Sunday, December 29, 2013

The New Normal

First off, I'd just like to apologize to my half dozen or so regular readers for the lack of material.  A series of events out of my control brought my fishing season to an abrupt end early in October.  This big brown trout was the last fish I caught.  That day was also the last day that I woke up in my home with my wife and daughter.  Having just spent all of our money on a car, with not much more than a handful of change to my name, she told me she wanted me out.  I feel like I exhausted myself trying to make it work, and I'm sure she would say she did too. 
It's been almost three months now.  I'm still basically homeless, but I have friends that have been more gracious than I could ever imagine.  I'd like to thank all the old and new friends who have offered a place to stay, home cooked meals, warm coffee, cold beer, Christmas dinner, and just someone to talk to and a shoulder to cry on.
It's been rough, especially Thanksgiving.  I've probably relied on alcohol a little too much here and there, but I think that's almost expected.  I'm doing ok, a little better every day.
I plan on keeping up the blog.  It will be much easier when I get a place to call my own and a computer.  I'm not sure how long it will be before I post again, but I promise I'll be back.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

There Are Still Salmon In The Harbor

I took a trip down to the lake wednesday with my little girl.  She had the greatest time terrorizing the geese.
After she tired of chasing geese, we started for the car.  As we were walking back, an angler that we had spoken to briefly about the day's lack of action was setting the hook.  He reeled in a two foot chinook that fought valiantly.  Five minutes later, he was reeling in the coho pictured below.  The bite turned on as the clouds rolled in.
My little girl didn't want to leave after this because she loves looking at fish.  We stuck around for a while, watched half a dozen or so missed hook sets, and saw one other chinook come ashore by a second angler.  Finally, we left for the car, but as we were driving by on our way out, I saw one of these guys scramble for the net again.  Pretty good day, I'd say.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Restoration Progress On Milwaukee's Menomonee River

I went down and checked to see what kind of progress was being made.  Only a small portion of the stream has been restored so far, but I really like what I see.  The picture below was taken early last May.
The next pictures are post-improvement pictures. One from almost the exact same location (note the matching blue graffiti) and one from upstream looking down. 

This is going to open up so much habitat for our anadromous fish!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fergus Falls, Minnesota

Last Saturday we made the 500 mile drive to Fergus Falls to visit my Wife's family.  My in-laws live on the Otter Tail River, which has a healthy smallmouth bass population.

Unfortunately, this is mostly a story of loss, and a lesson in gear selection.  I have one fly rod in use, a five weight.  I had a hard time casting Woolly Buggers and Clousers far enough for them to be effective, but when I could get my fly into the sweet spot, the fish in this river, even with a 4x tippet would usually break my line when I set the hook.  I broke off 3 fish right away, and two other large fish threw the hook.  Eventually I tied on a scud and landed a smaller smallmouth bass just for the sake of not getting skunked, but the fish was so small, I was too ashamed to take a picture.

Monday morning I was taken out on Hoot Lake in a boat for some early morning fishing.  We were the only boat on the water, and we caught zero fish in the short time we were out.

I really want to invest in a 7 weight rod.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Milwaukee Harbor Is Full Of Fish

I drove down to the lake today to kill some time on my day off.  As I walked along the water in Veteran's park, I saw numerous brown trout very close to shore.  I walked back to my car, drove a little ways, assembled my fly rod, and grabbed some "reserve" flies that happened to be in my car.  I walked to Mckinley Marina and started roll casting off the rocks.  It probably wasn't 20 minutes before I was hooked up with a fish.

It took me around five minutes to land the fish.  Not the biggest brown trout I've ever caught, but not a bad catch for a 30 minute outing.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Minnesota Bound

We're leaving for Minnesota tomorrow morning.  It's not a fishing trip, but fishing will happen.  With all this rain we are forecast to get, the local streams and rivers should be full of salmon when we get back!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Salmon Are Showing Up In The Streams

Not in great numbers, but with consistency.  I saw my first few salmon in the Menomonee River Saturday.  I had a strike on a white Woolly Bugger, but the hook didn't connect.

Monday I went out again in the late afternoon.  I saw a few fish, and made perfect casts with egg patterns, just to watch the the fly bounce off the face and roll down the body of the fish.  Something other than food on your mind pal?  I walked through the concrete and found one massive fish that looked like it had been hooked, landed and left for dead, such a shame and a waste.  I don't know how else it would have got there.  In the picture below, the butt of my rod up to the end of the cork measures 10" just to get an idea of the size of the fish.

I went out fairly early Wednesday and had the river to myself for awhile.  I only saw  two fish, a smaller salmon that tucked itself into an undercut bank and wouldn't budge for anything, and then one big Boss Fight of a male making all kinds of noise.  When I first spotted the big guy, he was basically out of the water, "swimming" over the shallow gravel heading downstream.

I made the decision that I was going to get wet, and I went in after him in my jeans and work boots.  After a couple hundred yards of wading downstream, I gave up hope of finding him and started to head back up.  That's when I saw him, when I turned around.  He was in two feet of water just ahead of another run of inch deep riffles.  Even in that two feet of water, his dorsal fin and tail broke the surface.  He was swirling and rushing all over, I don't know how I could have missed him the first time.

I only made a few casts before he lunged and slashed at my streamer.  I've never actually seen a take like that before, only felt it.  Then I had that "What have I gotten myself into?" feeling.  You know? When you realize that you just hooked into one of the biggest fish of your life on a size 8 streamer, a five weight fly rod with a 4x tippett? that's what most people would consider stream trout gear.  Oh yeah, I didn't bring a net either...

 I almost landed him right away actually, I reached down to grab him by the tail and he took off hard and didn't stop.  I could see the backing on my reel, but he never actually went into the backing.  I'm sure I would have seen it proper if I didn't run downstream to keep up with him.  He pulled me a few hundred yards downstream.  There were several more failed attempts to land him that resulted in reel hissing runs. But each run got shorter, until it seemed like I didn't even need to chase him anymore because he didn't get much more than ten yards away.

Finally he was beat, I brought him along the bank, reached under his gills with my reel hand, I must have set my rod down and grabbed him by the tail with the other hand, but I don't remember.  I lifted him from the water, and he made one last ditch flailing effort to get away, but he was mine.  When he thrashed, I got covered in fish slime, and I held him tight to keep from dropping him.  I think I kissed him at that point, I've kissed bluegill and sunfish with my baby girl because she always does but never a big slimy salmon.  I guess when you spend that much time with a fish, you bond.  It felt like I had him on for an hour, but I have no clue how long it was. 

I only snapped one picture so I could get him back into the water.  I wanted to show the perfect hook set in that mouth full of teeth.

 There was a spectator who took some pictures.  She said she would email me some, but in my adrenaline haze, I could have totally messed up my email address for all I know.  Anyway, if I get them, I'll post some.

The fish took a minute, but eventually swam away.  I have no upper body strength left, and I can still smell fish slime, but after an epic Boss Fight like this one, you level up!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Menomonee River Restoration Is Underway

It's been talked about for a few years now, but actions speak louder than words.  I've visited the stretch a few times since the machinery has breached the wall and moved earth.  It's pretty insane to think about the amount of water that has to be moved to get to the concrete beneath it, and I always wondered how it was done.

The workers constructed a makeshift dam with boulders, gravel, and a thick plastic sheet above the section of the river to be restored.  A powerful pump was placed in the pool above the dam to move the water through a pretty large pipe.  I'd say 30 inches in diameter.

The water is pumped through the thousand foot pipe to a point below where the restoration is occurring.  A similar pipe is constructed on the opposite bank, so when the south bank is complete, the pipe is detached and connected to the pipe on the north bank.

I'm not sure what will happen to the salmon run this fall during the restorations.  It appears the water is only pumped through the pipe when the crews are actually working, so fish will still be able to swim through at night and during the weekend.

On another note, I've finally caught fish on dry flies in the Menomonee, unlocking another Menomonee River achievement.  I was walking through the concrete section with my little girl, and I had my fly rod just in case I saw some fish.

My Little Cleo loves smelling flowers

I started to see some fish rising, so I tied on a tiny little Elk Hair Caddis and made a cast, hoping for a bluegill.  It took a few casts before I finally got a take.  It was a common shiner, I believe. Some sort of minnow that's for sure.  It was fun, and I caught a few more.

She loves to pet fish

I found a spot above the concrete where I can catch green sunfish pretty consistently.  It's so close to home; any time I get the itch I can walk down to the river and catch fish.

Be careful of the spines!

I'm sure ready to see some salmon in the streams here in Milwaukee, are you?  I hope to see you out there.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Repost: Fishing For Big Trout And Salmon in The Great Lakes

The salmon run is fast approaching, and this old blog post of mine has been getting a lot of traffic.  I'm doing something I've never done and recycling some old material to help my followers get ready for the salmon and steelhead run. 

First off, I've added a couple new pages, a little bio about myself, and a page with links to the official fishing websites for every state, and Canadian province.  This could be helpful if you're ever planning a multi state or international fishing trip.

A couple enjoys the view on Milwaukee's
north pier
Fishing for salmon and big trout is one of the reasons I love living so close to Lake Michigan.  If you've never seen one of the Great Lakes, they're big!  My Minnesotan wife still calls Lake Michigan "the ocean."  As I discussed in an earlier post, most trout and salmon aren't native here, so the Great Lakes might be a nice opportunity to get out on a stream and catch a nice chinook without going to Alaska.  Fishing out in the lake with a boat is the obvious way to go, but I don't have a boat, and I'm going to assume you don't either.

Mckinley Marina in Milwaukee
What you are going to want to do is find a pier, or some structure that allows you to get out in the lake.  I think the wall provides cover for smaller baitfish, and big fish come there to be treated to a buffet.  When fishing off the pier or even just off a wall into the bay in Milwaukee, I like to use big, heavy spoons that cast far and get down deep.  In my opinion, Acme Tackle makes the best spoons, with my favorites being the Little Cleo, The K.O. Wobbler, and the Kastmaster.  I've caught more salmon on Little Cleos than on anything else, I even mentioned the name Cleo for my daughter, but the wife shot that idea down.  I like the silver and blue ones for salmon.  I've never caught a steelhead, but I hear that orange is the hot steelhead color, and gold is good for big browns.  When fishing the lake, I'll use a heavier one, the 3/4 oz size casts further and sinks faster.  The Kastmaster also casts very far, it's not just a clever name.  With these lures, just cast as far as you can and wait while the lure sinks.  Retrieve the lure just fast enough to make it wobble, you'll feel it.  You can also use Wildeye Swimbaits or Rat-l-traps for trout and salmon in the lake.  There is no telling what else might bite those though.  Fishing in the lake is great fun, the bites might be few and far between, but there's something about sitting along our gorgeous glacial sea all day with a sandwich for lunch, and a beer or three that takes you far away from the world while a million people scramble in the city just a half a mile away, completely oblivious to what a beautiful resource we have.

I found this Kastmaster in some streamside bushes

little cleo, gold and red.
The Little Cleo is about the sexiest lure there is

beat up looking rat-l-trap
My Rat-l-trap has seen some action!

In about mid August, the salmon will start to move toward their natal stream. This time is the best opportunity to catch them in the lake, or even in the channel if they start to swim upstream.  Any change in the weather will make them start to move and then you can try to catch them in the streams.  It might just take a drop in temperature, or a little rain and a few overcast days to make them start running.  I've caught salmon in the middle of August in the White River in Michigan, but this year, I didn't see any salmon in the Menomonee until the end of September.  In the streams, I'll still use Little Cleos in deeper pools, but I may use a 2/3 or 2/5 oz instead of a heavier one.  They move a little more erratically in the current than a heavier one.  I will also use some diving crankbaits in the streams; Storm makes my favorites, and they're reasonably priced too.  The deep diving Thunderstick Jr. and the Hot 'N Tot are the ones I use most.  You will find that fishing in the stream can be very frustrating.  There are days when the salmon are so thick that you could walk across them, but they won't bite a thing, then other days, they'll bite anything!  If you're on the stream and salmon are flying out of the water like ballistic missiles from a Russian nuclear submarine, that is the day they will bite anything.  You will probably get splashed by salmon jumping, and they'll scare the hell out of you, but they are angry at everything in the water.  All you have to do is put something in the water with some hooks in it.  The best days always seem to be overcast and rainy days.  I've had the best luck in the evening on overcast and rainy days; not a really hard downpour, just a steady rain.  In both the stream and the lake, using ten pound test line is probably adequate.  I've seen guys use 20, but that's overkill.  This season, I used 6 pound test and I only had one salmon break my line.

three storm lures
Two Hot 'N Tots and a Wiggle Wart

My Thunderstick, marred by salmon teeth.  Note the
scale just behind the front hook.

This is the first year I've ever spent a lot of time fly fishing for salmon.  I cut the tapered leader down to about three feet and just tied on about six feet of hybrid six pound test.  I used mostly Woolly Buggers, and egg sucking leeches.  I haven't had a chance to use my creation, the Force Choking Leech, very much.  You can find instructions on how to tie it here.  If you're a fly fisherman, you're probably better at it than I am, so I can provide very little instruction.

black and red egg sucking leech
Egg sucking leech with flashabou in the tail

black cat sniffs a streamer in the tying vise
Kittie examines my fly tying skills

black woolly bugger, silver cone head.
Probably the best looking bead head Woolly Bugger
I ever tied.
Salmon and trout can be hard to catch, but you'll remember your first one forever!  I fished for salmon for a few years before I caught my first one, It was October 1, 2002.  It takes time to learn how these fish work.  I can feel the change in the weather that brings the salmon into the streams now,  an instinct I can't explain.  The clouds look a certain way, the air has something different about it.  It took me years of fishing and lots of luck before I even had a salmon bite.  How bad do you want it?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rough Fish On The Menomonee, Patience On The Milwaukee

I went out fishing on the Menomonee yesterday upstream from the concrete.  The restorations are happening and I don't want to get too in the way.  My little girl and I threw some little spoons for creek chub just to kill some time.  We caught many chub, and a few really pretty sunfish.

This was a monster of a chub

same fish as above.  I think it probaby
came in around 9 inches.

A pretty cool trilobite fossil

This morning we went to the Milwaukee River.  We were on the water just after 9:00am.  The fishing started really slowly.  The water is low, the weeds are thick, and there was no feeding.  We walked downstream a long ways and only landed one fish, one other got away.

Then at approximately 11:20, they just turned on.  I hooked and lost a fish, then on the next cast, I caught a beautiful bass.

Next cast, my jig hits the water, and there is a fish on as soon as I flip the bail.  That fish throws the hook, and another fish grabs the jig! Then that fish throws the hook.  Finally, a third fish slams into it!  As the fish tires and comes in, I can see the bass surrounded by no less than three other bass that are biting at the jig in his mouth!  The fish isn't even acting like he's trying to get away from me, he's fleeing from other fish!  This was my nicest fish of the day.

I caught many smallmouth after this, but most were less than ten inches.  It sure was fun though.

It's crazy how they can just switch on like that so quickly.  I literally went from having two fish on in hundreds of casts to having five fish on in three casts.  That's a lesson in timing and patience.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Exploring Outside of Milwaukee

Saturday, my friend Tony invited me to fish in some streams north of town near Manitowoc.  First we fished the West Twin River for smallmouth.  I caught one right away, but neither of us caught any after that.  It was the biggest smallmouth I've caught so far this season.

After pounding all the smallmouth structure, I saw some rising fish dimpling the surface.  I tied on an elk hair caddis and went after them.

I love catching anything on a dry fly. I caught half a dozen or so of these minnows, then we headed for the east branch to try for some trout.

I caught some chubs and minnows on dries, but nothing else.  Tony landed a couple browns.  I managed to snap some pics of one of them

On to the Manitowoc River.  We first stopped at an overpass neither of us had ever fished at.  We both caught a couple fish, but nothing overly exciting.  It seemed just to be an off day.

We hit one more spot a little further upstream.  I went upstream, Tony headed down.  I lost one smaller than average smallmouth, I don't think Tony caught any.  As I headed back down to meet up with Tony I took a nasty spill that left me reeling like Peter Griffin.  I stepped in a crevice between two sheets of concrete and tripped over another. The piece I stumbled over put its jagged edge into my thigh, and my attempt to brace for the fall resulted in another jagged edged piece of concrete finding the inside of my forearm.  My thigh is still quite sore, the arm is fine.  I must have been in some serious pain at the time, because I no longer wanted to fish, and I have fished in some pretty miserable conditions.

Back in Milwaukee, I have started fishing up above the concrete on the Menomonee River and found a healthy creek chub population.  Nice sized fish that bite artificials consistantly and are great fun when I don't feel like driving.  I've fished for these with fly gear and spinning gear.  The best lures seem to be tiny trout spoons.  A 1/8 ounce Little Cleo works great.  Spinners have been productive as well.  I'll try to catch anything.