While the creeks were mucked up, I spent a little time investigating a great headwater section. This is going to be a highly technical piece of water to fish. The water is gin clear and about 6 to 40 inches deep, with steep banks anywhere from 3 to 8 feet high, and the bed is no more than 6 feet wide. The wild Brown trout that live there hold very, very tight to structure. There were several times that I encountered fish that were holding close to the lone rock on a bend, tucked up under a small deadfall, or a tiny clump of overhanging brush. It’s one of those creeks that will require laser focus casts into extremely small target zones. Since I had limited time that day, I wasn’t able to properly fish this one, but I’m really looking forward to the challenge!
I also made a quick stop at Salmo Pond near Black Earth creek. Over the last few weeks, Mike and I have pulled down over a hundred feisty 5-10 inch rainbows here since opening day. The black wooly bugger with a twitching retrieve has been spot on exactly what these fish wanted. To my surprise, the first fish I hooked up was actually a little largemouth bass who really shouldn’t have been that shallow this time of year. Also had the opportunity to give a brief rundown of Tenkara to another angler, and let him give the “Classic” a try. While he was amazed at the lightweight rod and easy casts…you’ll see in the video that he remained true to his western casting roots!
Capped off the week with a run on some new water that’s about an hour west of Madison. It’s tucked up into some really nice Driftless hill country, and is home to stocked Brookies and wild Browns. The day started out disappointing. The wind was gusting strong, and the downstream sections I looked at were silted up, dark, flat, and devoid of much structure. A bright, sunny sky was wonderful to be out in, but made the stalk a bit harder.
The quick drive upstream landed me on a great access point where I was able to get into a much better section of creek. Here the 55 degree water was largely clear, and there was a very nice “riffle, run, pool” sequence on just about every stretch. The bed averaged 5-10 feet wide with a good amount of 2-5 foot depths. I would have liked to have seen more pronounced undercuts on the banks – my best guess is that these were silted up from the melt runoff and will be visible again soon.
Nothing seemed to be happening on top so I started with a #14 bead head killer bug, which is my go-to subsurface prospector. No joy on that one – maybe the nickel bead head was too flashy in the sun? I shifted to a killer bug without the bead and started to get bumps almost immediately. I didn’t fish it long, because soon after I came across one of those perfect combinations of terrain and timing that anglers are always hoping to stumble across.
Ahead, the creek bends left, and the current is churning up a bubble line that looks like a lit up runway beckoning me to land a plane. It flows right up under a nicely cut bank that is well shadowed by clumps of brush. I watch for a moment – smack, a fish is feeding the top! I pause for a few minutes and watch it periodically surface for another bite. It’s now evident that there’s a good hatch underway, and good sized white, fluffy flies are on the menu!
Now, as you may be aware, I do not subscribe to the “match the hatch” philosophy. Instead, I prefer to “hone the zone”, which is to say that I concentrate on putting flies with general food-like attributes into the zone where the fish are eating (the bottom, the middle drift, or the surface) and then making them effective with good technique. My favorite pattern for targeting trout feeding the top is what I call “Buggy Thing That Floats”. It’s a simple recipe: olive thread with a random hackle of CDC along most of the body, tied on a hook of your choice – that’s it. When bone dry, it floats on the top like a full adult fly, and when wet, it rides the film like a cripple or emerger. The CDC really does a great job looking like wings when it’s dry, and like general insect parts when soaked.
Almost out of time for the day, I came across a wider, deeper bend. In some calmer water just off the main current at the top of the turn, another fish is feeding the surface. Fighting the wind, it took a couple of casts to get the fly into the drift position I wanted. Once I dropped it into his lane, he gave the BTTF a classic smack-and-turn and it was on! He was a fighter, but there was good depth here and not much cover, so tactically, there wasn’t much he could do. I brought him to net and sent him on his way just as my day was winding down. Such a perfect note to end the day on - there is just nothing finer than a dynamic surface take on a fly you tied yourself!
The fish population density here seemed a bit low, but I’m not going to judge it based on this one trip. It’s definitely a fun creek, and one that I’ll come back to many times this season.
If you haven’t fished the small streams of the Lower Driftless, you’ll find they offer a unique experience that is well suited for Tenkara adventures. Come check it out!