does not give his cast time to straighten out behind him. Often times, the line was still travelling backwards, the line tip overhead, when the rod tip was snapping forward again. The cast's backstroke was the familiar abrupt stop at 12 o'clock, but it was a much faster backstroke than I expected.
One big take away from watching Oni fish was that his entire body is involved in supporting the cast. He places the foot on his casting side forward and firmly plants it before making the throw. He often drops into a slight crouch to lower his center of gravity and settle into a stable position. Conversely, when he gets a good sized fish on the hook, he does not remain rooted in place. He springs quickly into action and moves as needed to play the fish. This seamless shift between stability and mobility gives him whichever advantage he needs at a given moment to best target or land a fish.
Oni keeps a light and flexible grip on the rod. During the cast, the butt travels 2-3 inches out from his wrist before returning. I saw him make several corrections on casts where the angler was creating too much separation, so this is likely a core aspect of his casting style. A frequent move I observed was Oni re-positioning his hand on the upper, middle, or lower grip by doing a small, quick toss of the rod into the air and then grabbing it where he wanted it next. I suspect that this was largely to make minor adjustments in range, used in conjunction with body position when setting up for a cast.
Tactically, he made very thorough and varied explorations of key water. He would target specific zones and terrain features, in sequences set to minimize disturbance to areas he had not yet hit. When fishing a pool, he would fish the near edge, then the bottom, then the far edge, then get out and move around the far side of the pool, and fish the entire pool again from an upstream position with different drifts and tactics.
On some casts, the line would be kept off the water entirely, and others, half the line was in the water as he played the fly downstream. Some drifts were very short, 2-3 seconds long, and others were very long, as he drifted an entire broad section of current from top to bottom. There did not seem to be any hard and fast and rules, and his tactics were extremely dynamic.
Of course, it goes without saying that his casts were precise and consistently impressive. You could tell that he was not just casting into that shadowy area by the bank, he was casting to that clump of grass sticking out by that particular rock in the shadowy area by the bank - because that is exactly where the cast would land.
I had the pleasure of watching him catch a good sized cutthroat that gave him some nice runs and those of us watching a good look at him playing the fish. The fish put a serious bend into the rod and Oni brought up his off hand to support the rod. If you have not seen this technique, it is a good one to learn. He applies his off hand with an open palm to the section up above the grip. It is important to note that he does not grasp the section - that would stop the section from being able to flex. He simply puts his open hand there to act as a resistance for the fish to pull the rod against, and at the same time, drops the rod sideways so that it is mostly parallel to the water. This lets the rod flex and distribute the force of the fight across the entire rod.
It was an honor and pleasure to meet Tenkara-no-Oni and an invaluable learning experience to watch him fish. There was a lot to learn and I am still processing much of it myself. Hopefully, I've passed on something from the experience in this post that you'll find useful or thought provoking for your own Tenkara fishing. In the next post, I'll cover aspects of the trip concerning the great group of people gathered there at Oni School, and the phenomenal waters we fished. Stay tuned!
Thank you Masami Sakakibara for sharing your time and knowledge with us!
Its been a busy Spring here at Badger Tenkara. We hosted the Midwest Tenkara Fest, launched two new rod models, and we've done a whole mess of presentations, shows, and guide trips. Its been fun, but it hasn't allowed as much fishing time as we'd like. For a while there, the weather seemed bent against us too - high winds and bright sunny days made the times we did make it out a bit frustrating. Luckily, circumstances and nature seem to be loosening up and we are finally getting some good fishing in!
Last Friday looked perfect on the weather reports, and I was anxiously peering out the window all day at my "day job", smiling at the cloud cover and lack of wind. Of course, by the time I broke free and rolled into the pullout at Wolf Creek, the clouds had opened and the sun was shining merrily. Not ideal, but I honestly couldn't care less. The breeze was light, Redwing Blackbirds were chirping territorial warnings, and the stream was slightly colored from the previous night's rain. It was a perfect spring day and I was thrilled to be out fishing it!
I rigged up my BAD AXE rod with 12 feet of BADGER LITE floating line and another 6 feet of 5x tippet, choosing to start with a #12 bead head Black and Olive Woolly Bugger. Not knowing where the fish were feeding yet, and seeing that the water was a little clouded, I figured that something fished deep and that offered a bold profile was a good place to start.
It wasn't long before I had one on the hook. Using a little rock outcropping to conceal my cast, I drew a solid strike from a dead drift and it was on! I brought him to the surface after a few short runs and could see he was a good sized Brown. And this is where a few things became readily apparent. First, I was pretty slow in getting myself into position to land the fish. I was so excited to be fishing that I hadn't really planned that far in advance. Secondly, my hand-lining technique was slow and sloppy. Both of these combined to lose me what turned out to be the biggest fish I would hook that day. My best eyeball put him at about 14 inches, definitely on the larger size of what Wolf Creek holds. Disappointed but not feeling down, I moved on upstream...
The day continued to impress, as the sky clouded back up, and it was one of those times when it just felt right to be in the water. A strange shape floating downstream turned to be a good sized turtle. I watched him float closer, then bolt for shore as soon he noticed me. As I leaned in to try and get him on camera, a solid thump against my leg told me a panicked trout had just flushed and ran downstream too! I chuckled and moved on.
Where I started getting lots of creek bed snags on the bead head pattern. The bugger wasn't drawing strikes either, so it was time for a change. I hadn't seen any surface feeding, but I still wanted to something with a little bulk to give the fish a clear target. Being early season, I wasn't sure that it was time for bulkier patterns on top, but what the heck - I just happened to have a fresh supply of Dale's increasingly famous Pass Lake with me. It worked so well last year, why not?!?!
It didn't take too long before the Pass Lake worked its magic. I started drawing consistent strikes, and getting into some good fish! Problem was, I was losing A LOT of them after a few seconds on the hook. Here is the third thing about the day that became readily apparent - my hook set and timing was way, way out of practice. Even though I brought about a dozen decent trout (and at least as many creek chubs!) to hand, I had a solid dozen trout get loose after a few shakes.
And that is why this post and video is called "Spring Cleaning". It was a good day to knock the dust off of my skills and tidy up my technique!
Trip Report, March 16th, 2015
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!
We are very excited to share an article that Mike put together for a great online fishing magazine called Kype. Its a great summary of Badger's approach to Tenkara fishing in Driftless streams. Check it out!
Have you ever had a Badger in your mailbox? Now you can!
Not only is March the opening of Wisconsin trout season, but it also marks Badger Tenkara's "1st Birthday", and we've got a whole month of cool stuff planned! One part of the celebration: In March we will be kicking off our newsletter, The Badger Bulletin!
Here's the top 10 reasons why you should get signed up for the Badger Bulletin:
1) It gets you registered for our contests and give-aways!
2) It is where we will offer you the chance to "test drive" our rods!
3) We'll post news about upcoming events!
4) You'll know when we have our secret sales!
5) We'll keep you up to date on fishing conditions in and around the Driftless!
6) We'll post up YOUR Pictures and fishing stories!
7) You'll be invited to participate in polls as we develop new products!
8) We'll highlight tactics, techniques, and field-craft tips!
9) Seriously, those are EIGHT really good reasons!
10) Do you really need more reasons than that?!
Sign up and join the fun!!!
Even when the fishing is slow, it is still great to be on the water, and there is always something to learn. Temps reached the high 30s over the weekend, and then cooled off a bit when I fished on MLK Monday.
I'd hoped that warmer air temperatures would make the fish more active, but there just wasn't much going on at 2 Eagle Creek this trip. Maybe the unstable air temps and intermittent snow kept the water cool enough put the trout off the feed. Maybe the creek was fished out, as Iowa does very little stocking over the winter months, and I know for a FACT that certain Green Bay Packer fans hold to a superstition about eating trout on game day to ensure a win and so some folks have been keeping stockers for the dinner table. Note, It did not help. GO BEARS! Anyway -
Most of the water was extremely quiet. I saw a single surface rise the entire day, and only spotted fish being active near the surface in one place. A few things stood out that were worth discussing though.
In the last post about fishing this creek, I mentioned the section in the picture above. It is either an extremely slow run, or an extremely long pool. Either way, it narrows and shallows at the tailout It has produced for me on several trips, and I know that my buddy (the poor misguided Packer fan) typically gets great results from this section too. You can see in the picture and video that there aren't any good places to fish this section from the bank. It is wide, broad and high banked. There is a decent drop below the tailout, so an angler positioned there is much lower on the approach, making it the kind of terrain advantage perfectly suited for getting into casting position unseen. This is something to keep in mind when fishing Driftless creeks that are often largely devoid of good cover.
The one place I saw fish active near the surface was the mouth of a feeder creek that spills into the main channel. It has pretty warm water, as you can see from the amount of vegetation it still supports. The pool it dumps into is very deep, making a wading approach by water impossible. I fished my way up to the mouth from the bank, and saw no action - until I stood right on the edge, less than 10 ft from the target, and saw 2 good sized rainbows swim up and take station. I made a feeble attempt to drop a stealthy cast in front of them, but the moment I drew back, they bolted for the deep. I stood by for a while and they came back, so I spent a while watching them swim before I called it a day. Its always fun to watch trout swim!
As I said, it was a slow day of fishing, but a great day to be out. Hawk cries and woodpecker percussion made for an excellent contrast against the calm quiet of the pasture creek. It was nice to be outside and stretching my legs, and when all is said and done, I did catch my first two trout of 2015!
The cold arrived quickly in the Driftless this year. After a solid month of sub-freezing temps, a freak warm front brought us a 4 day weekend that melted everything and made it nice to be outside. Naturally, just about every angler in the Driftless made a break for Iowa water that weekend. I was lucky enough to get out on that Friday, and check out a creek that I'd not yet explored. Most of the snow and ice had already melted off, so water temps were stable. With overcast skies and light wind, it made for just about the best conditions you can hope for on a late Autumn day.
I started the day with the BAD AXE rigged as it was from my last day out - 12 feet of regular Badger Line, about 5 ft of 5x tippet, and a #12 Pink Squirrel. I typically prefer to fish this rod with a BADGER-LITE line, but have been experimenting to see how the rod handles it. All and all, it performs well enough with a heavier line. I've seen a slight loss of accuracy and an increase in "splash" on delivery. If you want to throw streamers on the BAD AXE, the regular Badger line offers some extra weight to help those larger flies turn over. When fishing dry, wet, or small to medium nymph patterns, the BADGER-LITE suits the rod perfectly for delicate and accurate presentations.
I was able to bring 6 nice Rainbows to hand on this trip, and had one LDR (long distance release) where the fish got off the hook after a short but energetic fight. Typically, I have found the Rainbow trout in Iowa to be a bit lazy when hooked, but the fish in this creek surprised me. They all put up solid fights that reminded me more of wild Browns than stocked Rainbows!
The first two fish were caught on the Pink Squirrel. They were holding on the soft inside edge of a faster corner pool. Both fish made good runs across the small space they had!
After moving upstream to a wide, and slow pool, I spotted some risers. Having already knocked the skunk off with a few fast catches, it was time to get experimental. Have I mentioned the success I had this season fishing the "Pass Lake" ? It's far past the time of year for a fly or terrestrial the size of a #12 pass lake to be found on our creeks, but I figure the fish have their attention on the surface, and a good sized meal floating past will not be ignored. Hone the zone, as I like to say. Get something that resembles trout food into the water that the fish is paying attention to - and that will catch fish. At least, that is the theory. How will it work in late Autumn, after a six week freeze?
Turns out, pretty good. Moving up to the top of pool where I saw the risers, I dropped the cast into the slow current entering the pool, and drew attention Immediately. There was a swirling disturbance on the surface around the fly - but no "felt" take. What I SHOULD have done was set the hook when I saw the swirl. Instead, I waited a beat. I sighted the fish on what must have been his post-take dive, and set the hook then. After a few serious runs, it managed to slip the hook, and I lost the fish. DOH!
The next three catches came from what was either an extremely long pool, or an extremely slow run. I saw an active feeder near the tail-out, and put the stalk on it. By focusing my casts on the part of the pool that was just slightly faster flowing, I caught that feeder and another about 5 feet upstream. The final fish of the pool was in faster current near the pool's head, in conditions that were more "usual".
The last fish of the day was caught with a tactic that has been working well for me all year. By casting downstream into current and using the disturbed surface as visual cover for my position, I can get pretty close to the head of the pool. Drifting and swinging across the current like one would use a streamer has been really productive with both wet flies (Pass Lake, of course) and nymphs (Killer Bugs).
Another note about the last fish in the video. I do not feel good at all about how I landed the fish. I really should have taken the time to fully assess the water and determine a safe route to bring the fish in.
It was really a fun day out, with lots of lessons to be learned and some really sporty fish. Driftless Iowa continues to be a productive and interesting place to fish in Wisconsin's off season!
Trout season has closed in Wisconsin, and the warm water fish have gone deep. Luckily for us, Iowa's well stocked streams are just a few hours away. I got out there last week to explore a new section on one of my favorite creeks. It did not disappoint! After the first run coughed up a solid half dozen fish (we'll take a look at that in another trip report), the section launched into a really nice series of bend pools with great structure.
I hit the water rigged up with a 12 foot BADGER Line, 6-7 feet of 5x, and a #12 bead head Killer Bug. I typically prefer the BADGER-LITE line on the BAD AXE, but wanted to give the heavier line a try to see how it performed on this rod while nymphing the bottom. It ended up casting as well it needed to, and since I typically leave a few feet of line on the water when nymphing, its added weight didn't create any disadvantage. The advantage of using the heavier line played out in the cast, which allowed me to fish a longer tippet. The extra weight translates into added momentum, making it easier to turn over a fly out on the far end of the system.
Since I spent most of the summer fishing foam terrestrials and Pass Lake wet flies, switching over to sub surface takes that I can't see has taken some getting used to. After a while, I managed to shake off the rust, and got back into the habit of using a few techniques that work well for my sub-surface game:
1) I lightened up my grip to the bare minimum it takes for my fingers to hold the rod. This gives me increased sensitivity to bumps and pressure shifts on the system.
2) When drawing the system back to make the next cast, I begin by making a few tiny, upward twitches. If the resistance seems greater than I'd expect from water and current, I immediately apply a firm hook set. The twitches sometimes trigger a reaction from the fish, because they only then realize they have been hooked!
3) While dead drifting is just about always my opening tactic, I typically shift into various patterns of action on the next drift. Swinging and stripping a nymph through current, or on the surface, can be very productive!
All and all, it was great day of fishing, on a section of water with lots of variance and character!
The BAD AXE is not just an adjustable version of our CLASSIC rod, it is an entirely different animal. While both rods are 6/4, medium flex actions - they are at opposite sides of the spectrum within that classification.
The CLASSIC has a stiffer, general purpose action that makes it great for a wide variety of fishing. It's got the backbone you need to dig in your heels and stop that big fish's run if you need to, and it really shines throwing heavier lines, streamers, poppers, and clunky foam terrestrials. If you want a general purpose rod that can also cast larger payloads and force fish to the net, then the CLASSIC is a great choice.
The BAD AXE has a smooth, softer action that makes remarkably consistent casts. The rod is no pushover, but the action is more dynamic and makes everything on the hook feel a bit more sporty. It can still handle the bigger fish, but it does so with finesse rather than muscle. You will find it perfect for casting medium and light weight lines, especially the BADGER-LITE floating line that we will be introducing to you soon. If you are looking for versatility, refined casting, and more lively play, choose the BAD AXE.
We have been fishing the BAD AXE for several weeks now, so we put together some trip reports that highlight our experiences with the rod so far. Mike got out and hit a nice Wisconsin bass creek, and I've gotten the rod onto trout in Iowa and North Carolina. Read on to see how it fishes!
BAD AXE Bass
Well, we are pretty excited here at Badger Tenkara to have launched a new rod, the Bad Axe. It is our first multi-position rod, and one where we really put some serious thought into the design. Maybe it wasn't our best idea to launch it as Wisconsin's trout fishing season winds down, but hey, we're still new at this!
The Bad Axe is named after a river in Wisconsin's driftless region. No one is really sure where the river got its name, but you have to admit that it sounds cool. We also thought we could design some pretty cool graphics at some point, you know like a badger with an axe?
I had the opportunity to test the rod the other morning after working a night shift. My routine for working night shifts has become as follows: work my tail off all night, crash for a couple hours in the morning, go fish for a while then go home to the family. It is exhausting, but it allows me to earn a living, get out and fish and be available to my family. Not sure what I'm going to do once it freezes up.
This week, I went back to the small mouth bass creek Matt and I fished recently. We found that this creek more or less shuts down once the weather cools, so we may only able to fish it for another week or two.
I started by casting to the brush pile where I caught a few rock bass last time. Rock bass generally are not difficult to catch, but I got no action this time. Maybe no one was home. I worked towards the middle of the pool and hooked into a 10 inch smallie. Not a bad start. Most of the bass we caught in this creek are between 8-12 inches, so not huge but definitely fun on a tenkara rod.
In the next pool, it seemed that about every cast drew interest from a fish. I landed about half a dozen and had a couple other long distance releases. And then something changed. Have you ever experienced anything like that? It was a strange sensation, but I knew I would catch fewer fish after that.
In the next large pool, I cast several times without garnering any interest from the fish. I then walked back down stream, crossed the creek and stalked up the other side so I could cast to some promising looking structure. After dramatically altering my retrieve techinque, I did manage to catch three more bass from the pool. But that was it. It was like the creek completely shut down at that point and I did not get so much as a follow. I'm not sure what did it. I think it may have been the sun getting higher in the sky, but it was sunny when I started. I had hoped to keep an eye on the stream temperature that day to help me figure out when the creek will fish well, but my thermometer was missing in action. Strange.
All that being said, I should give you my impression of the rod. In short, I love it! It casts beautifully and accurately, and has a very nice look and feel. It is a bit softer than the Badger Classic. I fished 12 feet of floating Badger Line, 6 feet of 2x tippet, and #6 cone head streamer. It was a heavy rig, but the rod handled it without blinking. These 10-12 inch small mouth just about bent the rod in half, but then a 10 inch small mouth will put up a more vigorous fight than a similar size trout. I have no doubt it will handle larger fish just fine, but I got the feeling you need to actively play the fish a bit more, unlike the Badger Classic where you can just stonewall even very large fish. It was a ton of fun!
I think this rod is a pretty sweet deal at this price point. One thing you might notice is that it is longer than most other tenkara rods when collapsed. So far that has not been a problem. It still fits just fine in my Zimmerbuilt pack, and even when bushwhacking through the brush on my last outing, I did not feel like it was in danger. So, yes, it is longer, but so far that does not seem to be a big issue. It is still lightweight, well-balanced and easy to cast. Check it out!
BAD AXE Trout
When we designed the BAD AXE, we had three core principles in mind. We wanted to offer a rod that is practical, versatile, and fun to fish. Most importantly, we wanted to maintain a price point that made the rod accessible for as many anglers as possible. Once we arrived at the final specifications, the only thing left to do was wait and see how the rod actually performed when we got it on the water. The final version of the BAD AXE exceeded our expectations on every level!
I've fished it at both lengths, on some very different types of water in both Iowa and North Carolina. Its caught trout from 6-14 inches on dry flies, streamers, wet flies, nymphs, and kebari. I've fished furled lines, level line, and 3 different floating lines. The BAD AXE has performed well under every configuration.
I've found the cast to be smooth and crisp at both lengths, but one thing has really stood out to me throughout this process - the rod is extremely consistent. It fishes nearly the same for every line and fly choice I've tried on it. There are always going to be small variations, but I didn't have to adjust my casting stroke very much to make the rod perform well on any given rigging.
The rod really sings with our new BADGER-LITE floating line. It throws it so well, in fact, that a very experienced angler at the Appalachian Tenkara Jam (who prefers furled lines) fished this combo for 10 minutes before realizing that it wasn't a furled line! Stay tuned folks, even though we sold out of BADGER-LITE at the Jam, we will have more available soon.
The biggest fish I've caught so far on the BAD AXE is a 14 inch Iowa Brown Trout (top left in pictures below). He made some really solid runs on me, which is when I discovered how much more dynamic the rod's action is when compared to the CLASSIC. I never felt that the fish was out of control, or that the rod was in danger, but it definitely required more active play than I had anticipated. I am confident that the BAD AXE can handle much larger fish, but I believe it's action is optimal for making the Driftless standard 10-15 inch trout an absolute blast!
We are very excited to offer the BAD AXE for $99, and we believe that the moment you cast it, you'll understand why.
Trip report October 1st, 2014
Wisconsin trout season closed September 30th, but that doesn't mean we're done fishing! There's a nice bass stream we explored a little bit last year that we wanted to spend some more time on this season. We had planned to fish it during the height of summer when it is too warm to trout fish, but we had such a mild summer that that never happened. So, we were back on this little gem as soon as the trout season closed.
For once, conditions worked out in our favor. Matt and I manage to get out to fish quite a bit, sometimes multiple outings per week during the season. However, given our family and work obligations, we don't always manage to get out during the prime times of day for fishing, nor during prime conditions. I can't tell you how many times we have lost the favorable cloud cover on the way to the creek. Yesterday, though, we timed everything right. We got on the creek at about 12:30, getting towards the warmest time of day. Morning temps were in the high 40's, but it was reaching 70 by afternoon, the warm up being favorable for bass fishing. Best of all, for once the clouds rolled in about the time we started fishing. Storms were predicted for the evening, and sometimes the threat of storm seems to trigger the fish to feed.
We started in a skinny stretch of stream that we had not fished before. We brought a few rough fish to hand, which we never complain about, but were not what we were looking for. We moved up to a bridge pool that looked to have some significant depth, perhaps six feet or so. There, Matt pulled in a small mouth off the bank followed by a fiesty rock bass. There was a nice brush pile on my side of the stream that was good for three rock bass, and between the two of us, we caught nearly a dozen bass and rough fish from the bridge pool!
As we moved up the stream, we came upon some bend pools there were nothing short of glorious. Smallmouth, Rockbass, a few little Bluegill, and several kinds of rough fish were hitting left and right! The smallmouths were the largest we caught, but were not huge. The smallest was 8 or 9 inches, and the larger fish were a foot, give or take a bit. Still, the fight a 12 inch smallmouth will give you on a tenkara rod is really something to behold!
The nicer pools were all good for several fish each, and the deeper runs would also produce. Dropping the fly just in front of any structure seemed to be the ticket, as was fishing tight to the bank. It was one of those days were you look at a piece of water and think "that should hold a fish", and sure enough, you'd get a take.
I was fishing the Badger Tenkara Classic with about 12 feet of our Badger floating line, followed by about 10 inches of bright red nylon Amnesia to act as an indicator with 6 feet of 2x tippet. The fly I was using was a white streamer pattern with a cone head. This rig is rather heavy for tenkara (and pretty un-tenkara), but the rod handled it just fine. The fish would tend to take fly just as it was sinking or as I started to twitch it back to me.
Matt was fishing a field modified rod with a Badger Floating Line (see Matt's comments on this below). This set up works surprising well. He started with a large version his new favorite fly, the "pass lake", and when that was lost to a snag, he switched to a bead head woolly bugger. Both worked just fine. It was cool to see the bend the Smallmouth would put in his field hacked rod!
This creek is just one of the many options we have for fishing once the trout season closes. We have some old favorites we hope to hit in the next few weeks and some new waters we have yet to explore. We'll keep you posted on what we find!
Note from Matt on field hacked rods:
Here is an easy, cost effective hack. I keep a few rolls of self-adhesive athletic tape in my kit, because it comes in handy for quick repairs to several types of gear. This stuff sells for less than $5 at just about any pharmacy or family store.
Simply remove the bottom grip section, or even a the next one or two sections from the rod. You then wrap the self adhesive tape around the new bottom section, which serves like a butt cap to keep collapsed sections secure inside the rod. Then, wrap it up another six inches or so to shape a handle.
This configuration reduced the rod's length a few feet, and results in a softer action! While I really enjoy fishing with the Badger Classic, it has a stiffer action to it that is great for larger fish. With this softer action, smaller fish are even more fun than usual!
The nice thing is that the tape only sticks to itself, and not the rod. This means that you can return the rod to its original configuration any time without damaging its finish or functionality!
Matt and I got out last week to fish a creek we really enjoy but had not fished since spring. As is typically the case, by the time Matt and I took care of our family obligations in the morning, the cloud cover was gone and we were facing a bright, sunny day. Full sun is wonderful for my tomato plants, not so great for the trout fishing.
When we arrived, the newly rehabbed section of the creek caught our eye. The work was completed sometime this summer, after the last time we fished the creek. I think the pictures speak for themselves. The Aldo Leopold Trout Unlimited chapter did an incredible job restoring the creek. I had fished this same section last year prior to the rehab work, and it was miserable: difficult to fish, muddy,steep banks and few fish. I managed to hook one under a dilapidated foot bridge, but that was it, and getting to that fish was pretty unpleasant with overgrown brush, lots of deadfalls and stinking marsh. In contrast, fishing it this year was relaxing and enjoyable.
Despite the beautiful rehab work, I think someone forgot to tell the trout that they should move into their new digs. I caught one eight incher, and we spooked a few others, but that was it. Of course, we were fishing at the wrong time of day under bright sun, so that could have something to do with it, too. This is one situation where I think it would be good for the DNR to stock the stream, at least to jump start it. I think it will go on to be a self-sustaining fishery, but it could use some help to get going. Stream temps were about perfect at 59 degrees, and with plenty of structure and holding water, I think this stream could really be something in the next couple of years.
Once we reached the end of the rehab work, we hiked back to the truck and drove up stream to the section we typically fish. We started a the bridge pool were Matt had a couple of monster rainbows break his tippet earlier in the season. I thought about switching to some 4x or even 3x just in case, but decided to try my luck with and just stay with the 5x I had rigged and ready. We know this pool is pretty deep, and while we have caught some nice medium size fish with unweighted or lightly weighted flies, we know the big boys lurk deep. I peered into my fly box looking for something tempting with a little weight to it. I grabbed a bead headed San Ron Worm I tied up a while back, a pattern I really don't have any experience fishing.
I cast the the SRW towards the head of the pool, letting the current and weight sink the fly. Imagine my shock when I saw what looked like a leviathan rainbow rise from the deep and absolutely crush the SRW. I got a solid hook set on him, but now what? I knew there was a good chance that if I tried to play him at all he would bust the 5x tippet. I think instinct took over, and I thought "I have to get this guy on the bank before he breaks off". I basically ran backwards, towing him towards the bank. As soon as the fish was on the bank, the tippet snapped and the fish started to flip towards the water. Not my most graceful performance.
We moved on up stream from there and were alarmed to see how much some of the stream had silted in since spring. Some of the better pools and runs were just ruined. Many of the fish were hanging out in the soft, shallow inside corners, making them just about unapproachable. Matt managed to hook a couple of nice medium size browns from tight under the bank, and we both got into a few chubs, but that was it. It will be interesting to see how the stream winters over and what it is like in the spring.
So, we managed to catch a few fish despite undesirable conditions. We also had a great time, which is really all you can ask for.
Our trout season here in Wisconsin is winding down, but Matt and I have some other adventures planned for fall and winter. Stay tuned!
This big, beautiful Rainbow Trout was caught on an "Ima bust it" rod that was modified with a jute wrapped handle. Pulling in 70% of the total votes, this is the BREAK THIS ROD winner!!!
We hope that everybody had as much fun fishing these "special" rods as we did. We were able to catch a mess of bass and more than a few trout with ours, and while they were a bit top heavy, they definitely did the trick. Just goes to show that while a rod is tool that you cant fish Tenkara style without, the things that really catches fish are technique, knowledge, and field craft.
Next year, well do another round of "BREAK THIS ROD!", and we'll start it in the Spring so people have all summer to go wild with it. Maybe we'll go with smaller, lighter rods and maybe we'll find some 20 ft monsters, or maybe both!
The summer has come to a close, and so has our BREAK THIS ROD! contest. With our resourceful participants and comments from the peanut gallery, we had a blast! It was a ton of fun seeing the reactions, modifications, and fish that people caught on these incredibly cheesy fishing rods.
Please vote for your favorite on the poll below the pictures. The winner will receive a coupon code good for $50 in the Badger Store!
#1 - Bluegill caught on 13' of 3.5 level line, 24" 5x tippet and a large yellow booglebug popper. The cast was launched from a parking lot, ricocheted off of a snack shop, flew through the open doors of a mini-van, and then landed 3 feet off shore to make the catch. That is what long line Tenkara is for!
#2 - Bluegill caught with top-secret line and fly combination. We are risking the loss of our security clearance just by showing you this picture.
#3 - Rainbow caught on rod with Jute-wrapped handle...just prior to "Mother Nature" attempting to murder the angler. RIP, Imabustit' Rod.
The day started cloudy and threatening rain - looking at the radar I thought I might actually be stuck in the car and waiting for a storm to pass when I hit the access. The weather rapidly blew over, and by the time I arrived, it was full out beautiful sunny day. There are worse problems to have, right?
Conventional wisdom says that going trout fishing on a sunny, late summer day in Wisconsin is a fool's errand, but with some careful use of terrain and a bit of water reading savvy, a Tenkara angler can still have a great day on the creek. I rigged up the Badger Classic with 12 ft of floating Badger line, 6 ft of tippet, and one of the larger "Pass Lake" flies I'd been itching to fish.
Shiners and creek chubs were hungry and I caught several of them in places where you'd typically find actively feeding trout, but other than that the first few runs were lifeless. Time to shift tactics.
In my opinion, travel is the best investment one can make. It's the only one I can think of that doesn't depreciate over time. In fact, the value of past adventures only seems to grow and grow. Looking back at the last three months I'm astounded by how much I've managed to see, accomplish and learn. My mind warps when I try to unpack and relive all the memories that I've managed to fit into one summer. In the grand scheme of things, 90 days is a swift passage of time. But considering the ground I've covered, the souls I've encountered and the lessons that have arisen from this journey it's been the longest, most revelatory 90 days of my life.
August, in particular, has been very action-packed. But in an odd way I've found the commotion to be quite natural. I've found a sense of normalcy in the calculated chaos necessary to live out of panniers.
After my romp through Germany, I arrived in Vienna to meet up with a group of fellow Americans to attend a permaculture workshop taught in part by the infamous "Rebel Farmer" Sepp Holzer. The twelve day symposium would bring us through the rich cultural landscape of the Styrian mountains as we visited various farms, producers and stewards of the land. Though I had to store my bike in Vienna for the time being, the fishing quiver very easily fit into my daypack. Sad as I was to leave Freyja behind, my load was significantly lighter. About 35ish lbs. She's a Cadillac...not a Porsche.
The first four days of the workshop were held on Sepp Holzer's private land where fishing was essentially out of the question. No need to upset the man who diligently and regularly uses his legal fisticuffs to protect his Alpen paradise. But the mountainous landscape riddled with clear streams of glacial runoff had me eyeing potential beats everywhere we went. I was chomping at the bit and eager for aqueous adventure. Still, no dice. Strike one.
Upon arriving in Übelbach, our host, Johnny, assured me that I'd get a chance to fish in his charming Styrian hometown. After all, "bach" means brook or stream auf Deutsch. And in this case, the stream ran right through the center of the town. Similar to Germany, Austria is rather strict with their public access laws. But rightfully so. As a foreigner, I would need permission from a tenured landowner for everything to be copasetic. Johnny had a friend who owned farmland adjacent to the stream. Unfortunately, said friend was on holiday whilst we were in Übelbach. Strike two. Patience.
Several days later the permaculture workshop came to a close and I was reunited with my bike. No bites--not even a remote chance of legally fishing--but many great memories and new friends. A very eye-opening experience indeed to spend time with such mindful and engaged people. Plus, I got a dashing new pair of lederhosen. No longer do I need to wear the hand-me-downs of my grandfather--cherished as they may be.
On that note, it's appropriate that I explain the significance of my final point of interest on this journey: Zell am See.
My great grandfather, Gustave Krollman (aka Gusty), was a native born Austrian. He moved to the US before having children, but he never lost touch with his heritage. Summer after summer Gusty would take my grandfather, Carl, with him as he traveled back to his homeland to take rest and paint in the picturesque village of Zell am See. Anyone who knew Carl also knew that these summers had an undeniable impact on him. Visiting often, he kept friendships alive late into his life and then handed the torch off to me and my cousins. I grew up listening to countless stories from these fabled summers. Wherever he went in life, Carl carried Austria in his heart. And I similarly have the Austrian pride running through my veins.
After Carl's passing, some of his ashes were spread in the beautiful Zeller lake. A few of my family members have been fortunate enough to visit over the years, but this is my first time. A very appropriate way to end this pilgrimage; by visiting my grandfathers resting place in one of the most beautiful mountain vistas on earth. Aside from the heritage aspect, the opportunities to fish, camp and bike are abundant here.
My first day in Zell I did some reconnaissance around the lake. Many local anglers fish for Zander and Pike either offshore or in a boat. But the lake also has a healthy Trout population. After a few hours of searching I found a beautiful outflow with water clear enough to spot a few Rainbows hanging out in the open. On my approach they retreated to the shady bank of the stream. I'd have to be more methodical to hook these beauties, but I had my beat secured.
The next morning I rose early to greet the day. Clear skies and no wind. Perfect. I quickly made my way back to the sweet spot and geared up. I was able to make a more stealth approach this time by wading through high grass on the marshy bank. Once again, I spotted a few trout and started to cast. Perhaps it was my less-than-perfect casting ability, or maybe my choice of killer bug flies, but I only seemed to send the fish back to their hiding spot. Time to think.
After a short breakfast break I relocated to another spot farther up the stream closer to the lake. I found a walking bridge that allowed me to peer into the water where I once again saw trout schooling. But before gearing up and choosing a fly, I sat and read the surroundings. A week of rain had raised the water significantly and there was lots of particulate flowing down the outflow. The only visible insects in the water were crawling along the top. Hint hint.
The only terrestrial fly that I've got with me is a foam spider. Seemed like an odd choice at first but I thought "what the hell...can't hurt." So I tied it on and let 'er rip. Perched on the bridge, I started to cast upstream of the fish and let the spider float right in front of them. It certainly got their attention. My vantage point helped in watching them gain interest. Only once I had them trailing would I give the line a teeny twitch. After four or five casts...BOOM. I had landed a whopper.
Compared to the negligibly sized Perch I had caught previously, this trout gave one hell of a fight. With an aggressive bite it wasn't hard to set the hook, but I had to get off the bridge and down in the marsh to bring him in. After he fought upstream for five or so minutes, he was tired enough that I could bring him to shore by hand. No net. Just patience. An EXTREMELY gratifying catch indeed. Cooked with garlic and lemon over coals, a delicious one as well.
I can't help but think I've redeemed myself with this lovely Trout. But I can't take all of the credit. I feel like it was a gift. A cosmic pat on the back from my grandpa watching over me. Any way you look at it, I can't think of a more quintessentially perfect way to end such an amazing journey.
A nice afternoon of thunderstorms had just washed across the Driftless region, and being without obligations - I made a bee line for my favorite stream. happy to see no one else parked anywhere along the creek, I made my way to a section I'd yet to fish. The entire segment runs through grazed pasture, meaning its an easy walk, and the stream itself is only modestly wide, so there really is no "bad" place to fish from on either bank.
While I had spotted a few creeks that were blown out, chocolate milk messy on the trip there, this water was a bit higher and faster than normal, and tinted just enough provide an advantage for an angler in a lazy mood. The local herd of cows were either downstream and fenced away, or sheltering in the wood line far from the creek. Jackpot!
I decided I'd start with the largest hopper I had along, thinking the bigger profile would help increase its chance of being detected in the murky water. It worked like a charm, and drew a nice hit on the first cast. Unfortunately, both that fish and the next two, were able to slip the hook before I could land them.
I downgraded to another hopper, this one smaller - but bright green, figuring that the larger size may have been an issue. It seemed to do the trick, as the hits kept coming but I was also able to get much better sets on the strikes.
After just an hour and a half of fishing, I'd caught 5 nice browns all 8-12 inches, and missed or "long distance released" another 6. This section is high on my list for a repeat trip - I'd love to fish it when the water is calm and clear.
On hybrids and holism:
And the train rolls on. For real. In a both literal and metaphysical sense. I'm now aboard the third train that's assisted me in this leg of the journey. While part of me feels like I'm cheating, the greater, more clarvoyant half of my conscious tells me to sit back and enjoy the views. This far in I can already appreciate the various benefits and luxuries of this hybrid-style touring. But that's not to say it is free of all sacrifices.
The farther south I move, the more colorful and populated the landscape becomes. Bigger cities of course have more potent auras of culture and endless forms of entertainment, but they're a staunch departure from what I've grown used to. Few (if any) places to camp, the absence of public-access rights and congested, dirty waterways were difficult transitions to make after two months in the farm-speckled and pristine wilderness of the North. Needless to say I've had fewer opportunities to fish. Major city centers aren't nearly as relaxed as the local municipalities of Norway and Sweden--saturated with free rowboats and stove- touting wind huts--when it comes to regulating their fishing beats. But exploring each new city brings a fresh variety of reasons for me to appreciate urban dwelling.
For the most part, riding rails in Europe with a fully-loaded fatbike is a non-issue. Language barriers and general dysfunctionality as a foreigner seem to be my only setbacks. But other than that's it's proved to be a very pleasant way to travel. Judging by how many other cycle-tourists are aboard each train I ride, it's certainly popular here. The minor inconvenience of lugging a bike into a train is easily compensated by the mobility you get when arriving at your destination. With only three days to spend in both Malmö and Copenhagen, my sight-seeing time was at a premium. After dropping my panniers and other weighty gear at my Couchsurfing host's place, I was free to roam around the city independently and at the exact pace of my choosing. Covering ten square kilometers by foot or public transport doesn't afford you nearly the same amount of flexibility that a bike does. Running late or missing a turn is no concern while on the bike. In fact, getting lost is fun when it gets you away from the heavily-trodden tourist traps to find something unique.
Much more so than in The States, Europe embraces bike culture. The universally accepted mindset that cycling should be respected and upheld is reflected in the infrastructure. Copenhagen is a beaming example of this mindful thinking. With more bikes than people, all of Denmark is equipped with not only bike lanes but full-on bike roads with their own traffic signals. Parents haul their children and groceries in cargo bikes that had capacities larger than those of wheelbarrows. Hoards of people in all shapes and sizes make their daily and nightly rounds all by leg power driving their chainrings. Everywhere you go, bikes dominate the road. For this reason and many more, Copenhagen will remain as a premier port-of-call in my travelers log. More than anything, it's just a beautiful city with vibrant culture and many affordances for cyclists. Though my other destinations have proven worthy candidates as well.
Hamburg came and went too quickly. I was lucky enough to have family friends host me while staying there. Their hospitality is much appreciated. Especially as the city itself is quite large and unwavering in propulsion. What used to be several villages separated by distance and water has now morphed into a fully-industrialized seaport that hasn't lost any of it's old-world charm. With an air of capitalist drive the city center seems to have more western influence than many of the other places I have previously visited. But paying €0,5 to use a toilet is an ever-present reminder that I'm in Europe. Not surprisingly, Hamburg has an abundance of water features and plenty of bike trails to complement them. What is surprising is that fishing almost never happens in these smaller waterways. Instead, many locals have taken to fishing Zander from the steep brick embankments in the industrial parts of the city. Deemed "urban fishing", this style of angling is frowned upon and has created cult-like followings that lay claim to their outlawish beats. Strange as it may seem, it is a reasonable response to fish the deep, cold waters of the ship canals rather than the otherwise polluted and high-traffic flows of the Elbe and other waterways in the city.
Brussels offered similarly poor opportunities for fishing but was markedly different in atmosphere. The fusion of French and Flemish speaking people provides the small metropolis with a rich culture that has an appreciation for international influence. They also really appreciate decadent food, strong coffee and tons of killer beer. I spent my days there avoiding rain showers in cafés and bars between my attempts to track down natural habitat to cast in. Much like Hamburg and Copenhagen the water found within city limits was subject to pollution and algal overgrowth. Upsetting that the confluence of humans and nature is so evidently negative in the urban setting. But it should come as no surprise.
As I now sit and reflect in this train-car I find myself weighing the pros and cons of city life. There is no doubt that I'm satisfied with my choice to have visited these amazing places. But it's strikingly obvious that this urban route has taken a bite out of my fishing time. I miss the wide open spaces of the Nordic countries ripe with fjords, lakes and rivers. And after seeing the drastic effects of dense populations on our planet, I'm inspired to continue reducing my own impact. Thankfully I've been able to find balance by visiting parks, gardens and public green spaces while in each major city. Europeans certainly value such spots. These sanctuaries help to break the commanding grip of a concrete jungle, but they also help to ground us and remind us of what's really important and worth preserving. I guess the lesson to be learned here is that a little bit of everything is good only as long as it's kept in balance. Hyrbidization in practice requires holism in thought. Or something like that.
For the last week and a half I've been living the island life. The Swedish island life, that is. Upon numerous reccomendations from locals I've met along the way, I decided to alter my south-bound route to include stops at Swedens two largest isles, Gotland and Öland. Despite having tough luck with fishing, this decision proved to be a valuable one. These beautiful archipelagos provided diverse scenery and a smooth transition into the next phase of my travels.
Gotland is the self described "Island Paradise" of Sweden's south-eastern coast. The regional capital, Visby, is perhaps one of the most beautifully preserved ancient cities of Europe. Surrounded by tall fortress walls of limestone, the inner city has a whimsical blend of castle ruins, quaint cobblestone streets and bustling cafés of various nationalities. A place where modernity and antiquity blend seamlessly in a surreal fashion to create a unique appreciation for culture both new and old. The island offerings attract a wide variety of tourists from Stockholm club-junkies to cycle tourists and wild-campers such as myself. The rich variety of nightlife and nature was perhaps the most interesting part of such a localized space. I wish I had given myself more time to cycle around the island. Two days and three nights was certainly not enough to experience all Gotland had to offer. So I decided to focus my efforts on exploring in and around the city of Visby.
The landscape of Gotland is much different from that of mainland Sweden. The tree growth is much more juvenile than the tall pine forests I had grown used to in the country's interior. This made finding a place to hang my hammock a but more difficult, but I managed to find a nice spot within audible distance of the crashing waves. The island also has much fewer lakes and rivers. Fishing opportunities generally came in the form of Sea Trout and a few other varieties of Salmon in the northern territory. Eel is also apparently a popular local catch but I was a little unclear on the regulations and techniques for such an endeavor. A guide at a local sporting store informed me that Sea Trout don't require a license and are found in several areas along the coastline of the city. Of course he wouldn't give me specifics without agreeing to pay for his guiding services but the advice was appreciated anyways. So bright and early in the morning of my second day I set out to try Tenkara on Sea Trout.
4:30 wake up calls are never fun. Especially in spitting rain. But what the hell. This was going to be an adventure. The coastal waters have a very shallow depth and require quite a bit of wading in order to cast. Being that I don't have any waders, I donned flip-flops and shorts as I walked out into the sea. The Baltic waters were calm but very cold on this particular morning. After an hour of unsuccessful fishing I was feeling a bit foolish and unprepared. So once the sun started to rise and the rain was clearing, I relocated to a pier that stretched out maybe 300 feet into the water so I could stay warm and relatively dry.
Once again, the fishing was pretty slow from this concrete. I toyed around with a few different flys and moved up and down the pier to varying depths. While it was a beautiful way to spend the morning, I ultimately wound up with no bites. A bad day fishing is better than most. After two days in Gotland, I was packed up and back on the bike. Well, not after another ferry ride of course. I biked south from Oskarshamn to Kalmar in order to gain access by yet another ferry to the longer, skinnier island of Öland. Though I probably would have been content with a longer stay on the mainland. If Gotland is the "Island Paradise" of Sweden, then Öland is the desirous younger brother that doesn't quite have a hang of it yet. While the island itself is abounding with cultural sites like castles and nature preserves, it lacks something in the vein of individuality. Much of the landscape is gradual and tame, allowing for a good deal of farming and less so of scenery. The western coast where I was cycling is fragmented with claustrophobic camping sites, tacky tourist traps and the occasional windmill. So I pushed on to the northern village of Borgholm where I was able to find a very nice nature preserve where I could escape from the crowds and do a bit of exploring.
Just outside of Borgholm, the preserve was a water-protection habitat that used marshland to act as a natural filter for the agricultural runoff spilling into the sea. But fishing was still allowed
for free. Not so sure that my hammock-camping spot was totally kosher but I ran into no issues. Situated right by the water, my campsite gave me the opportunity to try out some more Sea Trout angling. Though, my experience on Öland was very similar to the fishing to be had on Gotland. Lots of running around, rearranging and daydreaming without any action on the rod. I have a feeling that Sea Trout are a more exacting beast than I had imagined. But I was happy just to have the opportunity to clear my head by the water watching the sun trace up and down the horizon.
Despite having no luck with the fish, I'm very satisfied with my visit to the islands. Both Gotland and Öland are getaways for the locals of Sweden, giving me a unique and refreshing perspective on the culture and also allowing me to get some R&R myself. Taking some time to slow down and resituate was perhaps an obligatory move for mental clarity as I switch gears and prepare for my trek south. I'll be getting some assistance from railways during my next leg and will be visiting some larger cities along the way. Taking the time to reflect on where I've been and also appreciate where I am at the moment is giving me the spirit-fire necessary to embrace the coming adventures with full awareness. I realize now, more than ever, how truly amazing this experience is and how fortunate I am to be doing what I love while meeting new people and making new memories along the way. This blog of course can't capture every detail of my journey, every nuanced moment or every illuminating conversation. But I hope that it at least gives a good glimpse into the life of a nomadic bike fisherman forging his way through foreign territories. It's a righteous feeling.