Tenkara in the Snow
We knew conditions might be tough today. The high would only make it to the low 20's while we planned to be out. The creeks we had scouted thus far were all still running low and clear. The fish would probably be spooky and lethargic, an unfortunate combination in a trout. But, like anyone who still calls himself a fisherman, we had hope.
I had scouted this creek last fall. I liked the looks of it, but could not figure out any legal access. It was a long, cold winter in Wisconsin, though, giving a guy a lot of time to research this sort of thing. Once we had the access piece squared away, we would just have to wait for the season to open.
Convention says that in this type of weather, small nymphs (size 18 or 20) dead drifted are your best bet. Matt and I don't always follow convention. We both tied on number 14 beadhead killer bugs, a pattern that worked well for us in Iowa during the off season. I drifted the fly through a rifle section, not expecting much and getting less. Next came a nice bend pool. I let the bug drift through it, and hooked up with a nice brown, maybe 10 inches. It broke free as I was about to net it, which never bothers me that much. I tried my luck again, but got hooked up on the bottom. I tried to work the fly free, but could not manage to do so. I ended up having to walk up to the pool to retrieve the fly and about two dozen fish blew out of it as I did. Matt saw some of them as they shot down stream. He said one was a real hog. Figures.
Matt and I both fished some promising water after that, but neither of us had much to show for it. We came up on a real nice run and a big pool. Matt and I tend to go out of our way to defer to each other when fishing, so since I had come the closest to landing a fish at that point, I told him to take that section and hiked on. At the next promising pool, I switched to a size 12 beadhead woolly bugger, another favorite early season pattern. I cast to the head of the pool and twitched the fly back, rewarded by the flash of a fish. I figured that might be all that I got, but cast again anyway. I was pleasantly surprised when another fish hit the fly, then a little shocked when I saw the size of the fish. I managed to land it, but it certainly was not one of my more graceful performances. It may not be the largest brown trout I've ever landed on a Tenkara rod, but it was close.
After the fish was safely released, I told Matt I was going to give the pool one more try. I thought the pool would be spooked, as I basically had a controlled fall into the creek when I was trying to land the fish, and there was probably some excessive celebration going on after that. "Go for it" said Matt, so I did. I could hardly believe it when another fish took the fly, also a nice brown but not as large as the first. I guess being an optimist pays off sometimes.
We then backtracked and explored the lower section of the creek. It had remarkable stretches of trouty water: riffles, runs, plunge pools, deep bends and undercut banks. It was something to behold, but for whatever reason we could not move any more fish. I about hooked a muskrat and fell into a snow drift deeper than most of the pools on the creek, but that was the extent of our excitement. Still, I count this day as a success: we explored a new creek that looks to be a winner and should fish well under anything resembling favorable conditions, caught a few fish despite conditions and had a great time. We know we'll be back and we hope to take some of you with us!
A challenging day, but it was great to finally be out on Wisconsin water again! This creek has some amazing terrain that I simply cannot wait to fish again once conditions improve. I am confident that once the snowmelt stops destabilizing the water temperatures, this stream is going to be very productive.
Mike and I both fished our Badger Tenkara Classics today, but we each chose different line. He was testing yet another one of his homebrew line ideas, while I stuck with my usual for sub-freezing temps - the 11ft Badger Line with about 5-6 feet of 5x tippet. We had several days this winter on Iowa’s “open all year” spring creeks where #14 bead headed killer bugs caught us lots of fish, so we were surprised that they didn’t produce today. The shift to #12 black bead headed woolly buggers worked as well as we could have hoped under these awkward early season conditions.
Of interesting note, was that we unexpectedly saw many fish holding very shallow. On several larger turns of the creek, they were concentrated on the upper, inside corner of the turn in 8-12 inches of water. In these air temperatures, we would expect to find them gathered in deeper pools and runs, but we think the sun brought them up close to the surface to get some warmth.
The bridge pool we encountered looked like a choice piece of water. We estimate that it was a good 8 feet deep, with steep sides. It may have been dredged out as part of the habitat rehab that was done here not long ago. This was the first place I fished when we started the day, and I had spent a good amount of time prospecting the tail, sides, head, and main current with the killer bug. No joy, not even a bump!
We had been up stream for a good hour so when we came back around, I gave the woolly bugger a go, dropping the first cast centered in between the main current and left bank’s drop off. I let it sink a bit, keeping the rod high, and began to give it a slight twitch every few seconds. The take was easy to feel even though the fly was about 5 feet deep, and the set was clean. The brown was modestly sized but put up a good little fight for being 8 or so inches!
What really impressed me about this creek was that it had a ton of features that make it perfect for Tenkara. In addition to a good amount of deeper pools on larger turns, smaller plunge pools and 2-4 foot deep channels along rocky banks were common. The banks upstream of the bridge pool are almost entirely clear of brush, making for easy casting. The section downstream of the bridge pool had more foliage along the banks but the abundance of postcard perfect terrain features will make it a “must fish” that is sure to produce once the weather evens out.
All and all, it was an exciting day getting to explore this great spring creek. If you're interested in fishing this unique stream on the southern edge of the driftless, drop us a line!