Summer brings unique challenges and joys to tenkara fly fishing on Driftless spring creeks.
By late June, the conditions on Driftless spring creeks have changed dramatically from the easy going days of Spring. Grass and weeds along the banks grow jungle-thick and face high. Pesky insects like gnats can swarm thick enough to make you run screaming back to the truck. Heat waves can drive water temps so high that we often stop trout fishing for weeks at a time. But sometimes things line up perfectly for a spectacular day of tenkara fly fishing - which is exactly what happened on the Summer Solstice!
When we were making plans to fish the 21st, we really wanted to chase smallmouth, but knew that recent rains had blown out the streams we fish, so that was off the table. As luck would have it, a cold front brought cooler air into the area, and we were certain that we could find fishable trout water in the smaller watersheds that clear quickly after rains. The challenge would be that the forecast was for a bright and sunny day - a combination that doesn't mix well with crystal clear spring creeks.
Now then, usually weather will conspire against us. If conditions are cloudy and cool when we leave the house, the sky will typically clear up and go bright blue about the time we hit the pull-out and get geared up. But somehow this time we won the lottery! A light cloud cover moved in as we got closer to the stream. By the time we got there we had perfect conditions - overcast, very little wind, and water temps of 59 degrees - A SUMMER SOLSTICE MIRACLE!
The water was clear as glass in the "Batting Cage" pool - about 50 ft from where we parked.
We access this section of Parr Creek legally by parking near a small feeder and following it to the main channel. The feeder itself is too small to fish, except for this pool right by the road. We refer to it as the "Batting Cage" because we like to fish it as warm-up before moving on to the main event. As we approached from downstream, several fish were feeding the top - a good sign.
I slipped into the creek to get low, kept close to the bank using the grass to mask my profile, and moved slowly into position. Dead-drifted presentations of a Cranefly Orange Snowcone Kebari produced two Brookies from the tail-out in rapid succession. A few steps forward and another cast produced a Brown. Mike finished rigging and swapped out into the casting slot, prospecting the same zones I had hit with his favorite size #16 pheasant tail nymph, producing a few more. We traded shots while working the entire pool, taking fish off the surface with the kebari and along the bottom with the nymph, picking up a dozen trout in 15 minutes before the pool shut down. Not a bad start!
This handsome 'Sconnie Brown slammed Mike's nymph in the "Batting Cage".
We moved out to fish the nice pool that forms where the feeder joins Parr creek, again slipping into the water downstream and creeping up into position, and again happy to be greeted with rising fish. This pool produced several fish in the open areas and head, but offered some unique challenges. For example - the plants growing in the water created a raft that made it very difficult to place a presentation near the "true" cut banks along the left side of the pool. Even though we worked it thoroughly, we were unable to draw any fish out of the deep cover - the rafts pushed the presentation zones too far from the holding positions, and the fish either couldn't see the flies or were unwilling to move 3-4 ft to get them. We know they were there, as we spooked several out of the bank when we moved forward through the pool. Still - don't pass those up when prospecting summer streams, you never know if you'll get lucky!
Aquatic vegetation (along the left bank) makes it difficult to run clean drifts past cut banks.
It wasn't just aquatic vegetation that proved challenging. High grass interferes with an angler's ability to fish from the bank. Overhanging stalks seriously restrict casting and drifting lanes. Presentation zones shrink to pinpoint slots in snag-magnet areas. You've got to get serious about targeting and fly control to get the most out of Summer water. The good news is that a tenkara fly fishing rod with proper line tension delivers that in spades; it is the right tool for the job!
Mike works a very narrow run with a severely restricted casting and drifting lane.
Despite the obstacles, we had a phenomenal day, as the fish were eager to feed below surface and above. We brought just under 40 to the net in three hours, including a hefty 12-inch wild Brook trout. On some pools we pulled 4-6 fish at a time. Sometimes, it was "one cast, one fish" all the way up a run, other times we had to make extremely technical casts at difficult angles to reach a prime lie. We pushed ourselves and racked up fish that we would not have caught if we weren't willing to take risks.
12 inches is a good sized speck for Wisconsin water!
A slow "in the water" stalk put us in range to catch 6 from the top third of this glassy run.
This was one of those days when everything lines up and conditions are...perfect. Heck, I even fished the entire day with one single fly - I can't remember the last time I hit the water didn't lose at least one!
Learn the fundamental tactics of tenkara fly fishing and keep a close eye on local conditions, and if you throw in a little luck - you may be gifted with a day like this too!